A provision in the recently passed defense budget for 2017 means female Navy officers and chiefs will have an extra two years before they are required to wear a new dress cover designed to closely resemble that worn by men.
The new cover, which replaces a female-only bucket-style design, was to be a required uniform item beginning Oct. 31, 2016. But language in the National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Barack Obama just before Christmas, pushes the mandatory wear date back to Oct. 31, 2018. The provision, which also requires the Navy to produce a report on its female dress uniforms, including cost assessments, and feedback from officers and enlisted sailors, is a likely a rebuke to outgoing Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who attracted criticism with his aggressive efforts to push the Navy toward gender-neutral uniforms.
Shortly before he left office this month ahead of President Donald Trump's inauguration, Mabus told Military.com during a meeting with reporters that his push to change the uniforms was inspired by his attendance of the annual Army-Navy football game. When the West Point cadets marched onto the field, he said, it was impossible to distinguish them by gender from a distance. But the same was not true of the Naval Academy midshipmen, whose dress uniforms were gender-specific.
In a Navy administrative message published Jan. 26, the service announced a variety of uniform updates, among them the delay of the unisex cover rollout. According to the message, the enlisted white "Dixie Cup" hat, another formerly male-only accessory, will remain mandatory for wear, but with jumper-style uniforms only, while the current female combination cover will continue to be worn by enlisted sailors in ranks E-6 and below with the four-button coat service dress blue uniform until Dec. 31, 2019.
It's possible the congressionally mandated delay, having interrupted the Navy's phase-out of the bucket hat, may cause some supply challenges. The message notes that female officer and chief combination covers are no longer available to buy at Navy Exchange uniform centers. The junior female enlisted covers are available, but in very limited supply.
In additional uniform updates, the message notes that female officers and chiefs now have the option of wearing male service dress blues trousers with their female blues uniform. And as of February, the newly redesigned jumper-style "cracker jack" dress blues for sailors below the rank of chief will be available in the fleet, beginning at fleet concentration areas, the message said.
The redesigned uniform, which has been issued at boot camp sing Oct. 1, features a side zipper for the jumper top and a front zipper for the slacks, to allow for greater ease changing in and out of the uniform.