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Female Marines Get Deadline to Wear New Dress Blues Coats

A parade staff with Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., stands in their position during a Friday Evening Parade at the Barracks May 31, 2013. (Dengrier Baez/Marine Corps)
A parade staff with Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., stands in their position during a Friday Evening Parade at the Barracks May 31, 2013. (Dengrier Baez/Marine Corps)

Weeks after women at boot camp began receiving new unisex-style dress coats, female Marines across the fleet have been issued a deadline for phasing out the open-collared version they've worn for decades.

Female Marines have until Sept. 30, 2022, to wear the current women's dress coat, according to a service-wide administrative message released Thursday announcing a slew of uniform changes. After that, the current dress coat and white shirt will be "deemed obsolete," the message states, at which time "the new female blue dress coat will become the required dress uniform coat."

Women who are ready to make the switch to the new coat, which looks more like the one men wear and features a high, closed collar, don't have to wait four years to do so. Starting Oct. 1, both versions were approved for wear, according to the message.

This year’s clothing-replacement allowances for female active-duty enlisted Marines was adjusted on Oct. 1 to account for the cost of the new coat. But it will take four years to fully cover the replacement using that allowance, said Mary Boyt, program manager for the Marine Corps Uniform Board.

“[That] is why the mandatory possession date was pushed out to 2022,” she said. “…There is not requirement to purchase the uniform early -- they can wait until the very end if they so desire. But if they want to purchase it immediately, they may.” 

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Female officers will have to buy the new coat at their expense sometime before the mandatory possession date, Boyt said, since they don’t get a clothing allowance.

In August, about 100 members of Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, at Parris Island, South Carolina, became the first women to receive the new coats during their initial uniform issue. It followed five years' worth of wear tests, surveys and prototype developments, making them the first women to receive the coats outside of the ceremonial units that have been testing them since 2013.

Several facilities are already selling the new coats, Boyt said, and if enough women want to purchase the new version early, it could result in some short-term shortages.

“Especially as Marines might want to try to get the new coat for this year's ball season,” she said.

Female Marines should be mindful that while the new coat looks a lot like the one men wear, there are some differences. A few female Marines recently purchased the male coat by mistake recently, Boyt said, “so Marines need to be cognizant of that.”

The shift toward more gender-neutral uniforms for Marines and sailors started under former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who said he wanted troops in the sea services to look more uniform, regardless of gender.

Some women have said the move was misguided, and about half of senior officers and noncommissioned officers surveyed said they preferred to keep their old looks. Those Marines have been given a four-year period to do so.

Aside from issuing the deadline, the new administrative message also details proper belt, badge and ribbon placements for female Marines wearing the new coats. Female Marines sporting the new coats should wear the white web-coat belt and waist plate, which can also be worn with the older version, per a commander's guidance.

"The left edge of the buckle (wearer's left) will be worn on line with edge of the coat front, and the end of the belt will extend out to the wearer's left," the message states.

When wearing the new dress coat, women's badges should be "symmetrically placed even with, or up to 2 inches above the second from the top coat button, and centered."

"Ribbon bar(s) will be centered with the bottom edge of the bottom ribbon bar on a horizontal line midway between the first and second buttons of the coat," according to the MARADMIN. "When wearing ribbons on the right side of the blue dress 'A' coat, the ribbon bars will remain in place, while the holding bars of the medals may be moved up or down slightly to ensure a balanced appearance, if necessary."

None of that is new, Boyt said. It’s just meant to help clarify the proper placement of the various items on the two different coats female Marines can wear for the next four years.

“It is surprising how many different items go on the blue dress coat,” she said, “which means a large chunk of the uniform [regulations] had to be adjusted.”

Full details can be found in MARADMIN 596/18.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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