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Historic uniform change for female Marines; ‘there will be no doubts that they are U.S. Marines in the dress blue uniform’

By Kaitlin Kelly, MCSC Office of Public Affairs and Communication | Marine Corps Systems Command | November 20, 2018

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A white belt, form-fitted coat and a standing collar are a few features female Marines can expect to see on the new dress blue uniform. Based on a  2014 Marine Corps initiative, Marine Corps Systems Command was tasked to develop a dress blue coat for women that was similar to the male uniform.

The goal was to make the Corps look unified while also offering female Marines a more tailored fit. Marines with November Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion at Parris Island were the first to don the new uniforms during their graduation ceremony Nov. 16. MCSC’s Sgt. Maj. Robin Fortner served as the parade reviewing official.

“I was honored to be a part of history and stand out on the renowned parade deck to witness the newest Marines who will enter into the operating forces,” , Fortner said. “All the Marines looked sharp. The uniform represents the United States Marine Corps and its proud, rich legacy, which was exemplified by the Marines.”

MCSC’s Infantry Combat Equipment conducted extensive research with female Marines through surveys and roadshows to ensure their voices were heard. To gather input, the team visited I and II Marine Expeditionary Forces, and conducted onsite surveys with 2,632 Marines from the National Capital Region, Parris Island, Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, Yuma and the entire west coast. Nearly 3,000 additional Marines elected to take the survey online instead of attending a roadshow.

“It was important for MCSC to get this right for the institution,” Fortner said.  “I appreciate the diligence that went into this effort from the beginning and the follow on support to the Depot.”   

The coat MCSC fielded is the third iteration of prototypes, said Louis Curcio, ICE clothing designer. The main additions are a white belt and standing collar (previously a standard lapel).

“Throughout the process, we conducted three different surveys to figure out if the new coat was something Marines actually wanted—and we only surveyed females,” Curcio said. “We gave all of the results to the commandant, and he made the final decision based on their input.”

Designers also added a seam to the upper-torso area to make the uniform easier to alter to fit different body types. Additionally, the coat was lengthened 1.5 inches to give it more structure and balance with the trousers, which also offered greater range of motion and mobility.

“With this change, all Marines will have the uniform of the Corps, and there will be no doubts that they are U.S. Marines in the dress blue uniform,” Curcio said.  

During the roadshow tour, Lt. Col. Jeniffer Ballard and Sgt. Lucy Schroder traveled with Curcio and his team to model the uniforms and answer any questions from fellow Marines. Current Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller asked their opinions directly along with other female Marines to ensure he was hearing the information straight from the source.

Ballard, section head for Operations, Plans, Integration, and Distribution for the Manpower Management Integration branch at Manpower and Reserve Affairs, said she was surprised by some of the feedback they received while on the roadshow. Some women were worried that the new coats would take away from their femininity, while others said they would lose their tradition as female Marines.

Looking back over the course of the Marine Corps, there have always been changes and options for women, Ballard said.

“It was important for us to show what the uniform looked like in person versus in an online survey, and some Marines were pleasantly surprised saying it exceeded their expectations,” she said.

At first, Ballard said she was not a fan of the uniform changes because she thought it would be an exact replica of the male coat with the same pockets and collar.

“Over the course of time the coat grew on me, and I really like it now because it helps modernize the force, so there isn’t such a distinction between male and female uniforms,” she said.  

Sgt. Schroder, who works for the Wounded Warrior Regiment aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, said Marines need to actually try the blue coat on before forming a negative opinion, because this is a huge step for the Marine Corps.

“Before I joined the service, my first impression was the iconic male uniform coat I saw on commercials,” she said. “When I got to boot camp and they gave me my coat, I was confused because it looked different than what I expected. The more we progress in time, the more female Marines are having a voice and opinions on how they want to look, which will hopefully draw the attention of future recruits.”

The new dress blue uniform is now available for purchase at Marine Corps Exchanges. By fiscal year 2022, every female Marine will be required to wear the new uniform.

“We cannot be afraid of change, often times a new era brings about changes,” Fortner said.  “Many Marines have adapted throughout their careers, and this is no different. We must take it on and own it.”
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