Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Uniform Disasters

One of the biggest disasters to hit the Navy in the 1970s was the change in uniforms. It was probably most severe on the junior and mid-grade enlisted (E-1 through E-6), but it was also not great for the officers.

There were two iconic uniforms from World War II to the 1970s for officers: Service Dress Khakis and Aviation Greens.

Service dress khakis gave officers a summer uniform that, at least for men, looked professional. Oh, they could wear service dress blue,

but that was kind of heavy weight and a solid black coat jacket and trousers in the summer heat were not enjoyable. Aviation greens were worn with brown shoes and were worn only by aircrew, which is why aviators to this day are known as "brown shoes" and surface officers are known as "black shoes."

Around 1975, aviation greens and service dress khaki were abolished. So was "summer blue" for women (a uniform authorized for both officers and enlisted).[1]

The two summer "non-working" (ie, industrial grade) uniforms left available for officers to wear in the summer were summer whites:

and service dress whites:

Both were 100% cotton. Service dress whites for men were known as "choker whites." One of the reasons was that they were worn primarily for formal occasions, the officers who had to wear them probably had bought them several years before. They were best worn when an adequate supply of blood to the brain was optional.

Service dress whites for female officers were styled like service dress blues:

Summer whites were hell to wear on a ship and they had to be worn for certain in-port watches. When the ship was making a port call overseas, besides the quarterdeck watch, the Command Duty Officer also had to wear whites during working hours. If the CDO was the Chief Engineer, you could be damn-near certain that he'd be royally pissed off by the end of the day as he had trashed his uniform when he went into the After Fireroom.

The Navy tried to adapt, slightly, by adopting a summer blue uniform that was nothing other than the summer white shirt and service dress blue trousers/skirt and shoes. It was known by everyone as the "salt and pepper uniform" and had been worn (probably still is) by the Public Health Service:

The salt-and-pepper uniform was roundly hated by the officers, as the nearly universal opinion was that it made naval officers look like pilots for some third-rate airline. It wasn't around for very long.

But the worst thing the Navy did in the early 1970s was to do away with the "crackerjack" uniform for its male sailors.

This was a photo of the then-outgoing blue crackerjacks and the new uniform for sailors:

The summer uniform changed little, as the non-crackerjack whites were in use.

The only change there was that the cover went from being the "dixie-cup" of the crackerjacks to the cover used by chiefs and officers. Chiefs and officers wore white shoes, petty officers and seamen wore black shoes.

The popular lore was that the abolition of the crackerjack uniform was a result of heavy lobbying by career First Class Petty Officers, who had gained weight and who looked like shit in crackerjacks. But it was a fucking disaster. Crackerjacks could be neatly rolled up and stored, but the coat-and-tie uniform had to be hung up. The cover (what you civilians call a "hat") also could not be crammed into a sea bag. Narrow coat lockers had to be fitted to every ship in the Navy.

Some of the changes came rapidly. Wear-testing of new crackerjacks began in the late 1970s and by the early to mid-1980s, the crackerjack uniform replaced the hated coat-and tie uniform for male sailors.

Service dress khaki is now making a comeback for chiefs and officers.

No word yet on whether aviation greens will ever return.

However, the Navy is engaged, now, in another uniform change that may be the subject of someone else's take on "uniform disasters" in 20 or 30 years.

From the 1940s (or earlier) into this decade, there were two working uniforms on ships. E-1 through E-6 wore dungaree blues:


The dixie-cup cover was replaced with ballcaps in the 1970s. Each ship had its own ballcap.

Officers and chiefs wore khakis (really cheap-ass types bought them from Dickies). These are aviators, which is why some of them are wearing weirdly-colored shirts:

Sailors often referred to chiefs and officers as the "KKK" for "khaki-covered clowns."

The Navy is in the process of ditching the old-style working uniforms for new ones. The result of the change is that the Navy will look like a bunch of fucking jarheads. Battle Dress Oceanic[2] will be worn on ships. Why the Navy feels a need to adopt a camouflage-style uniform for shipboard wear makes little sense.

And, not having anything else to do, the Navy is also adopting enlisted uniforms that look as though they were ripped right out of the Marines' uniform shop.

The uniform disasters continue, so it seems.
[1] As far as I can tell, trousers were not authorized with the summer blue uniform.
[2] My term for it. The Navy calls it the "Navy Working Uniform" or some shit like that. I reserve the right to laugh at every squid who is wearing it.


Jimh. said...

Wow, I had heard of the Salt and Peppers, and yet had never seen pictures. It is sad that the old uniforms went away...they DID look sharp!

PhysioProf said...

(1) Those aviators in the khakis look like a bunch of fucking used-car salesmen.

(2) "Woodland Pattern" camouflage on a fucking ship!?!?!? DUH!

(3) What ever happened to the white bell-bottom navy pants with a blue stripe? Those always seemed really fancy and comfortable at the same time.

ORPO1 said...

I have a picture from Instructor Basic School at TRITRAFAC Bangor WA in 1982. We are mostly in the Salt and Pepper uniform. Ugh!
I did have the Jumper Blue and Jumper White though. I bought both after the return from the IO in May 81. I was issued the Coat and Tie blues in 73. Hated them.
The working uniform issued then was a utility uniform with a pull over shirt(blouse). Dungarees were a purchase item.
Then while on my instructor tour in VA128 FRAMP, the idea was floated for enlisted aviation types E-1 to E-6 was a gray camouflage BDU uniform.
Changes! I seen them Changes!

Comrade Misfit said...

I suspect that, when a uniform change is so ordered Navy-wide, that somebody somewhere got a little "gift" for getting new uniforms ordered for half-a-million people.

ORPO1 said...

More than likely!

Dan Brock said...

I had the misfortune to join in '72 and be discharged in '76 so I was issued the Donald Duck suit (still the classiest uni around although it may share space with Marine dress blues) but had to check out in what I called "the ice-cream-man suit".
It was the same but I had to borrow a hat and it was a bit small.
But I was getting out so... BFD.
At the time I was discharged I heard that they were "testing" the D. Duck uni again.
Oh my head.

YDR said...

I was disappointed when the women's summer blues were discontinued in the mid 1970's. I still have it! I loved that uniform and wore it everyday until I could not wear it anymore. When I googled that uniform, I only found one photo of it. What a shame. :-(

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