World War II Marine Corps Uniforms for Women
Tradition was shattered when the Marine Corps opened its ranks for women in World War II, to replace men needed "for essential combat duty." Women were already serving with the Army and in the Navy and Coast Guard Reserves but the elite Marines held out until wartime shortages of men forced them to act on 7 November 1942.
Three Marine Corps Women Reservists, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina , 16 October 1943.
World War II USMC Uniforms for Women
For a publicity photograph, the women of Company H, 2d Headquarters Battalion, Henderson Hall, model the various work and dress uniforms worn by women Marines during the course of World War II. From left are PFC Florence Miller, Cpl Lois Koester, Cpl Carol Harding, Sgt Violet Salela, Cpl Grace Steinmetz, Cpl Rose Mazur, and PFC Mary Swiderski.
Uniforms for the Marine Corps Women's Reserve (MCWR) were designed by Mrs. Anne Adams Lentz, an employee of the War Department with experience in uniform design including her work with the WAACS for the design of their uniform. The USMC Commandant gave specific guidance; he wanted the women dressed in the traditional Marine forest green with red chevrons and he insisted they look like Marines as much as possible. This was in stark contrast to the Navy which denied its women the privilege of wearing gold braid throughout the war. Lentz created the original designs in a 30 day period in early 1942.
On 11 June 1943, a Uniform Unit was created as part of the Women's Reserve Section at Marine Corps Headquarters to arrange for uniforming enlistees when assigned to active duty, replenishing clothing from time to time, and planning for future needs, renamed the Marine Corps Women's Reserve Uniform Board. The uniform continued to evolve through the war years. On 30 April 1945 they published Uniform Regulations, U.S. Marine Women's Reserve, 1945. These regulations remained in force and the uniforms of women Marines changed very little until a new wardrobe was designed by the French couturier, Mainbocher, in 1952.
Officers were paid a uniform allowance and gratuity of $250 and enlisted women received $200. With this the women bought two winter uniforms, hats, shoes, summer outfits, a purse, wool-lined raincoat, specified accessories, and undergarments. To make certain that the carefully designed uniforms looked exactly as intended and met the Corps' high standards, 13 women officers were ordered to a six-week intensive training session where they were drilled in the techniques of tailoring, alterations, clothing construction, and fitting before being assigned to uniform shops run by the post exchanges at major Marine Corps posts throughout the country.
MCWR recruit Mary C. Harris learns first-hand about the M1 Carbine from GySgt Daniel Carroll, a member of Edson's Raiders recently returned from the Southwest Pacific. WRs were the only military women to receive combat training during boot camp.
The seemingly excessive attention to the women's uniforms reflected not only the Corps' well known concern with appearance, but it showed an astute appreciation of the problems encountered by the other services. The early WAAC uniform, for example, had been designed over a man's suit form with broad shoulders, no bosom, and slender hips. Although the prototype looked just fine, the real thing caused endless problems.
Tailored femininity was the goal, and by all accounts, it was achieved.
The widespread and enthusiastic approval of the attractive uniforms gave everyone's morale a big lift, especially because once on active duty, Marines could not wear civilian clothing even on liberty. Colonel Streeter was especially proud of their appearance and demeanor. In her words:
You know, they had a certain reserve. They always looked well. They held themselves well. They had a certain dignity. And that was each one of them . . . .
The MCWR uniform mirrored what was worn by all Marines in color and style, but was cut from a lighter-weight cloth. Generally, officers and enlisted women wore identically styled uniforms of the same fabric: this was not true of male Marines. Women officers wore green, detachable epaulets on the shoulder straps of summer uniforms and had additional dress uniforms. For dress, they wore the Marine officers' traditional gilt and silver emblems and the enlisted women wore the gilt emblems of enlisted Marines. Both wore the bronze eagle, globe, and anchor on their service uniforms, but positioned it differently. While the vertical axis of the hemisphere paralleled the crease line of the jacket collar for officers, it was worn perpendicular to the floor by enlisted women. Coats, caps, shoes, gloves, handbags, and mufflers were the same for all ranks. Enlisted women wore the same large chevrons as the men.
Winter Service Uniform
Outstanding "boot," PFC Mary C. Harris, earned an immediate appointment to Officer Candidates Class at Camp Lejeune in December 1943. Officer Candidate (OC) pins were earned after four weeks of successful officer training.
Both officers and enlisted women wore a forest green, serge man-tailored jacket and straight, six-gore skirt during the colder seasons. A long-sleeved khaki shirt with four-in-hand necktie, green cap, brown shoes and gloves, and bronze metal buttons completed the outfit. Women Reservists were easily recognized by their unique, visored bell-crowned hat, trimmed with a lipsick-red cord which set them apart from the WACs, WAVES, and SPARS whose hats closely resembled one anothers. They had a heavy green overcoat or khaki trenchcoat with detachable lining, always worn with a red muffler in winter. All women Marines owned black galoshes, boots, or rubbers to fit the unpopular, but comfortable oxfords.
During World War II and for the seven years following, MCWR officers had no dress uniform. They turned their winter service outfit into a dress uniform with a white shirt and forest green tie in place of the routine khaki. Enlisted women had no comparable dress option.
Summer Service Uniform
The summer service uniform, a distinct departure from tradition, was a two-piece green and white seersucker or plisse dress. The fabric was specially selected by Captain Lentz for its comfort and laundering ease. V-necked and fastened with white or green plastic buttons, the jacket was available with short or long sleeves. The first summer hat, a round cap with a snap brim, was short-lived and was replaced by one styled after the winter hat, but in spruce green with white cap cord and bronze but tons. Later a garrison-style cap in the same light green shade and trimmed with white piping was added. Shoes, oxfords, or pumps, were brown and a white rayon muffler was worn with the trenchcoat. When it was realized that officer rank insignia could not be seen on the striped dress, green shoulder boards were added and they were fastened to the epaulets by the shoulder strap button and the rank insignia.
Summer Dress Uniform
2dLt Elizabeth McKinnon, MCWR, in USMC Womens Uniforms Summer Dress.
The hands-down favorite uniform of all World War II WRs was the short-sleeved, V-necked white twill uniform worn with gilt buttons on the jacket and cap, dress emblems, and white pumps. The stiffly starched uniform never failed to evoke compliments. Enlisted women were disheartened when, after the war, because enlisted men had no equivalent uniform, it was discontinued.
Officers could choose among three summer dress uniforms: the white one worn by the enlisted women but with added green shoulder straps, summer dress "B," and summer undress "C."
The latter two, made of white twill, worsted, or palm beach material were worn with a short-sleeved white blouse, and without a necktie or green shoulder straps. The "C" uniform was long sleeved and collarless. On these two uniforms, the officers wore their dress emblems not on the collar as usual, but on their epaulets, near the armhole seams, and they centered the rank insignia between the emblem and epaulet button. One WR reminisced that even a lieutenant looked like a four-star general with so much metal on her shoulders.
Utilities and Exercise Suits
MCWR mechanics in HBT fatigue uniforms.
Covert slacks were worn for certain duties, but the most common work uniform was the olive-drab, cotton utility uniform worn with the clumsy, heavy, high-topped shoes known as boondockers. The trousers with a bib front and long, crossed straps were worn over a short-sleeved, matching shirt or white tee shirt and topped by a long-sleeved jacket. Enlisted women stenciled their rank on the shirt and jacket sleeves.
For recreation, field nights, and physical conditioning, women Marines wore the "peanut suit," so named because of its color and crinkled appearance. It was a tan, seersucker, one-piece, bloomer outfit with ties at the bottom of the shorts. In keeping with prevailing standards of propriety, the women modestly covered their legs with a front-buttoned A-lined skirt when not actively engaged in sports, exercise, or work details.
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