Not known for high couture, the U.S. Army has introduced a new unisex combat uniform specially tailored for the female form, with a tapered waist and "more spacious seat."
The Combat Uniform-Alternate is the first of a series of efforts planned by the Army for the next few years to further integrate women into the U.S. Armed Services, as the military continues to address an intransigent problem with sexual assault.
The Pentagon earlier this year reported to Congress a yearly rate of 19,000 sexual assaults in the military, most of which involved attacks against women, who comprise 10 percent of the military force and one of every six Army soldiers. The report renewed a cycle of outrage and promises on Capitol Hill, which occurs in Senate and House committee meetings every time such statistics are reported.
As the military promises to work on the problem, the Pentagon told Congress this month they would open all combat positions in the services to women by 2016 without lowering physical or performance standards, including as many as 237,000 positions.
The new uniform, officials say, is designed to make women feel more professional, similar to when the services began offering a choice of prescription eyeglass frames beyond one standard, to which enlisted service members referred to colloquially as "birth control glasses."
Uniform Gets Rave Reviews
With narrower shoulders, a slightly tapered waist, and a more spacious seat, the new uniform is intended to be more comfortable and aesthetically appealing to women, and men, of smaller and slighter build. Among soldiers who've tried the uniform alternate, 86 percent reported the coat fit better while 71 percent said the pants fit better — a marked improvement over the standard "battle dress uniform," Maj. Laverne Stanley, the assistant product manager of soldier clothing and individual equipment, told reporters.
"An overwhelming majority, 94 percent of all respondents, said that the cut of the new [uniform] allowed them to present a better military appearance," she said.
All 16 sizes of the new uniform will be available for fitting at most Army installations in the country, Stanley said. "After a soldier finds the right fit, they may place an order for the uniform, which will then be delivered to the store," Marks said.
Work on the new design was begun a few years ago following a 2008 Army focus group report finding that unisex combat uniforms, essentially designed for men, fit women badly in the shoulders, bust, hips, and crotch. Many women bought larger sizes, which draped over their bodies like a hand-me-down from an older brother.
Unlike the older-style uniform, which comes in 36 sizes, the new alternate features a wider fit at the hips, waist, and backside, with an elastic waistband rather than a pull-string. Adjustments were also made to the pockets and the rise in the pants shortened. Knee pad inserts were added to the pants, while elbow pads were added to the shirts — for additional comfort and protection.
Although planned spending cuts may soon reduce the overall size of the military force, the Army expects a greater proportion of positions to be held by women. Last year, the service opened 14,000 jobs to women that were formerly restricted to men, and will now open an additional 6,000 infantry, armor, and field artillery positions to women. Later, they will accept applications from women for jobs in reconnaissance, surveillance, and targeting and acquisition battalions.
By next July, the Army will open engineering and other occupational specialties to women, for a total of 116,800 new jobs open to women in the military's largest service.
The Army is developing "gender-neutral" standards to ensure equal access to all jobs, and will introduce new unisex designs for body armor, flight suits, and physical training uniforms for women.
The U.S. Army introduces a new uniform designed for women and men of smaller and slimmer build.