Monday, May 20, 2013

Vintage U.S. Navy Uniforms Part I

Dear readers,

You may or may not remember me mentioning this - but I'm a retired Commander in the Navy.   A bit shocking, I know.  As such, I'm a bit obsessed with the uniforms and the changes that occurred specifically to women's uniforms.  And, I am surprised at the decrease in quality between the current uniforms (both design, fit and sometimes, construction) as compared to the uniforms women wore in the WWII era.  These are two examples of women's uniforms in seersucker from that era.  Beautifully tailored.
According to the U.S. Navy historical website:

Women officer uniforms were upgraded during the war years. There had been little precedent for women’s wear in the Navy since World War I; therefore a panel of civilian experts in the design and fashion field was called upon to create a set of uniforms which when devoid of buttons and braid would correspond to a smart businesswoman’s suit. Their efforts resulted in the present single breasted blues and whites worn by women naval officers. The Nurse’s hat continued as a visorless duplicate of the males during this period and the Nurses retained a double breasted blue jacket. (It is interesting to note, however, that women’s regulations were published separately from their male counterparts. It was considered that the great influx of women into the service was only a wartime oddity and would recede when hostilities ceased.)

Women’s uniforms were the same for officer, chief, and other enlisted, differing only in rank identification. Work uniforms included a coverall and slacks for use when the skirt was inappropriate. 

Look at the picture below - wonderful piping detail and tailored sleeves.
You can see the princess cut in the back as well - very unusual in uniforms today.
A closer picture of the seeksucker and princess seams.
Beautiful collar and princess seaming.
Again - look at the contouring of the princess seam - you can see the serging on the inside.  This was apparently a working uniform rather than a dress uniform.
Beautiful piping for work uniform.
Below is a a more dress suit type of uniform - again, seersucker.  Look at the full skirt - unusual for today.
Beautiful pockets and again, princess seams.
Here was the display (in Pensacola)
A historical man's uniform below:
A pilot/bomber cover (hat) below:
Here is the flight suit - an older version from WWI.
And, some frivolity.  The men's mess dress with "hidden" Hawaiian sleeves.  Of course, this isn't vintage.   Taken from the uniform shop in Pearl Harbor.
I'd like to make a reproduction seersucker suit - it is on my "to do" list.  I have a Brooks Brothers modern suit - but it is not at all close to the tailored construction of the 50s.  

More on Navy women's uniforms will continue in future posts!



  1. Still have some of my Dad's white sailors from the WWII timeframe. He spent 6 years on a Destroyer in the S. Pacific.

  2. Very cool - was this at the Naval Air Museum?

    1. Sis -- It was at the Navy Conference Center collocated at the Bachelor Officers Quarters . . .oddly. . I know!

  3. Linda - that's fantastic - male Navy sailors still have the same uniforms today - the ones you are referring to I think have the button fly (13 button for 13 original states). . . very historical.

    Sister - I didn't fully tour the Naval Air Museum - we ate there at the Historic Subic Bay bar they brought back from the Philippines - there may have been more uniforms. But, these particular ones were at the BOQ (Bachelor Officers Quarters) Conference Center - they had a uniform display, oddly. And, the first picture was from the Uniform Shop at Pearl Harbor (not the main exchange but at the actual Pearl Harbor small exchange) - but I'm going to scout out more vintage uniforms on my travels. . . .

  4. I wore the top image uniform. Short sleeve blue seersucker. That was in the late 1970's. Looks exactly like my uniform. It would wrinkle badly. Otherwise it was my favorite uniform to wear. The skirts from the WWII era where fuller. The '70's skirt was more like a "pencil" skirt. It seemed like our uniform changed five times in the six years I served.

    I no longer have any of my old uniforms. Divorce...things happen. I would love to get my hands on some of them again. Anyone know of a place to buy these?

    1. J. That is fantastic -- I would love to see your pictures! That is fantastic. I have a good link to the a thesis that discussion the germination of these uniforms (that Mainbocher designed) -- I don't know (yet) a place to buy. What size are you? I'm retired Navy and hit the onbase thrift shop (run by the spouses' club) and sometime these show up.

      I'm toying with the idea too of making one up for myself as a reproduction. I have some wonderful light gray seersucker -- Mood has a generous selection too that I bet I could get a match!

  5. Hi Pam
    This is a great site for me. I have bought for my wife a uniform just like the one at the top of this page and came with a dark blue skirt and a fabulous hat, but I'm wondering if there was a specific style of coat or cloak that was worn with this uniform during WW2? We are after something authentic as we attend vintage and war time re-enactment weekends. Any advise you can give me will be gratefully accepted.

    1. Thanks Carl! Sorry I saw I think I saw a previous email from you when I was on holiday vacation! Sorry I didn't respond. That is fantatic. . .let me see what I can find for you and send it to you . . . I think I have a wonderful thesis that someone did that explains I think the style of uniforms and I do think there are some drawings in the Navy museum to uniform archives -- let me send you the links . . can you PM me your email (I'll see if I can find the previous email!)

  6. I loved my summer blues! That was such a sweet uniform. I think the men liked it too, as the skirt did tend to ride up a wee bit when we sat down. And if we crossed our legs? Wow!