June 13, 2024

After women in the Marine Corps advocated for change, the service announced it will allow female staff noncommissioned officers and officers to wear slacks with their evening dress uniform. Until this week, it was the last uniform that had a skirt-only mandate for women in the Corps.

On Wednesday, the service published an update to its uniform regulations that will allow female staff sergeants and above to wear high-waisted evening dress slacks as an alternative to long or knee-length skirts. The change was made ahead of the Marine Corps birthday season in which formal occasions are plenty.

Junior enlisted and company-grade officers have been authorized the dress blue slack option for years, and now — thanks to a core group of Marines who pushed for the change — all women in the Corps are allowed the option between slacks and skirts.

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“Any time when you make a recommendation to the larger institution and you’re heard, and your recommendation is accepted, it feels good,” Col. Kelly Frushour, commander of the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group, told Military.com on Thursday evening.

Frushour, who has served for 25 years and made the call to Military.com from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic after visiting troops under her command, was one of the Marines instrumental in codifying the policy. She was connected to other Marines through social media groups and first heard of the desire to add a slacks option to the female evening dress uniform in summer 2021.

Frushour also remembered attending a holiday concert that the Navy put on in Washington, D.C., and seeing that female sailors were in their evening dress uniforms. Some of them wore pants.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that looks great,'” she said. “‘We should definitely see if we can get this for the Marines as well.'”

Though humble in her acceptance of credit and quick to note many other women were key to the idea, she was the first to officially request that the Marine Corps Uniform Board consider the change in early 2022.

When the option went live this week, Frushour wasn’t surprised: The request was practical, especially for Marines participating in ceremonies that require strict military movements.

“Last year, the [Marine Corps] ball was my first time participating in the actual ceremony,” she said. “And I can tell you that marching and doing basic movements on carpet in a long skirt and heels was a challenge. It was nothing I wasn’t still able to do, but for me personally, it would be helpful to have a pants option.”

Beyond the practicality, it’s also a matter of women having the ability to choose, especially in an institution that prides itself on uniformity. Now, that choice is part of the uniform.

“I think some people didn’t like wearing a skirt, or they just wanted an option, because we have an option in every other uniform,” she said.

The update was made before the service’s birthday, which is on Nov. 10, when the Marine Corps has a host of formal events, including ballroom occasions.

Female field-grade officers can wear dark navy slacks that have a gold stripe down the leg. Female staff noncommissioned officers can wear a lighter blue version of the pants with a red stripe down the leg.

The high-waisted evening dress slack is a new uniform item, according to the message, and does not have an approved specification yet. Tailoring of the slacks is still at the wearer’s expense.

Marines under the rank of staff sergeant, as well as lieutenants and captains, are not required to own evening dress uniforms and have had the option to wear slacks or a skirt in their dress blues before this change, according to the service’s regulation.

“It was the last uniform where it was [an] only skirt and no pants option,” Frushour said of the evening dress uniform for higher-ranking Marines.

Women wearing pants has long been an iconic symbol of equality and reform. The practice saw a rise in popularity in the late 1800s and early 1900s America as a way for women to push what was socially acceptable at the time. The first woman to join the Marine Corps did so in 1918, though women did not have the iconic Marine Corps dress blue uniform until 1952, according to the National Park Service.

For the women who advocated for the Marine Corps change, the new policy is a big win.

“I think it’s a great thing for Marines to be able to choose,” Frushour said.

— Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at drew.lawrence@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

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