Monday, August 30, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Bret McGraw and Thomas Collins show the Navy's new straight-
legged trousers. Chad Heskett, right, is wearing the bell-bottom
uniforms that are being phased out. The change is greeted with
enthusiasm by some who say the uniforms are more practical,
but others lament the loss.

Navy getting new
look as bell bottoms
are phased out

Straight-legged dark blue
trousers are being met with
mixed reactions

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Bell-bottom dungarees with patch pockets have been a Navy tradition for more than 180 years.

But just as bell bottoms may be making a comeback in the fashion scene, the Navy is phasing out the pants with flared 12-inch bottoms for a utility uniform that features straight-legged dark blue trousers.

The new trousers will be made of a 65/35 percent polyester/cotton twill blend and have slash pockets. The accompanying shirt will be a 65/35 percent polyester/cotton poplin blend.

However, not all sailors are enthusiastic over the change.

"They are trying too hard to make us look like the Coast Guard and the Air Force," said Petty Officer Chad Heskett, a hospital corpsman on the frigate USS Crommelin, now underway after leaving Pearl Harbor last week for a three-month eastern Pacific deployment.

Heskett, who has served on three ships since he joined the Navy 6 years ago, added: "It's taking too much away from tradition. It will cost the Navy more to buy these new uniforms."

The Navy now requires sailors to have five sets of dungarees in their sea bags. By January 2001 the bell bottoms will be in mothballs and replaced by the new "utilities."

New one-piece, dark blue coveralls will become another mandatory working uniform by next October. That means each sailor by the end of the year 2000 must have a set of two coveralls and four new utilities.

A sartorial tradition since 1817

The Navy says bell-bottom trousers were introduced in 1817 "to permit men to roll them above the knee when washing down the decks and to make it easier to remove them in a hurry when forced to abandon ship or when washed overboard."

The trousers also may be used as a life preserver by knotting the legs and trapping air in them.

There is no relationship between the 13 buttons on the trousers and the 13 original colonies. Before 1894, the trousers had only seven buttons, and in the early 1800s they had 15 buttons.

It wasn't until the broad-fall front was enlarged that the 13 buttons were added to the uniform, and then only to add design symmetry.

In 1901, Navy regulations authorized the first use of denim jumpers and trousers.

Twelve years later, regulations allowed the dungaree outfit to be worn by both officers and enlisted sailors.

Gregg K. Kakesako, Star-Bulletin

If the parting of the denim bell-bottom trousers is meeting with mixed reactions, the issuance of the coveralls seems to be getting resounding approval at Pearl Harbor.

Petty Officer Bret McGraw, a Navy veteran of 11 years, says he never liked bell bottoms but is an enthusiastic supporter of the new coveralls.

"I own seven pairs," said McGraw, a boatswain's mate on the Crommelin. "I get dirty a lot, and I find the coveralls are more convenient. They are one piece, and you just have to step into them and zip them up."

The Navy requires that all work uniforms have sewn-on rank and warfare insignias, rating badges and name tapes.

Although the new utility uniforms, especially the shirts, look sharper and are easier to maintain, Petty Officer Thomas Collins said he doesn't consider them "working uniforms."

"They're great if you just work in an office," said Thomas, a storekeeper on the Crommelin.

McGraw said he's glad the Navy is getting rid of the bell bottoms.

"I never wore bell bottoms until I got into the Navy in 1988 ... and I never liked those patch pockets," he said. "They were just hard to get into."

Heskett, however, said bell bottoms have their advantages.

"The wide leg makes them easier to get into in a hurry," he said. "You can easily slip them over your boots."

The change is expensive. The Navy will cover the cost of replacing four new sets of utilities by the time the uniform becomes mandatory on Jan. 1, 2001.

Each new set costs anywhere from $32 to $34, depending on whether the sailor buys a short or long-sleeved shirt. And then at least another $15 will be needed to buy and sew on name tags and insignias.

The blue coveralls are optional items -- costing a sailor $19.50 a set and another $15 for the insignias -- until they become mandatory on Oct. 1, 2000.

In the end, Heskett believes the Navy should stay with the chambray shirts and bell-bottom trousers.

"It's less expensive, more comfortable and more traditional," he said. "The military today is just getting away from our traditions."

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