THE WAAC UNIFORM  

Beginning in 1942, the introduction of women into the armed services posed new problems for the office of the Quartermaster General (OQMG) due to the assignment for clothing and equipping these women. The Quartermaster Corps found itself in the women’s clothing business, a development it had not foreseen. Furthermore, it had little or no experience to draw from.

In the development of Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) clothing, three organizations played a part. These were initially the Office of the Quartermaster General (OQMG), the Philadelphia Depot, and the WAAC. In the period just prior to the establishment of the WAAC, Oveta Culp Hobby, as Director Designate, participated in the preliminary planning of the uniform. Formal approval of the developed garments came in May 1942, after the enactment of the legislation creating the WAAC.

The OQMG was concerned primarily with the design of the uniforms and the Philadelphia Depot collected information on manufacturing procedures and made laboratory and wear tests of fabrics and items involved. Later, both organizations added women consultants to their staffs; however, the more active participation by women came after the initial planning of the program had been completed. The uniform had been basically determined by the time women consultants entered the picture and due to the publicity buildup concerning the women’s uniform, it was decided to abide by the choices made. The failure to utilize women consultants trained in the field from the beginning of the program made its consequences felt both in the OQMG and the Depot. The designs that were developed had to be modified soon after the first issue of WAAC clothing.

 DEVELOPMENT OF THE UNIFORM
February to May 1942

On Feb 5, 1942, Colonel L.O. Grice, Standardization Branch, OQMG, was designated as the officer in charge of development. February to May 1942 was characterized by furious activity; weekly and frequently semi-weekly conferences were held in Washington and New York. Designers and representatives of industry were present at many of the conferences; they produced and exhibited many samples. Philip Mangone, an outstanding designer of women’s suits, had early been brought into the project and worked throughout the period on both the jacket and the overcoat. Russell Patterson, Maria Krum, Helen Cookman, and Mary Sampson were among others who contributed.

During the conferences, textile decisions were made and unmade; the jacket was a prime example. It originally included a belt, then on Mar 25, 1942, a decision was made to eliminate the belt. Then on May 13, it was decided a detachable belt gave the jacket a more military look. The jacket issued to the first detachment of WAACs at Des Moines carried a belt 1 " wide. Then it was promptly eliminated in the revision of the pattern in October 1942. The design and development of the outer uniform as it finally emerged was the work of no one person but the result of group work.

Early on colors were decided (by March 11, 1942). The decision was made (after much discussion) in favor of Army colors. Ms. Hobby had favored Army colors from the beginning. The dark and light olive-drab, similar to Army shades was chosen for WAAC officer personnel. Olive-drab and light olive-drab, the standard shades for enlisted men, were selected for the enlisted WAAC. Khaki was chosen as the color of the summer uniform for all categories. At the same time, the official colors for the WAAC were chosen. Old gold and moss green were approved Mar 25, 1942.

The design of the insignia was entrusted by Colonel Grice to the Heraldic Section who was charged with designing insignia for collar, lapel and cap, as well as for buttons. However, the need for conserving metal had to be considered. In a meeting on Mar 19, 1942, it was agreed upon to use olive-drab, plastic buttons. The cap insignia was also to be in plastic (later changed to a gold metal). From pencil sketches produced by the Heraldic Section, Director Hobby had a jeweler in New York make, in gold for her own use, a cap insignia of an eagle. This hand-cut eagle proved to be somewhat lopsided; however, it was the design chosen by WAAC Headquarters. The WAAC eagle (later dubbed the "buzzard") thus became the design for the hat insignia and the buttons. Officers would wear a cut-out insignia on their cap and the enlisted would wear the same design superimposed on a disc.

Based upon WAAC duties and functions provided by Colonel Grice, the Heraldic Section (after several attempts) submitted designs of the head and helmet of the Greek Goddess, Pallas Athene, as being most symbolic of the WAAC role. The design was officially approved by WAAC Headquarters on May 13, 1942 and was to be worn on the lapel as WAC insignia on the uniform.

A sleeve patch or tab was designed to be worn directly beneath the chevrons. The tab was designed in the WAAC colors with the letters "WAAC" in moss-toned embroidered on an old-gold background. It was approved by WAAC Headquarters on Aug 4, 1942.

An item of the uniform which was adopted only after prolonged discussion and the fashioning of one to two hundred samples was the WAAC cap. Involved in this were companies such as the Knox Division, the Hat Corporation of America and the Stetson Hat Company. The visored cap was finally selected which later became known as the "Hobby Hat."

A heavy topcoat was designed by Mangone, very similar in cut to the men’s overcoat. In place of the men’s field jacket, a light utility coat was designed by Maria Krum, resembling a hooded raincoat with button-in lining. A handbag with shoulder strap was authorized since women’s uniforms had no pants pocket and breast pockets for carrying necessities.

Tan oxfords, tennis shoes, galoshes, and bedroom slippers were selected. Mrs. Hobby recommended plain pumps for dress shoes but was outvoted on grounds of economy. She also desired lisle stockings for dress but only rayons were available and plain cotton stockings were chosen for work.

The design of the outer uniform was completed and offered by the Quartermaster General for approval by the General Staff on May 16, 1942.

May to July 1942

Between May 16 and the opening of the WAAC Training Center, July 10, 1942, many other items had to be developed. These included undergarments, work clothes (i.e.. a basic dress and apron for cooks, as well as a cap, and the two-piece herringbone twill), sweaters, exercise suits, gloves, scarves, handkerchiefs, and other items.

The Depot, in consideration of undergarments, included brassieres, girdles, panties, and slips. The girdle question involved the most difficult of all underwear decisions. The conference to determine specifications for the girdle took place in New York on May 29. The tentative specifications for both foundation garments and underwear were arrived at by this date. A final conference was held in Washington on June 3, 1943.

The problem of athletic clothing was approached late in March. The exercise suit (which consisted of a knee-length, one-piece dress with separate bloomers) was approved by the Director, WAAC, on June 6, 1942.

Work clothes along with a myriad of items were discussed at a conference on Apr 9. A miscellaneous list of items needed to complete the WAAC outfit was submitted to the General Staff for approval by the Quartermaster General on June 3, 1942.

The bulk of developmental work had been accomplished by June 3; however, modifications occurred almost to the opening date of the first training center at Fort Des Moines on July 20, 1942.

Criticism & Modification of the
Original WAAC Uniform, 1942-1945

Out of 750 jackets issued to the first contingent of WAAC, 531 had to be altered. Criticism extended to every piece of the uniform. Apart from the stockings, there was no item which was not sharply criticized on design and sometimes fabric as well.

WAAC Headquarters approved the design of the jacket and skirt on May 13, 1942. The next step was for a pattern to be made and graded for sizes to include tests, which would determine whether the garment was satisfactory. At that point all inadequacies would have been corrected. Unfortunately, time did not allow for this procedure. June 30, 1942 had been established as a deadline for delivery on the first orders.

In August 1942, Major S.J. Kennedy assumed charge of the WAAC clothing program. Since the Philadelphia Depot laid the blame for problems on the OQMG, Major Kennedy gave the Depot the opportunity to handle the job.

Changes and redesign of some parts of the jacket were made and at the same time, changes to the skirt were made. The Depot completed revised patterns on October 20, 1942. However, criticism continued, especially in regard to the jacket. Two major problems became apparent: (1) The production performed by the men’s clothing industry and (2) stiffness of the cotton twill material. A large part of the difficulty arose from the fact that the pattern had never been in the hands of a good tailor for women’s clothing but had been handled at the Depot by pattern makers and designers of men’s clothing.

Eventually, the OQMG, displeased with the lack of progress made by the Depot and under pressure to satisfy complaints of WAAC Headquarters, decided to assume greater control over the development of patterns. Lieutenant Colonel Kennedy had become convinced that previous efforts to remedy defects by modifications were foredoomed to failure, and it would be wise to start anew. Three commercial pattern makers were selected for this task. The project was completed by June 1, 1943, a month before the WAAC was changed to the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). With the approval of the pattern, 750 jackets and 1,000 skirts were manufactured as a test issue. The test was conducted at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. The new patterns proved easier to fit; therefore, the old patterns were replaced. The Women’s Army Corps was on the way to becoming the best dressed women in the military.

Recruiting lagged behind in the fall of 1943 and in the winter of 1943 -1944 despite the urgency of the need for more women. There was a tendency to attribute at least part of this to the problems that had been experienced with the uniform – criticisms that had appeared in the press from time to time. However, in reality, due to the many responses given for failure to enlist, there was little correlation between the uniform and enlistment. Nevertheless, early in 1944, due to publicity surrounding the uniform, a thorough review was made by the OQMG and an improved model was prepared and accepted by WAC Headquarters.

With the approval of the general issue of a summer tropical worsted uniform to all WAC enlisted for the summer of 1944, the new pattern was put into production. By the fall of 1944, the Quartermaster General was informed that it was the "desire of the Chief of Staff that sufficient tropical worsted items of uniform be issued to enlisted women of the WAC to render wearing of the cotton khaki unnecessary. Tropical worsted WAAC caps were issued to match the uniform; however, complaints continued regarding this cap leading to the approval of a garrison cap. On May 25, 1944, the off-duty dress was approved by the War Department as an item of issue to enlisted women. Additionally, the WAC "pinks and greens" uniform replaced the "original WAAC officer uniform" which was two-tones of olive drab. The jacket color remained the same, but the skirt was changed to a pinkish beige color called "pink."

From 1942 – 1945, due to the large WAC organization to prepare for, many problems occurred "not the least of which were shortages of warm clothing." In the winters of 1942 – 1943 and part of 1943 – 1944, WAAC/WAC personnel who were engaged in outdoor activities were issued whatever warm clothing was available. This included enlisted men’s items such as overcoats, wool socks, long wool drawers and shirts, gloves, combat jackets and trousers, as well as green, CCC mackinaws. In addition to shortages, changes occurred in almost every piece of clothing except for the dresses for cooks, bakers, and laundresses. Other pieces were eliminated (i.e., the WAAC slipper) and some were added (i.e., the WAC hospital dress, 1945). WAAC underwear underwent considerable modification since the first issue in 1942 but was still being issued in 1945. The changes in underwear allowed better fit, warmth, and comfort.

Although initially there were many problems associated with development of the WAAC uniform, most were resolved over time by close coordination between the WAC and OQMG.

 

Source:  Former Director, AWM and QMC Historical Studies: A Wardrobe for the Women in the Army, October 1945 and U.S. Army in World War II, Special Studies, The Women’s Army Corps, 1954

 

U.S. Army Women's Museum
Fort Lee, Virginia