Here in Hell’s Kitchen, Fleet Week is well underway — and you may have already spotted US service members from the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard on the streets. But how to work out who is who? Read on for some timely guidance…
Possibly the most recognizable of the bunch, service members from the US Navy are most frequently seen wearing their Service Dress Whites. The iconic sailor silhouette — featuring bell-bottom pants and a wide-collared shirt with a neckerchief — comes in both a primarily white and primarily blue design, the latter of which earned the uniform the nickname “crackerjacks” after the snack box icon of the same name. The round white cap for each is known as a “dixie cup”, a nickname said to possibly originate from its similarity in appearance to the popular paper ice cream cup.
You may also spot US Navy Officers and Chief Petty Officers (CPOs) decked out in their own service dress whites, which are reserved for warm weather and feature a stand collar tunic with white trousers, white shoes, and white combination cap. Officers in uniform sport epaulets (shoulder boards) while CPOs wear metal anchors on the collar.
The US Marine Corps are a division of the Navy — and subsequently there are quite a few Marines on the West Side this week. While their Navy Blue Dress uniform (featuring a navy stand collar tunic, white shirt, and sky blue slacks) is perhaps the most recognizable (and often featured in recruiting ads), it is equivalent to a civilian “black tie” dress code and reserved solely for formal occasions.
Many Marines in town are wearing a more informal variation of the Blue Dress uniform — the “C” or “D” uniform consisting of a khaki shirt (C= long sleeve, D= short sleeve) sky blue slacks, and a white cap. Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) have a scarlet stripe down the leg, the width of which denotes their rank: a 2″ stripe for general officers, a 1.5″ stripe for field- and company-grade officers, and a 1.125″ stripe for NCOs.
Coast Guard Officers sport a near-identical uniform to the US Navy Service Dress Whites, aside from service-specific buttons, insignia and sword design.
And while some of the uniforms — most specifically, the “crackerjack” Navy Dress Whites — may appear to be of another time, it’s because they are. Jessica Williams, Curator of History and Collections at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on W47th, explained that today’s uniform is similar to the kinds of things that crew members were wearing during Intrepid’s service” from 1943 to 1974.
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“There was a period between the end of the Intrepid service and now where the Navy attempted to eliminate that sailor uniform to something that was more of a tucked-in shirt and tie outfit, but sailors had a deep attachment to the traditional uniform,” she said. “It’s iconic — and so the original design didn’t go anywhere and they went back to what we see now. The uniforms that were on Intrepid between the 1940s and the 1970s are similar to what we’re seeing around the neighborhood.”
Some sailors even chose to enlist based on the iconic uniform, Williams added: “We’ve talked to many former crew members about why they joined the Navy, and people have all sorts of reasons — but there are a few who say, ‘You know, it was the uniform.’ They imagined themselves wearing that uniform. And it looked sharp to them and it really signified the Navy. The classic ‘crackerjack’ uniform definitely had an appeal.”.
In addition to being spotted around the neighborhood, military uniforms have one more important West Side connection. Some military uniforms, all of which must be made in the USA of US raw materials, are produced right here in the Garment District on W36th Street. Goldatech, a company founded by independent fashion designers Rachel Rothenberg-Saenz, Alexandra Baylis, and Amy Tiefermann, who met while working at Oscar De La Renta, initially began producing high-quality, reusable and sanitizable PPE in response to the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. After the need for PPE slowed, the startup won contracts to work for the military, including the Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force.
While some aspects of the uniforms remain unchanged, other design elements have recently been updated. Previous female service uniform options were either a completely different design outfit, or the same outfit originally designed for men, in 2017 the Navy expanded to include newly redesigned options for female service members as well as maternity uniforms, and Goldatech has been at the forefront of production.
“Everyone feels that this is so much more rewarding than high-end design,” explained Catie Savage, the co-author of this article who is a former patternmaker at Ralph Lauren and now assists in uniform production. “Being responsible for and making sure that the men and women of the armed forces have properly fitting garments that are well constructed has been really great.”
Thanks to the hard-working team at Goldatech and uniform manufacturers across the country, the service members around New York look their sharpest. You can see for yourself should you take a tour of the USS Bataan as part of the Fleet Week festivities. And if you spot an outfit that you just can’t identify — it’s likely the British Royal Navy personnel from the HMS Protector, which has arrived at Fleet Week from patrolling the Arctic and Antarctic!