Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Early Planning
The First WRs
Early Training: Holyoke and Hunter
Training: Camp Lejeune
Reserve Officer's Class
Specialist Schools
Director, MCWR
Assignment and Housing
Women's Reserve Band
Epilogue: War's End
Special Subjects
Women's Reserve Employment

FREE A MARINE TO FIGHT: Women Marines in World War II
by Colonel Mary V Stremlow, USMCR (Ret)


The basic wardrobe was pretty much chosen before the public announcement of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve. In mid-December 1942, the Commandant asked that Mrs. Anne Adams Lentz, an employee of the War Department, be assigned to Headquarters "for a period of approximately 30 days." Before the war, Mrs. Lentz worked in the school uniform department of a large New York City retail store, and then for eight months she assisted the WAACS with the design of their uniform. Action on the Commandant's letter was swift and Mrs. Lentz came on board in early January. After a preliminary consultation with the Depot Quartermaster in Philadelphia, she went to New York to oversee the design and construction of model uniforms for the Women's Reserve by the Women's Garment Manufacturers of New York. The Commandant's guidance was specific; he wanted the women dressed in the traditional Marine forest green with red chevrons and he insisted they look like Marines as much as possible. This was in stark contrast to the Navy which denied its women the privilege of wearing gold braid throughout the war.

Before her 30-day assignment expired, Mrs. Lentz decided to become a Marine, and became the first Woman Reservist when she was sworn in as a captain on 15 January 1943. The oath of office was administered by her husband, Brigadier General John M. Lentz, USA, who was attached to the Army Ground Forces Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

On 11 June 1943, a Uniform Unit was created as part of the Women's Reserve Section at Marine Corps Headquarters to arrange for uniforming enlistees when assigned to active duty, replenishing clothing from time to time, and planning for future needs. Soon after, on 17 June, the Marine Corps Women's Reserve Uniform Board was established to suggest articles of clothing and make recommendations to the Commandant. The original uniform regulations were published in August 1943 after approvals from the Uniform Board, the Commandant, and the Secretary of the Navy. But, this was not an issue so easily settled and a final version reflecting numerous changes, modifications, and additions, was reissued on 30 April 1945 as Uniform Regulations, U.S. Marine Women's Reserve, 1945. These regulations remained in force and the uniforms of women Marines changed very little until a new wardrobe was designed by the French couturier, Mainbocher, in 1952.

women of Company H
For a publicity photograph, the women of Company H, 2d Headquarters Battalion, Henderson Hall, model the various work and dress uniforms worn by women Marines during the course of World War II. From left are PFC Florence Miller, Cpl Lois Koester, Cpl Carol Harding, Sgt Violet Salela, Cpl Grace Steinmetz, Cpl Rose Mazur, and PFC Mary Swiderski. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 13061

Officers were paid a uniform allowance and gratuity of $250 and enlisted women received $200. With this the women bought two winter uniforms, hats, shoes, summer outfits, a purse, wool-lined raincoat, specified accessories, and undergarments. To make certain that the carefully designed uniforms looked exactly as intended and met the Corps' high standards, 13 women officers were ordered to a six-week intensive training session where they were drilled in the techniques of tailoring, alterations, clothing construction, and fitting before being assigned to uniform shops run by the post exchanges at major Marine Corps posts throughout the country.

The seemingly excessive attention to the women's uniforms reflected not only the Corps' well known concern with appearance, but it showed an astute appreciation of the problems encountered by the other services. The early WAAC uniform, for example, had been designed over a man's suit form with broad shoulders, no bosom, and slender hips. Although the prototype looked just fine, the real thing caused endless problems.

Unfortunately, the Marine Corps Women's Reserve adopted the WAVES' flawed system of supply and distribution, selling clothing manufactured by various firms at a 10 percent mark-up to retail stores and then reselling it at a 30 percent mark-up to the Women Reservists. The arrangement was abandoned within a year because the prices were excessive, shortages were the rule, and the women refused to pay for uniform items with defects — no matter how minor. The latter problem caused a log jam which would have been avoided if uniforms were simply issued with no arguments allowed.

Major reform was called for and on 16 February 1944, the Uniform Unit of the Women's Reserve Section, Reserve Division, Procurement Branch was transferred to the Office of the Quartermaster General and became the Women's Reserve Section, Supply Division, Quartermaster Department. The first action was to terminate all retail agreements and take responsibility for uniforming away from post exchanges.

Then, in August, four women officers became inspectors, visiting manufacturers and doing whatever they could to expedite the fulfillment of contracts. But despite the several organizational changes and system modifications, in her final report at the war's end, Colonel Streeter wrote, ". . . the supply of MCWR clothing was one of the few problems to which a satisfactory solution had not been found at the time that demobilization of the Women's Reserve began."

On one point everyone agreed: all matters of supply of the women's uniforms should have been handled as it was for enlisted men.


Tailored femininity was the goal, and by all accounts, it was achieved. The widespread and enthusiastic approval of the attractive uniforms gave everyone's morale a big lift, especially because once on active duty, Marines could not wear civilian clothing even on liberty. Colonel Streeter was especially proud of their appearance and demeanor. In her words, "You know, they had a certain reserve. They always looked well. They held themselves well. They had a certain dignity. And that was each one of them . . . ."

The MCWR uniform mirrored what was worn by all Marines in color and style, but was cut from a lighter-weight cloth. Generally, officers and enlisted women wore identically styled uniforms of the same fabric: this was not true of male Marines. Women officers wore green, detachable epaulets on the shoulder straps of summer uniforms and had additional dress uniforms. For dress, they wore the Marine officers' traditional gilt and silver emblems and the enlisted women wore the gilt emblems of enlisted Marines. Both wore the bronze eagle, globe, and anchor on their service uniforms, but positioned it differently. While the vertical axis of the hemisphere paralleled the crease line of the jacket collar for officers, it was worn perpendicular to the floor by enlisted women. Coats, caps, shoes, gloves, handbags, and mufflers were the same for all ranks. Enlisted women wore the same large chevrons as the men.

Marine Corps Women's Reserve
Col Katherine A. Towle, second director of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve, inspects WRs wearing winter service green at MCRD, Parris Island, in 1945. Photo courtesy of Sarah Thornton

Winter Service Uniform

Officers and enlisted women wore a forest green, serge man-tailored jacket and straight, six-gore skirt during the colder seasons. A long-sleeved khaki shirt with four-in-hand necktie, green cap, brown shoes and gloves, and bronze metal buttons completed the outfit. Women Reservists were easily recognized by their unique, visored bell-crowned hat, trimmed with a lipsick-red cord which set them apart from the WACs, WAVES, and SPARS whose hats closely resembled one anothers. They had a heavy green overcoat or khaki trenchcoat with detachable lining, always worn with a red muffler in winter. All women Marines owned black galoshes, boots, or rubbers to fit the unpopular, but comfortable oxfords.

Officer Winter Dress

Women Marines did not have a dress blue uniform until 1952. During World War II and for the seven years following, officers turned their winter service outfit into a dress uniform with a white shirt and forest green tie in place of the routine khaki. Enlisted women had no comparable dress option.

2dLt McKinnon
2dLt Elizabeth McKinnon, left, wears the summer service uniform with detachable green officer's epaulets added so that rank insignia could be seen more easily. Department of Defense Photos (USMC) 7416
Pvt Peterson
Pvt Anna K. Peterson, a clerk in the Family Allowance Section at Headquarters, Marine Corps, enlisted to help shorten the war so that her Navy husband could return as soon as possible. The fabric of her seersucker summer service uniform was selected for comfort. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 13024

Summer Service

The summer service uniform, a distinct departure from tradition, was a two-piece green and white seersucker or plisse dress. The fabric was specially selected by Captain Lentz for its comfort and laundering ease. V-necked and fastened with white or green plastic buttons, the jacket was available with short or long sleeves. The first summer hat, a round cap with a snap brim, was short-lived and was replaced by one styled after the winter hat, but in spruce green with white cap cord and bronze but tons. Later a garrison-style cap in the same light green shade and trimmed with white piping was added. Shoes, oxfords, or pumps, were brown and a white rayon muffler was worn with the trenchcoat. When it was realized that officer rank insignia could not be seen on the striped dress, green shoulder boards were added and they were fastened to the epaulets by the shoulder strap button and the rank insignia.

Summer Dress

The hands-down favorite uniform of all World War II WRs was the short-sleeved, V-necked white twill uniform worn with gilt buttons on the jacket and cap, dress emblems, and white pumps. The stiffly starched uniform never failed to evoke compliments. Enlisted women were disheartened when, after the war, because enlisted men had no equivalent uniform, it was discontinued.

Pvt Billie J. Redding married her hometown beau, Navy Ens William A. Lewis, in a military wedding in San Diego. In order not to violate uniform regulations, both the bride and her maid of honor, Helen Taylor, carried rather than wore their corsages. Photo courtesy of Billie J. Redding Lewis

Officer Summer Dress

Officers could choose among three summer dress uniforms: the white one worn by the enlisted women but with added green shoulder straps, summer dress "B," and summer undress "C." The latter two, made of white twill, worsted, or palm beach material were worn with a short-sleeved white blouse, and without a necktie or green shoulder straps. The "C" uniform was long sleeved and collarless. On these two uniforms, the officers wore their dress emblems not on the collar as usual, but on their epaulets, near the armhole seams, and they centered the rank insignia between the emblem and epaulet button. One WR reminisced that even a lieutenant looked like a four-star general with so much metal on her shoulders.

Wilson, Baker
WRs Arlene Wilson and Barbara Baker model work and dress versions of the summer uniform. For dress, a bright green cotton cover was used over the purse. Photo courtesy of Barbara Baker

Handbags, Shoes, and Hose

Women Marines had only one handbag, a brown, rough textured leather purse with a shoulder strap and spring closure. They learned to wear it over their left shoulder, leaving their right hand free to salute. The same brown bag became a bright summer accessory with the addition of a removable, spruce green, cotton purse cover and matching shoulder strap. Everyone wore dark brown, smooth leather oxfords or pumps with the winter service uniform and similar white pumps for dress in the summer. The dress pumps, with heels between one and one-half and two inches high, were trimmed with a flat bow.

Ladylike and fashionable full length, beige, seamed stockings were de rigeur with all service and dress uniforms and cotton hose was worn in ranks. Since nylon, rayon, and silk stockings were rationed because of wartime shortages, some women in other services were allowed to use leg makeup, but not women Marines.

Pvt Nocito
Pvt Eleanor Nocito, in dungarees and snap brim hat, served at MCAS, El Toro. Photo courtesy of Eleanor Nocito Tuomi

Utilities and Exercise Suits

Covert slacks were worn for certain duties, but the most common work uniform was the olive-drab, cotton utility uniform worn with the clumsy, heavy, high-topped shoes known as boondockers. The trousers with a bib front and long, crossed straps were worn over a short-sleeved, matching shirt or white tee shirt and topped by a long-sleeved jacket. Enlisted women stenciled their rank on the shirt and jacket sleeves.

For recreation, field nights, and physical conditioning, women Marines wore the "peanut suit," so named because of its color and crinkled appearance. It was a tan, seersucker, one-piece, bloomer outfit with ties at the bottom of the shorts. In keeping with prevailing standards of propriety, the women modestly covered their legs with a front-buttoned A-lined skirt when not actively engaged in sports, exercise, or work details.

Grooming, Handkerchiefs, and Undergarments

One of the first lessons learned by the women Marines was that there were rules for everything. Lipstick and nail polish could be worn, and in fact were encouraged, but the color absolutely had to harmonize with the red cap cord of the winter cap, regardless of the season. The favorite color was Montezuma Red, designed in their honor. Rouge, mascara, and hair coloring were permitted, but had to be inconspicuous. Realistically, it was nearly impossible for a woman to tint or bleach her hair because the color had to match the information on her identification card. The regulations favored feminine hair styles with hair neither too short nor too long; by directive, hair could touch, but not cover the collar.

Not even something as personal as underwear escaped strict regulation. Bras and girdles — whether needed or not — and full length white slips were always worn underneath the service and dress uniforms. Handkerchiefs could be khaki when the khaki shirt was worn, otherwise, they had to be white.

Hair ornaments were forbidden and the only jewelry allowed were simple rings and wrist watches.

The uniforms were fashionable and admired and thankfully belied the never-ending logistical problems surrounding their design, specifications, sizing, inspections, supply, and distribution.

Cpl Bacon
Cpl Constance H. Bacon, a bank teller before the war, worked as an auditor in the Paymaster Department, Headquarters, Marine Corps. On her fingernails is regulation "Lipstick Red" nail polish, which was formulated to match the red cap cord of the winter service uniform. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 301456
A woman Marine bicycles at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in a seersucker "peanut suit," named for its beige, crinkly fabric and bloomer legs, and worn for its comfort. Photo courtesy of Raelyn Harman Subramanian

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division