NPS Uniform Collection FAQs

Do all NPS employees wear uniforms?

No. Employees that interact regularly with the public are required to wear the appropriate uniform for the position and season. These employees are usually park managers, interpreters, law enforcement rangers, cultural resource managers, natural resource managers, maintenance workers, and U.S. Park Police officers. Many others play vital roles within the NPS, but are not required to wear uniforms. These may include administrative and budget staffs; curators, conservators, and museum registrars; archaeologists and other field scientists; regional office staffs, and many employees in the NPS Washington Office.

I have noticed different employees wearing different kinds of uniforms. Why is that?

Uniformed employees often wear different styles of the NPS uniform depending on their positions and duties. Wearing the appropriate uniform and work apparal for a particular task is both practical and safe. For example, the maintenance uniform shirt is made of a more breathable poplin fabric and does not have shoulder epaulettes and other features that can be a hazard when working with power tools and heavy equipment. Different uniforms for different functions also provides managers with a tool to readily identify and provide uniformed employees with clear guidance on which components should be worn for those tasks.

Uniform classes and components have changed over time. The current classes are the standard Service Uniform (for public contact positions), the Field Uniform (public contact positions where environmental conditions dictate a more practical uniform) and the Work Uniform (used for work projects and backcountry use).

Do employees pay for their own uniforms?

NPS employees required to wear the uniform receive an annual uniform allowance, as authorized by the Federal Uniform Allowance Act (Public Law 89-554). Uniformed employees receive an allowance of $400 per year, the level set in 1988. Employees are responsible for paying for cleaning and care of their uniforms.

Were the women's uniforms really modelded after airline stewardess uniforms?

Yes. The 1959 Uniform Regulations authorized the first "stewardess" pattern, which became effective on January 1, 1961. The jacket and skirt were styled after Delta Airlines uniforms (#A-703). The pillbox hat is modelded after those worn by American Airlines stewardesses (Delta uniforms #A-707). For some unexplained reason, the uniforms changed again in 1962. Although the collar on the shirt and jacket changed to a shawl cloar and the number of buttons on the coat jacket reduced from four to three, the 1962 uniform retained the basic "stewardess look." Winter- and summer-weight uniforms were available. Only women whose duties involved regular public contact wore the uniform. A new uniform replaced the "stewardess" uniform in 1970.

Did the women wear "go-go boots" with their uniforms in the 1970s?

The so-called "go-go boots" are a controversial aspect of the NPS women's uniform. Some individuals have vivid memories of female rangers wearing white go-go boots or refer to the boots they themselves wore as go-go boots. The idea of go-go boots as part of the 1970-1974 beige NPS uniform has certainly remained part of the public consciousness. What is fact and what is fiction?

First let's define go-go boots. Invented in the mid-1960s as a fashion boot, the original go-go boots were white, plastic, low heeled and mid-calf in height. The go-go boots evolved to include knee-high, square-toed boots with block heels. In the 1970s, go-go boots were made from various colors of vinyl and other plastics.

So how does that description square with the NPS uniform? At that time, uniform suppliers did not provide women with a standard shoe or boot so there are no catalogs that show go-go boots (or any other kind) to order. Women provided their own shoes based on general requirements. The 1970 Uniform Standard states that boots “should be simple in styling, comfortable and for winter should have warm lining. Again, color should be beige or tan to light brown in the same color family as basic uniform in a smooth or lightly grained leather (not suede or reptile). Work boots should coordinate as nearly as possible.” Although the standard does not specify height of the boots, it does specify color (beige to light brown) and material (leather) boots. Therefore, if white vinyl boots (of any height) are part of the definition of go-go boots, the term should not apply to the NPS uniform.

One of the photographs usually cited as evidence of the white go-go boots is used on the cover of the NPS Uniform Series, Volume 4 (available above) which shows Marion Riggs Durham modeling the new uniform at a fashion show in Independence National Historical Park in 1970. In correspondence we have in the NPS archives, Marion herself states that she “detested everyone calling them go-go boots.” Although the boots may look whitish as printed on the cover, the original photograph and others taken the same day clearly demonstrate that they were tan. The boots in the photos of Durham do have a chunky heel and a square toe. However, they are not knee-high. Other photographs in the NPS History Collection of women wearing the 1970 uniform show women wearing low-heeled tan or brown shoes or do not show the footwear.

Does the lack of photographs mean that women did not wear knee-high, white go-go boots? Of course not. Does the fact that the regulations call only for tan or light brown leather boots mean that is what was always worn everywhere? Certainly not. Although the NPS uniform has a “standard” there is a lot of photographic evidence to show that uniforms where not always worn properly. Superintendents also sometimes authorized local changes to the uniform dress code. While it remains possible that they were worn, they were not part of the official NPS uniform. If you have photographs showing footwear from the time, please consider sharing them with the archivist.

Beyond the specifics of height, color, material, toe shape and heel height, why is it important? Does it even matter if we call them go-go boots? As a fashion statement, probably not. But consider for a moment the historical context of the women in the NPS. From the hiring of the first female ranger in 1918, the issues of the women’s uniform were those of equality, comfort, and appropriateness for the job at hand. The first official women’s uniform was authorized on June 2, 1947, 31 years after the founding of the NPS—and then it was classified under the heading of “Special Uniforms.” If the uniform is a recognizable symbol of NPS, are women without a uniform in a sense invisible?

Consider also the roles available to most women during much of the 20th century. In 1960, the NPS issued a written statement on employment of women in uniformed positions that states in part, “women cannot be employed in certain jobs, such as Park Ranger or Seasonal Park Ranger . . . in which the employee is subject to be called to fight fires, take part in rescue operations, or do other strenuous or hazardous work.” It goes on to state that women may participate in “lecture programs, guided tours, museum and library work, and in research programs,” calling that work “entirely appropriate and very helpful in many Parks.”

Pants were not included in the women’s uniform until 1970. This certainly was a limiting factor in jobs women “were allowed” to do. Although most of the women did not like the 1970 uniform for its impractical color and fabric, they did appreciate that it included a pantsuit option. Ultimately, although it was change over the “airline stewardess” uniform, it was not what the women who had been advocating for when lobbying for a new uniform. Many women looked at the 1970 uniform as an interim step (change) towards their ultimate goal: wearing the standard uniform and, as Marion Riggs Durham described it, “acceptance as an equal in dress as well as job.”

Go-go boots may have been fashionable but they certainly would not have been practical for many jobs women in the NPS wanted to do. Considering the national conversation in the 1970s regarding women’s liberation and equal rights, does calling the uniform boots “go-go boots” focus on fashion over the substance of what NPS women accomplished? Let’s give Marion the last word. When asked if her photograph could be used on the NPS uniform book she responded “I would be honored to be the cover subject of the book on women’s uniforms. My only concern is a feeling that since our preferred objective was to have the women wear the same uniform as the men, the ‘interim’ uniform I modeled doesn’t reflect the true picture of our efforts.”

When did men and women beging wearing equivalent NPS uniforms?

Almost since the NPS’s creation in 1916, the difference in uniforms between men and women in the NPS was an issue for many women who wanted to be equal in uniform as well as work. It wasn’t until spring 1978, however, that the uniform regulation authorized women to wear the same “gray and green”—in all of its configurations—as their male counterparts. However, supply shortages and other issues with the uniform contractor delayed implementation of the new women’s uniform standard. Lack of progress in addressing these issues led to a class action lawsuit filed against the NPS on December 21, 1979. Following intense discussions over the next couple of months, the lawsuit was withdrawn on February 23, 1980. In 1980, R&R Uniforms was awarded a contract to furnish uniforms for both men and women in the NPS. Reconciling the size and cut of the clothing to fit women was a challenge (and many women are still unhappy with the sizing and fit of the women’ uniform today) but NPS women finally were able to purchase and wear the same uniform as NPS men.

Can I donate my uniform to the NPS History Collection?

The NPS History Collection does accept donations of NPS and U.S. Park Police uniforms, provided they fit within the scope of collection statement. Condition, rarity of the uniform component, number of examples already in the collection, and information available about the career of the employee that wore the uniform all factor into decisions about accepting donations to the collection. Please contact the curator to discuss any potential donations.

Can we borrow NPS uniform items?

The NPS History Collection will loan NPS uniform items from the museum collection to parks and non-NPS museums that meet professional museum standards for short-term exhibition. The NPS does not loan materials to individuals. Museum uniforms cannot be worn for interpretive programs, “fashion shows” or similar events. Museums considering developing an exhibition featuring the NPS uniform should contact the curator.

Last updated: March 22, 2018