July Artifact of the Month – WAVES Uniform

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The June Artifact of the Month is a WAVES uniform set that was given to The Mariners’ Museum by Mrs. Clara Gemmet. Mrs. Gemmet joined the Navy in 1955 and went to boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland. Following her basic training, she went to Airman Prep school, which she passed and continued on to the Naval Air Station Memphis, a major technical station for the Navy and Marine Corps. According to Mrs. Gemmet, she is still in touch with some of the women she was in the Navy with and, if given the opportunity, she would go back and do it all over again. She specifically states, “The women I worked with, shared cubicles with were wonderful, honest, proud women – proud to be helping their country by wearing OUR uniform.” Mrs. Gemmet is still involved with the WAVES through WAVES National, which works with women from all of the seagoing services, along with the Sacramento WAVES and as an officer in her local branch of Fleet Reserve Association.

 

Propaganda poster encouraging enlistment in the WAVES. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.
Propaganda poster encouraging enlistment in the WAVES. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

 

In the end of July 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the creation of a World War II naval division for women, known as Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service, or WAVES. It allowed women to be placed into non-combat jobs within the continental United States, in an attempt to fill desk jobs with women and therefore enable men to take on combat roles elsewhere. For example, women worked as pharmacist assistants, radio dispatchers, mechanics, mail carriers and decoders. Within one year of FDR’s signing of the law, about 27,000 women had signed up for service. By the time the war was over, there were about 8,000 female officers, and almost 84,000 enlisted women, which made up about 2.5% of the total navy.[1] These women, including Mrs. Gemmet, still wore skirts and dresses as part of their uniforms, as opposed to pants, along with fitted jackets and heels.

 

WAVES trainee patch, Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.
WAVES trainee patch, Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

 

Some of the pieces donated by Mrs. Gemmet include a seersucker pinstriped cotton dress, a summer dress uniform coat and skirt, a pair of uniform stockings, and an assortment of the patches that would have gone on her uniforms. The seersucker dress, pictured below, has a patch on the left sleeve, and is a shirtdress style with buttons running down the sleeve. The patch on the sleeve of the dress, with three green diagonal lines, signifies her ranking as Airman First Class. One of the other patches within the collection, pictured above, is unusual in the fact that it is the logo of the WAVES, an anchor on top of a propeller, with a gold background. This gold background signifies that the wearer is a trainee, and is from Mrs. Gemmet’s time training for the WAVES.

 

WAVES seersucker dress, Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.
WAVES seersucker dress, Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

 

Included at the bottom of the post is a full list of what officers within the WAVES were required to have for their uniforms. Typically officers were allowed $250 to purchase their uniforms, while enlisted members were allowed $200 for all of the pieces. Women could find these items at naval supply stores, have them tailor-made or even purchased from civilian stores, as long as they met all regulations. These basic items below were all required, but there were also other suggested items, such as the winter coat, that enlisted women could buy at their personal expense. It also outlined the ways and situations in which it was appropriate to wear the uniform, and a list of ways to remove work-specific stains from the uniform materials was also included for the women to reference.

 

Required Items of Uniform (for Officers) as of October 1943

Navy blue service jacket

Navy blue service skirt

White service jacket

White service skirt

Working uniform

Raincoat – overcoat

Navy blue shirt

Reserve blue shirt

White shirt, short sleeve or long-sleeve

Black ties

Reserve blue ties

Officer hat

Navy blue officer hat cover

White officer hat cover

Gray officer hat cover

Officer hat device

Officers Havelock

Beige hose

Black shoes

White dress shoes

Sneakers

Black gloves

White gloves

Black handbag

White handbag (or optional handbag cover)

Muffler

Aviation coverall and cap

Working smock

Slacks


[1] “World War Two Era Waves Overview and Special Image Select ion,” Naval History and Heritage Command, Accessed March 13, 2013. http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/prs-tpic/females/wave-ww2.htm

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