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Post's ban on baggy pants, visible thongs sparks ire, applause

Aug. 12, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
A dress code poster at Fort Stewart, Ga., suggests violations of wardrobe policy.
A dress code poster at Fort Stewart, Ga., suggests violations of wardrobe policy. (Fort Stewart)
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A poster publicized by Fort Irwin, Calif., shows soldiers what's off limits. (National Training Center Fort Irwin Facebook image)

Aloha. Now cover up.

Stationed in the Army’s Pacific paradise?
Here are some of the things you can’t wear at Army facilities in Hawaii, according to a policy memo:
■ Clothes with distasteful or obscene language, and clothes that show illegal drugs or drug activity.
■ Tops that show your midriff.
■ See-through clothes.
■ Underwear that shows.
■ “Short” skirts or shorts.
■ Saggy trousers and cutoffs that show pocket linings.
■ Swimsuits, unless you’re at the pool.
And no bare feet. Ever.
— Kathleen Curthoys

A crackdown on what people wear off duty at several posts has provoked a surprising call for stricter dress codes across the Army.

A crackdown on what people wear off duty at several posts has provoked a surprising call for stricter dress codes across the Army.

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A crackdown on off-duty attire at several posts has provoked a surprising call for stricter dress codes across the Army.

It has also caused some to say the Army is going too far.

The catalyst is a ban on saggy pants, do-rags, sexy clothes and vulgar T-shirts at Fort Irwin, Calif., which inspired calls from beyond the post for installation dress codes Army-wide.

Apart from well-established regulations that govern a soldier’s personal appearance on and off duty, dress codes at Fort Irwin and some other posts ban revealing, offensive and unkempt attire at on-post facilities, including gyms and shops.

Folks wearing belly shirts, pajamas, ripped jeans, visible thong underwear and other dress-code violations will be turned away by Fort Irwin facilities managers.

The move echoes a two-year effort by the service’s top enlisted official, Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler, who has been pushing to expand the soldier appearance standards outlined in Army Regulation 670-1, banning visible body piercings and earrings for male soldiers while off duty.

Although dress regulations are the domain of each post, Chandler said soldier appearance frequently comes up when he conducts town hall meetings with soldiers.

“The American public trusts and respects our Army because of our professionalism, and your appearance and actions play a large role in shaping their opinion of the Army,” he said.

The Fort Irwin dress code and poster advertising it attracted more than 400 comments from soldiers, spouses and civilians in four days after it appeared on the post’s Facebook page Aug. 5.

Many who commented cheered the rules as a victory for taste and respectability, saying the rules should be instituted throughout the Army.

Others bemoaned what they saw as an Army overreach or an insult.

“The good news is that I have ordered several burqas (all in black as not to offend those who are sensitive to color) and I’ll be able to use all of the facilities on post in the near future without harassment,” said Amber Mooney, an Army wife at Fort Irwin who took to Facebook to object.

But the rules would be welcome to Army wife and vet Marilyn Geer Rivera, who lamented seeing a man at Fort Belvoir, Va., with saggy pants belted around his ankles “like a thug,” and women at other posts where she’s lived in dirty tank tops and short shorts.

“That is so flipping ridiculous,” Geer Rivera told Army Times. “I just don’t want to have the conversation with my kids. You do a double-take and you’re like, ‘Why?’ ”

The Army does not mandate such policies, which are made and enforced by garrison commanders on an installation-by-installation basis.

Posts with broad garrisonwide policies include Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.; Fort Wainwright and Fort Richardson, Alaska, and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, which has had its policy for more than five years.

Schofield’s latest policy memo on the dress code makes sponsors responsible for “the appearance, attire, and conduct of their Family members, and they too are expected to conform.”

Order vs. individuality

Fort Irwin, though not the only post with an installation dress code, offers a glimpse into how one might work.

Residents began in late July to see a poster at public buildings that depicted the very attire it was prohibiting, with photos of short skirts and shorts, belly shirts, undershirts as outerwear and swimsuits — alongside pajamas, ripped jeans and do-rags.

“Clothing with obscene, slanderous, drug paraphernalia or related statements, vulgar words or drawings, sexually suggestive [clothes] or clothing which makes disparaging comments concerning the military and the United States government is prohibited,” the notice reads. “By order of the commander.”

When post’s command team, Col. Jonathan P. Braga and Command Sgt. Maj. Dale Perez, appeared on a post radio show, they thanked supporters and detractors alike for the feedback. Perez disputed one unfavorable comparison of the post to a dictatorship.

“The [dress code] just restricts what you can wear inside a facility if you want service,” Perez said. “In general, on post, you wear what you want. Nobody’s going to tell you to buy a new wardrobe.”

Braga said the policy was meant to “establish a good family atmosphere,” and to preventantiobiotic-resistant staph infections at the post’s fitness facility, which he linked to the wearing of tank tops at the post gym.

“At the end of the day, I think it helps with some good order and discipline as we transition back to a garrison Army,” Braga said.

But Army wife Ame Esterline said the dress code is an attack on personal freedoms and unfair to residents who have little choice but to live on the isolated post. Fort Irwin is home to 9,000 people and the National Training Center, in the Mojave Desert, 40 miles from Barstow.

“The fact that so many of you continue to accept these small lapses in personal freedoms is not evidence of your positivity, but instead shows how willingly we are as a society to give control over to another simply because a given issue does not affect us,” she said. “What if they should decide to limit the number of children you can have in base housing or to take away your personal firearms? What would you say to those freedoms being taken?”

On and off the post, there has been a spectrum of reactions, pro, con and mixed.

Erik Whitman, a first sergeant for an attack reconnaissance battalion who is stationed with his family in South Korea, said the Army has more important issues to focus on: sexual assault, substance abuse and combat stress. Besides, the standards of off-duty dress codes are “too subjective,” he said.

“Who makes the decision of what i[s] acceptable and what is not,” Whitman said in the comment. “What level is considered sagging? What is too short? Who decides what is underwear worn as an outer garment? How torn do the pants need to be before they become unacceptable?”

In a follow-up conversation with Army Times, Whitman argued that individuality is what makes the Army great, and it should not be stifled.

“It is often an individual that makes the difference between winning and losing a battle,” Whitman said. “We have to look no further than soldiers like Sal Guinta, Audie Murphy and others who individually changed the course of a battle.”

Race and raciness

A black tanker at Fort Wainwright told Army Times he supports his post’s dress code with some ambivalence because, to him, the specter of race hovers over it. The soldier, a specialist, asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals.

The soldier said he has seen such dress codes sporadically enforced at other installations, and that he and a group of black friends were once turned around on their way to a Fort Wainwright dining facility because their hats were on backward.

“They don’t really say anything to the white soldiers,” he said.

He has no interest in appearing like a gangster and notes that he does not wear baggy pants. He does wear a do-rag, “not to try and look cool and thuggish, but for the upkeep of my hair,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep my wave.”

Others complained that the poster itself, which has pictures depicting the banned attire, was sexually suggestive and harassing. At Fort Stewart, a poster along similar lines includes a teenager with baggy jeans and a marijuana leaf T-shirt, as well as a woman in curlers.

“I am not complaining about this being enforced, I am complaining about the beautiful pictures they decided to post,” Sophia Garcia, of Fort Irwin, said in a Facebook comment. “There are other ways to go about this without the crazy underwear booty short pictures.”

'Trashy' on post

Some felt resolutely that the policy was long overdue.

“Thank you for the new policy,” said Robert Lange, whose Facebook profile identifies him as a tank commander at Fort Irwin. “I think every military installation needs to do the same thing.”

Christina Witt, of Fort Bragg, N.C., whose husband is a deployed staff sergeant, said she wishes her post would adopt a dress code.

“I was shocked and disgusted at the clothing I saw on people shopping the other day at the commissary,” Witt told Army Times. “The style of some of the spouses was so trashy that I thought I was in the area of Fayetteville where the hookers hang out.”

Witt said that if spouses are so concerned with exercising their freedom of self-expression on post, they shouldn’t shop at the commissary or use their military medical benefits.

“It’s like ‘no shoes, no shirt, no service,’ but it’s a higher standard,” she said.

Sgt. 1st Class Jess Venable, a medic at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, said she wants to see the Fort Irwin dress code adopted Army-wide. The service also needs to better police uniform discipline for soldiers, as well as their off-duty attire, she said.

“For soldiers, especially overseas, where you’re pushing your culture off post, if you have offensive clothing or your ass is hanging out, that’s not just representing America, it will represent the military,” she said.

Lupe Llilnet, who stays at Fort Belvoir when she visits her Marine boyfriend at Quantico, Va., told Army Times she sees people on post wearing “jeans that look like they got into a fight with a dog.” For her, it’s a matter of common sense.

“No one wants to look at the crack of someone’s rear, their middle muffin hanging out from a shirt that is too small for that individual to wear, or her chest looking as if any minute it’s going to pop out and have a wardrobe malfunction,” Llilnet said in a Facebook post. “It’s absolutely unprofessional, not classy, and nasty as heck.”

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