The Air Force plans to roll out an updated blue uniform shirt and a new and improved maternity Airman Battle Uniform in the coming months, officials said.

The new maternity ABU is scheduled to be available next October. The uniform will have more pockets and be more comfortable and adjustable as an airman's pregnancy progresses.

In early 2018, the Air Force plans to roll out an update to the blue uniform shirt. The goal is to bring it up to the quality of other commercially sold dress shirts. Testing on the new shirt has just been completed, the Air Force said.

In revamping the service dress shirt, service officials aim to provide airmen with an improved fit for better mobility, as well as a new fabric with "mechanical stretch" for a little more flexibility, better wrinkle and stain resistance, and more opacity "for modesty and professional appearance," said Tracy Roan, a clothing designer for the Air Force Uniform Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in an email to Air Force Times.

But the biggest changes will come to the new maternity ABU. Aside from the improvements to comfort and functionality, it is also intended to look almost identical to the regular ABU. This would allow expecting mothers to maintain their privacy as much as possible, if they're not ready to announce their pregnancy to their colleagues. The old maternity ABU had several distinct features that made it look different from the standard ABU, causing the wearer to stand out.

"How each person goes through their pregnancy is their own ... personal decision," Col. William Mosle, chief of the human systems program office at Wright-Patterson, said in a Nov. 30 interview. "People like to make those announcements at different times. You don't need to make it any harder than it otherwise is, because lots of people have lots of things going on in their lives."

Another major change to the maternity ABU will be in the stretch panel, allowing airmen to continue wearing the same pants through all three trimesters. The current maternity ABU has an elastic band in the stretch panel that eventually becomes too tight and uncomfortable for many pregnant airmen as their bellies grow, said Stacey Butler, another clothing designer for Wright-Patterson's uniform office.

As a result, she said, those airmen had to make changes to their pants, such as cutting the elastic band, taking them in for alterations, or using safety pins to close the pants. Some airmen find it's easier to just buy a new ABU in a larger size to adjust, Butler said.

But the new stretch panel will go all the way around the body and come up over the belly, similar to how commercially sold maternity pants are constructed. The stretch panel's fabric will also be improved, Butler said, and constructed from a nylon-spandex tricot that will be more comfortable than the current pants' blend of 90 percent polyester and 10 percent spandex. The compression in the new pants' stretch panel means it won't need an elastic band like the old pants.

"It will stay up on its own," Butler said. Airmen will "be comfortable, and they'll be able to wear it through their entire pregnancy with comfort and professional appearance and confidence."

The new ABU coat will also be made expandable to provide more room as the airman's pregnancy progresses, Mosle said. The coat has buttons under the armpit that can be adjusted for more space.

The current maternity ABU does not have as many pockets as the standard ABU, and the pockets that it does have are smaller and have visible buttons. The new maternity ABU will have pockets, without visible buttons, on the hips, as well as larger cargo pockets, matching other ABUs. It also will regain a sleeve pocket used to hold pencils or pens that other ABUs have, but the current maternity ABU lacks. Butler said the pencil pocket is highly popular, and many pregnant airmen requested that it be added to the new ABU.

But the new maternity ABU will not have actual pockets on the chest, just flaps giving the appearance of a pocket to help airmen align their name tape. Butler said actual chest pockets would have provided more bulk in the uniform than was needed during a pregnancy.

Mosle said his uniform office typically revamps uniform pieces every 10 years or so, based on feedback collected from airmen. They began prototyping the new maternity ABU in 2014. One common complaint his office heard from pregnant airmen was that their ABU wasn't anywhere near as good as maternity clothes they could buy commercially.

"The feedback to the uniform office was, why can't [Air Force maternity uniforms] be as good as what you can go buy from a department store?" Mosle said. "And then their other feedback was, when I'm in my maternity ABU, I don't know why I have to look different than my fellow airmen. That's what mattered to airmen, so that's what we wanted to address."

No other maternity uniforms are now being revised, Mosle said. The maternity ABU was submitted to the Defense Logistics Agency in September and approved one month later. It will hit stores in October 2017, he said.

Mosle said it's unclear how many airmen are pregnant at any given time. He said they buy roughly 4,000 maternity ABUs each year, although many pregnant airmen bought multiple ABUs. The new ABU — and especially its stretch panel — will likely result in a slight drop in the number of repeat uniform purchases, Mosle said, but not a dramatic reduction.

One pregnant Wright-Patterson airman who tested the new ABU — Capt. Mollie Eshel, an aerospace engineer who serves as a deputy branch chief for the Air Force Research Laboratory — gave it high marks. The coat adjustments worked well, and the pants remained comfortable through her second and third trimesters, she said. The stretch panel was her favorite element of the new uniform.

"It's more like maternity pants that you would go and buy at a store," Eshel said. "It was a much more comfortable way to wear the pants."

Eshel — who was due to give birth to her daughter on Dec. 1, the day after the interview — appreciated that the new uniform's design looked like the rest of her fellow airmen.

"It did take a while for a lot of people to notice" she was pregnant, Eshel said. "It was into my third trimester before a lot of people did notice. It was nice that it blends in pretty well."

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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