New Marine dress code transforms the look of some military communities

Saturday, October 20, 2007
Marine Lance Cpl. Nathan Adams of Vidalia, Ga., left, purchased several new uniforms from John Alexander Tuesday at the GI Joe's military surplus shop in Oceanside, Calif. The Marine Corps is banning the wearing of camouflage uniforms off base. (Lenny Ignelzi ~ Associated Press)

OCEANSIDE, Calif. -- The Marine Corps is taking on the role of fashion police.

Earlier this year, the Marine Corps commandant updated the regulations on what Marines can and cannot wear, on duty and off, in the United States. Among the fashion don'ts: No shiny metal or gems on your teeth, no designs carved in your hair, no flashy jewelry and no bare midriffs or excessive cleavage.

But it is Gen. James T. Conway's ban on the wearing of camouflage uniforms, or "cammies," off base that is getting the most attention, changing not only the appearance of the Marines but also the look of their communities.

Under the new regulation, Marines in camouflage cannot get out of their vehicles to run an errand or grab a meal on their way to or from the base. No pumping gas, running into the post office or picking up a cup of joe, either.

Although Marines were always largely prohibited from wearing uniforms off base, they were allowed to make brief stops during their commutes. Now they can stop only for a medical emergency, a traffic accident or a breakdown.

Around Oceanside, a community about 35 miles north of San Diego where Marines from neighboring Camp Pendleton are a common sight, the most noticeable effect is at fast food drive-throughs. Long lines are forming because Marines in uniform are not allowed to get out of their cars and go inside.

John Alexander, who works at GI Joe's, a military surplus store, said customers don't drop in during the middle of the day anymore, though business picks up in the late afternoon.

"There's no such thing as a quick trip anymore," he said.

Marines caught in uniform off base can get a warning; for repeat offenses, they can be restricted to their barracks and their pay can be docked.

While the military has always had strict guidelines for what service members can wear, even out of uniform, Conway said the updated regulations are about maintaining Marine "uniformity and pride in appearance."

"It wasn't that Marines were blatantly breaking the rules. It was more of a tradition, and we just needed to get it back in the box, put it in writing and say here's the policy, here's the rules," said Staff Sgt. Jesse Lora, a spokesman at Camp Pendleton.

Earlier this year, the Marines banned extra-large tattoos below the elbow or the knee, saying such body art is harmful to the Corps' spit-and-polish image.

Some businesses are getting creative to cope with the no-cammies-off-base rule, which was issued in July.

In Oceanside, the Colimas Mexican Restaurant, popular for its takeout lunch, now runs a sort of carhop service for Marines, who call in their orders and then wait in their cars for delivery out front.

Andrea Cerda, who works at Dorothy's Military Shop, a tailor shop, said it is not uncommon to see Marines changing clothes in their car, wriggling out of their pants and boots and into civilian wear.

"You see them bending around their steering wheel or moving back and forth in the driver's seat and you know what they are doing," she said.

During a quick trip recently to drop off dry cleaning in Oceanside, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Doucakis, 20, had to change clothes on base. He said the regulation didn't bother him.

"If you are a Marine, they want you to look a certain way," he said. "I guess in a way they don't want you to look like a disgrace to society."

As for other branches of the military, Army soldiers can wear combat uniforms off base, and Navy personnel can wear some uniforms off base and off ship.

Under the updated Marine regulations, women are prohibited from baring their midriffs, wearing any lingerie-type clothing on the outside or wearing low-slung pants or blouses that show excessive cleavage.

"On the topic of wearing lingerie as outerwear, is the commandant kidding?" said TV style guru Tim Gunn of Bravo's "Project Runway." "Has this really been an issue? Surely, the Marines aren't accepting Britney into their ranks."

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