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Recruits take part in physical training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., on Oct. 19, 2021. The Marine Corps commandant received a policy exception that allows leaders to deem workout clothing inappropriate at certain base facilities, such as exchanges and commissaries.
Recruits take part in physical training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., on Oct. 19, 2021. The Marine Corps commandant received a policy exception that allows leaders to deem workout clothing inappropriate at certain base facilities, such as exchanges and commissaries. (Dana Beesley/U.S. Marine Corps)

Running errands in running shorts is a threat to good order and discipline, the Marine Corps has decided, so it’s letting bases bar troops from wearing fitness gear at commissaries and exchanges.

The policy change was instituted a little over a year after former Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a widely publicized November 2020 memo allowing military and civilian shoppers to wear workout clothing at on-base stores.

Prior to Esper’s memo, installation commanders throughout the military could set local dress codes, resulting in rules about athletic attire at the grocery and department stores that sometimes varied across regions or even within services.

The rules were sometimes little known or poorly enforced, service members have said.

But a few months ago, several Marine commands began issuing rules that contradicted Esper’s military-wide policy.

It turns out that Commandant Gen. David Berger had gotten the Navy secretary’s approval for an exception to that policy in a September memo that was not widely disseminated.

“Due to this exception, the Marine Corps has not authorized service members to wear athletic attire at commissaries and exchanges aboard Marine Corps installations,” Capt. Ryan Bruce, a Marine Corps spokesman, told Stars and Stripes by phone last week.

Esper had given service secretaries permission to grant variances based on mission requirements and the need to maintain military order.

The reason the Corps sought one was that “wear of athletic attire … detracts from the high standards of personal appearance and personal conduct that contribute to good order and discipline,” Berger wrote in his request to the Navy secretary.

Bruce emailed a copy of that memo Wednesday to Stars and Stripes.

The commandant said the policy exception would authorize local dress codes and allow commanders to update and enforce regulations that require Marines to wear appropriate attire at all times.

The Marine Corps has among the most stringent servicewide rules for its members’ civilian attire. For example, it requires them to wear belts if their pants have belt loops, and it limits how much of an undershirt can be exposed.

But the exception Berger received allows for rules that are not limited to just Marines, Bruce said.

On several Marine bases in the southwestern U.S., all service members and civilians are prohibited from wearing athletic shirts and shorts, swimwear and “Spandex type gym attire” at stores, says an order that Marine Corps Installations West at Camp Pendleton, Calif., issued in October.

It allows other on-base facilities to set dress standards consistent with that policy.

At Camp Lejeune, N.C., Marine Corps Installations East issued an order a few weeks later that bars Marines and sailors from wearing civilian athletic attire or fitness uniforms to most base facilities.

That goes for the main exchange, the commissary, convenience stores, the base theater, the golf course and the stables. Workout attire is still OK for athletic facilities, pools, beaches and the marina.

New signs posted at the exchange at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina now tell service members that athletic attire is not appropriate there. The fine print cites the commandant’s memo.

“We take pride in our appearance,” says a banner at the top of the poster.

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Chad is a Marine Corps veteran who covers the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and sometimes elsewhere for Stars and Stripes. An Illinois native who’s reported for news outlets in Washington, D.C., Arizona, Oregon and California, he’s an alumnus of the Defense Language Institute, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Arizona State University.
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