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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — When Hassan Jenkins walked through the main gate at Yokosuka Naval Base, security checked his pant-to-leg ratio.

If the leg inside was too skinny, the pants would be considered overly baggy and a violation of the Commander, Naval Forces Japan civilian dress code policy — a ticket-worthy offense.

But he showed enough leg for security to let him through, said Jenkins, a petty officer first class.

“I’m a big guy — I don’t wear my pants tight or form-fitting,” Jenkins said. “I am a grown man and I should know what fits me.”

After almost two years since the CNFJ policy went into effect, some sailors, such as Jenkins, and civilians think the dress code shows a “cultural bias.” Others say the policy helps people dress the part in their role as “ambassadors” to Japan. Still others say they aren’t affected by it at all.

The five-page CNFJ policy applies to anyone over age 10 — civilians or military — throughout Japan, on base and off. It sets out rules for proper attire from head (do-rags are restricted, female conservative headscarves are not) to toe (sandals are OK, shower shoes are not). Clothing policy posters dot the base and slides are shown in the movie theaters and on the base’s television channel.

Clothing is a “hard battle to fight,” said USS Kitty Hawk Master Chief Petty Officer Ashley Smith, who helped craft the policy in 2005.

“They may have a belt on and their shirt tucked in with their pants pulled up but as soon as they cross the gate, the pants come down to the ankles and the shirt comes out,” Smith said. “Civilian clothes are a privilege, not a right. We work hard on the Japanese perception of sailors and it’s very important that we look acceptable.”

If caught, either out in town by shore patrol or on base, all rule-breakers earn an “MOR” — minor offense record — which goes to the command or sponsor.

Kitty Hawk added more enforcement a year ago by putting MOR sailors before a disciplinary review board. If the claim is substantiated — and it usually is, Smith said — the sailor loses the ability to don civilian clothes for 30 days, severely restricting his or her movement around town. The board sees about 10 cases a month, Smith said.

“People keep doing it because they don’t think they’ll get caught,” Smith said. “It’s impossible to get your arms around it. They want to follow the styles and look like their age group, plus the businesses out in town sell the clothes.”

Yokosuka’s Navy Exchange also used to sell the clothes before the NEX ousted tens of thousands of dollars of banned clothing items from its inventory and brought buyers in line with the policy, said base commander Capt. Greg Cornish.

“We’re aware of the styles and what people are wearing on the television shows,” Cornish said. “But there’s a fine line between individual expression and what is appropriate. Some of the types of clothes that are popular today go past those boundaries.” It’s not about a cultural bias, Cornish contended, as the working group that created the policy was multicultural.

Examples from the policy include micro-mini skirts, “wife-beater” tank tops, excessively oversized basketball jerseys or shirts exposing more than an inch of bare belly. But officials agree that most MOR go to those wearing baggy or frayed jeans.

This ban on baggy — and the tough enforcement of it — appears to zero in on the “urban” population, Jenkins said.

“Certain cultures dress differently from others,” Jenkins said. “But someone can walk through dressed like a vampire with tight pants with chains hanging off them and it’s not an issue.”

Spouse Thomas Rhoads said he stopped wearing baggy clothes when he realized security was on the lookout. “I think they target the hip-hop style of dress — I don’t agree with that part,” Rhoads said. “They also hit frays pretty hard, which are mostly just wear and tear.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Bryan Shepner agrees with the policy, saying he had “no problem with it.”

“I agree with the Navy standards — even public schools have rule against piercings,” Shepner said. “We should have a clean appearance and represent ourselves professionally.”

Petty Officer 1st Class Chrystal Littleton said the policy didn’t affect her, as she mostly stays on base. But, she said, she’d like the policy and the slides to be brought in accord with today’s fashion.

“They need to update the picture with the woman’s g-string hanging out of her pants,” Littleton said. “Nobody does that anymore.”


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