The Image of Women in the Navy

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The glamour

At the outset of World War Two the newly reformed WRNS rejected their old uniform as they considered it 'dowdy'. Instead they adopted a version of the 'fore and aft rig' of naval officers with a tailored jacket, shirt and tie. The Wrens continued to wear a skirt instead of trousers in the majority of roles.

The Wren ratings initially wore a hat in a floppy 'pudding basin' shape. This design was later replaced by a version of the sailor's cap, which looked much better and proved more popular.

Geoffrey Preston recalls the effect of the Wrens uniform on Allied servicemen in Hamburg during World War Two (RNM).

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Read a transcript of this oral history

The WRNS knew that the majority of women were concerned with looking attractive and the improvement in the design of the Wren uniform went some way to encouraging women to join the Service.

Read Third Officer Elizabeth Agar's description of her officer's uniform in March 1941

Wrens needed to keep their uniforms immaculate as it was a visual presentation of the standards of the service. They were subject to the same examination of their kit as their male counterparts.

Read about Clare Turner's problems with keeping to the strict uniform regulations during her service in World War Two

Officer's tropical kit was composed of a white drill short-sleeved dress with gilt buttons. Working rig was a white drill shirt and skirt. These sleek, white uniforms epitomised the air of efficiency associated with the Wrens.

Photograph of Wrens at Basra dressed in tropical uniform
Photograph of Wrens at Basra dressed in tropical uniform (RNM)

Read about S Hammett's (nee Wall) attempts to keep her Wren uniform in good condition whilst serving overseas during World War Two

The postwar period further reinforced the Wrens' aura of femininity. The image of the WRNS ensured not only a female organisation but also a feminine one. Dress designers created aspects of the uniform, such as the extreme elegance of Jean Allen's design for mess dress in 1964.

Jean Allen's design for WRNS mess dress, 1964
Jean Allen's design for WRNS mess dress, 1964 (RNM)

Concerns about the maintenance of femininity can be seen in the WRNS officers' training courses, which included lessons on beauty culture and so on.

Find out more about the WRNS uniform

To find out why the WRNS felt unfeminine, select Next


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