The military may be all about uniformity, but some soldiers desire a little individuality every now and then.
That was exactly the case for the Marines' preference for rolled sleeves on its uniforms – up until 2011, when a direct order mandated long sleeves even in desert climates. After years of complaints from servicemembers, however, Gen. James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, has relented and re-authorized the iconic rolled-up-sleeves look of certain Marines around the world.
On a roll
Amos wrote in a statement on the Marine Corps' website that he understands how important identity and individuality are to soldiers who become Marines. As rolled sleeves were one of the only ways that the Corps could differentiate the look of its uniforms from those of the other branches up until 2011, Amos believed that a return to this look would raise troops' morale across the globe.
"I've thought a lot about this over the past 2 .5 years; I realize that it's important to you," Amos wrote in the statement. "Sleeves up clearly and visually sets us apart."
The change signals a shift in strict uniform policies that have prohibited soldiers from keeping their hands in their pockets for an extended period of time. While the ability to roll their sleeves may be a welcome transition for many servicemembers, only those stationed outside of combat zones and wearing summer clothing will be permitted to cuff their sleeves when the new policy goes into effect March 9.
While the sleeve roll may have been made famous by Marines in movies and TV shows, the style has a long history within the service. The Wall Street Journal reported that the informal look of the rolled sleeve was actually a highly ritualized part of the soldier's routine in preparing his or her uniform.
In addition to polished boots and pressed shirts, rolled sleeves had their own regulations – rolled from the inside out, three inches wide and resting two inches above the elbow. There were slight variations such as the less neat "Gunny Rolls," or sleeves cuffed by battle-hardened gunnery sergeants less concerned with appearance than combat effectiveness.
Recent changes to Marines' uniforms such as wrinkle-free fabric and suede combat boots removed much of the daily work Marines had to put into their appearance. However, Amos' announcement received more than 30,000 Facebook likes in one day, according to The Wall Street Journal, indicating that some soldiers might enjoy a return to the days of rolled sleeves and spit-shined shoes.