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Best guide to WWII US uniforms (print or online)?


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1. You guys are stupendous. I love it here. Honestly, here and on The Fedora Lounge's WWII subforum, I've found some of the most erudite, polite, patient, informative, knowledgeable, and just all around friendly strangers I've ever encountered on the internet! No joke, both of these forums stand as testament to what online communities *should* be, but virtually never are. You all write so cleanly, are so willing to help me out, and are just a delight to confer with. It's really unlike any place else I've been online. So thanks!! You really don't exhibit any of the nastiness and downfall-of-society characteristics that run rampant elsewhere. 

 

2. Re: your last answer above, @Justin B., this is hilarious. Before you responded tonight, I started watching On the Town with my girlfriend. At one point, where both she and I already suspected it was set post-WWII but before this was confirmed in the movie, I saw this:

 

https://slack-files.com/T9JP81CKV-F01AP7FRR9T-24eddc1a36

Didn't seem to jibe with what I was starting to know about WWII in this thread. That, combined with a few other factors, led us both to suspect it was post-. They then confirm it a few minutes later. Then, at one point we took a quick break from the movie. I checked this thread and what did I see? "Not in WW2. Optional purchase by enlisted personnel was authorized in 1951. In practice I believe only senior NCOs usually made the investment." Hilarious. Couldn't have been more fortuitous timing! (Though for what it's worth, the movie was released in '49 so either you're off by a few years or it's not accurate (?)) 

   

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7 hours ago, BigBrother said:

(Though for what it's worth, the movie was released in '49 so either you're off by a few years or it's not accurate (?)) 

 

That's a marine, I was talking about the army. I'm not sure about the dates for the enlisted USMC khaki coat.

 

Edit: While I was checking my books, MattS already answered!

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What's funny is, I never thought to look USMC. I only considered Army (first guess, but then it didn't fit what I knew) and Navy as they're sailors and perhaps the movie wanted to keep things consistent, but then I haven't seen much outside the cracker jack for enlisted. They almost get into a kerfuffle so I thought maybe it's a senior NCO they're afraid of getting busted by. I don't know the Marine stuff that well from WWII so never thought to consider that! What's funny in hindsight is that showing a Marine scrapping with sailors is perhaps more iconic of WWII than Navy on Navy... or would Army vs. Navy have been more likely? But now as I write this I realize a senior NCO in the Marines might actually be considered a senior NCO to them (it's all Navy, right?) and could have given them trouble. Who knows. (Well, you guys do :)) 

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I did some more checking: The the enlisted USMC summer service uniform with cotton khaki coat was in the 1929 regulations but not in the 1937 edition. Then in 1947 a khaki Vandegrift jacket was authorized. That could just have been something from the '30s that MGM's costume department had on hand.

 

I don't remember, is On The Town set in 1949 or during the war? The marine stripes with "ties" were replaced with rockers in 1946.

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7 hours ago, Justin B. said:

I did some more checking: The the enlisted USMC summer service uniform with cotton khaki coat was in the 1929 regulations but not in the 1937 edition. Then in 1947 a khaki Vandegrift jacket was authorized. That could just have been something from the '30s that MGM's costume department had on hand.

 

I don't remember, is On The Town set in 1949 or during the war? The marine stripes with "ties" were replaced with rockers in 1946.

Very useful, as always!!

 

On the Town is set sometime after the war, indeterminate. It was released in '49 and the only obvious clues are that A) they don't show many in the city in uniform, B ) the civilians in town don't seem to exhibit the same deference toward the troops you see in wartime movies (these two were the reason I suspected at first it was post-war), and C) they literally come out and say it about halfway through! ("Why are you driving a taxi? The war's over!")

 

We did just finish Anchors Aweigh and it prompted in me another question, something I haven't been totally clear on- I've noticed that all the really old vintage cracker jacks I've seen in surplus and vintage stores are of the blue melton wool material (plus the pant legs seem to have a much more defined bell, but I digress), and then of course all modern ones are jet black and more of a poly material. However, in Anchors Aweigh, released in 1945 and very much a wartime film, the cracker jacks are all black. They don't appear to be melton wool or at least not the blue variety I'm used to seeing.

 

(Over on WPG, they appear to be somewhere between the two- melton type but darker than the real vintage ones I've seen.)

 

Is it perhaps an early war/late war distinction?

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Okay, I'll be "Captain Obvious". One thing to remember when you are watching these films is that the actors are wearing costumes. In many cases they will be period-correct, but these are not real service men wearing issued uniforms and subject to military regulations, this is only Hollywood, even if the film has a "military advisor" on set. 

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1 hour ago, pararaftanr2 said:

Okay, I'll be "Captain Obvious". One thing to remember when you are watching these films is that the actors are wearing costumes. In many cases they will be period-correct, but these are not real service men wearing issued uniforms and subject to military regulations, this is only Hollywood, even if the film has a "military advisor" on set. 


Sure. Normally I wouldn’t give this sort of thing much heed (with Pearl Harbor above, it was a way for me to see all the different pieces, but I knew it wasn’t some reference standard.) Coming from the firearms world, and being more familiar with modern uniforms and kit, I’ve known for years and years how badly Hollywood can botch things.

 

However...

 

In this case I think it’s quite different:

 

1. We’re not talking about some period piece disaplying relative esoteria. This was a large studio picture expected to be seen by scores and scores of Americans during WWII, and the shots are full of hundreds of sailors. Every American in the audience would’ve known exactly what a sailor’s uniform was supposed to look like. Sure a button or two might be off, but in this case we’re talking about the color of the whole thing. If, as I had previously thought, the cracker jack was dark blue at the time, and the screen were full of jet black uniforms, audiences in this case would’ve rejected it wholesale. It would be like a modern football film without shoulder pads. In 1945 every single American in the seats, and behind the camera, was seeing these things on almost a daily basis, at home or on the streets.

 

2. However, even if none of the above were true, this isn’t a case of artistic license, most likely, because what I observed was very much a development that did happen in the uniform- just not at a date I probably know, which is what I’m trying to solve. This isn’t a strange alteration like foreign rifles in their hands or an anachronism like old ones (Enfields in the former or Springfield 1903s in the latter, for example). It’s an actual development that occurred.

 

In short, I’d find it hard to believe they arbitrarily decided on something as drastic as a dye job on the entire uniform- a uniform all could recognize at that time in a snap -to a color that happens to exist in today’s version of said uniform.
 

I must just not have the right date of the switchover...

 

Or am I wrong? :)

 

 

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Addendum- it’s worth noting a few things (until the human encyclopedias wake up and settle this, that is ;))

 

Since posting the question on the cracker jack I hopped on eBay and the like and have indeed seen many WWII (at least purportedly) ones that appear black or close to it, unlike those lighter blue ones I’ve observed. And those do appear as well in the search.

 

Secondly, when I mentioned WPG above, I was mistaken, I meant WWII Impressions. Have a look at their reproductions:

 

https://www.wwiiimpressions.com/collections/enlisted-navy-dress-blue-uniform

 

You’ll see they have the look of melton wool but are so dark as to look almost black.

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6 hours ago, BigBrother said:

We did just finish Anchors Aweigh and it prompted in me another question, something I haven't been totally clear on- I've noticed that all the really old vintage cracker jacks I've seen in surplus and vintage stores are of the blue melton wool material (plus the pant legs seem to have a much more defined bell, but I digress), and then of course all modern ones are jet black and more of a poly material. However, in Anchors Aweigh, released in 1945 and very much a wartime film, the cracker jacks are all black. They don't appear to be melton wool or at least not the blue variety I'm used to seeing.

 

(Over on WPG, they appear to be somewhere between the two- melton type but darker than the real vintage ones I've seen.)

 

Is it perhaps an early war/late war distinction?

 

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the difference between "blue" and "black" for the Navy enlisted uniforms is so imperceptible in person (even holding a uniform close) that it would be impossible to make the call of them being more or less blue or black, especially based on the Technicolor film processing of the time.

 

I'm not certain when the Navy switched to a poly material for uniforms, but I'm guessing sometime in the 70s, based on what I've seen. Aside from the definite style differences on the WW1 vintage enlisted uniforms, it's pretty difficult to tell (especially when watching a movie) when a set of cracker jacks were produced...if they were from the 1930s or the 1960s, as the pattern remained essentially unchanged (which goes partly into why the value of the uniforms isn't that great...millions were made and the style never really changed so that "eye catching WW2 style" like that of the Army uniforms isn't there...at least in my opinion).

 

Also, keep in mind that there were hundreds (if not more) tailors for Navy uniforms during the war. Every major base had a selection of off-the-rack regulation uniforms but outside the gates, Sailors could get custom-tailored sets made.  The material, cut, and style would then be up to the discretion of the Sailor and the tailor, within the requirements of uniform regulations at the time. It was extremely popular for Sailors to get their uniforms tailored to be as tight as possible (providing they could "handle" the look) which may explain some of the oversized uniform aspects on other parts, such as the cuffs, etc. 

 

Dave

Only a weak society needs government protection or intervention before it pursues its resolve to preserve the truth. Truth needs neither handcuffs nor a badge for its vindication. -Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Peace is not the absence of war, but the defense of hard-won freedom. -Anton LaGuardia


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25 minutes ago, BigBrother said:


Sure. Normally I wouldn’t give this sort of thing much heed (with Pearl Harbor above, it was a way for me to see all the different pieces, but I knew it wasn’t some reference standard.) Coming from the firearms world, and being more familiar with modern uniforms and kit, I’ve known for years and years how badly Hollywood can botch things.

 

However...

 

In this case I think it’s quite different:

 

1. We’re not talking about some period piece disaplying relative esoteria. This was a large studio picture expected to be seen by scores and scores of Americans during WWII, and the shots are full of hundreds of sailors. Every American in the audience would’ve known exactly what a sailor’s uniform was supposed to look like. Sure a button or two might be off, but in this case we’re talking about the color of the whole thing. If, as I had previously thought, the cracker jack was dark blue at the time, and the screen were full of jet black uniforms, audiences in this case would’ve rejected it wholesale. It would be like a modern football film without shoulder pads. In 1945 every single American in the seats, and behind the camera, was seeing these things on almost a daily basis, at home or on the streets.

 

2. However, even if none of the above were true, this isn’t a case of artistic license, most likely, because what I observed was very much a development that did happen in the uniform- just not at a date I probably know, which is what I’m trying to solve. This isn’t a strange alteration like foreign rifles in their hands or an anachronism like old ones (Enfields in the former or Springfield 1903s in the latter, for example). It’s an actual development that occurred.

 

In short, I’d find it hard to believe they arbitrarily decided on something as drastic as a dye job on the entire uniform- a uniform all could recognize at that time in a snap -to a color that happens to exist in today’s version of said uniform.
 

I must just not have the right date of the switchover...

 

Or am I wrong? :)

 

 

Dave has addressed your question correctly. Blues could be issued, or tailor made, allowing for subtle differences in the shade and appearance of the uniform. In most cases, a superior fabric was used on the tailor made examples. It would seem very probable that the blues worn by the movie stars were tailor made. You also have to consider the fact that the original film was shot 75 years ago and you are viewing it currently in digital form so there may be variations in the colors you see on your monitor, versus what the fabric actually looked like in 1945 when "in hand".

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7 hours ago, BigBrother said:

On the Town is set sometime after the war, indeterminate. It was released in '49 and the only obvious clues are that A) they don't show many in the city in uniform, B ) the civilians in town don't seem to exhibit the same deference toward the troops you see in wartime movies (these two were the reason I suspected at first it was post-war), and C) they literally come out and say it about halfway through! ("Why are you driving a taxi? The war's over!")

 

Thanks, that's pretty definite! As I recall none of the star sailors wore any insignia on the white jumper, but 1949 would be after the required date for group rate marks, so I don't think they were fixated on costume accuracy.

 

1 hour ago, BigBrother said:

1. We’re not talking about some period piece disaplying relative esoteria. This was a large studio picture expected to be seen by scores and scores of Americans during WWII, and the shots are full of hundreds of sailors. Every American in the audience would’ve known exactly what a sailor’s uniform was supposed to look like. Sure a button or two might be off, but in this case we’re talking about the color of the whole thing.

 

Yes, but I think most people took musicals as a little fantastic, or exaggerated reality. Kelly and Sinatra would have been fitted with costumes that looked good and that they could dance in, color accuracy would have been a secondary consideration.

 

47 minutes ago, pararaftanr2 said:

Dave has addressed your question correctly. Blues could be issued, or tailor made, allowing for subtle differences in the shade and appearance of the uniform. In most cases, a superior fabric was used on the tailor made examples. It would seem very probable that the blues worn by the movie stars were tailor made. You also have to consider the fact that the original film was shot 75 years ago and you are viewing it currently in digital form so there may be variations in the colors you see on your monitor, versus what the fabric actually looked like in 1945 when "in hand".

 

That's an important point, digital color "correction" is easy to do but hard to get exactly right with regard to how the original looked on the screen.

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Interesting stuff. As I look through bunches of eBay listings, what's funny is I can't find almost any now that have that lighter blue hue to which I was referring. Ok, just found one on Etsy. You'll see in some pics it has an almost purple hue, which I do now recall seeing in person:

 

https://www.etsy.com/listing/863703199/vintage-military-us-navy-pullover-wool

 

In any case, from what everyone's saying it sounds like there was not in fact any  discrete color change until the obvious early 80s reintroduction in the new material, cut, etc. So this was all just manufacturer variations. All in all though I have learned that they were much, much closer to black than I imagined back in WWII. Perhaps, and this makes sense now, I was misinterpreting bluer ones as older ones when I handled them in-store, when in reality they were just a variation. Usually my other tell for this was the almost sickening yellowing that happened to the white trim.

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The purple-ish color of that jumper top is actually from having too much yellow in the image. I guarantee if you saw it in person, it would be a different shade of blue (you can see how the yellow has affected the white colors in the image).

 

There's actually a x-to-x ratio of blue to black fibers for the correct shade of Navy uniforms, but I can't find the reference at the moment. 

Only a weak society needs government protection or intervention before it pursues its resolve to preserve the truth. Truth needs neither handcuffs nor a badge for its vindication. -Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Peace is not the absence of war, but the defense of hard-won freedom. -Anton LaGuardia


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1 hour ago, Dave said:

The purple-ish color of that jumper top is actually from having too much yellow in the image. I guarantee if you saw it in person, it would be a different shade of blue (you can see how the yellow has affected the white colors in the image).

 

I've definitely, definitely seen that purple hue in real life. In fact, if you look at this pic here:

 

https://i.etsystatic.com/7792385/r/il/8f3831/2500208814/il_794xN.2500208814_hcbj.jpg

 

you'll notice the hue can't easily be explained by image artifacts/color balance as the purple is following fabric patches/lines, and there are areas where, had it been image-based, you would've seen purple across the fabric, yet you don't (one example- the patch. Study it carefully- it is uniform in hue, more or less, and yet the uniform fabric above it is dark navy whereas the fabric below it is that distinct purple. Another example- on the camera-left side of the uniform, you'll see the purple appears in patches, which is not what you'd expect from image tint.) However, in writing/studying this, I'm beginning to think that's just an artifact of fading over time. Perhaps one of the pigments tends to give either over time or across washes.

 

1 hour ago, Dave said:

There's actually a x-to-x ratio of blue to black fibers for the correct shade of Navy uniforms, but I can't find the reference at the moment. 

 

That would be fascinating to see/read about! Would certainly settle all this.

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Here's the problem when you're trying to compare colors across monitors, screens, photos, and random human eyeballs...the actual way the government determines the color is extremely specific - see paragraph 3.3.3.1 in the below image. This doesn't take into account later fading, material that is not made to government specification, etc. 

 

 

Screenshot_30.jpg

Only a weak society needs government protection or intervention before it pursues its resolve to preserve the truth. Truth needs neither handcuffs nor a badge for its vindication. -Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Peace is not the absence of war, but the defense of hard-won freedom. -Anton LaGuardia


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3 hours ago, BigBrother said:

 

I've definitely, definitely seen that purple hue in real life. In fact, if you look at this pic here:

 

https://i.etsystatic.com/7792385/r/il/8f3831/2500208814/il_794xN.2500208814_hcbj.jpg

 

you'll notice the hue can't easily be explained by image artifacts/color balance as the purple is following fabric patches/lines, and there are areas where, had it been image-based, you would've seen purple across the fabric, yet you don't (one example- the patch. Study it carefully- it is uniform in hue, more or less, and yet the uniform fabric above it is dark navy whereas the fabric below it is that distinct purple. Another example- on the camera-left side of the uniform, you'll see the purple appears in patches, which is not what you'd expect from image tint.) However, in writing/studying this, I'm beginning to think that's just an artifact of fading over time. Perhaps one of the pigments tends to give either over time or across washes.

 

 

That would be fascinating to see/read about! Would certainly settle all this.

A couple of points. The example you give as having a "purple hue" is not even a WW2 uniform. The label inside shows it's from 1967. To my eyes anyway, the other photos in that Etsy listing don't appear purple at all. Again, it's a question of digital photographs, the lighting they were taken in and the monitor you are viewing the image on. Here's what that image looks like when it is corrected (see below). The bottom line is, the vast majority of WW2 sailors weren't running around in "purple hue" sets of blues, even if you recall seeing some in the recent past. 75 year old fabric, subject to unknown sunlight exposure and laundering methods over the years can be expected to vary somewhat from its original color in some instances.

 

il_794xN.2500208814_hcbj.jpg

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I have yet to find the ratio - it is either 3 to 5 or 4 to 5 parts black to blue for the shade 3346 (and predecessors) Navy uniforms. 

 

In the process however, I have found some great references to go down all sorts of rabbit trails:

 

https://www.ssense.com/en-us/editorial/fashion/color-story-navy-blue-navys-law

 

The above link is a bit of a strange one, admittedly. However, it's a really interesting story of what blue "is". I learned some interesting facts (ignoring the pop culture stuff, some of which was also interesting). Let the whole article load...it looks like a sketchy website at first (still might be...LOL)

 

https://www.google.com/books/edition/Circular_of_the_National_Bureau_of_Stand/wrLzvErHgwoC?kptab=editions&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjFhZCvuPHrAhWRlXIEHbQ9AdEQmBYwBnoECAkQBg

 

If you want to go down rabbit trails of materials and fabrics used by the military during WW2, the above will take you to the National Bureau of Standards publications, where you can spend days reading all the fine print about all of the government specifications for everything. 

 

http://www.usww2uniforms.com/USN_Cap_Cloth_Blue.html

 

The above link is the most in depth I've ever seen on the US Navy flat hats...to include colors, material, etc. Lots of rabbit trails off this website...

 

http://everyspec.com/MIL-SPECS/MIL-SPECS-MIL-U/MIL-U-2416H_50037/

 

This is a later US spec sheet for the Navy officer's uniform. If you want detail, this is eye bleeding detail in 106 pages of how to make the officer's uniform.

 

https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a259212.pdf

 

The 1982 study that kicked off the revision of the material and style of US Navy enlisted and officer uniforms. 

 

https://dcp.psc.gov/ccbulletin/articles/usphs_uniforms_qa_04_2010.aspx

 

The website above isn't really that valuable, but it does refer to the color of the SDB (which would also apply to the enlisted uniforms). From the website:

 

According to the Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility in Natick, Massachusetts, the SDB is in reality, blue. About 30 years ago, the SDB was a dark navy blue, however it was extremely difficult to match the color due to the various colors needed to make that specific color. The official color is blue black, standard color 3346, which is the darkest blue dye before reaching black. Because of its specificity, standard color 3346 is the easiest to match with other components and other SDB uniform items.

 

Enough rabbit trails for me this evening. The actual color ratio has been posted on here before, and keep in mind from the post above this one, everything looks different depending on the light reflecting on the fabric, the fabric itself...not to mention age, monitors, photos, screens, and the Mk 1. Mod 0 standard issue eyeball. :)

 

Dave

 

 

 

 

 

Only a weak society needs government protection or intervention before it pursues its resolve to preserve the truth. Truth needs neither handcuffs nor a badge for its vindication. -Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Peace is not the absence of war, but the defense of hard-won freedom. -Anton LaGuardia


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18 minutes ago, pararaftanr2 said:

A couple of points. The example you give as having a "purple hue" is not even a WW2 uniform. The label inside shows it's from 1967. To my eyes anyway, the other photos in that Etsy listing don't appear purple at all. Again, it's a question of digital photographs, the lighting they were taken in and the monitor you are viewing the image on. Here's what that image looks like when it is corrected (see below). The bottom line is, the vast majority of WW2 sailors weren't running around in "purple hue" sets of blues, even if you recall seeing some in the recent past. 75 year old fabric, subject to unknown sunlight exposure and laundering methods over the years can be expected to vary somewhat from its original color in some instances.

 

il_794xN.2500208814_hcbj.jpg

 

 

And just to add in here, assuming the background sheet behind that uniform is white and not off-white, this is perhaps a more realistic coloring...at least according to what I see on photoshop on my monitor (which my Datacolor SpyderX Elite color calibrator tells me is supposedly correct...).  This is why going off of anything other than the actual fabric under a standard light (the government uses 7500k - compared to house indoor lighting which is typically 2700-3300k) is really tough to say what is "correct" and "otherwise correct". 

 

 

Screenshot_31.jpg

Only a weak society needs government protection or intervention before it pursues its resolve to preserve the truth. Truth needs neither handcuffs nor a badge for its vindication. -Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Peace is not the absence of war, but the defense of hard-won freedom. -Anton LaGuardia


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Wow. Phenomenal stuff. Thanks guys! In total, it all just puts me at ease that very dark blue melton wool is the way to go... say from WWII Impressions. Anything else is basically in fluke territory. Good to know, as I've always preferred the darker ones. Now to just get my tailor to put in sharp bells and tighten the rest- I hate the pajama-like fit of the off-the-rack ones!

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Interesting.

 

A. Reminds me of why I wanted to try an approximation of this using the current USMC Charlie shirt (long sleeve of course) and Navy service uniform khaki pants. Assuming a color-match, could make for a very sleek/fitted look compared to the rather dumpy cotton potato-sack look.

 

B. That said, I've since suggesting that decided to really try to collect all the actual pieces (well, reproductions) from, say, WWII Impressions, and that may extend to owning both cotton and worsted wool versions. Though if forced to choose I might go wool due to the drape and lines. Will be dancing in them so might get hot, but hell, I've already committed to that with all the other pieces at this point! :).

 

C. It's kind of funny, if you watch From Here to Eternity, the leading men are all placed in such well-fitting, perma-starched versions of the summer khakis. I kept pausing it and laughing with my girlfriend- "look at those! Look at those pockets! Like starched-front tux shirts. Never!" Other movies though seem to get it right- dumpa dump! Though I did read somewhere recently (perhaps a link on here?) that on base or in garrison (I confess I don't know all the military terms yet that well) the troops loved to keep them very starched. But is that something troops ever really love? :)

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