WWII-Era WAVES in Chambray

As the U.S. Navy ramped up for WWII, its leadership began the unprecedented task of recruiting 27,000 female sailors called WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. Previously, it was only during the first world war that the Navy accepted females into its ranks, and mainly for clerical roles and as nurses, not as officers. According to the USN History and Heritage Command, in 1942 the WAVES performed previously atypical duties in the aviation community, Judge Advocate General Corps, medical professions, communications, intelligence, science and technology.

As I browsed through the U.S. Navy history site I came to find these color photos of WWII WAVES in denim and chambray. I couldn’t help but to think how great these photos are – especially the first image of the woman in the rolled up jeans. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. I need to get down to the Washington Navy Yard to spend some time in the Navy photo archives.

Comments on “WWII-Era WAVES in Chambray

    K.O. on June 21, 2010 1:12 AM:

    Finally some women! When are you going to make an American List that includes wares for us?

    John B. on June 21, 2010 6:31 AM:

    These are excellent photographs. I also really like the first one of the WAVE in rolled up jeans. Keep up the good work!

    Mitch Frank on June 21, 2010 8:05 AM:

    The first girl is beautiful. She looks so modern with her jeans fitting close–i wonder if they’d be Navy bell-bottoms if she rolled them out.

    I also love the woman in #2 flashing a little orange cuff.

    Diane Faye Zerr on June 21, 2010 8:56 AM:

    Beautiful! I can’t believe they were working on the planes in long denim skirts! The rolled up jeans seem much more comfortable, but I wonder if that was when she wasn’t on duty.

    It’s kind of difficult to make out the silhouette of the hats, I wonder are they a baseball cap style?

    flavio on June 21, 2010 9:09 AM:

    awesome pictures!!!

    many thanks for sharing with us

    Ted on June 21, 2010 9:29 AM:


    unitedstyle on June 21, 2010 10:55 AM:

    Nice. Are those palazzo pants in the third picture (the girl on the wing)? They look cool, but I wouldn’t think they would be allowed during wartime rationing.

    CSP on June 21, 2010 11:10 AM:

    Thanks for the brief history lesson. Very cool. Looking forward to more.

    Anna Allen on June 21, 2010 1:40 PM:

    great images! i’m always inspired by women’s working wear from the ’40s. everyone loves denim and chambray!

    Loopy on June 21, 2010 2:33 PM:

    Minor correction because I’m sure it matters to the WAVES themselves: Most WAVES were not “commissioned officers” but were, like most sailors, enlisted personnel, either “ratings” (seaman apprentice, seaman, etc.) or “non-commissioned officers” (e.g., Chief Petty Officers, etc.) Only a small subset of WAVES were commissioned officers. But the WAVES were the first time that women were commissioned as officers in the Navy, so maybe that’s the confusion. In any event, I can pretty much guarantee that the dames in the photographs posted were not officers.

    Michael Williams on June 21, 2010 2:38 PM:

    Thanks for the info Loopy. Makes sense. I updated the post to reflect your comments.


    Dave on June 21, 2010 4:13 PM:

    The woman in pic #4 is lovely.

    jaws on June 21, 2010 10:11 PM:

    and this is exactly why the nazis won

    Andrea on June 21, 2010 10:16 PM:

    That first photo is a keeper – don’t you just wonder what sort of hell she raised *after* the war?

    I have a 1943 Monkey Ward’s catalog that shows similar clothes for women working in the defense industry. Women’s jeans were cut pretty full at this time, so the jeans in photo 3 are not entirely atypical.

    mike on June 22, 2010 1:45 AM:

    my neighbor up to 3 years ago was the oldest living ww2 nurse. she was navy and i would imagine was a waves. kay was a beautiful person and one of the kindest ever. she is still alive in a home here in norfolk va.

    doug on June 22, 2010 6:43 AM:

    My mother was a WAVE. It made me look at her in a different light when she told me once when I was a kid that she had fired a Thompson Submachine gun.

    jc on June 25, 2010 2:02 PM:

    loving the orange sleeve peeking through the rolled cuff. considering this for fall layering!

    gg on June 26, 2010 7:48 AM:

    does anyone know if there is a women’s version of “Free & Easy” magazine?

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