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Lawmaker Orders Investigation into ‘Pink Tax’ on Women’s Military Uniforms

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In the ranks, it’s sometimes called the “pink tax,” a slang reference to the long-standing complaints of military women that they’re paying more for various uniform items than their male counterparts are.

Now, there’s a bill in Congress that would order a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on whether there really are gender disparities in uniform prices, including recommendations on what to do about it.

Last week, Rep. Julia Brownley, D-California, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, attached an amendment to the $733 billion proposed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) legislation that passed in the House directing the GAO to report on alleged “gender disparities in out-of-pocket uniform costs for men and women service members.”

Brownley, who also heads the Women Veterans Task Force on the committee, said in a news release that she has heard “directly from female service members and veterans about the high cost of women’s uniforms and the disparities in out-of-pocket costs for female service members.”

Her amendment, if it survives what promises to be a contentious House-Senate conference committee on the overall NDAA, would require the GAO to compare out-of-pocket uniform costs for men and women, and also to look into past uniform changes that “have affected one gender more than the other.”

On background, a House aide could not immediately provide any examples of price disparities, but said that Brownley has heard anecdotally from service members and veterans that women’s uniforms often cost more.

“In researching the issue, we faced difficulty in getting exact pricing information for specific clothing items, which made comparing uniform costs difficult,” the aide said.

As a result, Brownley asked for the GAO study “so that we can identify any disparities in uniform costs,” according to the aide. “The GAO analysis will help to inform future policymaking in this area.”

Brownley’s effort drew support from the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) advocacy group. “Historically, women’s uniforms have been more expensive,” said retired Navy Capt. Lory Manning, director of government relations for SWAN. “The complaints have been around for years.”

“It’s been a long-term complaint of enlisted women and women officers,” Manning added, but “we need to get the actual data and current prices,” which could come from the GAO study.

As an example, Manning, a 25-year veteran, cited her own experience with the “scrambled eggs” dress cover she wore as a captain.

The hat blew off her head one day and got run over in the rain while she was serving in Panama, she said. It still bothers her that she had to pay $200 for a replacement, and she suspects that a male counterpart would have paid a lot less.

— Richard Sisk can be reached at

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