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West Point Story: Correct Fit Empowers Women

Posted by struscott | May 19, 2010
Jessica McCorkle and her sister, Cadent Tanya McCorkle. Photo by the sisters' father, Jim McCorkle.

Jessica McCorkle and her sister, Cadent Tanya McCorkle. Photo by the sisters’ father, Jim McCorkle.

While visiting her younger sister, Cadet Tanya McCorkle, at the West Point Military Academy in New York, Jessica McCorkle made a terrible discovery.

“I thought she was a boy!” McCorkle said

McCorkle’s discovery caused her to decide then and there to research and revise the design of the female West Point uniform for one of her Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles classes at Washington State University.

As McCorkle conducted her research, she critically examined the present uniform that all female cadets are required to wear at West Point. It didn’t take her long to confirm what she had first observed — the uniform’s pattern was poorly fitted to the female form. McCorkle noted that the pants, as well as the shoulder and armpit of these uniforms were off-grain, and the shoulder was clearly structured for a masculine body type.

“The quality of patternmaking in the uniform has considerable room for improvement to provide the sharp look expected at West Point for all cadets,” said Dr. Carol Salusso, associate professor of AMDT and McCorkle’s research advisor.

The patterns were created by Hart Shaffner & Marx, a design firm, McCorkle discovered, responsible for creating male uniforms used as long ago as World War I.

“Perhaps the stylistic problems of the uniform pattern stem from the fact they were created by a company who did not understand female needs,” McCorkle said. “This pattern has changed little over time, and does not flatter or fit the female form.”

“There are a lot of body issues among the West Point Academy’s female cadets, such as bulimia and anorexia,” McCorkle said. “I believe it is because these young women lose their bodies under this uniform, and it distorts their self image.”

Jessica McCorkle touring the factory where West Point Academy cadet unfiforms are manufactured.

Jessica McCorkle touring the factory where West Point Academy cadet uniforms are manufactured.

Many of these problems could be solved by giving the women a proper fitting uniform, McCorkle said. McCorkle did just that: she redesigned the uniform so that it better fitted a woman’s figure.

“Dr. Salusso has been an excellent resource in this project. Her internationally recognized expertise in fit and patternmaking were essential for guiding me through the process,” McCorkle said.

But once a new design had been made, there was still a problem: Who cares? If no one at West Point was interested in putting a redesigned uniform into production, all McCorkle’s work was for nothing.

“Dr. Salusso talked to West Point officials and would not take no for an answer,” McCorkle said.

Together, Salusso and McCorkle worked their way up the West Point Department of Logistic’s chain of command. After numerous phone calls, McCorkle was eventually invited to brief West Point officials on her research in April.

“It was an amazing experience,” McCorkle said. “I toured the uniform factory the first day, and met with the factory manager. My sister was able to meet me at the factory and served as a before-model for the uniform. I then explained the logic behind my changes to the uniform’s fit.”

Jessica McCorkle and West Point uniform factory director, Joe Wiekel. Photo by Tanya McCorkle.

Jessica McCorkle and West Point uniform factory director, Joe Wiekel. Photo by Tanya McCorkle.

The response to McCorkle’s research was well received. The next day she was invited to brief the head of the Department of Logistics as well as the department’s costing officer. Response to her research was again highly positive and discussion was initiated to arrange for McCorkle to join West Point experts this summer in evaluating and developing prototypes that will demonstrate how to correct the fit of cadet uniforms.

“One of the most exciting parts of this experience for me is that my research is actually having the impact I intended. This is about so much more than just theory. It’s about implementing change that will empower young women.”

As for her sister, McCorkle said Cadet McCorkle is excited about her big sister’s research project.

“My sister hates the uniform! She would love a different one,” McCorkle said.

And, West Point willing, she just might get one.

By Kathryn R. Sullivan

West Point Story: The Video