The first woman police officer with arrest powers in the United States was Alice Stebbins Wells with the Los Angeles Police Department in 1909. According to LAPD online, Wells, a social worker before she was appointed as a police woman, was issued a telephone call box key, a book for first aid, a book of rules, and a policeman's badge on her first day of work. After being accused of misusing her husband's identity while wearing a dress and a policeman's badge she was issued a policewoman's badge. This marked the first adjustment in gear for women officers.
Wells' appointment led other departments in the nation to appoint women to their departments as well. There was some variation among the departments as to what was issued to their new women police officers, but a consistent rule for all of them was to have the women officers wear skirts as part of their uniform and forbid them from wearing any jewelry or make-up on duty.
Today, police departments across the nation and even around the world have advanced from requiring women police officers to wear skirts and skip the make-up. Gone are the days when a woman police officer was acting as a social worker with a badge, and they now fill as many roles as male police officers do. Many companies are adjusting what they manufacture and sell to specifically meet the needs of women police officers. This is after years of providing only unisex products and using a one size fits most business model.
With the ease of shopping online any police officer can find just about any gear, uniforms, or other necessary items needed to outfit them properly to work on duty or off duty. Not only can you find product catalogs online and links to suppliers near you, but you can also find video clips explaining everything about the gear you are looking for. This is changing how police officers purchase what they need to do their jobs. But a trusted local uniform store where patches can be sewn on and alterations can be made is still the first choice for officers.
This seems to be true especially for female officers. In testing law enforcement clothing for this article, I found that many companies offer women's uniform pants and shirts, but there is a large gap from company to company for sizing and fit. Due to this variance, a reliable uniform store with knowledgeable staff and quality alterations people is especially important.
5.11 Tactical offers A-Class poly/rayon blend uniform shirts and pants for women in several colors and a poly/wool blend in midnight navy. The shirts are available with long or short sleeves, permanent creases, bar tacks at all stress points, and melamine buttons. The poly/rayon blend also features a Teflon finish to repel stains.
Elbeco offers a class A poly/rayon tropical weave blend shirt with UV 40+ protection to help keep the shirt comfortable and less prone to fading. They are available in long or short sleeves with permanent creases, cross-stitched shoulder straps, and extra-long tails to help keep the shirts tucked in. They are machine washable.
Flying Cross by Fechheimer has A-Class uniform shirts in long and short sleeve choices for women made of a 65 percent Dacron polyester and 35 percent cotton blend. With sewn in military creases, seven button front closures, and pleated pockets with Velcro closures, these shirts are durable and practical. The sizing runs very true to street clothes and requires little if any alterations to fit well. The neck openings do vary between sizes so women with larger necks will require a larger size.
The Force offers shirts made of stretch fabric with a cut that works very well with body armor. The company's New Generation Stretch shirt # HS1448 is available in a 74 percent polyester/25 percent wool/1 percent Lycra blend with a lined collar, silicone permanent creases, pleated pockets, and two button cuffs. The New Generation Stretch Twill #HS1453 or Stretch Poplin #HS1164 also have permanent silicone creases, double button cuffs, and pleated pockets. The high quality stitching is very noticeable and the fabric is incredibly comfortable.
5.11 Tactical polos are available in a variety of colors with 100 percent cotton. A No-Roll collar makes the 5.11 polo stand out from the others and the cut of the sizes for women, which run from small to extra large, is smaller than the men's polos so you won't need to pay for alterations often necessary for excessively long shirts needed by men. The Professional polo comes in more color options than the tactical polo but both have useful pen pockets on the sleeve of the left arm. 5.11 also offers responder polos and performance polos, which are made of 100 percent snag-free synthetic antimicrobial fabric, but these only come in men's sizes.
Elbeco doesn't offer polos just for women. Their performance polos are 100 percent polyester antimicrobial microfiber and come in a variety of colors and sizes, but they are really long for most women and have to be altered to be tucked in and worn comfortably. The sleeves are too long to look professional for most women without being altered, too. Unfortunately, many companies that do make women's polos make the pockets too small to put subject cards or other items into them. This is changing, though, and the pockets are beginning to be made larger.
Unfortunately, many departments only allow female officers to wear polos that are made for men. Some like Olympic make a quality polo, but it is large and requires that not only the length be shortened but that the sleeves be taken up-and that is even on the extra-small sizes. 5.11 is leading the competition with its women's polos in the market place and uniform store employees do not hesitate to share how happy their customers are with this particular product.
The 5.11 A-Class pants have self adjusting waistbands with a snap and zipper. Silicone grippers are built into the waistband to help keep shirts tucked in and also help to keep the waistband in place when fastening the pants with a gun belt attached through the belt loops. Permanent creases and bar tacks at all stress points further increase durability. Most of 5.11's A-Class uniforms have Lycra in the fabric blend, which helps with fit and minor fluctuations in weight. This helps the uniforms to remain comfortable all of the time.
Elbeco offers A-Class pants with the company's Tex Trop Trousers and TekTwill Trousers, 100 percent polyester with elastique weave. Both have elasticized waistbands, which were surprisingly comfortable and well fitting. The sizing ran pretty true to street clothes sizing. Their Ladies Choice pants have side elastic, a shortened front rise, and a straightened leg to allow for more movement and a more professional appearance. One of the best features of the waistband is that the pants fit well with or without a gun belt on.
Flying Cross A-Class pants have a button and hooks for the front closure. The sewn in Tru-grip on the inside of the waistband makes it easy to put the pants on even with a gun belt in place through the loops and the Tru-grip also keeps your shirt tucked in. The down side is that the waist is a little bit high and could stand to be lowered. The Freedom Fit allows for comfort and the pockets are very usable and large enough to put things in when needed. These pants come in 100 percent wool, a poly/wool blend, and even a 100 percent polyester option. Each is a little different, so try them on to see which ones fit you the best.
The Force New Generation pants #HS2380 are made of a 74 percent polyester/25 percent wool/1 percent Lycra material. Elastic side inserts, silicone permanent creases, and .75-inch belt loops make these pants comfortable.
Tactical or cargo pants are perhaps the most versatile article of clothing for uniforms. Options available range from rugged pants with pant legs that can be unzipped and taken off to ultra lightweight pants sometimes called "pajama pants" by officers.
The sizing for the 5.11 Tactical pants runs on the small side and uniform store employees said many women officers still prefer the men's pants over the women's pants for fashion reasons if they prefer a lower waistband. The 5.11 tactical pants have had some recent changes, though. A lower rise and more contemporary fit have been adjusted for the latest version, making them better suited to a woman's body. The fabric is very durable and the pockets are large with sturdy Velcro and zippers. If you have tried their pants before and purchased men's pants instead, go back and try the new cut. It may save you a lot of money in expensive alterations.
Elbeco also offers a better fit for women's pants with its Ladies Choice cargo pants. The curve at the hip, the lower elastic waistband, and shortened rise lend themselves well to a better fitting, more professional looking pant. All of the officers I asked about these pants felt they looked better and lasted for a longer period of time when regularly dry cleaned instead of just being washed.
The Flying Cross women's tactical pants are a 65 percent polyester 35 percent cotton blend with a high waist and Fechheimer's own Freedom Fit cut. The waist is secured with a button, a hook, and a zipper. The pockets are all reinforced with stitching and are of a medium depth to accommodate most women's reach. Flying Cross has tacked down the corners of the cargo pockets and provided a zippered pocket as well as the expected Velcro securing pocket.
The belt loops are sewn into the lining on the inside of the waistband, providing very sturdy loops that will not easily be torn or come undone. The rear pockets are low enough to use and access even with a full gun belt. The only thing they could change to make the pants better is to lower the waist a bit more and then the pants will be hard to beat for quality, fit, and value.
Blauer also makes really good quality tactical pants. The fit is very good for a woman's body with a 65/35 cotton blend that includes stretch fabric. The pockets are deep and well reinforced with quality stitching. They don't just stop at a single bar tack for the pockets, but sew a triangular shaped tack for extra strength. All Blauer pants come unhemmed, so having a good alterations person is a must. The waistbands stretch and come with double hooks and eyes and two-bead silicone shirt grips to keep your shirt tucked in.
Both hip pockets on the Blauer tac pants have button tabs and the thigh pockets have Scotchlite stripping under the pocket flap, which really helps to keep items in your pockets even when running at full speed in a foot pursuit or jumping over walls. They fit loosely and the sizing is accurate in comparison to street clothes. These pants are available in a variety of colors. They are washable and stand up well over time.
The Force offers a New Dimensions six-pocket cargo pant #HS2344 in a 65 percent polyester/35 percent cotton blend. With elastic side inserts in the waistband and double entry cargo pockets, these pants are practical and fit easily.
The Force also offers this pant in a 70 percent cotton/30 percent polyester blend #HS2353. This particular style also has reinforced knees and zippers for the top front pockets. This is great for activities like running a foot pursuit or climbing over walls where you don't want anything to fall out of the pockets.
Another great pair of tactical pants comes from Tru-Spec by Atlanco. They offer a brand new design with their 24-7 series pants for women. Made from a 65/35 poly/cotton blend rip stop fabric, these pants have a very contemporary cut with a comfort fit slider waistband that fits very well. The adjustable side tabs for either a paddle style or inside-the-pants holster, extra deep front pockets, knife pockets, and reinforced knees all add to the practicality of these pants. For women who prefer men's pants these are definitely worth trying.
The 5.11 tactical series ankle socks were tested by other officers and myself. Even though the socks did a good job of providing a breathable cotton blend, the knit felt a little bit coarse and the one-size sock felt a bit stretched to officers with larger feet. However, there is a large variety of 5.11 socks to choose from, even at standard uniform stores, and the prices are very reasonable.
Thorlo uniform socks run around $10 a pair and come in a large variety of cushion levels and styles. The support in the heel, the areas where boots lace up, and under the toes was more than anything I ever thought was possible from just a sock. Thorlo socks are sized for men and women and run true to size. They are quite possibly the most comfortable sock I have ever tried and I recommend them for off-duty use as well. Though the price is a little high, the quality makes it more than worth the price difference.
Be sure to take the socks you wear on duty with you when purchasing new duty footwear to ensure correct sizing. There is a variance in the thicknesses not only between styles of socks but also between companies.
Ultimately, good quality footwear that fits your foot well may be the best investment an officer can make next to a good holster and ballistic vest. I would like to see more companies offer socks and even some socks made more like heavy-duty knee-high nylons to help eliminate the bulkiness of tube socks with uniform boots.
As for duty gear, one of the standouts for women is the ASP #F25 SideBreak Scabbard. It is a unisex product but it is exceptionally well suited for women.
With multiple ways to adjust the scabbard for an expandable baton, it is possible to have an expandable baton on your gun belt that can be adjusted so the baton is not too high or too low for the officer while driving or riding in a car. The scabbard also allows for the baton to be reholstered without being collapsed.
ASP's SideBreak Scabbard comes in a variety of finishes to accommodate duty belt requirements and is a terrific product that can be used to allow a woman officer to have gear on her gun belt without causing discomfort from bulky fitting gear poking her in the back while she is driving a car.
For smaller women, it is difficult to place all of the required gear on a gun belt because their waists are just not big enough around. The SideBreak Scabbard allows a more comfortable option.
Every police department has uniform requirements as to which shirts and pants are approved for their officers and making sure you purchase the correct uniform for your department can be greatly assisted by knowledgeable local uniform store employees. Even though most uniforms can be washed, overall they lasted and looked better longer when dry cleaned at least occasionally if not regularly. This also helped eliminate as much of a need to iron.
These are only a few of the brands available for women police officers. Trying on as many options as possible when purchasing new uniforms to find the right fit and quality can help to assure an officer she made not just a good choice, but a great choice.
Lori M. Connelly is a Phoenix police officer as well as a freelance writer who reviews automobiles and covers police-related issues.