Based on the Marine Corps MARPAT Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform, with multiple pockets on the shirt and trousers, it uses a multi-color digital print pattern similar to those introduced by other services. However, the NWU will also be made in three variants: predominantly blue, with some gray, for the majority of sailors and shipboard use in addition to a woodland digital pattern and a desert digital pattern, both similar to MARPAT, for sailors serving in units requiring those types of uniforms, such as SEALs. Woodland and desert variants may be tailored differently than the blue-pattern uniform.
The overall blue color reflects the Navy's heritage and connection to seaborne operations. The pixelated pattern is also used to hide wear and stains, something unavoidable with the utilities and working khakis used previously. The colors were also chosen to match the most commonly used paint colors aboard ship, extending the lifetime of the uniform on long deployments where uniforms often come into contact with freshly painted surfaces. As of 2012, the uniform is authorized for wear outside of military installations.
The uniform is primarily composed of a 50/50 nylon and cotton blend, which eliminates the need for a "starch and press" appearance and reduces the possibility of snags and tears from sharp objects (thus making the garment last longer). However this blend combines high flammablilty with the strength to hold onto the sailor's body while burning. Accessories include a navy blue cotton t-shirt, an eight-point utility cover (similar to that worn by Marines), and a web belt with closed buckle. All-weather garments will include a unisex pullover sweater, a fleece jacket, and a parka, all of which will be available in matching camouflage patterns.The uniform is worn with rank insignia on both collar points and on the front panel of the 8-sided camouflage cover, with sew-on name and "U.S. NAVY" tapes, also on the new digital background pattern, having gold-colored lettering for officers and CPOs and silver-colored lettering for all lower ranks. An embroidered Anchor, USS Constitution, and Eagle (ACE) emblem is on the left breast pocket on all NWUs.
Black safety boots, identical to those worn by United States Coast Guard personnel with their new Operational Dress Uniform, are worn with the new NWUs. Boots come in two versions: black smooth leather boots, and black suede no-shine boots for optional wear while assigned to non-shipboard commands.
Like the previous working uniforms, the new NWU was designed to allow personnel to stay warm and dry in inclement weather, thus they were designed to be slightly larger for the wearing of sweaters underneath, along with meeting shipboard fire safety standards. The NWU, unlike its predecessors, was also designed to be longer-lasting and does not need to be ironed like previous uniforms. The uniform also has more pockets than its predecessors, with four on the shirt including the two pockets on the sleeves of the uniform, and six on the trousers. The NWUs are currently in production and were phased into service beginning in January 2009.