Women in the Army will be allowed to shave their head or sport long ponytails, while male soldiers can now get highlights and wear clear nail polish, under sweeping new changes to the service’s hair and grooming policy unveiled Tuesday.
Beards in uniform, however, will have to wait for another day.
A panel primarily made up of women soldiers from across the service reviewed a number of recommendations from military personnel before submitting their report to Army officials, who gave their approval. Health concerns and a desire to reflect the changing nature of the recruits in the ranks drove the change from the traditional buttoned-up approach.
Many of the changes are meant to help prevent alopecia, a medical condition that causes hair to fall out in small patches. But Army officials on Tuesday also acknowledged that advancing a feeling of inclusion and diversity in the ranks also was a consideration.
“We have soldiers from all walks of life [and] we have to represent them,” Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, deputy chief of staff for Army personnel, told reporters. “Our Army policies must promote equity and inclusion.”
“We accepted all of [the panel’s] recommendations,” added Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston, the service’s senior enlisted member. “I trusted the panel had the right ideas and I accepted them.” The grooming changes officially goes into effect on Feb. 25.
The new guidelines authorize soldiers to wear hair highlights with natural colors, so long as it presents a “professional and natural appearance.” That means no purple, pink or fluorescent stripes, Army officials said.
Under the old regulations, women in the Army weren’t allowed to have hair shorter than one-quarter inch from the scalp. Now, the buzz cut actress Demi Moore sported in “G.I. Jane” and that female soldiers who attended Ranger School adopted will be permitted for all women in the Army.
“Technically, they were out of regulation during that time frame. We saw that there was a contradiction,” said Sgt. Maj. Mark Clark, senior noncommissioned officer with the Army‘s personnel section. “There really was no rationale on setting a minimum length for a female’s hair.”
Female soldiers also now can grow long ponytails while in uniform while conducting physical training or tactical operations. Those who hair length or texture makes wearing a bun difficult or medically harmful also will be allowed to pull their hair into a short ponytail that won’t extend beyond the lower edge of the collar.
The Army will also ban the use of terms such as “Mohawk,” “Fu Manchu,” or “Dreadlocks,” when referring to hair styles because they are considered “potentially offensive.”
The changes also clarify the Army‘s earring policy. Women will now be allowed to have earrings while wearing their combat fatigues, but only a matched pair and not while in the field or any other location where normal hygiene isn’t available, officials said.
Army officials punted on the question of whether the service should approve beards for male soldiers, saying only that soldiers could apply for an exemption to the Army‘s current “no beard” policy for religious or medical reasons.
Women in the Army will now be allowed to wear solid color shades of lipstick and nail polish — so long as their choices are not “extreme,” as in purple, black or fire engine red among other colors. In one of the few references to men in the new policy, it states that male soldiers will now be able to wear clear nail polish. According to the Army, the change is needed to protect the fingernails of male troops who work around harsh chemicals.
“We recognize that grooming standards impact their personal readiness. Their personal readiness will impact their unit readiness,” Lt. Gen. Brito said.
The Air Force also made some changes to hairstyle in the ranks. Starting next month, Air Force women will be able to wear their hair in up to two braids or a single ponytail with the hair not exceeding the width of the head. Meanwhile bangs may not touch the eyebrow but not cover the eyes.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. defended the changes in part as a way to make the service more attractive to potential recruits.
As was the case with the Army, the Air Force said diversity concerns played a part in taking another look at hair guidelines for women.
“Not all women have the same hair type and our hair standards should reflect our diverse force,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Grinston said the challenge now is to make sure the traditional brass are comfortable with change.
“This is about putting people first. It’s about listening to our soldiers,” he said. “This isn’t about male and female standards — it’s about the Army standards.”