Air Force OKs Locks, Earring Styles, Ribbon Options in Policy Changes

More than 250 female Airmen fill the Community Activity Center for the first ever 82nd Training Wing Female Airmen Forum, May 16, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/2nd Lt. Jacqueline Jastrzebski)
More than 250 female Airmen fill the Community Activity Center for the first ever 82nd Training Wing Female Airmen Forum, May 16, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/2nd Lt. Jacqueline Jastrzebski)

The Air Force is easing up on guidance for hairstyles and certain accessories following a meeting of the Air Force Uniform Board, service officials announced Monday.

In changes finalized July 13, the Air Force followed the lead of other services in allowing locks, or locs, as an acceptable hairstyle for female troops. It will also allow women to wear a wider range of earring styles in uniform and will permit male airmen to sport earrings as well -- although only in civilian dress while off duty.

Also in are certain hair accessories, a wider range of eyewear and more options for PT undershirts.

"These changes stemmed from the 100th Air Force Uniform Board, which incorporated direct feedback from Airmen," Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services, said in a statement. "There are additional Uniform Board initiatives that are ongoing and still being analyzed for consideration and implementation by senior leaders."

Changes for Hair

The Air Force's move to authorize locks, a popular option among female black service members who find it difficult to pull their natural hair into other authorized styles, comes just a week after the Navy announced that it would permit locks, as well as ponytails and other styles.

The Army and the Marine Corps both previously changed their uniform policies to include locks.

As with the other services, the Air Force's new hairstyle authorization comes with strict guidelines.

Per the new changes, there is now no minimum hair length for female troops. Under the new rules, locks must be no wider than one inch, with natural spacing, and must be "tightly interwoven" to create a professional and neat appearance.

No more than a quarter-inch of scalp should show between locks or braids, and they must "continue to the end of the hair without design and [follow] the contour of the head."

The new rules also authorize a variety of hair accessories, including scrunchies, headbands, combs and clips, but stipulate that all must be solid black, regardless of hair color.

Not all the changes aim to relax standards: The newly released policy expressly forbids mullets, Mohawks and "etched hair designs" for service members.

Earrings, Backpacks and PT Shirts

Previously, only female airmen could wear earrings -- in uniform or out. The new rules allow male airmen to wear earrings even while on base, provided they are in civilian attire and not performing any military duty.

For women, a slightly larger range of ear jewelry is authorized in uniform, per the new rules. Previously, they could wear round stud earrings in diamond, gold, white pearl or silver while in uniform; now they can wear square studs as well. While in uniform, female airmen are still limited to just one set of earrings that "match and fit tightly without extending below the earlobe."

The Air Force also handed down rules governing how to wear backpacks with the new Occupational Camouflage Pattern uniform, which is set to become the service's standard working uniform by 2021.

According to the rules, OCP-patterned backpacks and those in tan and coyote brown are all authorized for wear with the new uniform. Sling-style and two-strap backpacks are both acceptable, with sling-style packs to be worn on the left shoulder so as not to interfere with salutes.

Another change pertains to undershirts worn underneath PT uniform shorts. They can now be short- or long-sleeved and visible under the Air Force's gray PT shirt, according to the new policy. Undershirts in white, black or light gray are all acceptable, per the rules.

Finally, officials are now permitting airmen to wear a black balaclava for PT during cold weather.

Ribbon Wear

Got a big stack of ribbons? You can now decide to wear them all, or just some, per the new uniform guidance. That pertains to the men's and women's service dress uniforms.

For the blue service uniforms, airmen can choose to wear all their ribbons, some or none at all.

The changes also allow enlisted airmen to wear either three-and-a-half or four-inch chevrons in uniform. Before the change, enlisted airmen were restricted to wearing three-and-a-half inch rank for certain uniforms; this tweak offers more options.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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