Military Services Lighten Up on Facial Hair and Uniforms in New Policies

Airman wipes sweat from his head at Misawa Air Base.
Capt. Jacob Impellizzerri, a Pacific Air Forces' F-16 Demonstration Team pilot, wipes sweat from his head at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Apr. 18, 2018. (U.S. Air force photo by Senior Airman Sadie Colbert)

Airmen can now have longer mustaches, according to the latest dress and grooming policy released Thursday by the Department of the Air Force. They also have been granted more flexibility to wear certain unit patches when assigned to joint missions with the Space Force.

Meanwhile, the Navy has slightly relaxed its prohibition on beards by allowing them to be worn by retired sailors while in dress uniform, new guidance from that service says.

The Air Force, Space Force and Navy have all released new grooming and uniform policies this week, offering progressive updates to facial hair length, tattoo locations and makeup options.

Read Next: Space Force Will Allow Neck Tattoos, Longer Mustaches and More Makeup Options for Guardians

"These changes will allow Airmen additional flexibilities as to how to wear mustaches," Gwendolyn DeFilippi, acting deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said in a press release. "Additionally, allowing airmen to wear sister-service patches in their current color configuration influences cohesiveness and pride while assigned to joint organizations."

Similar to the Space Force's policies unveiled earlier this week, airmen will now be able to grow mustaches an additional one-fourth of an inch.

"No portion of the mustache will extend below the lip line of the upper lip," the updated policy reads. "Additionally, the mustache will not go beyond a horizontal line extending across the corners of the mouth and no more than 1/4 inch beyond a vertical line drawn from the corner of the mouth."

It's a departure from the previous guidance, which said airmen's mustaches will "not extend downward beyond the lip line of the upper lip or extend sideways beyond a vertical line drawn upward from both corners of the mouth."

The other policy update, according to the Air Force's press release, is allowing airmen to wear patches worn by Guardians when working in joint units together.

"Airmen assigned, attached, detailed, or activated in support of sister-service units or joint organizations can now wear the unit's patches in accordance with the sister service or joint organizations wear instructions," the updated policy reads.

Those badges or patches can be worn in the Space Force's or joint organization's color configuration instead of the Air Force's spice brown color.

Last year, the Air Force approved more hairstyle options for female service members, allowing them to wear their hair in two braids, a single braid or ponytail that extends as far as the bottom of the shoulder blades. Additionally, the service is developing a maternity flight suit and a wrap-style dress for pregnant airmen.

Beards are still off-limits for airmen, except under certain medical waivers or religious exemptions.

Meanwhile, the Navy, which has long held on to its ban on beards in uniform despite demands from sailors for relief, has relaxed its standards ever so slightly.

In an administrative message released Friday, the service said that it would now allow retired sailors to have facial hair, including beards, "when wearing Navy uniforms during authorized ceremonial events."

The notice added that the hair "must be neatly groomed and be in keeping with a professional appearance."

While seemingly minor, the change is the latest in a series of loosening rules around shaving and, more specifically, the ingrown hairs and skin irritations known as pseudofolliculitis barbae, or PFB.

In March, the Navy announced that those who suffer from PFB will not have to shave, and the service's guidance for treating, maintaining and addressing their beards has been updated as well. The move did come amid growing reports and studies, like this article from Navy Times in April, that the condition disproportionately affects Black sailors.

The Navy's argument for maintaining its fairly strict no beard policy has largely focused on the idea that sailors with beards would not be able to get an effective seal for a gas mask around their face, thus impacting their ability to fight a potential shipboard fire.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro recently launched a study, citing the sea service's commitment to diversity and inclusion, to study the issue of beards and face masks, prompting the possibility of more significant changes down the road.

Meanwhile, the Space Force released its updated dress and grooming policies earlier this week to match the Air Force -- like sharing the same expanded mustache policy.

But the Space Force also unveiled a more progressive tattoo policy. It allows for a single neck tattoo as long as it is appropriate, smaller than one inch and kept to the back of the neck.

Women in the Space Force are also now allowed to wear nail polish and lipstick in a single color "that does not detract from the uniform" and is not a distracting hue such as gold, blue, black, and bright or neon colors.

Men are not permitted to wear lipstick or nail polish, but "male Guardians are authorized to wear foundation and concealer only to cover scars or blemishes," the policy states.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: Air Force Making Uniform Changes with Women in Mind, While Space Force Is Working to Fix Those Baggy Pants

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