By Anna Kim
When serving in the military, people tend to think about the rigorous training and tasks that one must undergo in order to do their job well. What people usually don’t think about is the proper regulations on acceptable military hair. While some may think these military hair standards are strict or intense, they actually serve a very important purpose.

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Military Hair Rules for Each Branch

How long can hair be in the military? Can you dye your hair in the military? Can men have long hair in the military? These are all questions answered and explained in different ordinances depending on your branch. The U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force updated their hair regulations back in 2021 to promote diversity and inclusion. These new standards are a bit more relaxed and flexible for female military hair by allowing different hairstyles. Still, these rules strive to ensure safety during military operations and in wearing headgear. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard all have different standards for hair and hair length.

U.S. Army

  • No minimum hair length.
  • Multiple hairstyles for women are allowed (no longer limited to military hair bun for short hair or long hair).
  • Ponytails must be at the back of the head and smaller than head width.
  • Highlights must be a natural color, and roots can grow to more than 1.5 inches of the original hair color.

U.S. Navy

  • 2, 3, and multiple-strand braids are allowed.
  • Braids should be of similar size.
  • Women’s hair bulk can be up to 2 inches thick.
  • Braids should be uniform in size.
  • Hair must be a natural color.
  • Men’s hair can’t be longer than 4 inches and can’t touch their ears or collar.

U.S. Marine Corps

  • Locks, twists, and braids are allowed for females.
  • Natural hair is authorized regardless of texture.
  • Hair bulk can be up to 2 inches thick.
  • Braids of three or more sections are allowed.
  • Hair must not protrude from headgear.

U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force

  • Hairstyles allowed are ponytails and two braids down the back.
  • Hair dye can only be natural colors.
  • Bangs can now extend to touch the eyebrows.

U.S. Coast Guard

  • Hair cannot fall below the eyebrows.
  • Hair can be styled in a bun and can’t extend farther than 3 inches from the scalp.
  • Men’s hair cannot touch their ears or the top of their collar.

Can You Have Facial Hair in the Military?

Being in the military involves looking professional and being well-groomed. A service member’s appearance is just one way to ensure their safety. When it comes to facial hair, it must be clean-shaven; groomed beards can only be worn for religious reasons, and mustaches have to be tapered and trimmed.

Women’s Military Hair

Female standards for military hair have more stipulations; let’s talk about the specifics on women's hair in the military.
  • Hair can be worn long.
  • Hair can be completely shaved or closely shaved.
  • If the hair length is short or medium, it cannot be longer than the lower edge of the collar in their uniform.
  • Hair can be styled in a ponytail or braid, as long as it does not interfere with their headgear.
  • If hair is styled in braided twists or locks, it must be neat in appearance.
  • Wigs are allowed as long as they appear natural and aren’t being used to cover unaccepted hairstyles.
  • If hair accessories are used, they can’t be distracting or decorative.
Essentially, women’s hair must look neat and natural and cannot get in the way of headgear or protective equipment.

Men’s Hair in the Military

Men also have detailed regulations to ensure their protection.
  • Wigs or hairpieces may be worn to cover baldness or disfiguration.
  • Hair dye must be natural and subtle.
  • Sideburns cannot be longer than the bottom opening of the ear.
  • Cannot wear braids, cornrows, twists, or locks.
  • Shaved designs cannot be worn on hair or scalp.
  • Styled sideburns that taper, flare, or come to a point cannot be worn.

Updates on Military Hair Regulation

The updates in military hair regulation came from a panel of 17 Soldiers, 15 of whom were women and two men. These Soldiers reviewed appearance and grooming changes related to diversity, inclusion, health, wellness, hygiene, and professional appearance. Hair-cutting services are provided at all bases. For example, in the Air Force, during Basic Military Training, male airmen will have their heads shaved. This is not required for women, as their hair just has to be tied up and out of their faces. The Soldiers were of different ages, ranks, units, career fields, races, and cultural backgrounds. On top of that, two Army dermatologists, a psychologist, and an equal opportunity advisor were involved during this process. The change reflected a shift in society, and the Army wanted people to feel included. Sergeant Major Brian Sanders said, "I use the analogy, 'If you look good, you feel good -- and if you feel good, you perform [well]... If I am in the Army long enough, it would be nice to see how these changes have improved productivity... and make Soldiers perform better." The military hair guidelines reflect the demographics and health concerns with COVID-19. Essentially, the regulations of military haircuts and military hairstyles are to present oneself in a neat and professional manner while also ensuring safety.

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The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement. | Photo by Lance Cpl. Michelle Brudnicki | Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island



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