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Air Force Changes Rules to Allow Women to Wear Their Hair In Longer Braids and Ponytails to Support Efforts That ‘Address Diversity and Inclusion’

Women in the Air Force will be allowed to wear their hair in longer braids and ponytails as an outcome of the 101st Air Force uniform board’s November meeting.

“Beginning in February 2021, female Airmen will be able to wear their hair in up to two braids or a single ponytail with bulk not exceeding the width of the head and length not extending below a horizontal line running between the top of each sleeve inseam at the under arm through the shoulder blades. In addition, women’s bangs may now touch their eyebrows, but not cover their eyes,” reads a Jan. 21 statement from the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.

Under current standards, women in the Air Force could wear their hair in a ponytail or braids but it couldn’t extend past the bottom of the collar. 

The Air Force uniform board met virtually in November to discuss crowdsourced ideas related to dress and appearance sent in by thousands of service members. The board was composed of 19 Airmen from different ranks.

Feedback from women in the force indicated that the previous rules “resulted in damage to hair, migraines and in some cases, hair loss.”

“In addition to the health concerns we have for our Airmen, not all women have the same hair type, and our hair standards should reflect our diverse force,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass said in a statement. “I am pleased we could make this important change for our women service members.”

The Air Force chief of staff approved the policy after considering the board’s recommendation, feedback from the force, and the Air Force’s professional image standards.

In the statement about the rules change, the Air Force provided a diagram that shows hair length permitted for braids and ponytails.

Adjusting the standards is intended to support efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in the ranks.

“We remain committed to removing barriers to service,” said Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services. “In an all-volunteer force, we want fully qualified volunteers who are representative of the nation to see us as a great opportunity to maximize their talent and serve.”

The new rule will go into effect following the publication of the new standards in Air Force Instruction 36-2903 in February.

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