On January 5, the United States Army approved a controversial appearance directive that allowed Sikh men to wear turbans and Muslim women to don hijabs as a religious exemption to traditional dress code. Buried within that directive was another controversial change to traditional military dress code that received far less attention. Army Regulation 670-1 allows women to wear their hair in long, twisted “locks,” as long as the strands are less than 1/8 inch wide, the scalp is in a uniform grid, and, when gathered, the hair fits into the required bun size of 3 1/2 inches wide by 2 inches deep. In other words, women are now permitted to wear dread locks while in uniform.
The policy change is said to have been influenced by Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Cherie Wright. She claimed the previous policy was discriminatory and forced Black female soldiers to avoid choosing more high-maintenance hairstyles as an alternative to dreadlocks. She believes the ban was based on misconceptions about dreadlocks only being messy and unkempt. She teamed up with Youtube entrepreneur Nikky Nwamokobia to create a video explaining that dreadlocks can be maintained and kept within military regulations. She asked for dreadlocks to be held to the same standard as braids and twists, which were allowed under the previous policy.
The change has been applauded by Black female soldiers, and many took to social media to express their gratitude.
“On Jan. 5, in the year of our Lord 2017, we are now allowed to wear locks in uniform,” Staff Sgt. Chaunsey Logan stated.
The difference with locks, according to Nwamokobia, is that when the hair is properly coiled together, it starts to grow in that pattern and only takes periodic tightening to keep them smooth, requiring far less maintenance.
The women in favor of the change claim they will no longer be forced to spend time and money, straightening their hair with chemicals or hot irons, wearing expensive and uncomfortable wigs, or shaving their heads entirely to keep from violating.