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Air Force OKs new hairstyles for women, off-duty earrings for men

Female airmen attend a training forum last year at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force has followed the Army, Navy and Marine Corps in authorizing its female servicemembers to wear their hair in dreadlocks.

The change was one of several included in updates to an Air Force instruction on dress and personal appearance that took effect on July 13.

“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 issued Monday.

The changes eliminate minimum hair length for females but set a maximum bulk of 3 ½ inches from the scalp and mandate hairstyles that allow a cover to sit properly on the head. Dreadlocks must be tightly fused or interwoven and present a neat and professional appearance.

Tech. Sgt. Nichole Stewart, who works with the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, said Tuesday that she’d heard about the new rules and planned to style her own hair in dreadlocks.

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“I’m pleased with the diversity and the understanding that locks can be a professional look,” she said while shopping at the base exchange.

Mike Jordan, a barber working at the Afro Roots hairdresser at Yokota said he hadn’t yet styled an airman’s hair into dreadlocks but added: “We’ve been getting lots of phone calls from people who want them.”

Another rule change allows male airmen to wear earrings in civilian clothes while off duty.

“I already see airmen wearing them off-duty all the time,” Jordan said.

The changes also allow airmen to wear sling-style backpacks while in uniform and authorize all enlisted personnel to wear 3 ½ or 4-inch chevrons.

Additionally, “all or some” authorized ribbons or devices may be worn on the service dress jacket, while “all, some or no” authorized accoutrements may be worn on an airman’s long or short-sleeve blue shirt, according to the new rules.

“There are additional Uniform Board initiatives that are ongoing and still being analyzed for consideration and implementation by senior leaders.” Grosso said.

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