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Longer hair, some scalp tattoos OK

Air Force's dress-and-appearance rules to change this fall

The Air Force loosened its tattoo policy in 2017 with the goal of opening the door to more young recruits who likely came with more body art. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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Male airmen will be allowed to tattoo their scalps and grow their hair half an inch longer under an update to Air Force dress-and-appearance standards taking effect in October.

The service is also doing away with some restrictions that micromanage specific behavior while in uniform - such as putting hands in pockets or talking on a cellphone while walking.

The updates come after testing and feedback from airmen and reviews by the 2020 Air Force Uniform Board, the service said in a news release Aug. 10.

More than 30 recommendations from the board were approved for implementation in the field, according to the release.

"During this most recent review we approved several updates fully aligned with our Air Force standards and culture that maintain our focus on warfighting while providing options to meet many of the needs of our airmen," Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said in the release.

Some of the changes to be updated this fall in Air Force Instruction 36-2903, Dress and Appearance of Air Force Personnel, are:

  • Bulk hair standards for men will increase from 2 inches to 2.5 inches
  • Men will be authorized for cosmetic tattooing on the scalp
  • The size of hair accessories for women will increase from 1 inch to 2 inches
  • Hosiery will be optional for women with any combination of dress uniform
  • Transparent piercing spacers will be allowed
  • Wing commanders may authorize the local wear of approved morale patches on Fridays or during special events.

The Air Force last loosened its tattoo policy in 2017 with the goal of opening the door to more young recruits who likely came with more body art.

At that time, the service eliminated the "25%-coverage rule," which limited the size of tattoos on the chest, back, arms and legs, but tattoos on the neck, face and scalp remained prohibited.

In other revisions set for October, the board has recommended removing certain restrictive language mandating specific behavior, the intent being to "entrust commanders and airmen to understand and adopt proper behavior based on their situation and circumstances," the news release said.

For example, the October update will remove language prohibiting airmen from using a cellphone or drinking water while walking in uniform. The update will also drop language prohibiting airmen from placing hands in their pockets while walking or standing in uniform.

"We trust our airmen, (noncommissioned officers) and commanders with incredible resources and significant responsibilities and we'll need to do so even more as we prepare for future conflicts," Kelly said. "We likewise trust they can figure out what it takes and means to maintain standards without specifying exact behavior in every situation."

Upgrades to certain elements of Air Force uniforms will also become available in the next few months, according to the release.

A men's long-sleeve blue shirt - sporting "reengineered arm holes" and a tapered, lengthened body - is slated to become available this month.

Expected in October are an upgraded men's short-sleeve blue shirt; women's tuck-in style blouse in both long- and short-sleeves; and an enhanced maternity blouse.

A modified semi-form fitting blouse is expected to become available in January.

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