The Army is letting its hair down a little, so to speak, announcing several changes to grooming requirements Tuesday in an effort to foster inclusion and diversity in the ranks.
The updated regulations will take effect at the end of February. The new guidelines will allow women to wear a short ponytail if their hair does not have the texture or length for a bun. The Army is also removing the minimum hair length for female soldiers, and will permit two hairstyles to be worn at once — "locks" (twisted braids) and a bun, for instance.
"We know that inclusive grooming standards help to foster and retain the best talent," said Lieutenant General Gary Brito, the deputy chief of staff of the Army.
The grooming regulations were last updated significantly in 2017, when the Army removed the ban on female locks. The last update affected Black women with afro-textured hair, in particular, and the new updates expand on the 2017 change.
The new guidelines have come about as the result of a July 2020 directive by then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper to investigate whether some of the Army's grooming regulations were offensive.
A review panel of 15 females and two men looked at the proposed recommendations with input from expert dermatologists, a psychologist and an equal opportunity adviser.
In a briefing with reporters, Sergeant Major Brian Sanders of the G-1 Uniform Policy Branch said the dermatologists on the panel emphasized that they see Black women on a regular basis who are affected by traction alopecia, that is, hair loss associated with restrictive hair styles like the tight bun that the Army required. They explained that multiple hairstyles, like locks and a bun, as well as a short ponytail policy, could alleviate this problem.
Female soldiers will also be able to wear long ponytails in utility uniforms when conducting physical training or wearing tactical equipment. Earrings in combat uniform will be allowed for the first time ever — limited to gold, silver, or diamond earrings. Pearl earrings are permitted for formal occasions.
Many of the changes are geared toward women, since the make-up of the panel was primarily female. But the panel also suggested some gender-neutral updates.
It recommended that both female and male soldiers be allowed to have highlights in their hair if the colors are not extreme and the colors look natural. The regulations also allow for fingernail polish that is not too extreme for females as well as clear nail polish for men, especially those who are constantly exposed to harsh chemicals.
Tuesday's changes also demand that the words "Fu Manchu" and "Mohawk" be removed from regulations. The styles are still not permitted, but the regulations won't use the phrases, which have racist connotations.