The Navy recently released an administrative message to all sailors with updates to uniform policies. The policy change getting the most attention is the one regarding female hair standards. Previously, women were required to keep their hair neat, above their collar, and with all ends tucked in if in an updo. The most common way for women with longer hair to keep within regulations was a bun, secured in the back.
The new regulations allow for female sailors to wear their hair in a ponytail, braid, or locks when in uniform. Ponytails, single braids, or French braids will now be allowed in Service, Working, and physical training uniforms. The Navy provides specific guidance on how ponytails and braids should look.
“The end of the braid or ponytail may extend up to three inches below the lower edge of the collar of the shirt, jacket or coat,” except in situations where that may compromise safety, the admin message stipulated.
Locks or twisted ringlets created in sections from the root to the end that are uniform will also be authorized. Locks will be allowed when worn loose or gathered in a bun with no embellishments.
Buns will continue to be authorized and will most likely be the go-to choice for many women, at least for a while. The ease of securing and keeping a bun professional in appearance, as well as the habit of putting hair into a bun, mean that it will probably continue to be used most often. The new regulations allow for larger buns, accommodating a larger volume of hair while maintaining a professional appearance.
In dinner dress uniforms, the new regulations have expanded even more. Women are now allowed to wear their hair down below their collar, as long as it presents a neat and professional appearance. The dinner dress uniform, worn at formal events, will now allow female sailors to let their hair down, literally and figuratively.
Safety remains paramount in the military and the message specifies that “wearing of approved hairstyles is authorized provided doing so does not prohibit the proper wear of safety and damage control equipment, facilitates uniform head gear being worn squarely on the head, and does not present a safety hazard to the Sailor as determined by the unit commanding officer.” The implementation of these new guidelines, including when safety would be compromised by allowing for more relaxed hairstyles, remains with individual commanding officers.
The announcement of the new policy was made in early July by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, via Facebook Live. Admiral Richardson shared how he developed the policy changes at the recommendation of sailors, with the ultimate goal of increasing inclusivity to maintain a competitive edge. “All of this really is to allow us to be an inclusive team,” he said.
Thanks to all who tuned in yesterday on FB Live to see @CNORichardson and CNP VADM Burke discuss progress in modernizing personnel systems and some uniform & grooming (female hair!) updates. We'll tweet when that NAVADMIN comes out. #Sailor2025 pic.twitter.com/KEgbxnkQqs
— USN People (@usnpeople) July 11, 2018
Uniforms Throughout the Years
This is hardly the first time that uniform or grooming standards have been changed in the Navy or the military as a whole.
The first regulation uniforms worn by the Navy were prescribed in 1817. The uniform included “blue jacket and trousers, red vest with yellow buttons and a black hat,” according to an article on Military.com. Several updates were made to uniforms over the years, including additions to distinguish rank or specialty, material changes, and buttons.
According to the U.S. Naval Institute, grooming standards were not established until 1841. Initial guidance allowed for short hair and beards as well as whiskers that could “descend more than one inch below the tip of the ear, and thence in line towards the corners of the mouth.”
Beards were allowed through the 1960s, although hair, beards, and moustaches were required to be trimmed short. In many circumstances, however, beards were seen as “sport on those deployments and a judge would decide who had the most impressive beard at the end of the cruise.”
The bell-bottomed pants made their appearance in the 1800s. When first introduced, bell-bottoms were not a civilian style, although that changed much later. The bell-bottom pants were “easily rolled above the knee to keep legs dry and allowed Sailors to quickly remove them while still wearing their shoes in case they were tossed overboard.”
Rags became the neckerchief still worn by enlisted sailors, while uniforms that included a suit and tie were eventually developed to present a more professional appearance.
The 1970s brought a lot of change to both uniform and grooming standards. Longer hair, beards, and sideburns were allowed to better fit with civilian styles of the time. This was meant to improve the image and perception of the Navy, as well as recruit and retain sailors.
In 1984, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral James D. Watkins issued new guidance prohibiting beards. He cited safety concerns about getting an airtight seal with an emergency breathing apparatus, but many thought the change was more about looks than safety.
The changes that the Navy has made to uniform and grooming regulations reflect the tradition of the naval service as well as contemporary trends and aesthetics. The latest update reflects the need for a broader range of options for women in the military.
Other uniform regulation updates in the message included changes to the black relax-fit jacket, also known as the Eisenhower Jacket, new optional physical training uniforms, and identification badge guidance.