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Air Force relaxes hair rules. Women at MacDill cheer

Ponytails and one or two braids of a certain width and length are now part of the Air Force look.
Throughout most of her military service, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Sage Iverson wore her hair short or in a bun as seen left. Thanks to new regulations, she can wear her hair in a ponytail as seen right.
Throughout most of her military service, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Sage Iverson wore her hair short or in a bun as seen left. Thanks to new regulations, she can wear her hair in a ponytail as seen right. [ Courtesy of Sage Iverson ]
Published Mar. 15
Updated Mar. 15

TAMPA — Ever since Sage Iverson entered the Air Force in 2011, the rule for women has always been: Keep your hair above your collar, either cut short or in a tight bun.

She paid $23 every two weeks for haircuts to stay within regulation. Then she switched to a slicked back bun, held together with strong hair gel, bobby pins and heavyweight hairspray. But the new look meant she was pulling hard at her hair roots.

“I went from having a lot of hair to a lot thinner nowadays,” said Staff Sgt. Iverson, who is stationed at MacDill Air Force Base.

But Iverson and other women in the Air Force have found relief from hair loss, bun-induced migraines and hairstyle limitations, thanks to regulation changes that took effect Feb. 10. They can now wear their hair in “up to two braids or a single ponytail with bulk not exceeding the width of the head, and length not extending below a horizontal line running between the top of each sleeve inseam at the under arm through the shoulder blades,” according to a press release. Also women’s bangs may now touch their eyebrows, but not cover their eyes.

New Air Force hair regulations for women give them more options.
New Air Force hair regulations for women give them more options. [ United States Air Force ]

Iverson, who has worn a ponytail under her cap for the past few weeks, can already feel her hair getting healthier.

“It’s amazing now that I can have my hair this long, and I can put it in a ponytail, and it actually goes within the regs,” she said.

Servicemember feedback helped bring about the change that is meant to keep the Air Force an attractive career choice for women and make grooming standards more inclusive, according to the release.

“In addition to the health concerns we have for our airmen, not all women have the same hair type, and our hair standards should reflect our diverse force,” said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass. “I am pleased we could make this important change for our women service members.”

Iverson has heard from several female airmen who are happy with the new standards.

“This actually I feel would help the military in some way, shape or form, because now we are actually expressing ourselves as individuals and not all looking the same,” she said. “It might actually increase morale.”

Days after the Air Force announcement, the Army issued its own grooming standard changes for women. They are less strict about the width of a braid or cornrow and allow women to wear a ponytail during some training and combat situations.

So-called twist and lock hairstyles were added for women Marines in 2015. And the Navy in 2018 expanded options for women to include a single braid, French braid or ponytail. Women serving in the Space Force will follow Air Force hair standards until the service develops its own policy.

“I think all the services are talking about it,” said Command Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, the top enlisted member of MacDill’s 6th Air Refueling Wing, “and looking at how do we make it better for inclusive options for our military and making sure that people feel like they could come in and still have the care that they need.”