Skirting Tradition: Air Force OKs Mess Dress Pants for Women

Women serving in the Air Force and Space Force may now wear pants with their mess dress uniforms, the Department of the Air Force announced Aug. 4.

Previously, these service members’ only option for mess dress bottoms was a floor-length skirt.

“This is a bit of good news for some of our teammates who’ve wanted this change for a while now,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright said in a release. “A small thing, but one that I hope can go a long way to helping Airmen realize that we listen, we hear, and we care.”

Since mess dress slacks for women won’t be available for purchase for at least a year and a half, the department is immediately allowing women to buy men’s mess dress pants and alter them as needed, the release said. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service will alter the pants for free, it added.

In the same release, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly called the uniform update “a step in the right direction in creating an inclusive culture” within the department, which he said is going over current policies to ensure no “unintended barriers or unfair practices” exist that might impede certain segments of its team.

“It’s our responsibility to provide flexible uniform options that are functional and comfortable for all air and space professionals,” he said. 

These policy changes will be part of the next update to the Air Force instruction that deals with dress and appearance.

The Aug. 4 announcement is the latest in a recent series of Defense Department efforts to make military uniforms more equitable for women.

In June, the Air Force announced that it chose a contractor to create body armor fitted for women. Later that month, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center published a request for information to explore the feasibility of developing a “maternity flight suit.”

Last June, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., held an event to take the measurements of female Air Force and Navy pilots to inform future flight equipment design, including uniforms.