USAF to Let Women Wear Longer Ponytails, Braids in Uniform

Female Airmen and Guardians will soon be able to let their hair down—at least a little.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. recently approved a recommendation by the Air Force uniform board to allow women to wear a single ponytail, or single or double braids, as long as the hairdo reaches no farther than their upper back and doesn’t exceed the width of their head. Eyebrow-length bangs are now fair game as well, according to a Jan. 21 release.

The decision comes after the uniform board—a diverse panel of 19 Airmen—met online in November to consider crowdsourced ideas for changes to the Department of the Air Force’s dress and appearance standards. Current rules allow ponytails, braids, locks, and other hairstyles no longer than the bottom of a person’s collar, disqualifying many women with longer hair.

Female service members often lament having to wear their long hair in tight buns, pointing to migraines and sometimes even hair loss. Broadening the range of possible hairstyles also acknowledges that different hair types and textures can make it difficult to meet a one-size-fits-all standard. 

“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,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass said in the release. 

The new grooming standards will take effect in February after the Air Force officially updates its regulation.

“This decision is a commitment to supporting the Airmen we need and sustaining the culture and environment of excellence that will continue to make the Air Force an attractive career choice for Airmen and families,” Brown said. “I’m thankful for the feedback and research conducted from a number of women leaders, the Women’s Initiative Team, the Air Force uniform board, and our joint teammates.”

Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services, said the move removes a barrier to service and can make the Air Force more welcoming to women.

“In an all-volunteer force, we want fully qualified volunteers who are representative of the nation to see us as a great opportunity to maximize their talent and service,” he said.

Depending on their job, women should make sure that a longer ponytail or braids would not pose a risk when working around “machinery, equipment, power transmission apparatus, or moving parts,” the Air Force said.

Women in the Space Force can follow the updated guidelines for now, but the new service is expected to eventually adopt its own uniform and grooming standards. 

The Air Force isn’t extending the same coiffure options to men, however.

“Unlike with women’s hair standards, there are no known health or hair loss issues associated with current male grooming standard compliance,” the release said.