The Air Force on Friday released new dress regulations that for the first time allow female airmen to wear their hair in the loc hairstyle popular with black women.
The revised regs also will allow male airmen to wear earrings while in civilian attire and off-duty on military installations.
Locs, a type of hairstyle usually worn by black women, were added to a list of other authorized female hairstyles such as braids, twists, micro-braids, and cornrows in the update to Air Force Instruction AFI-36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel.
The AFI defines locs as “portions of hair that have been intentionally or unintentionally fused together to form a loc or locs.” When worn as multiple locs, the AFI said they must be of “uniform dimension,” tightly-fused or interwoven to present a neat, professional appearance, and be about a quarter-inch in diameter. These are the same rules that already applied to braids and twists.
The Army in January 2017 also authorized the loc hairstyle, although only allowing 1/8 inch-wide strands, less than what the Air Force now permits.
The new regulations also remove the minimum hair length requirement for female airmen, meaning they can shave their heads, where they previously were required to wear at least 1/4 inch of hair. And the regs were revised to allow female airmen to wear their hair in a bun that extends up to 3 1/2 inches from the scalp, and allows proper wear of headgear. They previously were allowed to wear a bun of at most three inches.
Black hair accessories such as scrunchies, hairpins, combs, clips and headbands are now allowed to be worn, regardless of hair color. The previous regulation required those accessories to match the airmen’s hair color.
The revised earring regulations also say that besides being off-duty, male airmen also must be in civilian clothes to wear earrings on-base. This means they can’t wear earrings when carrying out official duties while in civilian attire.
And the earring regulations were tweaked to also allow female airmen to wear square earrings as well as round, which were previously the only shape allowed.
The revised AFI also spells out the details of how the new OCP, or Operational Camouflage Pattern, uniform will be worn.
Part of those new uniform regs also say that airmen will be allowed to wear a long- or short-sleeve breastfeeding t-shirt — which will be colored sand when worn with the airman battle uniform, and tan when worn with the OCP — with their utility uniform. It will be tucked in, unless worn with the maternity uniform, the AFI said. And airmen wearing the breastfeeding t-shirt are not supposed to take off their ABU or OCP coat, unless in a designated lactation room.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.