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Say goodbye to the floor-length skirt: Air Force now allows women to wear pants with mess dress

Women in the Air Force are now allowed to wear pants or a standard-length skirt with their mess dress uniforms, the service said Tuesday.

Until now, female airmen have only been able to wear a floor-length skirt with the mess dress, typically worn during formal occasions such as Air Force balls or enlisted dining-out ceremonies. The change, which was prompted by “overwhelming feedback from the field,” goes into effect immediately.

“It’s our responsibility to provide flexible uniform options that are functional and comfortable for all air and space professionals,” Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, the Air Force’s personnel chief, said in the release. “We have a lot of people working really hard to review our existing policies to make sure there are no unintended barriers or unfair practices that may be impacting specific groups of people on our team. We still have our work cut out for us, but this is a step in the right direction in creating an inclusive culture.”

But it will likely be another 18 months to two years before women can buy mess dress slacks made specifically for them. In the meantime, the Air Force said, women are now authorized to buy men’s mess dress trousers and get them altered.

Army and Air Force Exchange Service locations will alter men’s mess dress trousers for women at no charge, the Air Force said.

And even after women’s mess dress pants are available, the Air Force said women will still be allowed to wear altered men’s pants if they choose. And they will still have the option of wearing the floor-length skirt if they want to.

The Air Force issued an exception-to-policy memo outlining the changes, which will be formally included in the next update to the Air Force Instruction governing dress and personal appearance.

“We hear you,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright said in the release. “This is a bit of good news for some of our teammates who’ve wanted this change for a while now. 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.”

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