The Army announced a slew of updates to its uniform and grooming standards on Tuesday, allowing earrings for women in combat uniforms, long ponytails during training and to help headgear fit better, and “professional” lipstick and nail polish.
“I’m really excited about some of the changes that we have,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston told reporters on Tuesday. “But anytime you have change, change takes some time, and some people don’t like change. But that’s just how the world is, it changes over time, and we need to change with it.”
The announcement of the “long overdue” updates was teased by Grinston for weeks on Twitter, who said in December that hair was “absolutely something” being studied by the Project Inclusion team that is leading Army efforts to improve diversity and inclusion within the force.
The announced changes fall into two categories: those that will be included in the revised version of Army Regulation 670-1, which goes into effect on Feb. 25, and other uniform and grooming standard updates that will be noted through official guidance and will go into effect on Feb. 26 but are not included in the revised AR 670-1.
An Army fact sheet said that the grooming standards were approved after the AR 670-1 revisions were finalized, and they will be “included in forthcoming policy memorandums until the next update to AR 670-1 takes place.”
Among the revisions that will be included in the new AR 670-1 — last updated in 2017 — include changes that have already been announced such as the Army Green Service Uniform and the Expert Soldier Badge. It also allows women who are nursing to wear an optional undershirt, and changes the “Shoulder Sleeve Insignia – Former Wartime Service” to “Shoulder Sleeve Insignia – Military Operations in Hostile Conditions” in order to account for soldiers who are serving in dangerous areas around the world.
“It’s not always about declaring war, you know, we have conflicts all over,” Sgt. Maj. Brian Sanders, the Army uniform policy branch sergeant major, told reporters. “So how do we ensure that we recognize soldiers around the world that are in low-level conflicts without them having to be in Afghanistan or Iraq to get a combat patch?”
As for hair and grooming standards, a series of recommended grooming standard changes were brought to Army leadership last month after being voted on by a review panel comprised of representatives throughout the Army. According to slides made public on Tuesday, the voting members of the panel included 15 women (10 Black women, 4 white women, and one Hispanic woman) and two men (one Black man and one Hispanic man). Four male subject matter experts — two dermatologists, one psychologist, and one equal opportunity advisor — were also present on the panel, though they did not vote.
The age of panel members ranged from 24 to 55 years old, though the average age was 44 years old.
The recommendations from last month included much of what was announced on Tuesday, such as allowing women to wear multiple hairstyles at once and removing the minimum hair length for women so they can choose if they want to have hair or not.
“This will also help to alleviate the stress and embarrassment of female soldiers who suffer from Alopecia or other medical conditions that causes hair loss or prevents growth,” the leaked slides from December said. “This will help to increase health and wellness.”
The new updates will allow women to wear long ponytails or braids while wearing utility uniforms and conducting physical training, or when they’re wearing tactical equipment. The panel recommended allowing the change as long as hair “is secured inside the ACU top.”
“What I have heard from female soldiers who have tried this already is it does allow the functionality, it gives a better range of motion when they’re swiveling their head, conducting operations, and that’s what we want,” Sanders said.
Grinston said the issue with hair buns and how it can impact the way gear fits the women wearing it just wasn’t something leaders had previously thought about, and it was important for leaders to listen to soldiers. “We just have to constantly be aware and constantly be open-minded,” he said. “If it’s not happening to you, that doesn’t mean it’s not something we need to listen to our soldiers.”
Along with hair standards, the Army is allowing women to wear lipstick and nail polish — something that used to be allowed but was later outlawed. The new standards will also allow men who “serve in the job specialties that have to deal with harsh chemicals” to wear clear nail polish to help protect their nails.
Women are now also cleared to wear earrings — gold, silver, and diamond — in their combat uniform, a move which had never been done before, Sanders said. That does not apply to combat uniforms in a training or combat environment.
Sanders explained that the psychologists on the panel said that earrings “allow the opportunity for a woman to still feel like a woman inside and outside of uniform.”
“One thing we can never forget is that at the end of the day, our women are mothers, are spouses, are sisters — they definitely want to be able to maintain their identity, and that’s what we want to get after,” Sanders said.
Other updates include removing offensive or racist wording from AR 670-1, and updating the images in the regulations with “specific examples for standards” to clearly show what is and is not allowed.
Ultimately, many of the changes are part of the Army’s effort to increase inclusion and diversity in the force. And while many of the issues that the panel focused on during this round of change were specific to women and women of color, more changes are coming, Grinston said. (Though allowing men to have beards is still up in the air.)
Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, the deputy chief of staff of Army personnel, said the new grooming standards “are designed to make sure every soldier is content, but yet projects a professional image, a healthy image, and that demeanor of discipline and readiness that we all need.”
“This is about listening to our soldiers, taking what they’re saying and then how can we incorporate that into the Army … This isn’t about male and female standards,” Grinston said. “This is about Army standards.”
And as for any soldiers — particularly former soldiers — who think these changes are just the Army’s effort to be “politically correct,” or want to talk about how the Army isn’t the same as when you were in? Well, you’re right, it isn’t.
“To those former soldiers I will say we have the greatest Army the world has ever seen, in this year, right now,” Grinston said. “Our soldiers are smarter, stronger, and faster than we’ve ever had. And I am extremely proud of everybody in the Army, right now, and our changes are to make us a better Army and more inclusive. And we will continue to have the greatest Army the world has ever seen.”
See the Army’s changes below: