Air Force to Allow Scalp Tattoos and Morale Patches as Part of Raft of Changes to Appearance Rules

Female airmen have the option of not wearing hosiery with their dress uniforms
Female airmen will have the option of not wearing hosiery with their dress uniforms as part of an upcoming revision to dress and appearance standards. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sarayuth Pinthong)

The Air Force said Tuesday it will allow airmen to wear morale patches on certain days, put hands in their pockets, and to tattoo their scalps as part of an upcoming revision to dress and appearance standards.

The changes, as well as several others, are expected to take effect in early October when the service plans to release an update to Instruction 36-2903, Dress and Appearance of Air Force Personnel.

The Air Force said in a press release that it made the changes -- more than 30 recommendations in all -- based on feedback from airmen as part of the 2020 Uniform Board, as well as testing and reviews.

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"We remain committed to maintaining an iterative approach with our dress and appearance standards," Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said in the release. "During this most recent review we approved several updates fully aligned with our Air Force standards and culture that maintain our focus on warfighting while providing options to meet many of the needs of our airmen."

The finer details on what will and won't be allowed under these new changes won't be known until the updated regulations are released in October, the Air Force said. So airmen might be advised to hold off on booking their tattoo appointments right away.

The new regs will let wing commanders decide whether to allow airmen to wear approved morale patches on their operational camouflage pattern, or OCP, uniforms on Fridays, or during special events, the press release said. But Space Force personnel still will not be allowed to wear morale patches.

Female airmen will have the option of not wearing hosiery with their dress uniforms, in any combination. Currently, women must wear hosiery when wearing a dress uniform with a skirt, though they are allowed to instead wear plain black socks with slacks.

And the upcoming relaxation to dress rules will remove language prohibiting airmen in uniform from putting their hands in their pockets while walking or standing, or using a cell phone or drinking water while walking.

The Air Force said it plans to drop that language to give commanders and airmen the flexibility to adopt whatever rules work best for their units.

In the press release, Kelly said that the Air Force has "trust they can figure out what it takes and means to maintain standards without specifying exact behavior in every situation."

The relaxed dress rules also will increase the length of hair allowed for men from the current 2 inches to 2.5 inches, and will allow women to wear 2-inch hair accessories, instead of the maximum 1-inch accessories now allowed.

And the updated AFI will allow airmen with piercings to wear transparent spacers, so their piercings don't close up.

The Air Force has made several changes to dress and appearance rules since last summer as part of a broader effort to improve diversity and inclusion. Previous changes have allowed women more flexibility in how they style their hair, such as by wearing braids or ponytails. The service also started approving longer shaving waivers for men who suffer from a medical condition -- typically experienced by Black men -- that causes painful ingrown facial hairs when they shave.

The Air Force also plans updates to multiple uniform items, including new physical training gear.

The PT gear will be made of a new soft, quick-drying antimicrobial fabric that the service said will help with moisture and odors, and will have a new design and a new cut to fit more comfortably. This gear will be available in October 2022, and there will be a four-year transition process until it is mandatory.

The Air Force also will improve the men's blue shirt and women's blouse to use a new fabric that resists stains and wrinkles and is moisture-wicking, the release said. It will have a herringbone weave and be redesigned for better fit. The new men's long-sleeve blue shirt is expected to be available in August, and the men's short-sleeve shirt and women's tuck-in blouse are expected to be available at the end of October. The updated women's semi-form fitting blouse is expected to be available next January.

The service also will release an updated maternity blouse with a redesigned neckline and collar in October. It will replace the old blouse's back pleat with darts for better shape and fit, the press release said. The new item also has realigned buttons and a lengthened shirt body, so it will fit pregnant women through all three trimesters.

An improved hot weather variant of the OCP uniform, which has fewer layers of fabric to be lighter, more breathable and quick-drying, is expected to be available in October as well.

And the extreme cold weather parka, formally known as the Generation III Level 7 parka, will be available for airmen to purchase at certain AAFES stores and online this winter. Currently, that parka is not available for purchase and is typically distributed as equipment at bases in the north or other sites with extreme cold weather.

The Air Force will release a redesigned version of the men's blue trousers and women's blue slacks in May 2022, and new mess dress slacks for women in August 2022.

The Space Force held its first uniform board in March and is now drawing up its own grooming and uniform policies that are expected to be released later this year.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

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