Air Force Making Uniform Changes with Women in Mind, While Space Force Is Working to Fix Those Baggy Pants

U.S. Space Force Lt. Col. Alison Gonzalez
U.S. Space Force Lt. Col. Alison Gonzalez, Headquarters Space Force Strategy and Policy Directorate deputy chief, discusses uniform changes Dec. 8, 2021, at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla. (U.S. Space Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

Tracy Roan has been busy the last couple of years.

Having served as the chief of the Air Force Uniform Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, since 2018, Roan has helped shape some of the most progressive and drastic clothing changes for the branch, as well as the development of the Space Force's new service dress uniform.

In the past two years alone, airmen have seen once unlikely changes, many of them focused on the comfort of women: longer hairstyles for women, the development of a maternity flight suit and a wrap-style dress for pregnant airmen. The Space Force is even making elements of its new dress uniforms unisex.

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The other military branches are following suit with similar uniform and policy changes -- thanks, in part, Roan said, to the research and development the Air Force has done. To her, a lot of the uniform changes just make common sense.

"The Air Force has done a really good job in listening across the board, you know, whether it be female or male, and really taking into account what is needed to provide the best for our airmen to be successful and also to be happy and know that they're being heard," Roan said.

One of the primary reasons the Air Force has been on the leading edge of uniform changes for women is demographic: The service has the largest percentage of women in the ranks at 21%.

But Roan also said the Air Force has frequently pulled off uniform changes a lot faster than the other services.

"We have really had a much easier time with the way we're structured and funded to move things quicker than maybe some of the other services," she added.

For example, Roan said the Air Force spent about half a million dollars to fund around 2,000 one-piece maternity flight suits. Those should be fielded by the Defense Logistics Agency in April.

This late spring or early summer, the Air Force will also begin testing more contemporary maternity wear for airmen to replace what Roan calls the "90s-style" of pregnancy fashion. Those new items include slacks, a tunic-style jacket and the wrap dress.

"There was a need for maternity flight uniforms because nothing existed," Roan said. "So women were borrowing someone else's larger uniform or purchasing a larger uniform at the time, and it created safety hazards for them."

While the Air Force uniform options are being tweaked, the Space Force has had to start from scratch.

The Space Force's physical training uniform, essentially a black tracksuit, shorts and gray T-shirt, has been approved and is heading to the Defense Logistics Agency.

Dress uniforms for the Space Force are another story. When the look debuted at the Air Force Association's annual conference last year, critics took to social media to complain about the Star Trek-reminiscent look and, particularly, how baggy the pants were.

Roan said her office did not make the initial prototypes, but they've "made a lot of progress in fine-tuning the [uniform] after the comments that were made," primarily updating the pants and the collar on the jacket. Her office hoped to be done with testing, but delays from a fabric supplier are stopping it from crossing the finish line.

One of the main focuses of the Space Force dress uniform was to create pieces of it that could be unisex, something Roan said that can be welcoming to non-binary service members.

"As we look at their new service dress, we're looking at, in particular, options of neckwear that females, in particular, would be able to wear a tie, like their male counterparts," she said. "Especially if you're nonbinary, that you could wear a tie and there's no relationship to either gender."

Roan added that her office is starting to prototype maternity wear for Space Force Guardians as well.

The progressive uniform policies have been criticized by some commentators. Last year, after the Army adopted its own ponytail policy, Fox News host Tucker Carlson stoked those comments by saying that President Joe Biden was making a "mockery" of the military through efforts to recruit and keep women in the ranks.

Roan said any change in the military often comes with criticism. But she said the bottom line is that if something helps improve morale or makes it easier for an airman to better do their job, it's a necessity.

"We want to make sure that their fit is the best that it can be because it allows them to perform their job better," Roan said. "It also provides comfort, and it makes them proud of the way that they look and represent the country."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that only parts of the Space Force dress uniform are designed to be unisex.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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