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New uniform rules allow airmen to have their hands in their pockets and more

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(U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Varhegyi)

The Air Force is getting some of the most relaxed uniform rules the service has seen in a long, long time. Some of the newest relaxed regulations will likely still leave many old school airmen and non-commissioned officers from other branches biting their tongues and knife hands.

Starting in December 2021, airmen will be allowed to use their uniform pockets for their hands, one of the biggest departures from other, more strict services. Though the pocket rules may seem silly to civilians (and probably many new troops), the rules about using uniform pockets for one’s hands has long been a running joke among enlisted personnel. 

Still, when it comes to actually putting one’s hands in the pockets of their uniforms, the branches of service will differ. The Air Force will be allowed to, while the Marine Corps will likely not be allowed to until the end of time.

Other rules relaxed by the most current Air Force uniform regulations include being able to walk while talking on the phone, which seems like a regulation that should have been relaxed long ago with the rise of mobile phone technology. For the Air Force, however, it’s not the phone that’s the issue, it’s wearing the uniform while walking. Airmen are still not permitted to walk while eating, drinking or smoking while in uniform. 

Air Force Instruction 36-2903, the AFI that governs military dress and appearance, will also relax a lot of rules that are addressing more modern accessories and trends. Men will be permitted an extra half-inch of bulk for their hair on one end of a spectrum, with cosmetic scalp tattoos that cover balding areas on the other end of a spectrum.  

Ernest Watson and Mr. Bennett, recruit barbers, cut recruits’ hair in the receiving building on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., January 7, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Michelle Brudnicki)

Women in Air Force uniforms are getting trend-related beauty and appearance relaxations of their own. Female airmen will be allowed to wear eyelash extensions, so long as they are an extension of their natural hair color. They will also be allowed to wear headbands or scrunchies that are up to two inches wide. 

In perhaps the biggest change for female airmen, women are no longer forced to wear hosiery with their dress blues uniform.  

The changes detailed above are some of the biggest updates and relaxations to AFI 26-2903, and are the result of the 2020 Air Force Uniform Board. Some 30 changes overall were adopted by the branch after recommendations, testing and feedback from airmen. There are more to discover, now that the changes are being implemented. 

Hair color is now in, for both men and women, so long as it gives the hair a natural appearance. Multiple hair colors are also allowed, but must give a natural look as well. There will likely be no pink-and-blue haired airmen fixing F-35s anytime soon. 

Beards, a longtime goal of many a male airman, will still require a medical or religious waiver, but now medical personnel will be able to issue the waiver, rather than just a recommendation for the waiver at the commander’s discretion. For troops with current shaving waivers, commanders are no longer specifically authorized to monitor the treatment of the condition that prevents airmen from shaving. 
In a stunning reversal, airmen will now be allowed to drink while walking – but only if the drink is water. The new Air Force regulations also apply to the Space Force. For a complete list of uniform changes, check with the Air Force website.