In 1994, a judge ruled the first woman ever admitted to The Citadel, a Charleston, S.C.-based military academy, should not be exempt from getting the same “induction cut” given to all male recruits. For decades, U.S. military recruits have had their locks shorn in the first weeks of training, given what is otherwise known as “The Army’s Finest.”
While the Citadel’s first female cadet would not end up buzzed like her male classmates, male recruits and cadets have been going through the rite of passage since George Washington established the Continental Army. Even then, he required men serving in the American ranks wear short hair or braided up. He could also wear his hair powdered, which he would do with flour and animal fat. If he did, it would be tied in a pigtail.
The cleanliness desired by General Washington endured through the early years of the United States. Shaving was enforced up until the Civil War, when men were allowed to sport neat, trim mustaches and beards. By then, it was apparent that the hair regs of yesteryear were gone.
The shearing of young men began in earnest during the heavy recruitment of troops in World War II. The Army’s official reason was “field sanitation” – meaning it wanted to control the spread of hair and body lice. it had the double effect of standardizing new U.S. troops, creating a singular look to remind the men that they were in the Army now – and that the Army had standards. Like most everything else in a military training environment, the haircut was a boon to individual and unit discipline.
Ever since, the services have tried at various times to recognize the evolution of popular hairstyles for American troops while trying to maintain discipline and grooming standards among them. Women, while not forced to partake in the introductory military hairstyle, have maintained clean, often short hairstyles. Their hairstyles are always expected to be just as well-kept and disciplined as their male counterparts. They still get a visit to the basic training Supercuts – the result is just not as drastic.
It doesn’t matter if they’re coming into the military as an officer or as enlisted, if they’re Guard or Reserve, if they’re going to a service academy or ROTC, all soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines get a solid shearing to christen their new way of life.