Army leaders said on Tuesday they are loosening restrictions on some grooming and hairstyle rules, as service leaders try to address longstanding complaints, particularly from women. The changes will allow greater flexibility for braids, twists, cornrows, and other styles more natural for different hairstyles.
The new regulations, which take effect next month, come after a directive by former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who ordered a new review of military hairstyle and grooming policies last July. The review was part of a broader order to expand diversity within the military and reduce prejudice, in the wake of widespread protests about racial inequality last summer.
"These aren't about male and female," said Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston, the Army's top enlisted leader said on Tuesday about the latest changes. "This is about an Army standard and how we move forward with the Army, and being a more diverse, inclusive team."
Esper and many of the service leaders have also been taking steps to make the military more diverse, particularly in the higher ranks.
Army Sgt. Maj. Brian Sanders told reporters on Tuesday that the panel recommending the new grooming changes considered a variety of factors, including cultural, health and safety issues. At the same time, he said that changes, like allowing women in combat uniforms to wear earrings such as small gold, silver and diamond studs, let them "feel like a woman inside and outside of uniform."
"At the end of the day, our women are mothers, they're spouses, they're sisters, they definitely want to be able to maintain their identity and that's what we want to get after," he said.
In many cases the changes simply let female soldiers wear jewelry or hairstyles that are already allowed in more formal, dress uniforms, but were not allowed in their daily combat uniforms.
Army leaders said women will now be able to wear their hair in a long ponytail or braid and tuck it under their shirt. Sanders said that allowing that gives female soldiers, particularly pilots or troops at a firing range, greater ability to turn their head quickly, without the restraints that the buns created.
For men, however, beards and earrings are still a no-go. The new lipstick and nail polish rules, however, allow men to wear clear polish, and allow colors for women, but prohibit "extreme" shades, such as purple, blue, black and "fire engine" red. Men will also be able to dye their hair, but the colors for both genders are limited to "natural" shades. Prohibited colors include blue, purple, pink, green, orange or neon.
In another sign of the times, the Army will also be changing the wording in the regulations to remove descriptions deemed racist like "Fu Manchu" mustache and "Mohawk" hairstyle. They will be replaced with more detailed descriptions of the still-banned styles.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.