Airmen will soon be allowed to stick their hands in their pockets without remorse, as the Air Force prepares to end a rule that has led to cold fingers for decades.
“We trust our [officers and enlisted] airmen … with incredible resources and significant responsibilities,” Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said in an Aug. 10 release. “We likewise trust they can figure out what it takes and means to maintain standards without specifying exact behavior in every situation.”
Air Force leaders are green-lighting hands in pockets as part of a broad overhaul to dress and appearance rules that will go into effect in October. More than 30 recommendations from the Air Force Uniform Board will become enshrined in official guidance.
Rules that were once seen as a means for uniformity and professionalism have proven restrictive over time. For example, airmen who work in sub-zero winter temperatures at installations like Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, risk frostbite or are slowed down by gloves — which can cut down on dexterity by as much as 80 percent, according to the Army.
Another measure on its way out is the ban on using a cell phone or drinking water while walking in uniform. That will likewise be dropped from the revised Air Force instruction in October.
In the same batch of rule changes, male airmen will be allowed to grow hair on top of their head out to 2.5 inches from their scalp. They’re also authorized to use cosmetic tattooing on their scalp to create the appearance of hair using microscopic ink dots, in a procedure called micropigmentation.
Women can use 2-inch hair accessories, a move that can help airmen with thick hair on which smaller clips won’t work. The Air Force is rescinding the requirement for female airmen to wear hosiery under a dress uniform as well.
In a reversal of earlier policy, airmen can slap their favorite morale patches onto their operational camouflage pattern uniforms on Fridays or for special events – with their wing commander’s approval. And clear piercing spacers, which keep earring holes open without wearing jewelry, are newly authorized.
Several other uniform updates are on tap as well, including a lightweight combat uniform for airmen in hot weather, women’s mess dress pants, workout gear and more.
Starting in October, airmen will get access to a thinner, more breathable version of the OCP uniform with “flame protection that does not melt or drip,” the service said.
“It was designed to improve performance, survivability, lethality and safety in extreme hot- and wet-weather environments,” the Air Force said.
On the other end of the spectrum, extreme cold-weather parkas will become available for personal purchase this winter. The Generation III Level 7 parkas insulate airmen against temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit, and typically are only available for those working at bases with freezing conditions.
Women’s mess dress slacks will debut in August 2022 to be worn with the current mess dress jacket, instead of relying on skirts or men’s cut pants for formal events.
For more regular wear, blue shirts and blouses in an updated cut and made from stain- and wrinkle-resistant fabric that wicks away sweat are coming out as well. New shirt styles will debut starting with a men’s long-sleeve shirt this month. All styles are slated to be available by January 2022.
They’re accompanied by better-fitting blue pants for men and women that are due out in May 2022.
“The updated maternity blouse will include a redesigned neckline and collar for improved fit and comfort,” the service added. “The back pleat of the previously designed blouse was replaced with darts for better shape and fit. It has realigned buttons and a lengthened shirt body for accommodation through all trimesters.”
A fresh line of more comfortable, antimicrobial physical training clothing will come out in October 2022, before becoming mandatory in 2026.
As for the Space Force, the newest military branch plans to put out its own grooming and uniform policies later this year.
“Space Force guardians will follow the updates above except where Space Force-specific guidance already exists,” the Air Force said. “For example, … USSF personnel are not authorized to wear morale patches.”
Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force Roger Towberman, its top enlisted leader, has said he hopes guardians will be clad in a brand-new dress uniform with their own insignia by the end of December.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.