The Marine Corps currently has no plans to change its hair policy, remaining the only U.S. military service branch to not allow women to wear ponytails or braids in uniform.
All changes to Marine grooming and uniform policies go through the Marine Corps uniform board, and changes to hair standards for women were discussed at this year’s board, Capt. Sam Stephenson, a spokesman for Training and Education command, told Marine Corps Times in October.
“The most recent board considered several items, including grooming standards for men and women, to include hair regulations,” Stephenson said in a Thursday email.
“No decisions have been made until a review process has been completed through Headquarters Marine Corps,” he added. “Due to the review process, it would be premature to identify a specific date on any final decisions.”
Despite the discussion, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said other than anecdotally he has not seen a “hard proposal” to what a new Marine Corps policy will look like.
The Marine Corps breaks down women’s hair into three categories: short hair, medium hair and long hair.
Women with short hair (defined as hair that is less than 1 inch from the scalp) and medium hair (defined as hair longer than 1 inch but does not extend beyond the uniform collar’s lower edge) are allowed to wear their hair unsecured while in Maine Corps uniforms.
For women with long hair (defined as hair that drops below the uniform collar’s edge) must be “inconspicuously fastened or pinned,” and is almost universally fashioned into a tight bun except for when wearing physical training uniforms.
That tight bun has sometimes led women to experience hair loss through issues like traction alopecia ― a gradual loss due to a pulling force consistently being applied to the hair. It also has been particularly criticized by black women for failing to take different hair textures into account.
A bun may also push a woman’s helmet forward while she is laying in the prone position, making it difficult to properly fire a service rifle.
The other services took these complaints into account when changing hair regulations for women and decided to allow ponytails, two braids or a single braid ― all styles that reduce tension and fit better underneath a service helmet.
A hotly debated topic
The Marine Corps is looking to increase diversity in the Corps, with Berger bragging that 13 percent of recruits in the 2021 recruiting year were women ― a massive increase over the Marine Corps norm.
“We’ve never been close to that,” Berger said.
As of May, the Marine Corps active duty force was 8.96 percent women.
“The Marine Corps draws its collective strength and identity from all its Marines, so it is critical that we prioritize policies that maximize the individual strengths of every Marine, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, creed, or any other marker,” Berger said in a new document released Wednesday that outlined major Marine Corps manpower overhauls.
“To that end, we will commit to prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of talent management ― not to satisfy abstract notions of political correctness, but as a very real means to recruit, develop, and retain Marines of varied talents,” he added.
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black said the Corps is currently discussing changes to the hair policy.
“I don’t think it’s at the point now it comes to the service level for a decision,” Black said Tuesday.
“But as part of that diversity, equity, inclusion conversation, those conversations are being had,” he added.
The changes in the other services have largely been welcomed with open arms, but there are some who still hold onto the past.
Army Master Sgt. Don Blackall took to Facebook shortly after the Army changes were announced for an “old school rant,” about the policy change, where he described the new allowed hairstyles as “terrible” and “unkempt,” Army Times previously reported.
“So yes, the regulation now allows females to wear ponytails in all uniforms. No one can stop a female from doing so,” Blackall said. “However…females who have their hair in a bun will be viewed more favorable than those who choose the ponytail.”
Berger said the topic of ponytails and braids was still a hotly debated topic within the Marine Corps.
“There are two different opinions on (hairstyles) among females, whether to go that route or not go that route,” Berger said Tuesday.