Let down your hair: New Army rules for ponytails, nail color

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FILE - In this July 13, 2020, file photo, Noah Petty, of Boise, Idaho, has his hair cut by Jeanine Jennings on his first day at the U.S. Military Academy, Monday, July 13, 2020 in West Point, N.Y. Female soldiers can let their hair down and flash a little nail color under new rules being approved by the Army. But male soldiers will still have to shave. Army leaders are loosening restrictions on various grooming and hairstyle rules, as service leaders try to address longstanding complaints, particularly from women. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

WASHINGTON – Female soldiers can let their hair down, and flash a little nail color under new rules being approved by the Army. But male soldiers will still have to shave.

Army leaders announced Tuesday that they are loosening restrictions on various grooming and hairstyle rules, as service leaders try to address longstanding complaints, particularly from women. The changes, which also expand allowances for earrings and hair highlights and dyes, are particularly responsive to women of various ethnicities, and will allow greater flexibility for braids, twists, cornrows and other styles more natural for their hair.

The new regulations take effect in late February and come after months of study, in the wake of 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 during a Facebook Live presentation 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.”

The Army announcement has been long-planned, but it came just days after the Pentagon's first Black defense secretary — Lloyd Austin — took over. Austin has vowed to try to root out racism and extremism in the ranks and foster more inclusion. Esper and many of the service leaders have also been taking steps to make the military more diverse, particularly in the higher ranks.

As an example, Esper last summer ordered that service members’ photos no longer be provided to promotion boards. Officials said studies showed that when photos are not included “the outcomes for minorities and women improved.”

On Tuesday, Army Sgt. Maj. Brian Sanders told reporters that the panel recommending the new grooming changes considered a variety of factors, including cultural, health and safety issues. He said the tight hair buns previously required by the Army can trigger hair loss and other scalp problems for some women. And larger buns needed to accommodate thick or longer hair, can make a combat helmet fit badly and potentially impair good vision.

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."