Stubble; shadow; bristles; goatees; Vandykes; mutton chops; sideboards and sideburns. Whether these styles are popular is not the question — service members simply want the freedom to wear them.
Ever since the Great Beard Ban of 1984, sailors have been scrambling to reclaim their right to whiskers. The same can be said for other service members, who, in the face of new policies on women’s hair and tattoos, would like to express themselves through their facial hair.
Military Grooming Standards
Facial hair policies are fairly similar across all five branches of military service. A clean shaven face with tapered and even sideburns is required from all service members.
Mustaches are permitted — but they must be neatly trimmed, contained within the upper lip, and cannot extend beyond a vertical line drawn from the corner of the mouth. Unfortunately, this policy doesn’t exactly align with the facial hair trends of our time.
The only way to bypass this rule is to get a shaving waiver. Shaving waivers can be obtained by service members whose skin is too sensitive for daily shaving, and such practice results in irritation, bumps or redness. The bumps are called Pseudofolliculitis Barbae and are common in men with curly hair, especially African American men and redheads.
These waivers are given out by medical personnel, some of whom are more accommodating than others. Navy doctors call the waivers “chits”, and only typically give them out when irritation is severe enough that it could lead to skin infection or staph.
In the Army, they are called shaving profiles, and can be written for soldiers who develop a medical condition requiring a lack of shaving.
A break in tradition
However, the Army specifically is moving toward a new policy regarding facial hair.
In popular media, soldiers are often depicted sporting full beards. It was discovered quickly that Americans could fit in better while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan if they had facial hair, and the rugged image of war-worn men with dirtied uniforms and unshaven faces is forever imprinted in American minds.
In 2014, the Army approved religious accommodations for Sikh soldiers to maintain their beards and turbans. This was the first time it was allowed since religious facial hair in the military was banned in 1984; the same year the Navy had banned beards (again).
The reason mustaches are allowed in current policy is due to the ‘70s fad that changed regulations across the services. Now that beards are coming back in popular culture, the question is: isn’t it time for an update?
Is there hope for beard-growers?
Despite reviewing their policies for two years now, there has been no evidence that the Army has made the decision to allow facial hair.
More and more backlash is coming from younger service members who want to turn the tide for their generation. Last year, the #WeWantBeards hashtag became a movement on social media, shared thousands of times. While this has triggered a discussion, it hasn’t seemed to sway higher-ranking officials.
“A lot of it has been driven by the fact that the [gas] mask has been shown, through tests, not to seal properly with facial hair,” Sgt. Maj. Anthony Moore said. “Right now they’re still running more tests to see how much facial hair an individual can have before the mask gets impeded for safety.”
So, for now, the Army will uphold the iconic, tradition-based view of what a soldier should be; and that includes a fresh-shaven face.
Do you think the military should allow facial hair?
Facial hair policies from each service branch:
When in uniform or in civilian clothes on duty, males must be clean-shaven. Sideburns must be kept neat and cannot extend below the lowest part of the exterior ear opening. Mustaches are permitted but must be neatly trimmed, tapered and tidy; not covering the upper lip line or extending sideways beyond the corners of the mouth. No handlebar mustaches, goatees or beards allowed.
Air Force standard
Sideburns must be kept neat and cannot extend below the lowest part of the exterior ear opening. Mustaches are permitted but must be neatly trimmed, tapered and tidy; not covering the upper lip line or extending sideways beyond the corners of the mouth. Airmen are expected to keep a “tapered appearance” from every angle. Does not apply to individuals with shaving waivers.
Face shall be clean shaven with the exception of those with a shaving waiver. Sideburns must be kept at even width, trimmed and not extending below the mid level of the ear. Mustaches shall be kept neat and closely trimmed, shall not extend below the lip line of the upper lip, and go no more than ¼ inch beyond a vertical line from the corner of the mouth.
Marine Corps standard
Sideburns must be cut tightly with no flare. The face must be shaven clean daily, and the mustache must be neatly trimmed and contained within vertical lines from the corner of the mouth, and within the margin of the upper lip.
Coast Guard standard
Face must be clean shaven; neatly trimmed mustaches are permitted.