Army approves dreadlocks for female soldiers
WASHINGTON — Female soldiers can now wear their hair in dreadlocks, Army Secretary Eric Fanning announced this week alongside several other changes to the service’s appearance standards.
Women who choose to wear the formerly banned dreadlocks must do so in a similar manner to the braids, cornrows and twists hairstyles that the Army approved in late 2014 after a controversy earlier that year over disallowing some styles popular among black women.
Dreadlocks must appear consistent in size and shape and must be evenly spaced. Additionally, they cannot exceed one half-inch in diameter and they must “present a neat, professional, and well-groomed appearance,” Fanning wrote Tuesday in a memorandum.
Other changes that Fanning authorized to Army Regulation 270-1, which dictates appearance standards, included ordering commanders to allow appearance exemptions for religiously mandated beards, turbans and hijabs, and permitting soldiers to wear religious bracelets in uniform.
Fanning’s decision on dreadlocks reverses the ban on the hairstyle that was instituted in April 2014, in a sweeping appearance regulations reform that also prohibited braids, cornrow and twists.
That change sparked grumbling among troops and lawmakers who accused the Army of racial insensitivity for banning the popular hairstyles and using offensive language to describe them.
In a letter to then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in April 2014, the Congressional Black Caucus declared, “The use of words like ‘unkempt’ and ‘matted’ when referring to traditional hairstyles worn by women of color are offensive and biased.”
The Army determined such language was offensive and removed it from the regulation, after a review ordered by Hagel. In September, the Army approved female soldiers to wear braids, cornrows and twists but it maintained its ban on dreadlocks.
The appearance standard changes come in the final weeks of Fanning’s tenure as Army secretary. He is expected to leave that position before Jan. 20, when Donald Trump is sworn in as president.