Air Force tidies up its manual on dress code, grooming standards

Vogelweh AB, Germany - The U.S. Air Force has released an updated version of its dress and personal appearance instructions. The new AFI is meant to be more 'user friendly' and less confusing.


By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 19, 2011

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – The U.S. Air Force this week published a new instruction manual on dress code and appearance that provides airmen with more specific guidance on acceptable uniform and personal grooming standards, as well as body art, jewelry, cosmetics and “dental ornamentation.” Airmen say this is the first time all the regulations have been easily accessible in one document.

Air Force officials say that most of the changes in the 179-page manual  involve the addition of more detail and clarification to existing policy, something that airmen working at Kaiserslautern-area bases say was long overdue.

“It was a mess before,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Wynn, 28, referring to the disorganization and ambiguity of the previous guidance. “It was so confusing … it was so outdated. If you were out of regulation, people didn’t say anything because ‘you can’t prove that.’ ”

The updated guidance will make it harder for airmen to get away with dress violations, airmen at Vogelweh said Tuesday, but it will also be easier for airmen to understand what the regulations are, and limit room for subjective decisions on what is and is not allowed.

“It’s a big relief,” Wynn said.

No longer up for debate, for example, is spandex during physical training. Senior Airman Joyce Painter, 23, a calibrations technician at Ramstein Air Base said the old guidance was unclear, with confusion on whether spandex was allowed at all or whether it could be Capri-style or to the ankles.

“Short, mid and full length solid black or dark blue form fitting sportswear (i.e. spandex, lycra or elastic) may be worn and visible under” shorts with the physical training uniform, the updated manual reads.

Painter isn’t bothered by some of the detail added to the instruction, such as listing which nail polish colors are unacceptable. Those would include purple, gold, blue, black, fire-engine red and florescent colors. Before, the instruction said only that polish must complement one’s skin tone and couldn’t be too distracting, which was too subjective, she said.

The Air Force last revised its “dress and personal appearance” instruction in 2006. That was prior to the release of the Airman Battle Uniform, which replaces the Battle Dress Uniform and Desert Camouflage Uniform on Nov. 1.

The changes were prompted by airmen requesting clarification, leadership approving more specific policy, and the need to integrate new policy approved since 2006, said Ruth Ewalt, the Air Force Uniform Programs and Policies chief at the Air Staff, in an Air Force news release.

“We wanted to make this AFI as ‘user-friendly’ as possible,” Ewalt was quoted in the release as saying. The new instruction covers every airman, “from the first-day recruit in Basic Military Training to the 30-plus-year career” airman.

The new manual includes photographs of uniform combinations, diagrams of appropriate hairstyles and cuts for women and men, and a mustache chart for men.

The old instruction “just said in writing that you can’t go beyond the corners of the mouth,” said Maj. Joel Harper, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon. “Now you see in that chart what is meant by that.”

Also included is a tattoo measuring chart for commanders and airmen. The standard has not changed: A tattoo cannot cover more than 25 percent of an exposed body part, but “it was a little ambiguous,” Harper said.

“It’s really all about clarity and ease of reading,” Harper said of the updated guidance.

There are some policy changes. “Dental ornamentation” – decorating teeth “with designs, jewels, initials, etc.” – is now prohibited, as is the use of yellow gold, white gold or platinum caps not medically necessary.

But cosmetic tattoos for medical reasons are allowed for men and women, while women are allowed non-medical cosmetic tattoos done as permanent facial make-up, such as eyebrows and eyeliner. Tongue piercing is still off-limits.

The appearance standards, though strict, seem reasonable, said Airman 1st Class Reece Harvey, 23, an Air Force heavy equipment operator. “We’re in the military,” he said. “They don’t want people to look too crazy.”


Vogelweh AB, Germany - The U.S. Air Force has released an updated version of its dress and personal appearance instructions. The new AFI is meant to be more 'user friendly' and less confusing.