Army Plans New Ultra-Conservative Appearance Policies April 15, 2012

Army Plans New Ultra-Conservative Appearance Policies

The Army is planning some new ultra-conservative appearance regulations that might have more to do with traditional values than the needs of the Army. There are approximately 17 proposed changes that will severely limit tattoos, nail polish, and facial-hair regulations, even during off-duty time.

Changes may have the effect of increasing pressure on gay and lesbian service members who may not dress according to traditional gender expectations. Many of the new regulations are slated to apply off duty as well as on duty. Women must wear cosmetics “conservatively” which is to say there should be no “unnatural or exaggerated” appearance. Men are prohibited from wearing nail polish or other cosmetics and may have no visible body piercings. Wearing of earrings and ear gauging will also be prohibited. “Civilian clothes standards will be better defined,” which may include whether men can, for example, wear dresses. These are just selected examples, but the extension of control over appearance both to off-duty time and the concern with purely aesthetic items may put the Army in questionable legal ground with respect to gender roles and gender orientation.

These changes are implemented as part of a review by new Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler. To those who asked about personal freedom, the Sergeant Major replies:

“You chose to join the Army. The Army didn’t choose to join you,” later adding, “the Army says you are part of the same organization. We all generally look the same. And we do not want you to stand out from the rest of the Army.”

In truth, many of the proposed changes related more to enforcement. Some rules relating to the extent of tattoos (neck/hand) and exaggerated hair color have been in place but have not been well-enforced. The new focus will ensure that rules are equally applied to eliminate those who might take advantage of lax enforcement.

There are at least two positive proposed changes. When in office environments, many soldiers take their camouflage uniforms for commercial pressing to improve their appearance. The idea of heavy starch creases in a combat uniform is ironically considered to be both silly and expected. The new regulations would prohibit the practice. The second is related to carrying an umbrella. For years, women have been allowed to carry an umbrella, but men have not. The proposed changes rectify this odd gender imbalance allowing, for the first time, men to carry an umbrella when in their nicer dress uniform.

Some may question the focus on appearance more than combat power and functionality in the new Sergeant Major’s initiative to reform appearance standards. There should also be vigilance against the implications of these actions on an Army still struggling with acceptance of its gay and lesbian members. Reinforcing a professional appearance should not include institutionalizing traditional gender roles and expectations.

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  • Knicolereed89

    I’m sorry, but I see no problem with this. It’s the army, and military standards are strict for a reason. You represent the entirety of the US government, and you agree to do so when you sign the contract. They own your ass until the day you get out, and you gave them permission to in the first place. Police officers, firemen, and other representatives of the state are required to uphold the exact same standards, because again, they are representing the government. As cool as it is to have different colored hair and tats, it’s not professional looking, and you chose to express yourself that way.

  • Stev84

    To a point that’s true, but only to a point. And indentured servitude is obviously illegal.  The line to having rules solely in order to follow rules is easily crossed. And grooming standards frequently cross it.
     You shouldn’t look like a total slob or stand out from a mile away, but saying that you need to follow dress and grooming rules to the tiniest letter 24/7 is plainly ridiculous. People represent their organization by the way they act, not just by the way they look.

    Rules about tattoos are one thing and understandable, but for example there is absolutely no reason why people should be forced to only have black colored bags without logos. Having a green or a blue bag doesn’t make anyone look “unprofessional”. Not shaving for a bit while being on leave doesn’t make anyone a worse soldier. Plenty of other countries show that people can look and act professionally without everyone having the same ultra-short haircut.

  • 1_tjw

    I’m going out on a limb and saying that those who are against these changes, at least in these comments, have never been in the military.

    Your appearance in uniform reflects not only on yourself, but your leaders and your service. If you’re wearing the uniform incorrectly, those from other services will look down on you. If civilians see you in uniform with a “grill” they will think that’s acceptable for all.

    And regarding a comment about how different colored bags does make you look unprofessional: it’s a “uniform,” and the point is to look the same. If you see 10 soldiers walking together with different cored bags, they look disorganized.

    Those of you who have not served, please leave the opinions about these changes to those of us who have. Great article BTW.

  • Rod Chlebek

    the army discourages individualism and personal expression. Their standard is for you to be something other than human. I know.

  • Perhaps a distinction needs to be made between “off duty” and “off base”. If a troop is off duty AND off base, why can’t they dress as they please?
    Yes, I can see it being an issue of professional discipline, etc. to prohibit certain styles of dress and make-up on the base, but it is taking things too far to attempt to regulate dress to they extent that they are trying to. Unrealistic and just plain silly.

  • Rod Chlebek

    Maybe one day society will no longer judge professionalism by appearance, but by merit instead.

  • Stev84

    And obviously you missed the parts about rules while being on leave, off duty and out of uniform

  • Rod Chlebek


  • Veteran and ex private military as well.
     I don’t think any of the commenters here would argue with troops being in line with regs WHILE IN UNIFORM, ON DUTY or ON BASE.
    This issue is with them trying to dictate what is done while off duty and off base.

  • Rod Chlebek

    I also support freedom of speech even for non-veterans.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I was in the Army. I see some merit in a few of these changes, yes, but not most of them.

    Also, your example is…Probably particular to you. The colour bags people are carrying has no affect on my perception of how organized they are. The dye in the fabric has no affect on their behavior or attitudes. 

  • ArmyGuy

    We haven’t been pressing the combat uniform since the transition to the current Army Combat Uniform in 2007ish.

  • C Edmund Gordon

    Not much really new there except allowing male troops to use an umbrella in dress uniform … As the military transitions from a wartime footing to peacetime (relatively) command tends to re-emphasize appearance standards to remind those coming home that they’re still in the service.

  • Amy

    I’m a veteran and was in the Air Force from 1990 until 2001.  Pretty much all these proposed changes were already instituted in the AF when I was still on active duty.  For instance, the ban on visible tattoos and men wearing earings or other facial piercings even when off-duty and off-base.  Women had to wear natural makeup and could dye their hair only natural, complementary colors and carry black purses.  It’s called uniformity and conformity.  It’s nothing new.

  • Dcott

    I think the key here is that this is not actually an aspect of attempting to regulate appearance for any morality or standards based reasons; rather, it is part of the greater picture of socialization techniques in the armed forces.  If everyone looks the same, acts the same, talks the same, and thinks the same, they are more likely to buy into everything and charge forth into battle willingly.  Big corporations do the same thing by advising everyone to wear power ties and suits.  

    I’ve never been in the armed forces, but I have been in business, and studied business, and the principles are generally the same.  Is telling someone they can’t look a certain way silly?  Sure, but so is getting them to do chants in unison and march around to a drum.  But ultimately, these techniques create better soldiers.

  • Brent

    ^^^ This.

  • newavocation

    So how does not wearing make up affect your performance? 

  • Stev84

    But ultimately, these techniques create better soldiers.

    Of course all armies try to instill some degree of cohesion and uniformity, but you’d be hard pressed to argue and prove that Israeli soldiers are in any way worse than US soldiers. It’s a matter of how far you go. At some point it just becomes silly and doesn’t have any real effect.

    But of course it’s easier to create superficial rules than crack down on tough things like sexual harassment, hazing or other damaging behavior

  • Brent

    Whether we like it or not, we represent our branch of service even when we are off base.  I don’t know if you read the article or not, but a lot of the reasons given for the changes seem to be that service members were having a hard time following the more lax regulations that already existed.  As a vet, I’m sure you’ve seen many times where the rules got tougher until people started obeying them.  Our services are also becoming increasingly joint.  I am active duty Navy stationed at a joint command, and it benefits all of us to have the same standards.  Many of these changes are also geared towards bringing standards in line between the services, as the Chair Force and Navy have had them for years.

  • HitchsApprentice

    What would happen….. if they threw a War,  and nobody came?????

  • Autumnwoman42

    I can’t count how many times I’ve seen military men in drag as a part of some hazing ritual, often taken ON base or aboard a ship! Are these practices going to stop to?

  • Brent

    In the Navy those practices are not authorized.  As to whether all commands follow the regulations, that is another story…

  • What boggles my mind is the fact that enlistment has been way down for quite some time. People that used to enlist just to take advantage of the GI Bill with the expectation that they might be called to war may now find that they not only WILL be taking part in a war but in a war that many of them might not agree with in the first place. So at a time when more soldiers are needed they decide to tighten regulations about what is allowed even when they are off base and out of uniform and in no visible way representing the Army. Whether you agree with the new regulations or not, it just seems like a dumb move on the part of the Army that will certainly make many potential enlistees think twice before signing over several years of their life to the military.

  • jdm8

    On duty, I understand.  But off duty?  I don’t think that makes sense, I don’t see why it’s necessary.

    The arguments that it’s always been done are appeals to tradition, not a rational argument.

  • PJB863

    I don’t see where any of these proposed regs would affect LGBT troops any more adversely than anyone else.  I am gay, btw.  When you sign up (and everyone in the military signs up – no one is drafted anymore), you know what you are getting into.

    As far as off-post/on-leave and out of uniform, it’s basically unenforceable and they know it.  Short of surprise inspections while visiting relatives, etc., it’s not going to fly.

  • Some of these changes will have the effect of making service members stand out when they are off base.  That’s not a good idea, either.

  • Stev84

    That’s not really the case. The standards were lowered when more people were needed. Now the Iraq war is over and Afghanistan is starting to wind down. They need to get rid of tens of thousands of people due to budget cuts. This is one way to do it.

  • off duty and off base, go F yourself, i’ll wear what i want!

  • “Is that a PLEDGE PIN on your UNIFORM????”

  • observer

    Makes me think of the conversation Hawkeye and Trapper had with Frank in M*A*S*H :

    Frank: It’s not normal!

    Trapper: What’s “normal”, Frank?

    Frank: “Normal” is everybody doing the same thing.

    Hawkeye: What about individuality, Frank?

    Frank: Individuality’s fine – as long as we all do it together.

  • If everyone looks the same, acts the same, talks the same, and thinks
    the same, they are more likely to buy into everything and charge forth
    into battle willingly.  Big corporations do the same thing by advising
    everyone to wear power ties and suits.

    Funny how that sounds like the worst aspects of religion.

    Onward Christian soldiers.

  • I nearly sprayed tea across the room when I read the last line.

    Out of all of the TV shows I watched as a child, M*A*S*H is dearest to my heart.

  • NickDB

     They do it in the U.K Army too, well they used to anyway.

  • Andrew Marsden

    I’m in the RAF and if they brought this shit in over here then there would be no one left to defend the country. I agree with the no visible tattoos etc but what I do/wear in my private life has absolutely no impact on how well I do my job. What this guy needs to learn is army’s fight on moral and it’s stupid rules like this that kill moral.

  • Onamission5

    This, x 2. Just like it’s easier to impose school uniforms than to implement effective anti bullying policies or help at risk kids succeed in their studies.

  • I’ve observed that good rules and laws are those that aren’t really needed in the first place… they are there for show, and to provide a guideline for defining the minority of miscreants. And then there are bad rules- laws against recreational drugs, laws against certain sexual behavior, rules against abortion or birth control, rules dictating what soldiers will wear when off-the-job. What distinguishes these bad rules is that they irrationally legislate against natural behavior, and the result is that they are widely ignored. When you create a rule that WILL be ignored, you also advance a viewpoint that there is no problem with ignoring all the rules a society creates, and that’s not what I’d call a positive thing.

  • Ian Reide

    I don’t like any of these changes. I do believe in personal choice, certainly when off duty, not at your work. If military discipline and the army will collapse because someone wears an earring or has a tat then it is the army that needs to change. Just to add another dimension to this debate, in the past many effective armies and soldiers had both jewellery and tats.

  • Brent

    Just because these changes don’t address larger problems in the forces, it doesn’t make them superficial or unnecessary.  I do agree, however, that something needs to be done about all of these crimes our service members are committing against each other.  With a typical military mindset they are trying to start with the basics and create more disciplined troops.

  • Brent

    As I replied to an earlier comment, based off of the Army Times article these changes appear to be punitive in nature.  It’s not uncommon to tighten things up if people can’t work within the relatively reasonable standards.  As others have noted as well, things like uniform regulations and physical standards are also used as force shaping tools. They become more strict when fewer personnel are needed.

  • MotherDemeter

    I have a friend in the US Air Force and he is a member of the Church of Body Modification so he was able to get extended allowances for piercings and tattoos.  As long as he isn’t in uniform he can wear his gauges in his ears and his facial piercings, at the discretion of the commander.  I suppose some base commanders wouldn’t approve, but he has had good luck thus far.  Might be different in the Army.

  • I don’t agree that joining the military is voluntary. Most new recruits today are poor kids facing soaring unemployment rates, especially for young people without a college degree. Also, the unpopularity of the war in Afghanistan will keep affuent kids away. The military has become the employer of last resort for the lower classes. The only alternative is to flip burgers.

  • The Captain

    I have to agree, the LGBT tie in of the article seemed really forced. 

  • dauntless

    The military has not “become” the employer of last resort for the lower classes. It has been that way for decades. Rich young men weren’t the ones dying in Vietnam.

  • Afornase

    The idea that these untraditional appearances are “unprofessional” is subjective and based on past prejudice. A society could theoretically exist with standards of appearance that were exactly opposite of ours. (“look! That guy doesn’t have a tat! Or a nose ring! How unprofessional and disrespectful!) I have no problem of regulation that prohibit certain types of dress for on-duty soldiers for OBJECTIVE reasons. Nobody piercings during combat or training makes sense. Also , I understand the army wants every on duty to look as similar as possible so as to enforce the idea that everyone is ONE unit that follows orders. ( shaving hair, for instance , ahem, why aren’t women made to do this as well?) there is no excuse for regulating off duty appearance, however. It flies in the face of what makes this country truly great: freedom of speech and expression, differences make life in this country interesting.

  • mobathome

    “You chose to join the Army. The Army didn’t choose to join you.” — Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler.

    So if the draft gets reinstituted, all those new rules will go away, and people will be able to let it hang out?

    “You represent the entirety of the US government…” — Knicolereed89

    Do you really represent the Department of Public Works? The Social Security Administration? The Department of Health and Human Services? The Senate? The Supreme Court? Do you also represent all of the state, county, and city goverments, because, you know they’re part of the government in the US?

    “…you’d be hard pressed to argue and prove that Israeli soldiers are in any way worse than US soldiers, just because they have different standards about facial hair.” — Stev84

    That sounds reasonable, though in Israel, everyone has to serve, except the very religious.  (BTW, do Israeli arabs serve?)

  • Myr

    I’m a US Marine and we already have most of these regulations. I shaved yesterday and today even though it’s weekend liberty; my buddies’ tattoos were carefully planned to keep them in regs; if we need to answer a call on the cell while walking, we stop and do so. We wear a belt with any civilian clothes that have belt loops, and we don’t wear basketball shorts unless we’rr going to work out. It’s not a big deal — and it’s extremely unlikely that this is somehow targeting my LGBT brothers-and-sisters-at-arms.

  • king_damond01

    During my military career, every time a senior noncommissioned officer took responsibility over a company,battalion, brigade, division, etc, they always implemented pretty strict policies. I really don’t see this as going against people lifestyles. If he is the SGM of the army then this guy has been in a pretty long time, so I’m probably sure his leadership style is old school. It seems pretty extreme from the outside looking in but the military has always had standards whether you are in or out of uniform.

  • king_damond01

    I think the SGM of the Army is doing this because he is in a new position and he has to get the attention of everyone below him. He is the highest ranking NCO in the army. Everytime we got a new 1st sgt in at the company level, their leadership style is pretty hardcore from the beginning. Some tend to ease up a bit once they get control of their units. His leadership style was probably no different from when he was a platoon sgt, 1st sgt, battalion SGM, brigade SGM, etc. He’s in the highest position that you can go as an NCO.

  • digitalatheist

    yes… and I was in the Army from 1987-1996. It was NOT policy then and has no reason to be now other than to make problems for people and offer them yet another way to get around to kicking people out as they see fit.

    In those days the Army would have been told to go fuck itself when it came to offduty/offpost stuff…. but then the cuntservatives want to make sure every one is a straight, white male.

  • The Captain

    No, Israeli arabs are exempt from joining the military.

  • digitalatheist

    “I’m going out on a limb and saying that those who are against these changes, at least in these comments, have never been in the military.”

    Wrong out of the gate. U.S. Army Combat Engineer here.

    “Your appearance in uniform reflects not only on yourself, but your leaders and your service. If you’re wearing the uniform incorrectly, those from other services will look down on you. If civilians see you in uniform with a “grill” they will think that’s acceptable for all.”

    In uniform there are regs about what you can and can’t wear. Been there, done that, and soldiers understand that there are proper ways to wear uniform and present themselves while on-duty or in uniform. What the article mentions though is regs designed to say how you can dress when off duty/off post as regards civilian attire.

    The key sentence is: “Civilian clothes standards will be better defined”.

    No… just because a person is willing to give up their life does NOT mean that they are supposed to give up every shred of control of their life. What a person does off duty and off post is his/her business. This is nothing more than wanting to harass people who may choose–ON THEIR OWN DAMN TIME–to be non-comformist.

  • digitalatheist

    Singing the Air Force athem? 😉

  • digitalatheist

    Not authorized doesn’t equal not happening, sadly. As regards units in the army, if the Sgt. Maj. of the Army says “do”, you can bet even officers are gonna be sitting up and paying attention.  

  • digitalatheist

    in late 80’s early 90’s only office types did it regularly, although ya might keep one just for guard mount. Technically though the regs were against it, and boots were only supposed to be kept black and polished, not spit-shined. Of course might be hard to do with the new footwear now… thank God… wait… did i just say that?

  • Alex

     What I’m wondering is, will they change this wording once a draft is instituted due to some war or something? I’m not holding my breath.

  • Alex

     Same thing as in 1950s-1960s during Vietnam War: draft.

  • Nordog

    In my 13 years of experience in the Navy back many years ago, these off duty type regs are nothing new.  They’ve always been there.  So someone is tightening up here or there.  A few thoughts:

    1) Some of these regs are simply conventional.  While it doesn’t really matter if facial hair is allowed “here” but not “there”, it does matter to military discipline that someone stipulate where the here and there are.

    2) Enforcement depends entirely on where you are.  In some backwater town where everyone is a jarhead (said with loving respect for the USMC) then enforcement will be more strict, as always has been the case.  In a major Navy town like San Diego, not so much.  Too many people spread out over too large a region.  I often wore clothing off base that was at odds with regs.  No one ever said a thing.

    3) Most importantly however (imo) is that this is not new.  This is the military being the military.

  • digitalatheist

    sadly yes, it is the military trying to be military. The reality though is that in the past… or at least MY past, clothing off-duty/off-post was NOT something that was a big issue. sigh

  •  That’s right up there with, “You don’t understaaand! You’re NOT A PARENT!!!!”

    Sorry, but we don’t need to be slaves to Uncle Sam to understand that these new rules are blatantly immoral, unethical, and flat-out BAD.

  •  You’re forgetting the “T” part of that — TRANSGENDERED.

    The new regs would enforce conventional gender roles and dress standards, according to a person’s external gentialia, not their innate gender, thus forcing some women into men’s dorms and loos.

  • Bry

    John, i a member of the Army and i am fortunate enough to be a leader of young soldiers, and i hate this generalization. The war has not kept the ‘affluent’ away (if you want to compare current demographics to those of pre war Army). I had soldiers with college degrees, soldiers with poor and wealthy and middle class families. They all had different reasons for joining. Have recruiting practices early in the war been questionable? Definitely. But the military does well to represent the population as a whole. I am college educated, i had options, and i could have gone on without joining. But no other group of people has ever been as close to me as my soldiers. Overall, whatever. These rules are simply there to cut numbers for the drawdown. And Alex, there wont be another draft. The active service members wont accept it. But in the event of another high troop demand, standards will be relaxed again, just like 2005.

  • Pseudonym

    Yes and no.

    Some of the military regulations are there for very straightforward reasons that civilians (like myself) often don’t appreciate. Take hair as an example. If your hear is too long, or you have too much facial hair, gas masks or flight oxygen masks are less effective because they don’t make an airtight seal. This is why in many nations’ armed forces, sailors are allowed to wear beards but soldiers or flight crew are not.

    Needless to say, if you are recalled back to base in a hurry, you can’t stop for a quick haircut on the way.

    The other thing to bear in mind is that the military wants, at least at the non-officer level, people who don’t think for themselves to at least some extent. If I need you to to kill one of your fellow human beings just because I said so, this requires a certain amount of psychological conditioning. I must have some degree of control over your off-duty life, otherwise you may not do what I tell you when you’re on-duty.

    Some of the bullshit regulations are there just to make sure you always know that you are government-issue personnel first and private citizens second.

    And yes, I agree with others who have noted that the link to LGBT people is dubious at best.

  • Pseudonym

    As far as non-officers go, the most obedient people may well be the best ones.

  • Pseudonym

    Nah. Today, they’d just hire merecenaries.

    Oh, sorry, I meant “private military contractors”.

  • Davidlivsey

    The link to LGBT is totally forced.  Utterly ridiculous non story totally unrelated to the blog.  Where does atheism come into this? 

  • Thegoodman

    I agree with a few posters that this is a non-story. This doesn’t target LGBT soldiers, it targets soldiers who wish to be individuals. The military is run in such a way that there is no room for an individual in its collective organism. Every person is replaceable and essentially the same.

    I feel like many people seem to think soldiers are civilians on the weekends. They are not. They sign on the dotted line and give up their rights as citizens. They no longer have freedom of speech. They can no longer do as they wish. They serve their country and do as they are told, if they question this, they can be put in jail indefinitely.

    I feel like our armed forces are ran very well (despite the political influences that put them in precarious positions, i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan). If a person enjoys their liberties more than their urge to serve our country, the military is probably not for them. That is not a slight, the military is not for a lot of people.

  • The military has always been telling you what you can and care wear even when off duty. They feel you represent them even when you are not in uniform. When I was in in the 80’s, Marines males were not allowed to were ear rings even off duty and could be punishable by article 15. You also had to tuck your shirt in, I remember being stopped often and told to do just that. Of course, 5 minutes later when the officer or SNCO was out of sight the shirt would come out again but hey.
    When you enter the military you agree to forfeit many of you own person liberties in order to protect the liberty of others (well back before 9/11 when people had liberties that is).

  • Guest

     I have worked in a retail environment that decreed women must wear makeup.  Granted it was minimal, but that was a rule that was enforced.  Also in at least half my scheduled shifts I was required to wear an outfit that had been purchased from my employer.  It was a high end retail store, I was given more than generous discounts to accommodate my wardrobe, but these were rules I agreed to when I was hired.  The same goes for the military.  You sign a rigorous contract that dictates what you can wear, how your hair must be styled and in general your overall appearance.   You are not mislead when you are sworn in, you are not told that pink hair is acceptable after boot camp, or that you will have any say in most aspects of your life.  You are not obligated to join, and can quit when your contract is up.    I only know a few transgendered persons and they have very unique and strong sense of individuality and personality.  I can not see them wanting to join a group whose very goal is to wipe out individuality, but I do not know every transgendered person.

  • Dcott

    Religion definitely relies on socialization techniques to keep the sheep in the flock.  

  • Shank Riley

    I have a friend who wears tattoo cover up sleeves on base to comply with regs.  They come in different lengths and skin tones.  I own a pair but only wear them to protect my ink from the sun.  Not sure what to do about piercings and earings…can’t you just remove them while on duty?  

    Here’s the link for the tattoo cover up sleeves:

  • Dddd

    How are they going to enforce the facial hair thing while someone is off duty, or especially on leave, good god they are on leave!!!!

  • Arbninf

     Yep and you will be one of the first to get kicked out 😀

  • Canegirl45

    As long as people have eyes and the ability to be surprised by what they see, that day will never come. The standards of “professional appearance” are intended to make people look nondescript so that they do not distract their co-workers with their uniqueness. It makes sense if you want people to keep their minds on the work and off the appearances of those around them.

  • Sheenarelli

    Well they are going to have A LOT of kicking out to do then. I’m in the CF and am a heavily tattoed woman. How about upping our fitness standards and weaning out the out of shape we keep in taking up our jobs instead of worring about my hair color and where my tattoos are placed on my body…….

  • Hello

    When does this go into effect? Anyone know?

  • Johnpeters


  • SGMchandler

    Take a shit and smear it all over your chest!

  • Ed197010

    You must be a pogue…

  • Ed197010

    Amen Brother.

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