Beards in Blue? Air Force Uniform Board Will Consider New Facial Hair Rules in November

beard air force

Then-Airman 1st Class Braxton Comer, a student services technician with the Community College of the Air Force and practicing Norse Pagan, poses for a photo in the CCAF building on Gunter Annex, Alabama, July 27, 2021. Comer wore a beard with a religious accommodation waiver, but beards in the Air Force may become far more common after a uniform board considers facial hair in November. US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jackson Manske.

US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jackson Manske.

Beards could be two months away in the Air Force.

An Air Force official confirmed to Coffee or Die Magazine that “an updated male facial hair grooming standard will be considered” at a late November meeting of the Air Force Uniform Board.

The board recommends changes to the Air Force’s uniform and appearance rules, which are published in a document known as DAFI 36-2903, “Dress and Appearance of United States Air Force and United States Space Force Personnel.”

Air Force spokesperson Tech. Sgt. Deana M. Heitzman said any recommendations would then go through the service’s senior leadership before the adoption of any new policies.

Muslim airman beard

US Air Force Staff Sgt. Abdul Rahman Gaitan, 821st Contingency Response Squadron aerial porter, was among the first to be granted a religious accommodation for a shaving waiver based on his Muslim faith in 2016. US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Liliana Moreno.

US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Liliana Moreno.

Currently, beards are allowed in the Air Force only with religious exemptions or with a medical shaving waivers.

Heitzman did not provide details of what specific facial hair might be allowed or not allowed in a bearded Air Force, but a screenshot shared on a well-known Air Force Facebook group, amn/nco/snco, purportedly of an internal memo on the upcoming meeting said the board would consider beards 1/4-inch in length.

That would be significantly shorter than beards allowed under religious exemptions, which can be 2 inches long. Mustaches are already authorized in the service.

Though morale and religious beliefs have long been cited among beard fans as reasons beards should be allowed, recent research has indicated that the issue might be unfairly affecting the promotions of those with waivers.

beards air force

A screenshot shared on social media supposedly shows topics for discussion in the Air Force’s November uniform board. An Air Force spokesperson confirmed to Coffee or Die Magazine that the board would consider facial hair in November but would not confirm details of that discussion or the authenticity of this screenshot. Screenshot via Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook.

Screenshot via Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook.

A July 2021 study found that “shaving waivers were associated with a longer time to promotion,” with those on long-term shaving waivers often taking up to twice as long to reach the ranks of staff sergeant and tech sergeant as those without. About three-quarters of those surveyed in the study believed a medical shaving waiver had affected their career.

The results also found that about 65% of those with shaving waivers are Black. Many Black men seek medical waivers for a skin condition known as pseudofolliculitis barbae, or PFB, that causes painful, acnelike bumps that often scar. The condition, which affects Black men more often than men of other races, makes shaving both painful and difficult to keep in regulation.

The November board will make recommendations to the chief of staff of the Air Force. Heitzman said timelines for uniform changes vary depending on the scope of the change, pilot programs, and other factors.

Read Next: ‘We Didn’t Know Jack’ — With Beers and Jokes, 2 Retired Green Berets Mentor a New Generation

Jenna Biter has written for regional magazines and digital outlets including on great power competition and special operations medical teams for The National Interest. She is pursuing a master’s degree in national security and is working on speaking Russian. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the US military? Email Jenna.
Matt White is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a Pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism. He also teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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