Air Force Dress, Appearance, and Uniform Standards

Air Force pilot in uniform
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Presenting yourself properly while serving in the military in uniform and civilian clothes requires adhering to strict standards for uniform regulations and grooming, as well as proper civilian attire. 

When to Wear the Air Force Uniform

You must wear the Air Force uniform while performing normal military duties. Specific uniforms and uniform items that the Air Force provides free of cost can be required by installation commanders for regular duties, formations, and ceremonies. Authorized optional items may be worn at your own expense. When traveling, you must comply with the uniform policies of that military or civilian installation.

You may wear a uniform other than the flight duty uniform when traveling in an official capacity. If you choose to wear civilian clothing during official travel, it must be clean and neat and nothing skimpy, such as beachwear. When traveling in foreign countries, you should consult the Department of Defense Foreign Clearance Guide.

When Not to Wear the Air Force Uniform

Do not wear the uniform when attending a public or private meeting or demonstration by a group that is subversive to the government, political in nature, in opposition to the Armed Forces, or where wearing the uniform implies the Air Force sanctions the cause.

You should not wear the uniform when working in a civilian capacity, promoting private businesses, or during political activity. And don't wear military insignia and items with civilian clothes.

Personal Grooming Standards

Grooming standards call for men and women to present themselves in a clean, well-groomed and neat manner. Here are more rules as they apply by gender:

  • Hair (Men): Hair must be covered by the front band of headgear and tapered to conform to the natural shape of the head, with or without a block cut. It can't touch the ears and must be closely cut or shaved at the back where it could touch the collar. Men can't wear any foreign items in their hair. Dyed hair is only allowed if it is a natural color for the individual. Men must have medical documentation of baldness or disfigurement to wear a wig or hairpiece.
  • Hair (Women): Women can have bangs or other hair in front. Women can wear hair in a neat bun, straight ponytail, dreadlocks, or braids, in addition to short styles. They can use pins and bands that match their hair color. Wigs and hairpieces must follow the same standards, but cannot be worn in flight operations.
  • Beards, Mustaches, and Sideburns (Men): Men cannot wear beards unless for authorized health reasons or special deployment situations. Mustaches are allowed but can't extend beyond the upper lip line. Short, evenly trimmed sideburns are allowed.
  • Cosmetics and Nails: Conservative cosmetics and nail polish are allowed for women only. Nails must be clean and groomed for both men and women and can't interfere with operating safety equipment.

Accessory Standards When in Uniform

Safety is a primary consideration for accessory standards.

  • Jewelry: Watches and bracelets are allowed but must be of a conservative style and can't be worn if they will be a safety hazard. Up to three rings in total are allowed, counting both hands. Necklaces can be worn if concealed under the shirt. Women can wear stud earrings. Men can only wear earrings in civilian clothes.
  • Eyeglasses and Sunglasses: Eyeglasses and sunglasses must not have any ornamentation. Sunglasses can't have mirrored lenses and can't be worn when in formation. Glasses are not permitted around the neck. Contact lenses are allowed in natural-looking shapes and designs and cannot be tinted to change the natural eye color.
  • Handheld Electronic Devices: If a cell phone or other device is worn on the waistband or purse, it must be of a conservative color or in a plain holder of a conservative color (black, silver, dark blue, or gray). An earpiece or headset can be worn if necessary for performing official duties, or during air travel, or doing physical fitness activities. A cell phone cannot be used while walking in uniform, except for emergencies or to make or receive official notifications.
  • Bags: Attaché cases, gym bags, backpacks, and women's purses and clutches all have specifications to ensure they are conservative and carried in a manner that doesn't interfere with saluting.
  • Religious Apparel: Religious apparel may only be worn visibly during religious services. Plain, dark blue or black religious head coverings may be approved by the installation commander to wear indoors or under the uniform/headgear outdoors.

Tattoos, Brands, Body Piercing

The guidelines specify what is permissible for tattoos, brands, body piercings, and other body modifications. None can carry objectionable content or bring discredit to the Air Force, whether in or out of uniform. A professional military image is required. Tattoos cannot be on the neck, face, head, scalp, tongue, lips, or hands (other than one wedding ring tattoo). Authorized tattoos may cover more than 25% of the chest, back, arms and legs. Other than single earrings, visible body piercings are not permissible, including the tongue.

Service Dress Uniform

The service dress uniform includes the men's and women's blue service dress coat and trousers or skirt. It is worn with a long- or short-sleeved light blue shirt. There is also a maternity service dress jumper and blouse. Men have a tie and women have a tie tab, and a belt is worn.

The US lapel insignia consists of name tag, ribbons, chevrons, and aeronautical badges and is required. Other badges are optional and cufflinks are optional.

Service Uniform

The service uniform lacks the jacket of the service dress uniform and consists of the light blue long- or short-sleeved shirt and trousers or slacks. The tie and tie tab are optional.

The name tag, chevrons, and aeronautical badges are also required with the service uniform. It is optional to wear ribbons, and they can be regular-size or miniature ribbons, but a mix is not allowed. A maximum of four earned badges on all blue service uniforms is allowed. Aeronautical badges are worn above occupational and miscellaneous badges.

Flight Cap, Footwear, Hose With Uniforms

These miscellaneous standards cover head-to-toe:

  • Flight Cap: Wear the cap slightly to the right with the vertical crease of the cap in line with the center of the forehead and nose. It sits about one inch above the eyebrows. When not wearing the cap, tuck it under the belt between the first and second belt loops but don't fold it over the belt. The service hat can be worn instead of the flight cap.
  • Low Quarters (Men and Women): These are black oxford lace-up shoes with a rounded toe and no perforations or designs. They have a high-gloss finish. The heel is no taller than one inch and the sole is no thicker than one-half inch. Wear plain black socks or hose with low quarters.
  • Heels (Women):  Women may wear heels with the blue service uniform. They must be plain black without decoration and have a high-gloss finish. The heels must be no taller than two and one-half inches and can't have extra thick soles.
  • Combat Boots: Combat boots are permitted with the service dress uniform or with the blue service uniform when wearing slacks or trousers, but not when wearing a skirt.
  • Hose (Women): Sheer nylon hose without a pattern and in a shade that complements skin tone must be worn with the skirt.

Airman Battle Uniform (ABU)

The airman battle uniform replaced the battle dress uniform (BDU) and the desert camouflage uniform. It can be worn for "short convenience stops and when eating at restaurants where people wear comparable civilian attire." It's not appropriate to wear to bars or restaurants where people wear business attire. It is no longer allowed in Afghanistan by most airmen. Multicam has been approved for Afghanistan, however. 

  • ABU Coat (Shirt): The long-sleeved button-up coat is made from a nylon and cotton 50/50 blend in a tiger stripe print. Leave the top button unbuttoned but the rest must remain buttoned. Some commanders may authorize rolling up the sleeves. Wear a short- or long-sleeved t-shirt under it, with the standard color desert sand. There is a maternity ABU coat as well. The coat can be removed in the immediate work area but must be worn when interacting with customers or clients. Mandatory accouterments include the nametapes, up to four badges, and rank insignia.
  • Hat: The ABU patrol cap, beret, or organizational cap may be worn with the ABU. Headgear is required outdoors at all times except in designated "no hat" areas.
  • ABU Trousers: These are button-fly 50/50 nylon and cotton blend in the digitized tiger stripe print. They may be tucked into boots. Whether tucked or not, they are evenly bloused over the top of the boot. A desert sand colored web belt is worn. Maternity trousers are also available.
  • Combat Boots: Sage green boots are worn with the ABU. They have rounded toes and may have a perforated seam. Black boots may be authorized for working in some areas that would cause stains to the sage green boot. Laces are tied and tucked into the boot or wrapped around the boot.