AFI 36-2903: What to Know About Air Force Haircut and Grooming Rules

The U.S. Air Force has a strict set of rules on personal appearance

Female Soldier applying Eyeliner in MIrror
Sean Murphy / Getty Images

When most people think of a military haircut, they're probably thinking of hair completely shaved for men and cut adequately short for women. But that's only the case for military boot camp or basic training haircuts.

After the first few months in the Air Force, you can get your hair style back, but there are a number of rules for how you can wear your hair, governed by Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2903 on personal appearance and grooming standards.

Basic Rules for an Air Force Haircut

The most basic rule is that your hair must be clean, well-groomed, and neat with only natural hair colors, including dyed hair. Additionally, you cannot use an excessive amount of grooming aids, the hair must not touch eyebrows when groomed, and it may not protrude below the front band of properly worn headgear. However, it is OK if hair is visible in front of a woman's flight cap.

You may wear hair ties for safety, but they must be made of cotton or synthetic material; be of a conservative, solid color similar to the individual’s hair color; be strong enough to support and control hair, and contain no metal fasteners.

Women may wear wigs and hairpieces of good quality and with proper fit, but men must have their medical records documented to wear a wig or hairpiece to cover baldness or disfiguration. Wigs and hairpieces must comply with the same grooming standards for natural hair and they may not be worn by personnel engaged in flight line activities.

Rules for Males

Hairstyles for men must have a tapered appearance on both sides and back, both with and without headgear. A tapered appearance is one that when viewed from any angle outlines the individual’s hair so that it conforms to the shape of the head, curving inward to the natural termination point. Block cut is permitted with tapered appearance.

The Air Force prohibits men from wearing their hair in what it deems to be extreme or fad hairstyles, particularly in such a way that exceeds length or bulk standards or violates safety requirements. Hair cannot touch the ears, and only closely cut or shaved hair on the back of the neck may touch the collar. It may not exceed 1.25 inches in bulk—regardless of length—and may not exceed 0.25 inch at the natural termination point. Hair cannot have any visible foreign items attached to it.

Sideburns must be neatly trimmed and tapered in the same manner as the haircut, and they need to be straight and of even width (not flared) and end in a clean-shaven horizontal line. They cannot extend below the lowest part of the exterior ear opening. Mustaches may not extend downward beyond the lip line of the upper lip or extend sideways beyond a vertical line drawn upward from the corner of the mouth. These regulations don't apply to individuals with shaving waivers.

Rules for Females

Women must wear hairstyles that present a professional appearance. You may wear plain and conservative pins, combs, headbands, elastic bands, and barrettes similar to the individual’s hair color.

Similar to men, hair may not be worn in an extreme or fad style or violate safety requirements. The haircut cannot extend in length on all sides below an invisible line drawn a parallel to the ground at the bottom edge of the shirt collar at the back of the neck. You may not use ribbons or jeweled pins.

Nail polish may be worn if it is conservative, single color, and in good taste, but it may not contain any ornamentation. Similarly, cosmetics must be conservative and in good taste.

The Air Force updated the rules in 2018 to eliminate the minimum hair length for women. It also expands the maximum bulk from 3 inches to 3.5 inches, but it requires that airmen be able to properly wear their headgear. The update also now permits a hair style known as locs, which "must be lightly fused or interwoven to present a neat, professional appearance."