The U.S. Navy loosened hair and grooming standards during the COVID-19 pandemic for both male and female sailors. Those relaxed standards ended in June, but by the end of summer, the Navy had already changed the game once again.

The Navy said the relaxed standards in March 2020 were meant to lower exposure risk by reducing trips for haircuts. They happened at around the same time the Navy temporarily halted physical fitness tests and imposed travel restrictions.

However, the relaxed standards did not apply to all hair, just the hair growing from the top of sailors’ heads. The only relaxed standard dealt with hair length, and sailors had to maintain regulation sideburns, facial hair, and hairstyles. The relaxed standards also still required that sailors ensure all Navy-issued gear fit properly. Additionally, hair still had to be kept neat, clean, and well-groomed. So, while sailors first hearing of the relaxed standards may have fantasized about passing as a SEAL, no such luck.

The sailors’ holiday from standards ended in June with the dual re-application of grooming standards and physical fitness tests. Yet, just as hair lengths began to come back into normal Navy standards, the Navy decided to launch a new normal.


New Navy Hair Guidelines Let Women Show a Little Scalp

sailor getting a haircut
Tim Corcio, a member of the U.S. Naval Academy’s incoming Class of 2019, gets his first military haircut on Induction Day. (Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Nathan Wilkes/U.S. Navy)











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NAVADMIN 183/21 brought a number of changes to the standards for sailors in uniform. Those changes went well beyond just hairstyles. The hairstyle changes actually went the other direction of the relaxed COVID-19 restrictions. However, some of those changes would make life without a barber a bit easier.

All sailors, both male and female, can have shorter hair than in the past. Yet, only male sailors are authorized to cut it all off. Men can be completely shaven or have flat tops, fades, or high-and-tight cuts.

The Navy will also permit square or rounded tapers at the back of the head. Sideburns can be the same length as the rest of the haircut. The NAVADMIN states “Overall sideburn length limits remain unchanged.” Perhaps unnecessarily if not for “that guy,” the Navy felt the need to specify sideburns don’t go with bald heads.

female sailor getting a haircut
Hospitalman Abby Musick, from Glasgow, KY, receives a haircut in the barbershop aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19). (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan M. Breeden/U.S. Navy)

Like men, female sailors can now show a little scalp, just not all of it. The new standard permits women’s hair to be short enough that their scalp shows. However, they won’t be able to join male sailors in just shaving it all off.

The new hairstyles “will not exceed two inches in bulk and four inches in length anywhere on the head.” Women are permitted rounded or square tapers, as well as a single, straight “fore or aft” part.

Even those parts are tightly regulated, though, not to be more than four-inches long and one-eighth of an inch wide. So, for those women who choose that route, they’ll have a handy guide when arranging their ribbon racks.

The Navy is willing to permit women to have bald heads if the hair falls out due to medical treatment. And, of course, there are medical and religious waivers to go around for both sexes.


Navy Hair Isn’t the Only Change, There’s Also Bling

Navy uniform inspection
Master Chief Equipmentman Denise N. Demontagnac, a Recruit Division Commander assigned to Officer Training Command Newport (OTCN), Rhode Island, measures the collar insignia worn by an Officer Development School (ODS) class 20030 student during a khaki uniform inspection, March 12, 2020. (Photo by Darwin Lam/U.S. Navy)

Male sailors who want to show some ear-bling in civvies don’t have to hold back any longer. The new Naval regulations permit earrings “while in a leave or liberty status when wearing civilian clothes.” The regulations even permit the sailors to put the earrings in before they leave base, though not while still on duty.

And sailors will still have to be aware of command dictates. The new guidance states the all-important, “unless prohibited by proper authority.”

Don’t worry, female sailors, the Navy didn’t forget you. In a true nod to the age, women are now permitted to wear higher heels on their pumps.

Previously limited to paltry two-and-five-eights inches, female sailors can now rise three-eights of an inch to a full three-inch heel. “Three inch heels are considered the maximum heel height worn in professional work or business environments,” the NAVADMIN states.

Another gift to the female sailors – or, well, to someone – male sailors can wear “performance/competition” swimwear. The new guidance applies both to regular physical training and the semi-annual Physical Readiness Test. I was Army, but I’ll leave the obvious jokes alone.


Other Miscellaneous Changes Beyond Navy Hair

Speedo bathing suits
Don’t stare. You may go blind. (Wikimedia Commons)

There are plenty of other changes and updates as well. Sailors will be permitted to wear fitness trackers and smartwatches in uniform the same as wristwatches. Sailors can only wear either a smartwatch or wristwatch, but can also wear a fitness tracker on the opposite wrist.

Yet, wearing a bracelet makes that wrist off-limits to any other wrist accoutrement, so choose wisely.

And, of course, just as with glasses and sunglasses, there are color limitations with any wrist-worn wear. Don’t be that one, because there will always be one. I can already hear someone mouthing off about new regs and proudly flashing their bright-red Apple Watch.

I may have buried the lead a bit on changes, but this last change is really not as fun – in fact, it’s downright reasonable: Sailors with accented names will now, for the first time, be permitted to spell their names right.

That’s correct, if your legally-documented name has an accent, you, sailor, can spell it that way on your uniform. Granted, it’s not as timely as letting sailors wear three-inch heels or as significant as swimming in Speedos.

Accented names probably weren’t as disruptive to proper discipline in the past as fitness trackers peeking out of sleeves. It is likely most will miss the change as they are scandalized by the sight of visible female scalp. Yet, the world is changing, and the Navy is changing with it.