Dreads are one of those styles that carries an undeserved negative connotation of uncleanness and rebelliousness. For that reason, the style is not considered professional, especially in corporate America.
People have even been fired for wearing dreadlocks. This leads people to wonder whether that same stigma exists in the military world. Can you have dreads in the military?
If you’re wondering whether you can wear dreads in the military, this article will be super helpful! In it, we’ll fill you in on the regulations of dreads and helpful tips to help you decide whether dreads are for you!
Can You Have Dreads in the Military?
The United States military has historically been very strict about its members’ hairstyle choices. But, in recent years, the rules have become more relaxed, so much so that military branches now allow dreadlocks, but only under certain conditions.
Below, we’ll go over every branch of the military and tell you whether dreads are permitted:
For a long time, the Army has outright banned dreadlocks, but that ban has recently been partially lifted. Female soldiers can now wear dreadlocks (usually black women), while men remain restricted to close-shaven hairstyles (e.g., short hair length).
If you’re a woman who plans on enlisting in the army with dreads, be prepared to keep them neat and tidy, or you’ll violate the Army’s grooming standards.
If you want to know more about the Army’s grooming policies, check them out here.
Like the Army, the Navy maintains stricter hairstyle requirements for men than women. Men cannot wear locs in any capacity – they are considered a forbidden hairstyle.
But women can wear them if they meet the below criteria:
- They may not have any kinks, zig-zags, or other imperfections. They should be smooth from roots to ends.
- They should always look neat, with less than half an inch of new growth and minimal frizz.
- Loc parts must be rectangular or squared.
- They must be accepted by your commanding superiors.
*This is not an exhaustive list of dreadlocks regulations. To learn more, reference the official Navy grooming standards here.
Air Force & Space Force
In the Air Force, men aren’t allowed to wear dreadlocks at all, which you’re probably realizing is standard in the military. But women are permitted to wear them as long as they don’t create more than 4 inches of bulk from the scalp.
This regulation ensures that women with thicker hair and voluminous hairstyles can still wear their headgear. Also, when locs are worn by a female Air Force member in uniform, they must either be pulled into a low ponytail or worn in a bun.
You can style your locs with a swoop bang so long as it doesn’t touch your eyes. For more information about dreadlock rules for women in the Air Force, check out this official PDF.
The Space Force follows the same guidelines as the Air Force.
Male Coast Guard servicemembers are not authorized to wear dreads of any kind. Their hair must be closely shaved, not touching their collar or extending higher than 2 inches from the scalp.
Women may wear dreadlocks, but you can’t allow them to hang if they’re widely spaced (more than 1/4 inch of space between rows). If they’re skinny (1/2 inch or less) and small, you can wear them down.
But they cannot extend past the bottom of the back of the shirt collar.
Also, locs should not interfere with your ability to wear headgear properly. Read this Coast Guard Grooming Standards document for more information.
Women can wear dreadlocks in the Marine corps so long as they look sleek and neat. They should be small (3/8 of an inch or thinner) and cannot add too much height to your head.
You can wear your locs hanging down, but they cannot be spaced more than 3/8 inch apart. Regardless of the rules outlined in the hairstyle regulations, your Commander ultimately decides whether your locs are appropriate.
Should You Get Dreads Before the Military?
If you are a female considering joining the military, you can get locs. Just ensure they’ve had enough time to mature before you’re enlisted.
Dreads must look neat to fit the military aesthetic, and starter locs often have a mind of their own. The only exceptions are loc extensions and instant locs; these options look neat immediately.
Just check with your desired branch beforehand to ensure loc extensions are allowed.
On the other hand, if you wait until after joining the military, you’ll have to follow whatever regulations are in place for hairstyles. That means if you have frizzy, crooked starter locs, you may end up having to cut them off if they don’t look neat.
So, if you’re dead set on having dreads, it might be better to get them before enlisting and tailor them to the regulations of the branch you plan on joining.
*Know that these regulations could change at the drop of a hat, so it’s always a good idea to check with your recruiter before you get dreads. They will be able to tell you exactly what to expect when it comes to hairstyle requirements.
Sometimes the rules online may differ from the rules you’ll follow when you begin military training or get started with your military career.
Do You Have Time to Cultivate Dreads?
Here’s the thing: dreads are not entirely hands-off. So, if you decide to get them, make sure it’s something you’re really committed to.
The process of growing and maintaining dreads can be time-consuming and expensive, so it’s not something to take lightly.
And since the dreads must be small and well-groomed, you’ll have to be more meticulous than the average person as you care for and maintain your dreads.
Basic Care Tips for Dreads
Dreadlocks require special care and attention, especially if you’ll be wearing them in the military. They should be shampooed and conditioned regularly, and the scalp should be massaged to facilitate healthy hair growth.
It is crucial to avoid using harsh chemicals or heat on dreadlocks, as doing so can damage the hair. When styling dreadlocks, it is best to use products that are lightweight, hydrating, and non-sticky.
Should you get dreads while in the military, it’s essential to consider the conditions, you may be thrust into. Consider field missions and deployments where you may not have access to the hair care products you need to maintain your dreads.
You may not have sufficient water at times to moisturize them.
These are hypothetical situations, but we encourage you to consider them before locking your hair. These demands and trying situations could lead you to cut your locs off at a moment’s notice.
Could Male Service Members Be Allowed to Wear Dreads in the Future?
No one knows the future, but there’s been a lot of reform in the military as of late. So, it’s possible that women’s dreadlocks regulations will become more relaxed over time.
And who knows – maybe men will be allowed to wear dreads in the coming years.
It can be disheartening for men to have to cut off their dreads to serve their country, but that’s just the way things are at the moment.
To sum up, men cannot wear dreads of any length or type in any military branch. But women can wear them in all branches if they follow the specific guidelines of that branch.
We hope that you found this article to be helpful.
If you’ve yet to join a military branch, we wish you the best with your potential military career. If you’re a current military service member, we thank you for your service!
Kenneth Byrd holds a BS in Accounting and Management Information Systems and an MBA from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is a serial hair blogger that has been writing about hair care since 2008, when he co-founded Curl Centric and Natural Hair Box. Curl Centric is a website operated by a husband and wife team that encourages healthy hair care.