New guidance authorized by the commandant of the Marine Corps somewhat loosens the force’s strict rules governing female Marines’ hair, but — unlike every other branch — ponytails are still verboten.
A MARADMIN message released Wednesday gives female Marines leeway to wear their hair loose at a slightly greater length than before, allows some half-up hairstyles, lets women wear short twists and authorizes a wider range of styles for women with long hair. It also explicitly removes the expectation that women wear their hair slicked back.
The Marine Corps divides women’s hair into three categories: short (less than one inch from the scalp), medium and long. Women with short or medium hair are allowed to wear their hair loose rather than securing it up.
The new guidance, effective immediately, defines medium hair as shorter than two inches below the bottom edge of a uniform collar in the back and long hair as anything longer than that. Previously, medium hair couldn’t extend below the collar’s lower edge.
In practice, the new rule means that female Marines can get away with wearing their hair loose at slightly longer than shoulder length, rather than just bob length, as long as the hair doesn’t obscure the rank insignia on the collar.
Per the new rule, women with medium-length hair can wear their hair half loose and half in ponytails or in one or two braids while in the combat utility uniform, flight suit or physical training uniform.
Women with short hair can now wear their hair in twists, a hairstyle that is common among Black women but previously was available only to women with medium or long hair.
And the MARADMIN’s guidance lets women style long hair in a wider variety of ways than before.
Previous guidance dictated that long hair be secured so that it didn’t extend below the base of the collar’s lower edge, except in the physical training uniform. That meant most female Marines with long hair wore it in a tight bun.
Now, long hair must still be tucked up, but it can extend to two inches below the base of the collar’s lower edge. Female Marines thus have more latitude in how they style long hair.
They are still not authorized to wear ponytails, except when they are in their physical training uniforms, according to the uniform board website. That makes the Marine Corps an anomaly: The Navy began allowing ponytails in 2018, and the other branches followed suit in 2021.
Another, literally looser, policy in the MARADMIN makes clear that female Marines with long hair shouldn’t be expected to slick back their hair.
“In order to minimize potential damage from daily hairstyling, Marines are encouraged to avoid alcohol-based styling products, styling wet hair, and hairstyles that cause undue tension on hair follicles,” the MARADMIN reads. “There is no requirement to have tightly pulled back or slicked back hair at any length.”
Female Marines with long hair often pull it back tightly and use products to keep it in place — a practice that can lead to traction alopecia, hair loss caused by pulling on the roots. And maintaining a slicked-back bun can be especially difficult for some Black women with natural hair.
With only 9% of its troops being female, the Marine Corps is the service with the lowest ratio of women to men. Increasing the number of women in the ranks of the Marine Corps has been one of commandant Gen. David Berger’s stated priorities.
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black, the top enlisted Marine, said in November 2021 said that the Corps had been discussing changes to the hair policy, including possibly allowing ponytails.
“As part of that diversity, equity, inclusion conversation, those conversations are being had,” Black said at the time.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.