Air Force Dress & Appearance Regulations

by Nicholas Katers

Enlisted personnel and officers in the United States Air Force (USAF) are bound by rules of dress and appearance during their enlistment. Air Force Instructions (AFI) 36-2903 covers all aspects of USAF personnel appearance, from hair styles down to the shoes worn in the mess hall. The USAF expects enlisted personnel and officers to change apparel from combat to on-base duty and dress occasions. Prospective USAF members should become familiar with AFI 36-2903 before arrival at basic training in order to conform to attire worn during military service.

Appropriate Times to Wear USAF Uniforms

The mess dress, service dress and formal uniforms of the USAF carry with them the integrity of America's Armed Forces. As such, USAF personnel must only wear uniforms at appropriate times to avoid tarnishing the military's public image. AFI 36-2903 requires all USAF enlistees and officers to wear their uniforms when on duty and conducting military operations. USAF personnel are prohibited from wearing uniforms when running for political office, pursuing civilian activities and working for the private sector. The Air Force's guidelines on dress and appearance allow personnel the choice to wear their uniforms on domestic and overseas flights commercial airlines or not.

Grooming Standards

Male USAF enlistees and officers cannot grow beards and must groom mustaches to avoid growth beyond the edges of the mouth. AFI 36-2903 also requires men to keep their hair short, with sideburns groomed carefully so as to be perpendicular with the shoulder boards. Female USAF members are allowed to apply simple makeup, use single-colored nail polish and keep medium-length hair within their head gear with blue or white headbands.

Men's Dress Standards

The U.S. Air Force has six standard uniforms: service dress, mess dress, long-sleeved, short-sleeved, formal dress and semi-formal dress uniforms. The semi-formal and formal dress uniforms for men are notable for their lack of hats and name tags (compared to service uniforms). Men are expected to wear blue stain bow ties with their mess dress uniforms, while a herringbone tie is expected to be worn with the semi-formal dress uniform. The service dress uniform that is the standard image of a male USAF officer includes a blue short- or long-sleeve shirt, blue trousers, dress shoes and flight and service medals above the left breast pocket.

Women's Dress Standards

The uniform standards for female USAF personnel are adjusted slightly to recognize the differences in fashion between genders. Female enlistees and officers are allowed to wear blue or white dresses during summer months except during marches and combat situations. The USAF also allows women to wear simple earrings considered "in good taste" by the commanding officer. The female mess dress uniform requires the use of a tie tab for a blue stain tie and white long-sleeve blouse. Personnel are allowed the choice of cuff links as a stylish accent. AFI 36-2903 expands dress options for female USAF members in recognition of pregnant enlistees and officers. Female personnel have access to blue and white jumpers and dress uniforms designed for pregnant women.

Battle Dress Uniform for the USAF

Male and female USAF personnel stationed in combat areas are required to wear the battle dress uniform. This uniform features a camouflage pattern adorned with identifying labels like "U.S. Air Force" above the left breast and the wearer's first initial and last name above the right breast. USAF guidelines recommend that personnel wear their occupational badges with the battle dress uniform to facilitate improved organization in the field. The uniform is completed with a black nylon belt, black combat boots and matching socks. AFI 36-2903 allows some discretion by commanding officers for knit caps, baseball caps and other head gear that matches the battle dress uniform.

About the Author

Nicholas Katers has been a freelance writer since 2006. He teaches American history at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis. His past works include articles for "CCN Magazine," "The History Teacher" and "The Internationalist" magazine. Katers holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in American history from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, respectively.