Hair colouring, face tattoos permitted under new military dress rules

Members of Canada's military will soon be soldiering under much less strict dress rules as the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) introduces updated regulations on personal grooming.

Department of National Defence says changes meant 'to support respect, diversity and inclusiveness'

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) announced details of its updated dress instructions Tuesday, which will go into effect in September. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Members of Canada's military will soon be soldiering under much less strict dress rules as the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) introduces updated regulations on personal grooming.

Under the new rules — which were released Tuesday and go into effect in September — CAF will allow military personnel to, among other things, colour their hair and grow it to any length, and to sport face tattoos.

"The bottom line is, the Canadian Forces Dress Instructions are about fifty years old and so the policy as a whole was overdue for revision," says a Department of National Defence (DND) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page detailing the update.

"The appearance of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has not kept pace with the Canadian society which it serves."

Many of the new liberties are conditional. Unnatural hair colour, for example, is allowed "unless it inhibits an operational duty," the DND page says.

"For example, bright coloured hair may have a negative operational impact during field operations or training. Leaders are invited to discuss with their members to find a simple, suitable accommodation, such as a scarf to cover the hair."

Restrictions on hair length are also out — hair can be grown to any length but it must be tied up if it extends beyond the shoulders. Hair also must not inhibit a CAF member's vision and must allow them to wear head coverings, such as berets.

Facial hair may also be grown to any length, so long as it's neatly groomed and symmetrical. Commanding officers will still have the right to order a member to shave or to not grow facial hair, depending on safety and operational requirements.

A backpack can now be slung over just one shoulder, so long as it's the left.

"This leaves the right arm free to salute," the page says.

"Uniformity does not equal discipline, or operational effectiveness, any more than the colour or length of your hair defines your commitment or professional competence," Gen. Wayne Eyre, Canada's chief of the defence staff (CDS), said in a video CAF posted to Twitter on Tuesday.

He acknowledged the changes could be divisive within the military.

"Some will consider this progress, while others may see this as unwarranted," Eyre said.

"We must be wary of the false dichotomy that we must choose between changing our dress and appearance, or be strong."

The move comes as the CAF faces a significant recruiting shortfall. The military reported earlier this year that it's about 7,600 members short of full strength.

Other armed forces are also loosening dress and grooming rules, including the United States Army and the British Army.

Uniforms no longer divided by gender

CAF uniforms will no longer be divided into "male" and "female" categories, and can be worn in combination.

"Both catalogues are open to all members and they may be intermixed. CAF members may choose whichever design best fits, as long as it is worn as per the Dress Instructions," the page says.

Under the current Dress Instructions, only women are permitted to wear skirts and blouses as part of a uniform. The revisions allow men to wear these items as well.

In a statement issued to CBC, a DND spokesperson said the changes are meant to strike a balance.

"The revisions will provide individuals with more choices to support respect, diversity, and inclusiveness, while continuing to prioritize operational effectiveness and safety of CAF members," the statement reads.


Richard Raycraft

Web writer and producer

Richard is a web writer with CBC News and an associate producer with CBC Radio. He's worked at CBC in London, Ont., Toronto, Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa.