Here we look at the popular military hairstyles for men favoured since the turn of the 20th century. We also look at dress regulations and allowances for religious beliefs. Men in the military are required to have short haircuts as these styles are low maintenance, practical and clean. They also create a professional and unified image. Likewise, the hair won’t get caught in helmets, weapons, or an enemy’s hands.
Military Haircut Regulations
When considering military haircuts for men, you have to remember there are rules to be followed. A military man cannot have any hairstyle he wants and military personnel worldwide have to conform to dress standards and personal appearance rules.
Regulations set out the rules, which vary slightly in definition from country to country. Likewise, the different branches of the armed forces have their own individual requirements.
For example, the US Air Force regulations state that men must have haircuts with:
British armed forces come under similar regulations, with much of the final say being down to the commanding officer.
For example, the Royal Air Force regulations state:
“The hair of the head is to be well cut and trimmed. Sideburns are to be short and well-trimmed and are not to extend below a line running through the midpoint of the ear. Extreme styles of haircuts and colouring are not permitted. If the hair is dyed or highlighted, the colour chosen is to be natural and in a uniform shade appropriate to the individual. The commanding officer shall be the arbiter upon what is or not an acceptable style or length of cut.” (Royal Air Force, AP 1358, 5th Edition).
Ultimately, it is all about creating a high standard and a professional team look. There is enough room in the regulations, however, for some individuality. A haircut is often the only form of individual expression a military man can have within their unit.
Military Haircuts & Styles
This is the haircut you get at boot camp after signing up as a recruit when the whole head is clipper cut without a guard, leaving a stubble-like finish.
The induction cut has both practical and psychological purposes. Firstly, it reduces the possibility of things like head lice in close quarters and the barracks. Secondly, it evens the playing field by making all recruits equal, encouraging a team spirit.
US army drill sergeants call this cut a “mighty fine”. It is also called an “on the floor” or “Army’s no. 1 haircut”. The French Foreign Legion refer to it as a “boule à zéro” (a zero ball).
Once the initial training is passed, a military man has earned the right to decide what military-approved haircut to sport.
This clipper cut is one step up from the induction hairstyle in terms of hair length.
It is a uniform clipper cut using a guard size of 1 or 2. The hair is cut to the same length all around the head, creating an easy-to-care-for hairstyle.
A butch cut is a slightly longer clipper cut than the burr cut. It is a uniform clipper cut using a guard size of 3, 4 or 5.
This is a short and smart classic hairstyle. Here, the top of the hair is faded from front to crown, leaving slightly longer hair in the front that can then be styled.
The sides and back are cut to a short uniform length using clipper guard number 2-4, depending on the required look. Additionally, the nape area is tapered away.
Overall the contour of the head is followed by the clippers, creating a rounded look.
It was a popular haircut during World War II for military men and was regarded as athletic and patriotic. The crew cut continues to be one of the more popular military haircuts for men.
Fade Buzz Cut
The key to a fade haircut is that the hair gradually decreases in length until it disappears completely somewhere at the sides and nape. In other words, the hair is faded to the skin so no hair can be seen.
A fade can be classed as high, medium or low. This tells you where the fade starts from. For example, for a high fade, the hair is cut to skin a couple of inches below the top of the head. A low fade means that the fade starts much lower down the head.
This haircut is quite simply named after its appearance. The hair forms a perfectly flat surface on the top of the head when the hair is brushed up. The sides and back of the hair are tapered.
The hair at the edges of the flat top can be cut in two ways – that is, squared or rounded. A square finish creates a “boxy flat top”. The rounded-off finish creates a softer look and is called a bevelled or rounded flat top.
A brush cut is a longer version of the flat top. An example of this style can be seen on the character “Iceman”, as played by Val Kilmer in the film Top Gun.
High & Tight
A high and tight is another type of fade haircut, but it has a hard edge between the top hair and the faded sides.
For this hairstyle, the back and sides are clipper cut above the temples (hence the “high” element of the name) using a guard number 1 or even no guard at all. The sides could also be shaved. The closeness of the cut is the “tight” aspect of the haircut’s name.
The hair on top goes straight around the crown and to the front hairline in an oval shape. This distinctive patch of hair is cut to one even length using a guard size from 2 to 5.
The high and tight started in the 1960s and took off in the 1980s. It is particularly popular with US Marines – once they have earned the right to wear their hair like this, of course.
High & Tight Recon
The recon is an extreme version of the high and tight haircut.
To achieve this look, the close-cut back and sides are either shaved off or clipped with a number 0. The close-cut is also taken further up the head.
This leaves a smaller oval patch of hair on top, which is known as a landing strip. The patch is clipped to an even length using a guard size from a number 1 to 4. Additionally, there is no blending or fade between the sides and the landing strip.
Ivy League - the Short Back & Sides
This is the classic short back and sides haircut and is basically a longer version of the crew cut.
In the USA, it is known as an Ivy League, named for its popularity among Ivy League undergraduates of the 1950s who favoured this neat and tidy hairstyle.
It is a graduated haircut with length on top that is largely scissor-cut. The back and sides are tapered to a shorter length, which is finished with a fade.
Having a little length on top means the hair can be combed and styled in various ways. For example, a pompadour can be created, or the hair can simply be parted and combed back.
Hair products can be used to slick it down and keep it in place. In the 1940s, the products used would be things like Brilliantine and other such hair pomades.
It has been a popular style with military men for many decades. Nowadays, the Ivy League may be seen more on higher-ranking officials.
Regulation is a generic term that simply refers to the short haircuts that adhere to military regulations. For example, it could include any standard haircut like the crew or butch cut.
However, the regulation cut is a specific type of short haircut. In this case, there is a clear definition between the longer hair on top and the sharply-tapered back and sides.
The sides and back are cut very close or shaved so that the scalp is plainly visible – known as a whitewall. Furthermore, it is the height of a whitewall that determines whether it is a “low regulation” (short whitewall), a “high regulation” (tall whitewall) or a “medium regulation” (in the middle).
To finish the look, the hair is cleanly parted on the side, creating a straight line from front to back.
The regulation cut was a popular haircut with soldiers in World War I, especially as heavy helmets were worn, often in freezing conditions.
A shaved head is a powerful symbol – it looks sharp and tough.
It is often worn in the United States military by those who have to motivate, for example drill instructors. A shaved head may also be preferred by someone who is bald or balding.
Some armed forces do not permit shaved heads in general, stating that the haircut must be no shorter than a certain clipper guard grade.
Undercut or Bowl
This haircut was popular with German soldiers during the late 1930s and into the 1940s.
For this cut, the back and sides are either shaved or cut really close. The top hair is left longer and overhangs the close-cut sides. Ultimately, there is little or no blending between the two lengths.
Exceptions & Allowances
Some military forces may allow long hair on religious grounds, so long as safety and the ability to perform one’s functions are not affected.
Likewise, facial hair may also be allowed – even when it is not normally acceptable to that regiment.
For example, Sikhs in the British Army or the US Army can keep the long hair required of their religion. Hair is worn under a turban in the same colours as the issued berets, forage caps or other such headwear. They can also keep a beard in keeping with religious practice.
The Indian Army regulations state that hair must be short. However, an exception is made for the Sikh Regiment.
Rastafarians in the British Royal Air Force can have dreadlocks, so long as they are tidy:
Find Out More
- UK, Royal Air Force: AP1358 – Uniform dress & appearance regulations.
- UK, Royal Navy: Dress regs.
- US Army: Uniform regulation 670-1.
- US Navy: Uniform regulations and Personal appearance.