OTTAWA – The Canadian military isn’t letting its hair down just yet, but for the first time, women in uniform will be allowed to wear ponytails.
The move, which also makes nylon stockings optional when in a skirt and permits flat shoes instead of pumps or oxfords, is the latest effort to modernize the Canadian Armed Forces after the recent easing of restrictions on beards, boots and off-duty marijuana use.
It also comes amid a concerted effort by senior commanders to increase the number of women in the military, which has so far moved slower than some had hoped.
“We know that greater control over personal appearance is good for the morale of current CAF members and that it helps us attract future members to our team,” said Chief Warrant Officer Alain Guimond, the military’s top non-commissioned officer. “Overall, we’re trying to better reflect the Canadians we serve while welcoming new members into our ranks.”
Previously, female military personnel with long hair were required to keep it in braids or buns while on duty. They were also required to wear five-centimetre pumps or oxford shoes as well as nylons if they were working in skirts.
Why those restrictions? Tradition? Safety, in the case of ponytails? Defence officials couldn’t immediately answer that question.
Not that the military is throwing away the rulebook entirely; only one ponytail is allowed and it must be “gathered in the centre back of the head,” according to new guidance issued to military personnel this week.
Pippi Longstocking, that means you.
Ponytails are also not allowed with ceremonial uniforms and, in defiance of such trendsetters as Ariana Grande, they can’t go “below the top of the armpit.”
And although the shoe rules for women are being loosened to allow flats, the freedom does not extend to “ballerina-slipper styles.”
As for men, sorry, you’re going to have to do your David Beckham impressions at home: No ponytails for you, even the short variety.
As with last fall’s decision to allow beards in more circumstances, this latest move has received mixed reactions from service members and veterans on social media, with some praising the move as long overdue and others worrying the military will look less professional.
But it likely won’t hurt the military’s efforts to recruit and retain more women in uniform.
Defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance publicly asserted in February 2016, shortly after taking command of the Forces, that he wanted women to be 25 per cent of the military by 2026. At that time, barely 15 per cent of service members were women.
Figures provided by the Department of National Defence showed that at the beginning of January that had grown to 15.7 per cent, a rate of increase that Vance acknowledged to The Canadian Press was slower than he had anticipated.