I’m taking a little break from the book reviews today for something I consider a public service item, a little getting-to-know-you between civilians and folks in the military — a simple crash course, if you will.

Have you ever seen someone in plain clothes on the street and thought to yourself, that person has got to be in the military?

If yes, then you’ve got good instincts. But I can take you one step further. I can help you wager an educated guess as to what branch that military member is in, and impress the people around you.


IMG_0953Alright, posting a photo of a man in dress whites gives you an unfair advantage. Surely this man is in the Navy.  I know it for a fact, as he is my husband.

Here, he’s kindly modeling (I had to plead with him) a classic cut I associate with the Navy, and perhaps with officers in general. It’s a typical clipper cut — number two on the sides and a five on the top, to be exact —  no scissors involved. It’s clean, it’s inexpensive, it’s — dare I say — on the conservative side stylistically, even for the military. Most any hairdresser in any port — even in the dim belly of a ship — can be trusted to pull off this haircut without going too far astray, and that’s why I associate it with the Navy.


These gents appreciate a good shave

The Army is the largest branch of the military, so I think you’ll find the most variation. The “high and tight” cut is very popular,

high-and-tight-haircut-cool-mens-military-cuts-190x190sorry to get all up in your scalp like that

but I must say I appreciate the soldier with the long hair in the top photo (from the army.com web site no less!). Next time my husband tries to convince me that he wears his hair “as long as he can possibly get away with,” I’ll have Exhibit A here to show him. (Sometimes it kills me that my husband has this great, un-receding head of hair that he must keep constantly buzzed down to the skin. He’s squandering it! It’s a waste!)

I generally associate the Marines with more daring, badass haircuts and the Army with a simple, closer shave, but I confess I have no scientific evidence on this.


military-haircuts-high-and-tight-cool-mens-hairstylesI f–in’ love your haircut, man!

The above haircut is similar to the high and tight, but it’s got some extra flair. This is the “Recon,” and it’s a favorite of the Special Forces across the branches.

It’s also popular with Marines. Marines in general cannot stand to have any hair on the sides of their head. The thought is horrible to them. A man with hair on the side of his head is a sorry weakling, according to a Marine. So if I see a man on a base or about town with the bald sides and a happy little meadow up on top, I assume he’s a Marine. If he has a small child with him sporting the exact same haircut, then I KNOW he is a Marine.



The Air Force is our classiest branch of the military, and I think they’re also classy with their haircuts. At the center of this group of closely-shorn Marines sits the lone Airman, clearly rolling his eyes at the fact that no one around him seems able to support a full head of hair (except for the woman at the front there, who has lovely hair and who’s probably been rolling her eyes about any manner of things for the past decade). Meanwhile our Airman’s growing what’s nearly an Ivy League cut, and with ginger hair to boot. Well played, as they say.


I confess, I have no idea what men in the Coast Guard do with their hair.



Women (or, as folks in the military call them, “females”)  have two options: a short haircut, or a bun/French braid style to keep the hair back away from the face.

hair_female_1(this pic is Canadian, but the same rules seem to apply)

Black women have special hair concerns, as shared by this female airman; wigs and hair pieces are generally allowed, as are braids, cornrows, and micro-braids.

Dreadlocks are not, and, interestingly for all women, “shaved heads, flattops and military high-and-tight cuts are not authorized hairstyles for female Airmen.” (But what about G.I. Jane?!)

Jane, why so drastic — you could have a French braid right now.

I think women look serious and beautiful with their military updos, but, alas, I have no tricks to help you determine what military branch a woman might be in if she’s out of uniform, because when she’s out of uniform she’s probably in heels with her hair down.


…… There is no hard and fast way to tell what branch of the military someone you see on the street might be in. But you can have a good hunch, and if you can’t definitively name the branch, then you can at least name the haircut.

And why not just ask the person, face-to-face? Chances are they’re proud of their ‘do and would be happy to tell you.

A few more amusing pictures…….

Remembering Inprocessing: 'Just take a bit off the top'

Genial young man, clearly leaving his Santa Cruz childhood behind, gets induction cut at Air Force boot camp

An Royal Air Force pilot getting a haircut during a break between missions, Britain, 1942

Pilot gets his hair cut on the tarmac, 1942


Ice Man Kazanski wants to spike this volleyball in your face

In my near-decade as a Navy wife, I have never seen anyone with Ice-Man’s haircut. I don’t think it would pass Regs. But then again, neither would he. Which is the whole appeal, right?