Goodbye messy mullets and bushy beards. Military tightens rules about personal grooming

After almost two years of letting their hair down and their beards grow, the Canadian military has again tightened the regulations on personal grooming.

Stricter rules on facial hair and hairstyles took effect on Tuesday across the country.

For Michaela Comeau and the other co-owners of Ormocto's Off Base Barbers, it's been a busy few days getting ready for the new rules.

She estimates about 90 per cent of her customers are from 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, southeast of Fredericton.

"And the few who aren't military are either in a military family or ex military," said Comeau.

WATCH | Barbershop owner explains new military grooming rules:

A lot of customers dropped by to make sure they passed muster when the new rules took effect. Those serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, or CAF, must now keep their beards to 2½ centimetres in length. And hair — for both men and women — must be tied back and away from the face and off the collar.

In September 2022, the Armed Forces abandoned almost all restrictions on members' hair length, hair colour, nail length and facial tattoos.

Comeau said she first heard about the changes from clients and was then able to track down the details "just to see what we can and can't do."

Comeau said the changes essentially tidy things up. Long hair has to be tied in a bun, ponytail or braid. The bottom line is that hair cannot touch shirt collars.

Michaela Comeau is one of the co-owners of Off Base Barbers, on Restigouche Road in Oromocto.
Michaela Comeau is one of the co-owners of Off Base Barbers, on Restigouche Road in Oromocto. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

"Beards need to be reined in a whole lot," Comeau said. "That's probably one of our biggest changes is that beards are down to an inch … which is not very long."

Facial hair must also be "trimmed in clean lines," according to the rules.

Comeau suspects that ""most people were kind of expecting it because it went a little bit crazy at first. Everyone had mullets and long beards and hair colours."

She said things eventually "tapered off just because a lot of people are realizing that long hair is quite uncomfortable, especially if you're not used to caring for it."

Gagetown promotes 'positive image'

Base Gagetown said the new rules provide "greater direction and clarity on dress and deportment to ensure the "projection of a positive CAF image … (while) allowing CAF members to show their true selves while maintaining safety, operational effectiveness, inclusivity, and reflecting societal norms as key principles … based on a broad set of feedback and observations.'"

An emailed statement from Gagetown goes on to say the new direction "provides greater clarity on expectations while allowing our team to be their original selves, and maintain safety, operational effectiveness, and inclusivity."

The changes come after the Canadian military got an earful from members who were not happy with the relaxed standards introduced almost two years ago.

Backlash linked to 'lower confidence in leadership'

The 2022 changes triggered a backlash both inside and outside the military from critics who said they permitted a degree of scruff and untidiness that compromised the effectiveness and morale of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The depth of that backlash was made clear in an internal Department of National Defence study obtained by CBC News. The study, conducted between November 2023 and January, asked members about their feelings toward the looser grooming standards.

"A large proportion of the CAF population does not agree with the changes to the CAF dress policy, despite chain of command and peer support, and this lack of agreement is associated with lower confidence in leadership," said the survey, dated March 15, 2024 .

Nearly half 45 per cent of members surveyed disagreed with the suggestion that the new regulations were good for the military, while roughly one-third, or 33.4 per cent, were in favour.

Tighter rules governing personal grooming took effect in the Canadian military on Tuesday.
The Canadian military says a significant proportion of members did not agree with the relaxed rules, resulting in a lower confidence in leadership. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

In a statement, the Department of National Defence downplayed the significance of the revisions that came into effect Tuesday.

The department said that while dress instructions are reviewed continually, the feedback from the survey was "one element of the reasoning behind these updates."