Tracy Roan has been busy for the past two years.
Having served as chief of the Air Force Uniform Bureau at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, since 2018, Roan has helped shape some of the most progressive and drastic clothing changes for the branch, as well as the development of the Space Force’s new service uniform.
In the past two years alone, aviators have seen once unlikely changes, many of which focused on women’s comfort: longer hairstyles for women, development of a maternity flight suit and a wrap dress for pregnant airmen. The Space Force is even making its new uniforms unisex.
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Other military branches are following suit with similar uniform and policy changes — thanks, in part, Roan said, to research and development done by the Air Force. For her, many uniform changes are common sense.
“The Air Force has done a really good job of listening to all levels, you know, whether it’s male or female, and really considering what’s needed to bring the best to our Airmen to be successful and also to be happy and happy know they are being heard,” Roan said.
One of the main reasons the Air Force has been at the forefront of uniform changes for women is demographic: the service has the highest percentage of women in the ranks at 21%.
But Roan also said the Air Force often made uniform changes much faster than other services.
“We’ve really had a much easier time with how we’re structured and funded to get things done faster than maybe some of the other departments,” she added.
For example, Roan said the Air Force spent about half a million dollars to fund about 2,000 one-piece maternity flight suits. These are expected to be commissioned by the Defense Logistics Agency in April.
In late spring or early summer, the Air Force will also begin testing more contemporary maternity clothes for Airmen to replace what Roan calls the “90s style” of maternity fashion. These new items include pants, a tunic-style jacket, and the wrap dress.
“There was a need for maternity flight uniforms because nothing existed,” Roan said. “So women were borrowing someone else’s larger uniform or buying a larger uniform at the time, and that created security risks.”
While Air Force uniform options are being fine-tuned, Space Force had to start from scratch.
The Space Force physical training uniform, essentially a black tracksuit, shorts and a gray t-shirt, has been approved and is heading to the Defense Logistics Agency.
Dress uniforms for the Space Force are another story. When the look debuted at the Air Force Association’s annual conference last year, critics took to social media to complain about the Star Trek-reminiscent look and, in particular, the way the pants was ample.
Roan said his office didn’t make the initial prototypes, but they “made a lot of progress in developing the [uniform] after the remarks that have been made”, mainly updating the pants and the collar of the jacket. His office hoped to finish testing, but delays from a fabric supplier prevent him from crossing the finish line.
One of the main goals of the Space Force uniform was to create items that could be unisex, which Roan said can be welcoming to non-binary service members.
“As we look at their new service dress, we are looking specifically at the tie options that women, in particular, could wear a tie, like their male counterparts,” she said. “Especially if you’re not binary, you could wear a tie and there’s no connection to either gender.”
Roan added that her office was also beginning to prototype maternity clothes for the Space Force Guardians.
The progressive uniform policies have been criticized by some commentators. Last year, after the military adopted its own ponytail policy, Fox News host Tucker Carlson fueled those comments by saying President Joe Biden was mocking the military for striving to recruit and retain women in the ranks.
Roan said any change in the military often comes with criticism. But she said the bottom line is that if something helps boost morale or allows an Airman to do their job better, it’s a necessity.
“We want to make sure their fit is the best it can be because it allows them to do their job better,” Roan said. “It also comforts them and makes them proud of their appearance and their representation of the country.”
— Thomas Novelly can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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