Sailors serving as Barbers in the Ship’s Serviceman rating (SH) are concerned with much more than trimming hair and beards. Among their Management and Supervisory tasks are developing operational budgets, planning purchases of laundry and barber equipment as well as merchandise for the ship store, analyzing customer surveys, and ensuring quality customer service. And of course they are required to maintain a clean, attractive, and sanitary workplace and equipment.

When it’s all said and done, however, Barbers are judged by their handiwork—and Sailors hoping to advance up the career ladder in the SH rating need to ensure their customers leave with haircuts that conform to the Navy’s grooming standards.

But just what those standards look like is, as the old adage goes, subject to change.

When it comes to official regulations regarding grooming, the Navy was silent on the subject until Secretary of the Navy George Badger decreed in 1841 that while beards and hair were to be cut short, whiskers could “descend” more than an inch below the tip of a Sailor’s ear—and keep on growing so long as it was in a “line toward the corners of the mouth.” When Sailors were given that inch, they proceeded to take a mile in the form of outrageous sideburns.

Changes in the regulations in 1852 prohibited officers from sporting moustaches; beards were allowed so long as they were “neatly trimmed.” Hair, moustaches, and beards were all permitted so long as they were short and trimmed from the 1880s through the 1960s, but exceptions were permitted to address the realities of wartime exigencies. Submariners during World War II, for instance, were given leeway in the lengths of their beards because of the scarcity of shaving supplies aboard their ships.

Grooming standards were relaxed during the early 1970s in an effort to make Sailors look less “square” and presumably increase both retention and enlistment rates. But just as with the decision to allow Sailors to grow sideburns, the new “freedoms” were pushed to limits never envisioned by the higher-ups who’d softened the rules. A backlash naturally occurred, and in 1984 all beards were banned—a decision that certainly made the workday of Ship’s Servicemen serving as Barbers considerably more hectic. Today, Sailors are required to be clean-shaven unless a shaving waiver has been authorized by a Commanding Officer, usually on religious grounds.


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