On Natural Hair in the Corporate Environment

Can natural, kinky hair be a professional look for women of color? We’ve talked about long hair, blonde hair, even no hair — but we haven’t truly talked about this. Accordingly, I’m thrilled to introduce Patrice Yursik, the blogger behind Afrobella, where natural hair is a regular topic. (It was not so long ago that some women — even fashion magazine editors! — professed that natural hair was a “don’t,” so I’m curious to see what readers say here.) – Kat

Natural Hair in the Corporate Environment || Corporette (guest post by @Afrobella)There are so many things to consider when beginning a new job. Will you be able to live up to expectations at work? What will your new coworkers be like? What should you wear? And what about your hair — how should you wear it to the office? Hair might not seem like an issue worth seriously worrying about, especially if you’re born with naturally straight tresses. However for many women around the world with naturally curly hair, there can be deeper issues at play. You might encounter old fashioned and unfortunate attitudes about office appropriate hairstyles. And if you’re a woman of color who wants to wear your hair as it naturally grows out of your head, things can be even more complicated. (Photo credit: stevendepolo.)

Kat sent me this email from O as an example of the dilemma:

I truly believe in always looking your best. I will soon be starting a job at a midsize business casual law firm in NYC which only has one other woman of color, and no men of color to speak of. As a black female in the corporate setting, an issue that always comes up is our hair. Currently, I have a “natural”, but often change up my style depending on my mood. I go from twists to wigs. Lately I have been sporting a short styled wig, which gives me some sass, and must say looks great. However, this summer, I want to be carefree, and embrace my natural kinky hairdo. I would have what you would call a mini afro. However, I am curious of the reaction that I might receive from others at the firm. Trust me, I know how to play the game, and have been playing the game all my life. I am wondering what the other seasoned women of color out there have done with their hair, have they received crazy looks, and am I making something out of nothing.

 

Reader O, congratulations on your new position! And congratulations on embracing your hair’s natural texture. It isn’t always an easy decision to stick to. My blog, Afrobella.com, is all about celebrating natural hair. In the course of five years blogging about this topic and interviewing women from around the world who have gone natural, I’ve come to realize that it takes courage.

Embracing your natural, kinky hair can mean going against your family’s wishes. It can mean dealing with insensitive comments from friends, and it can mean having to deflect ignorance at the workplace. And yes — as covered in this recent CNN article, sometimes it comes with unsolicited attempts at hair touching. I’ve experienced all of the above. In your personal life, you can give a snappy answer to a stupid hair question. In a corporate workplace…not so much. But as your circumstances would have it, I doubt you’ll have to worry much about dealing with “crazy looks.”

You describe your new workplace as a “business casual law firm in NYC.” Please feel free to e mail me and let me know if I’m wrong when you’ve been there for a little while, but I’m going to go ahead and predict that the reception to natural hair in your corporate environment will be politically correct and welcoming. New York City is a mecca for natural hair, and while many women of color there do use heat, relax their hair or wear wigs and weaves to achieve a straight look, there are many, many women who rock their natural hair to corporate jobs and are making names for themselves in the Big Apple.

You mentioned that you enjoy a variety of hairstyles including wigs, but be aware that constant switching of your hairstyle might encourage your colleagues to comment on your changed appearance or ask questions about your hair. In general, I’ve found that my reaction can shape the outcome of these hair question exchanges entirely. I am the type who enjoys a good teachable moment and doesn’t mind answering respectful and well meaning hair questions. However, if you’re not inclined to be the office’s question-and-answer afro ambassador, keep your answers to any and all hair-related questions friendly but brief. Carefully deflect personal conversation to relevant work-related topics. The asker will eventually get the hint.

Carolyn Edgar

For Naturally Professional, a monthly interview series on Afrobella.com and CurlyNikki.com, I recently featured Carolyn Edgar, a stunning woman with beautiful locks, who works as Vice President and Legal Counsel for The Estee Lauder Companies. She knows professional women in every imaginable field, who wear their hair naturally and are well respected for their talents. Carolyn also pointed out that most often, we expect judgment from others because of our own fears and past experiences. “It turned out no one cared what I did with my hair, as long as it was neat. That doesn’t mean people didn’t notice, or ask questions. But I have never been reprimanded, ‘talked to,’ or discriminated against because of my hair,” she said. Carolyn also pointed out that concern about hair texture in the office isn’t solely a black female issue. Black men can face a different experience and find more judgment about their hair choices, particularly in corporate environments. Also white women with curly hair often also feel a pressure to straighten their hair so as to appear “professional.” “Curly-haired women of all races and cultures feel pressured to wear their hair straight and think of their own natural hair as “unmanageable.” I think all women would benefit if acceptance of our hair’s natural texture became a cross-cultural or multi-cultural conversation,” Carolyn added.

The experience a professional woman might have working in New York City is likely to be quite different from the experience other women might have across the country, particularly in areas where natural hair is not as commonplace. Another lawyer recently featured on Afrobella.com, Alycia Carter, hails from Memphis, Tennessee. According to Alycia, natural hair hasn’t held her back in the slightest. “All of the response I’ve had towards my hair in the workplace has been positive. In the professional realm, your work will speak for itself.”

When I specifically asked Carolyn Edgar about your prospects at your law firm, Reader O, she shared a similar sentiment. “As long as her hair is styled neatly and she dresses professionally, I doubt that her hair will be an issue.”

Even though I work as a full time blogger (which just might be the diametrical opposite of corporate life), I would agree with Carolyn. If you come to work looking well groomed and office appropriate from head to toe and bring your A-game on the job, the way you wear your hair should not matter. And if you do get a question or reaction to your hair, don’t let it disquiet your spirit or make you question what you bring to the workplace. You’re a lawyer, and a professional. Like you said, you “know how to play the game, and have been playing the game all [your] life.” Should you ever get a crazy look from a coworker about wearing your hair in a natural style, brush your shoulders off and continue to do your job to the best of your ability. Their reaction might reveal more about their antiquated ideas about natural beauty, than it will reflect on you and how well you fit in at the office.

Readers, what are your thoughts on natural, kinky hair at the office?  What about wigs, dreadlocks, cornrows, braids — is anything off limits in the corporate environment?

(L-0)

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Comments

  1. ohmydarlin :

    White girl here, but I LOVE seeing Black women rock their natural hair. I think it’s beautiful. My favorite (and what this stick-straight-locked brunette is most envious of) is using the colorful scarves tied as a headband around (as the OP says) “what you would call a mini afro.”

    • Agreed, I love afros. They are really COOL! (Sorry for the caps, I’m not meaning to sound like Ellen!)

    • Totally agree. In fact, as a stick-straight-locked brunette, I think we may be the same person! Except that my dog looks different than yours. :)

    • Another white woman chiming in. I think natural hair is gorgeous too. One of my best friends, who is black, tells me that a lot of this is driven by black men. Her now ex-BF gave her grief when she went too long in between straightening. Needless to say that after he was gone, I encouraged her even more to go natural! She looks fierce and fabulous with natural hair, IMO.

      • Anonymous :

        I also love when black women wear their hair natural but I am also a bit jealous that white women simply don’t do wigs. When have you ever seen a white woman wear a wig one day, and then the next day, allow everyone to see her natural hair. No, if we white women wear a wig, we are shamefully covering bald spots.

  2. 1) Points to Corporette for addressing this issue!
    2) I love Carolyn Edgar. <3
    3) On the actual topic itself…

    I don't think people realize how touchy the issue of hair is for ANY professional woman in Corporate America. Straight, Curly, Ponytail Height, Color, Braided, Wigs, Curly…you navigate a maze of choices every morning. I believe in the advice that my law school Dean of Career Services gave me, which is that when you leave an interview (and I believe it applies to leaving a meeting, or networking event as well), you want people to remember what you said, not what you looked like. And as Carolyn said, as long as your hair (and everything else!) is neat, people are going to focus primarily on your work product, especially in an industry like law, where the work is what counts most. Of course we all have inherent biases (A side ponytail with a suit? Really???) but at the end of the day, if you are comfortable in your skin and present your best self at every opportunity, I honestly believe that people will accept and respect your personal style choices.

    Disclaimer: I live in NYC and folks are much more accepting in general here- the southern definition of "conservative" isn't the same as NYC conservative.

    • “A side ponytail with a suit? Really???”

      I just got an awesome mental image of Punky Brewster in a suit and heels. Thanks. :)

    • OMG. My boss, whose style I otherwise really respect, totally totally does this side ponytail thing! I mean, it’s a low tail or whatever but the first time I saw her do it I seriously did a double take. So confusing!

  3. I agree with the “if you don’t care, they don’t care” concept- to an extent. I am also attorney, but admittedly I work in private practice so I have few issues. With colleagues it has come up. When I was out and about interviewing I would wear my hair in more “Eurofriendly” styles (buns). Only until I had the job and was more comfortable would I experiment with different styles. I never knew it concerned anyone until that one day that someone asks the proverbial “do you wash your hair” question. That conversation has for the most part never bothered me but I did note that it meant they were “watching” my hair. The geographical region matters tremendously too. When I was in Arkansas, I got much more attention than now that I live in Chicago.

  4. Cool guest post – I love Afrobella!!

    I have locks that go down to about mid-back length. I recently accepted a position in compliance management. I generally wear my hair in a bun or ponytail while interviewing, but I wear basketweave updos, curly styles and braided looks in my regular professional life. I get my hair retwisted every 10 to 12 weeks, so my locks are not “manicured” and perfect looking.

    I’ve had locks for 5 years and I really don’t worry about them anymore. Even when I was chasing big-law aspirations, I had locks and was offered an associate position with them.

  5. work-in-progress :

    I’m white with curly hair, and I agree with the comment that no one cares as long as your hair is neat. The problem is I can’t be confident my hair will be consistently neat unless I straighten it. I’d much prefer to wear it curly though. I’d love to hear comments from people who wear their natural hair with full confidence it will remain neat all day, and how y’all accomplish it.

    • I was thinking something similar–that even the seemingly innocuous standard of “neat” is not really doable, all the time, if I’m keeping my hair natural. I’m white with naturally curly/wavy hair, and several months ago swore off the blow dryer and flatiron after many years tethered to both. I was tired of all the damage and all the time involved.

      If it’s windy out, I get flyaways. When I wear my hair up, some strands escape from the bottom and look fuzzy or messy. The overall ‘do is rarely symmetrical. Sometimes a curl sticks out in the back. Ponytails, which are supposed to be the go-to, are actually really complicated if I worry about maintaining some standard shape.

      My tentative conclusions have been: my hair needs an incredible amount of moisture to avoid frizz. Like, I doubled my moisturizing regimen, and then doubled it again, and only now am I getting there. Beyond that, I do my best, re-style a couple of times a day to try to stay “neat,” and generally just hope that the rest of my outfit, and of course my work, will matter more than my hair.

      Kudos to everyone rocking their natural hair texture! I think the more women do this, the less of an issue it will be.

      • I agree, the more women doing it, the more commonplace it will be. The standard will broaden. It’s unrealistic to expect someone with curly hair to have every hair in place, as if it were a Louise Brooks bob. We don’t criticize people with straight hair for having hair that’s excessively flat.

        The nature of curly natural hair is that it’s alive: It’s bouncy and three-dimensional. Needless to say, it does need to be cared for and styled.

      • Anonymous :

        Curly has nothing to do with “neat.” I have thin, fine, stick straight hair and if I don’t brush it out ever twenty minutes (or wear it up all day) I look like I’ve rolled out of bed with a head full of elf locks. And products just make the tangles worse.

        And since my hair has *literally* no volume I can’t get it to hold a curl or to pouf or do anything neat with it.

        Nobody likes their hair.

      • I think that is the beauty of having curly hair! I am black and I have natural hair but I do wear my hair straight because its easier. One thing I learned when I went natural was to just say, this is my hair! When its curly or different lengths and it doesn’t look perfect, its ok! Perfect is boring. As long as its clean and not CRAZY then I think we should embrace our imperfections. I work in a corporate environment so yes, I try and keep it neat but I embrace my waves, or curls, or whatever I am doing that week!

    • Speaking as a caucasian with erratically clightly wavy hair with massive frizz, I too have problems meeting the “neat” standard. On a humid, southern summer day, I have a 1″ to 2″ halo of frizz. The only way I’ve found to defeat it is to pull it back or up tightly and then load on the smoothing product. Unfortunately, this severe hairstyle is not at all flattering look on me, and I become self conscious about sporting a prison-wardeness look. Hair. Bleh.

      • That would be “slightly” wavy, not “clightly” wavy. Sigh. I just spent my lunch hour having my car keys fished from the deep storm drain into which I dropped them. I’m a bit frizzy, just like my hair, at the moment.

      • I sound like a broken record, but have you read the “Curly Girl” handbook by Larraine Massey? It comes with a DVD.

        As for the ponytail issue, you might want to look into Spin Pins, a Goody product. They control the hair without smooshing it down, which is best for curly hair.

        Try also Googling http://www.naturallycurly.com “spin pins” “curly bun” and “redcelticcurls” OR “operacurls” and you’ll see how some women have developed some very nice-looking styles with curly hair. They put their hair up in an elastic, fan it out and then pin it up and around with the spin pins, hiding the pin.

  6. Love the look of natural hair, and a couple women rock it in my admittedly very biz casual environment.

    Threadjack/rant: just took sr leadership thru my biz plan after throughly vetting w not 1 not 2 but 3 departments.   The takeaway after going through my plan was “this is really good, but it would be more inspiring if it was completely different.”  Now trying to figure out how to tell my boss, and all of the not quite as sr leaders who signed off on my plan, and figure what the heck to do next!! Worst part (for my ego anyhow)- sr leader was totally right.

  7. msbluejacket99 :

    great post! first time commenter here @ corporette but I always love y’alls posts. what the guest blogger afrobella (and ms edgar) said is absolutely true: as long as your hair is neat and you feel confident, most other folks don’t care. and if they do care, maybe you don’t want to work for them anyway!! i have been natural since 2001 and have been locking my hair since 2006 during my last year of law school. i’ve worked at a big firm in nyc and as a public defender in the south. i’ve always gotten positive reception from co-workers, bosses, and clients regarding my hair because i try to keep it neat and stylish. as a law student i was super concerned about this but i’ve learned that it is a non-issue. rock on natural (and non-natural) ladies!

  8. I’m an African American woman from the white collar working class who won a scholarship to an Eastern boarding school that at the time was very WASP-oriented (WASPs are big on a natural-looking attractive appearance). I also attended an Ivy League college and law school and worked for a time in big law in New York. In other words, institutions loaded with upper class strivers, or people who were trying to cultivate that appearance.

    With that background, in response to the woman who queried, I have to say that I think wigs are weird.

    Older female relatives of mine wore wigs occasionally, in the 1960s and 1970s. No contemporary female relative of mine wears a wig, nor do any of my African American friends. I currently wear my hair naturally, which took a long time to get right, but I get lots of compliments, so it was worth it.

    However you wear your hair, it should be your hair, unless of course you have alopecia or your hair has fallen out because of chemo.

    Wigs are not modern, they’re icky. To wear them is also kind of a black stereotype. And yes, I hate straight hair extensions on white women as well.

    I recommend:

    Curly Hair: The Handbook (Massey)
    Devacurl One Condition and other Devacurl prods.
    http://www.naturallycurly.com

    • MissJackson :

      At the risk of sounding ridiculous: I’m not sure I would know if a woman (of any race) were wearing a wig.

      I have not-quite-straight, not-quite curly white girl hair, and I feel a little bit out of my area of expertise here. But still: “weird” and “icky” seems really harsh. If a woman prefers a wig, and it looks like her real hair, and she’s not drastically changing it daily…. well, I’m not sure why on earth it matters (or, as I stated above — how on earth I would know).

      • blackanon :

        It’s not ridiculous. It never occurred to me that some women were wearing wigs. But I didn’t even notice highlights.

        I was straightforward, not harsh. I think in the environments I described, and I went into great detail to explain my background, so my p.o.v. would be quite clear, it would matter. At least if you didn’t want to be considered some kind of ethnic curio.

        Would anyone actually say anything? I don’t know. Would they think it was weird if they knew? YES.

        The beauty of the web is the ability to communicate uncomfortable things that might be impossible to express in person. Nobody who doesn’t like this advice has to follow it. :-)

        As another poster said, in essence:

        –Don’t go by secretaries and paralegals: Different standard applied.

        –Don’t use summer associates as models: Firms usually want them to be happy so they will return to law school with nice things to say about the firm.

        –Use as examples only partners, and senior associates who are taken seriously at a firm like the one at which you are working or aspiring to work. The bigger the firm, the more conservative it tends to be, even in New York. Don’t fall for feigned permissiveness. Actions speak louder than words, to coin a phrase.

        If you decide to defy convention, at least do it with your eyes open and with the understanding of the potential consequences. Remember, those senior, successful black people are not stupid, and they’re not all inherently conservative. There’s a reason they’ve chosen a certain manner of self-presentation. Examine the range and see if you can adapt it to yourself.

    • Wigs have been around for eons. Modernity is irrelevant.

      Also: icky? Why?

      • They’re gross. You’re wearing someone else’s hair or some kind of synthetic mat on your head.

        If I want to look like Marie Antoinette on Halloween that’s fine. If I were a barrister, I’d wear a horsehair wig. It’s part of the tradition.

        Wigs in normal life in America, in conservative environments? Tacky.

      • As for modernity, I wouldn’t want to look like an elderly black church lady. They are the only people in my experience who wear wigs.

        • Consider that not everyone has the same experience of wigs that you do.

          • blackanon :

            Gosh darn, I explicitly said I was giving my take based on MY experience, which I think is quite relevant to the particular environments described. It was not intended as a one-size-fits-all-offend-no-one-view.

            That’s what opinions are.

        • Guess you haven’t met too many cancer patients. Judgmental much?

    • blackanon :

      Most professionals of my acquaintance, whatever their color or gender, tend to have the following in common:

      They want to look clean, well-groomed, attractive, healthy, and, most important, as if the achievement of this wonderful look was virtually effortless. (Of course, some work is often involved, but that’s not the point. ) As has been said many times, the natural look is the hardest look of all to pull off. Most professionals I know strive to look natural, or a heightened version of natural.

      A wig tends to militate against this effect. Most people I know who wear hair hats (mainly older women) are wearing them because they’re having a bad hair day or don’t have time to wash their hair. Or because they’ve lost their hair. To be sure, throughout history, people have worn wigs to disguise the effects of illness and age, although sometimes wigs became fashionable and a sign of status. I am sure they smelled. There’s only so much a cone of powder can do to freshen up a wig.

      In the 1950s and 1960s, American film stars commonly wore wigs. That changed with the advent of the blow dryer.

      If you wear a wig, and if you change your hairstyle often, the more observant of your coworkers will notice it’s a wig. Some will assume:

      a) you didn’t have time to wash your hair; or,
      b) you emulate past stars of the silver screen; or
      c) you are a slave to fashion.

      None of the above images is particularly helpful to an aspiring professional, especially a lawyer in a somewhat conservative, large law firm.

      This is the funniest topic I’ve ever addressed on the web. Thank you.

      • blackanon :

        I hope it was obvious that I was excluding women who wear wigs for religious reasons, for example, some Orthodox Jewish women. They are required to cover their hair after marriage. I’ve noticed that some Orthodox women wear wigs or half-wigs that clearly look like wigs — there’s no attempt to make it look like real hair — I’ve always assumed that is a way of deliberately calling attention to their wearing of a sheitel.

      • I find blackanon’s comments hard to swallow. Now that we have heard the persepective of someone who grew up in a prep school/ivy league/WASP-oriented environment, can we hear a different point of view? I have a feeling blackanon’s perspective might be a bit one-sided.

        • blackanon :

          If you’re going to work in the kinds of environments I described you would do well to heed my advice. End of.

          How many times can I state it? It’s my OPINION, and it’s well-founded. If if doesn’t fit your circumstances, ignore it. But I said things that no one is going to tell you.

          I believe that the point of giving advice, when asked, is to provide a truthful assessment, not some idealistic, politically correct, sweetly sensitive statement that someone wants to hear. And I am THE MOST PC, culturally sensitive person I know. I tire my friends with my constant discussions about social injustice.
          \
          Go, go work on Sesame Street.

          Bye.

          • I agree with you, blackanon. And our backgrounds are somewhat different. Thanks for sharing your views (and not just because I agree with you…)

        • Anonymous :

          Not a black woman, but working on the continent of Africa, I’d have to say that it’s very common for black women to wear wigs in professional settings and change them as desired (same as the way the hair is treated/styled or not). I’ve never really seen it in the U.S., although I think depending on the city and firm, it could vary in how it’s viewed. I think one potential problem with wearing a wig that is very different from other hairstyles that you prefer is that you might be seen as a little too into your looks if your hair changes a lot.

    • @Blackanon:

      I share your Ivy League background, and have been practicing for 30 years in the Midwest. After years of trying to keep my thick, kinky hair “straight,” I finally gave up the fight and tried wigs for a while. Yes, I had both synthetic and “icky” real hair wigs, but never got anything but compliments. If you can tell someone is wearing a wig, she’s defeating her purpose in putting it on! No one who wears a wig (unless she’s a hooker or works on a pole) WANTS it to look like a wig–rather, you’re looking for a great hairstyle without all the fuss.

      My eventual answer to all this was to give up the relaxers and curling irons in favor of two-strand twists, which I nurtured into locs. I did this right before starting a huge jury trial (we won!), and wanted a style that allowed me maximum versatility with little fuss. I’m now a judge and still love my locs.

      African American women concede nothing by having fun with their hair (whether it grows from their head or they bought it!). We can command authority, respect, and share our beauty on our terms with natural styles, and don’t have to mimic more established notions of beauty. No one wants to be judged by what’s on the outside, but when we project an image of confidence and competence, who’s to say how we have to wear our hair but US?

    • I know lots of women who wear wigs and I would never know the difference if I didn’t know they were orthodox Jewish women. They are completely indistinguishable from a natural head of hair. Not “icky”.

  9. Many useful comments in this previous post on curly hair.

    http://corporette.com/2011/07/26/is-curly-hair-professional/

  10. This topic has reminded me of the lovely Sesame Street song “I Love My Hair,” which is now stuck in my head. What a wonderful song!

    And in case my attempt at embedding doesn’t work: http://youtu.be/enpFde5rgmw

    • I’m less of a fan. Kids are smart and they’ll realize that people who have special songs often are considered to have special needs.

      If I had kids I would teach them to take care of their hair in its natural state, compliment them when it looked good, and subtly introduce positive images. This song’s too obvious and the tune grows cloying pretty quickly.

      • I might agree, except that on Seaseme Street everyone has a special song, so this doens’t stand out. I like it :)

        I taught Kindergarten, and I was the only Caucasian in my classroom. We had more than one interesting and frank conversation about my hair and how it was different from my students’ hair (all prompted by their questions). They notice that its different, but that I don’t think they ever considered it a “special need.” Just different.

  11. Well, I’m natural myself and this has been an issue for a long time. I feel that it’s good to have the natural and to have in a corporate environment too. I just feel that it just has to be neat and that’s it. I don’t think it has to be covered with wigs and weaves at all. It just has to be appropriate and neat, yet, still natural.

  12. blackanon :

    One last comment: I don’t think that the top image of the hair, which I’ve seen before on the web, is very attractive. As noted, I have natural, curly/kinky hair.

    Time for a new set of stock photos.

  13. This is an interesting conversation but not one I can really comment on other than to say that I have never really understood why people (black, white, whatever) feel the need to straighten curly hair or why curly hair would be “unprofessional”. As long as one’s hair is neat and well maintained, no-one should care what texture it is. I certainly don’t.

    *Threadjack* – some of you may recall I asked about/ordered this blouse about 10 days ago: http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/classiques-entier-francoise-silk-bow-blouse/3194762?origin=category&resultback=0

    It arrived yesterday and I wanted to report I am really pleased with it. I found it TTS (for reference, I am 5’4″, 34C, and ordered a Small). The seams are nicely finished, the neckline is appropriate and the tie is a nice width and length. Fabric is not sheer, but it is a single layer of silk, so while I *could* probably wear it without a cami underneath (I am very light-skinned), it would probably be better to wear it with a cami.

    For Canadian readers: yes, I had to pay duty (at checkout, not on delivery), ick, but pleased to report the parcel was only held up at the border for one day rather than *weeks*.

    • Equity's Darling :

      I love places that will calculate duty for you when you pay at the checkout.

      It is my least favourite thing to have duty due on delivery, because then I can’t have it delivered to my office (they won’t deal with duty fees)- which means I usually have to wait until the weekend to pick up my box from Canada Post or UPS, because I never get out of the office on time. And, as you mentioned, the hold at the border is usually *much* shorter if you’re paying duty in advance.

      • Well – good news – you can order from Nordie’s and get it delivered to your office then! Not that I am trying to be an enabler or anything… :-)

  14. Justbeopenminded :

    First of all, thank you Kat, Afrobella, and Carolyn for taking the time to thoroughly address this issue. I am also an attorney, and a “naturalista.” When I first stopped relaxing my hair, I was somewhat worried about how I would be perceived in my office, and whether my accomplishments would be overshadowed by my hair. As it turns out, we still had work to do, briefs to file, clients to counsel. I went through the short afro phase, the “in-between” phase (which is universally a “blech” phase), and now my hair is long enough to bun most days. But there are days (like today) when I have a curly twist out. And at no time has there been any question of my competence…since going natural, I’ve even argued successfuly before two federal courts of appeals!

    I would encourage women not to succumb to pressure to wear their hair the way someone else wants them to. We all know how a great hair day makes us feel like our best selves…so however you wear it to get that feeling, go for it! I just happen to love my natural hair, but whether natural, weaved, wigged, relaxed, whatever you do, do it professionally and confidently! *drops mike, steps down off of soap box* Thanks again ladies for this insightful discussion!

  15. Somewhat on topic – can any DC commenters recommend a salon or stylist to cut curly, ethnic hair? My hair isn’t kinky and doesn’t have the “usual” African-American texture – it’s a slightly softer, biracial texture with some coiled curls and some looser ones. So I don’t need a salon catering to African hair textures. I’ve lived in DC 5 years, and have been getting haircuts on my trips back home, but that’s getting ridiculous. Price is not an issue although it’d be helpful if you can tell me roughly how much various salons charge. I’ve heard mixed things about Fiddleheads, but am not aware of any other curly-focused salons in DC.

    Thanks!

    • Contact the Devachan Salon in NYC and ask for recommended stylists in DC.

      • Actually, I should have mentioned this, but I’m really not a fan of Devachan. Fiddleheads has Devachan stylists, but I planned to avoid them. Thanks for the suggestion, though – I know Devachan works for many people.

        • No problem. That was the only suggestion I could think of. I’ve been going to Devachan for a few years. Previously, I went to Ouidad, which might also have suggestions for stylists in D.C.

          Have you read the book published by the Devachan Salon’s founder, Lorraine Massey? Good guide.

      • Justbeopenminded :

        Hiwot at Salon Revive is awesome.

    • Can’t give a personal recommendation yet, but I’m planning to try out Parlour based on the Yelp recommendations — sounds like they really specialize in curly hair. Here’s a link to yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/parlour-salon-washington

    • Brennen and Elena at Bang in Logan Circle do Devachan dry cuts for curly hair. I’ve had better results from Brennen than Elena, though. They are $40 for a standard cut.

      • Just saw your follow-up. Brennen does non-Deva cuts too, and I’ve actually switched to wet-cutting with good results from him.

    • Jackie @ Lux Studios, a block from the Bethesda metro station

      • I second Jackie, she is wonderful. I have very curly, fine hair, and she has tons of curly hair clients. And she’s very reasonably priced for Bethesda/DC.

    • Jennifer at Bang Verizon Center takes very good care of my baby-fine, completely irregular ringlets.

    • Thanks, all! Bookmarking this thread – Parlour is near me so I may try there.

  16. And on topic – I have several African coworkers who wear natural hair. No one cares at all, other than to compliment them on it. But I work for an international organization, not a US company or firm, so it’s not unusual to see someone wearing traditional dress along with their natural hair, and women in general are more colorful and feminine than women at American companies seem to be. Also, our Big Boss is an African-American man, so that may make for a friendlier environment.

    Personally I’m a little jealous of all of the different types of hairstyles available to African women with kinky hair. I’d love to rock twists one month, braids the next, and then a TWA. But my genes didn’t give me such luck, and it does seem like a pain to have to spend hours getting my hair braided, so maybe that’s for the best.

    I have read that Michelle Obama has natural hair and that she styles it using heat only, no chemical processes. Natural hair in the White House makes me very happy indeed!

    • I don’t think most people would consider Michelle O’s style to be “natural.” Hot combing and blow outs are what people use instead of chemicals to produce the same effect.

      The time to be happy is when she is rocking a head of springy, natural curls.

      Given the reaction to Malia’s braids some time back, I wouldn’t count on that anytime soon.

      • I think what E meant is that Michelle Obama doesn’t use chemical relaxers to straighten her hair; to the extent her hair is not chemically altered, it is “natural.” She looks great all the time, and wears styles that most Americans see as attractive and acceptable. Let’s face it, if Michelle got braids or locs, many people would find them so controversial, it would become a political liability for her husband. Under the circumstances, I fully understand why she straightens her hair!

  17. Excellent post Patrice! As a natural-haired paralegal, I’ve never had a problem with my hair while working in a big law firm in NYC. (I usually wear a twist out or two-strand twists and please keep in mind that I’m not the best stylist and have had more bad hair days than I’d like to admit.) I find in the corporate world, people really just want to know that you can get the job done and can conduct yourself appropriately in all circumstances. I’ve been promoted with natural hair, and been offered jobs with natural hair. Being the best professional woman you can be is more than enough. If you are confident in how you wear your hair, the people around you will be confident in you.

    • How many of the black women partners in big law have natural hair? That would be critical information for me in evaluating how natural hair is regarded.

      When I was in big law, what was acceptable for a secretary or a paralegal was not acceptable for an associate or partner, not that there were any black women partners. All the black women associates at the time wore their hair straight.

      • How many black women partners are there period?

        • Exactly.

          • Hair is such an issue man!! No one would ask if a “natural” white women’s hair could be professional. I agree with the poster that what makes hair professional is that it is neat, that it should not be a requirement for any women to have specific products in their hair, or to have their hair styled in a certain way…and my white-woman-hair can be neat or not neat too!

        • Here’s the answer: NOT NEARLY ENOUGH!

      • LinLondon :

        Michele Roberts at Skadden immediately springs to mind. She looks great and is a damn fine litigator.

      • BigLaw BigHair :

        I’m a recently promoted black partner, and my hair has been natural going on 3 years. I do, however, switch it up fairly regularly: I blow dry and flat iron it to wear it straight, do a twist set to wear it funky, and I wear an afro when I’m feeling free. I also wear weaves – long and straight, big and curly – black, red and brown, you name it, I’ve done it. And, because my stylist only does weaves on Tuesdays, I go from short afro on Monday to long flowy hair on Wednesday. My hair is my prerogative – I’ve always liked to change it up, and I don’t think twice about doing so. I do get questions from time to time and the look of shock when I’ve made a more major transition, but I take it in stride and turn the focus back to business. Everyone has their thing – if you own it, usually people will live and let live.

      • Black Female Partner :

        I am a black female partner at a firm with just under 100 lawyers. I am the only black female partner. I have worn my hair natural for years now and change it up all the time — from loose kinky/curly to bone-straight. Currently, I have a really long weave while I give my natural hair a little break. While I get comments about my hair, I do not perceive them to be negative comments; they are usually made because of a change in hairstyles. If I cannot set the tone for acceptance of natural hair styles in my work environment, then no one else will.

  18. Equity's Darling :

    I feel like I’m horrible to be the voice of dissent, but I don’t think I’d ever go natural.

    I’m mixed (with a white mom), and the city I now live in does not have a high percentage of black professionals (or black people generally, to be fair). Those that are professionals either have relaxed hair (like myself), or use a weave (which I personally hate the look of- it can be done well, but it usually isn’t). I have never seen a lawyer in my city with natural hair, and definitely no one with dreadlocks.

    There is myself and one other mixed person at my firm. Both of us have relaxed hair.

    I get enough questions about my “background”, which I already find irritating. It’s super frustrating to be asked “so, what are you?” on a regular basis. I always debate replying “human, what about you?”.

    I don’t ever want my hair to stand in the way of making partner. I know that it shouldn’t affect opinions of me and my work, but I’m betting that it would, and I’m going to err on the side of caution.

    Plus, to be honest, my relaxed hair is really easy to take care of, and make “neat”. I can’t imagine I’d say the same thing with my natural ringlets.

    • heatheresq :

      Don’t knock it til ya try it. I understand where you are coming from but my hair is much easier to take care of in its natural state than relaxed.

      • Equity's Darling :

        You may be right, but my hair grows so slowly, that the “in-between” phase would probably take about 5 years to grow to a length I find acceptable, so I’m seriously doubting I’ll ever do it.

        • I did the in-between for more than a year and it was beyond awkward.
          But now that I have finally cut it off, I am quite satisfied about it.
          Maybe it will get awkward again when my hair is no longer a small fro and not yet long enough for bunning.. we’ll see

    • blackanon :

      I think your viewpoint is extremely valid and needs to be heard, and I say this as a black woman JD with ringlets that fall down to her shoulders.

      Not every firm and client is accepting of natural hair. That’s why I say in another comment that one should look at the successful senior women who are black, especially the partners, rare as they still are. That’s the real barometer of acceptance.

      It also doesn’t meant that things shouldn’t change in more fluid environments. Your hair might well look lovely natural, but there is definitely an educational and growing out process. One hopes your daughters (or sons if they wear their hair long) will have far fewer problems if they have curly hair.

    • Anon Canadian :

      It took me a long time to figure out how to manage my hair in it’s natural state. I’m also biracial with a white mom and while she always kept my hair neat, it was never left curly. She would part it into 2-4 sections, and either braid, twist, or curl (around her finger) the ponytails. When I started taking care of my own hair as a tween I alway just did a pony with a braid. A pony is still my go to, but I mix up how it’s finished and occasionally leave my hair out in it’s natural ringlets.

      In my late teens I let a stylist convince me to texturize my hair. She told me that it would take care of the frizzies and make my hair easier to manage. Well it didn’t change my hair at all and I just ended up upset because I had put chemicals in my hair (and ultimately in my body) unnecessarily.

      As to the backround question, here in Canada it’s “Where are you from?” Which I find equally annoying, and can only honestly answer Canada. But to most people that’s not a valid answer and I must run through my family history until I come to another country, because apparently in Canada only white people can have families who have been here for more than one generation, lol. I usually find it pretty enjoyable to explain how my dad’s family is actually more “Canadian” then my mom’s which is actually due to a pretty funny technicality. Newfoundland (the province that my mom is from) didn’t join Canada until 1949 which made my mom was the first person in her family born here. While my dad’s grand parents immigrated here about 40 years before that.

      • Equity's Darling :

        Oh, I’m in Canada too- out West, though I’m originally from Toronto. I was pretty much never asked questions in Toronto, but in the West…it’s a different story.

        • Anon Canadian :

          I was born and raised in Toronto and still live there and I get the question on a regular basis from all different types of people; recent immigrants, long time citizens, white, black, east asian, carribean, etc. I’ve been asked if I’m from India, Iran, Mongolian, all over South America and the Carribean. Sometimes people decide that I’m from where they are and just walk up to me and start speaking to me in different languages (mostly spanish).

        • Interesting. I’m biracial (white and native) and was shocked when I went east and had people ask me what I was (or try to guess, and always get it wrong). I’m pretty light so it had never happened to me when I was living in the west. I assumed it was just more socially acceptable in the east.

    • ED, here’s another point of view from someone in another city in Western Canada where there are not a lot of black people.

      Maybe the fact that there are not a lot of black professionals where you live could work in your favour – i.e. no-one has set the “standard” so you can do what you like without having to conform to anything. You yourself can set the standard for other black professionals following behind you. Just a thought.

      • DominicanSalonSeeker :

        It usually doesn’t work that way. How many stories have I heard of a minority (any minority, not just blacks) who was the only one in school and who was made to feel different, uncool, unattractive, Other?

        Generally, there is more acceptance, as well as safety, in numbers.

      • Equity's Darling :

        I hadn’t thought of it that way- you raise a good point. Unfortunately, the “standard” isn’t my big concern, really, my concern is mostly the increase in questions and daily maintenance.

        At this point, I can literally wash my hair, put a bit of smoothing serum in, and let it dry. That’s that. As an articling student at a national firm, the last thing I have is more time to spend on my hair, and the last thing I want is to be noticed for anything other than my work.

        I don’t want people to look at my hair and think “wow, that’s so interesting, how does she make it look like that”, or “wow, so fun!”, or worse “wow, she really needs to get her act together”.

        I want to be noticed for the quality of my work and being a generally genial person who’s willing to help with a variety of projects/assignments/memos, and participates in social events as appropriate. That’s all. My hair is not a conversation point at work, nor shall it be at any point in time.

        • Law's Whipping Girl :

          As an articling student at a national firm, the last thing I have is more time to spend on my hair, and the last thing I want is to be noticed for anything other than my work.

          I think that’s the right approach. At most, you want people to think, “Nice hair. And it looks so simple and easy.”

      • I’m going to butt in here and make it about myself like I always do but the setting the standard remark really hit me. This kind of comment is what I really, really *love* about Corporette because yes, I am setting the standard for myself except for me, it’s not something I was born with but something I choose to impose on myself (hijab, or headscarf that Muslim women wear, for those not used to my ramblings). It’s very confusing sometimes, to know what to wear, what styling of clothing – I switch between American/Western, Arab and desi at work – as well as what colors and are prints ok and is it really strange to wear a brightly colored scarf, etc, etc.

        I don’t have predecessors that I can look at and say, yeah, she always wears a printed scarf with bland clothing unless the prints aren’t too outrageous so I can do it, too. It gets a little lonely sometimes. But then I think to myself that of course I’m doing it right, no matter how it is that I’m doing, because I am defining what is professional and religiously conservative in the West for Muslim women. It was accidental but I’m really happy with myself for wearing all of whatever I want and my true personality comes through in my personal and professional attire.

        • Hey Ru,
          FWIW, I am Muslim too and don’t wear Hijab but I so love your style and especially the color combinations. I am sure you bring a bright note of color to your workplace and that speaks tons of how strong a personality you have.

  19. Okay. So it’s been 3 days since I went in for the 4th round. I thought it went well, but I expected to hear from them. And now I’m starting to get pissed. I went through 4 rounds. I took 2 separate days from work. They owe me an email, at least.

    And, to top it all off, my cupcake hasn’t arrived! It’s employee appreciation week. We’re all supposed to receive cupcakes from our managers (the department heads, not our actual managers) at 2:00 today. The cupcakes are supposed to be accompanied by a “thank you.” And, yes, I was really annoyed to discover that my actual boss wouldn’t be delivering the cupcake and the “thank you.”

    • I went in for a fourth round too and it took TWO WEEKS for them to call me and tell me that they went with the other finalist. I think a week is pretty standard – hang in there Bunkster!

    • Bunkster a big virtual cupcake for you from overseas.
      I am hoping you’ll get to the job where your manager appreciates your quality of work daily.

  20. i’m a white woman so grain of salt and all that, but my group of girlfriends includes white and black women, and it’s always the black women who judge other black women for having natural hair. we call them out on it of course, and they know, but explain that it’s just cultural and natural = messy in their view. i have no idea what any of my girlfriends look like with natural hair!

    • I’m not condoning the attitude, but I think that’s because black women understand, in a way that you cannot, what it’s like to go through life with hair that is radically different from the stated norm.

      Appearance has always been an issue for black people. For centuries they were made to feel ashamed because of their features, which did not conform to the European standard.

      A relative once offered to pay me to cut off my hair during one of my early experiments with natural hair. Admittedly, my efforts were inconsistent back then, but that was because of a lack of products, salons, basic hair care info. I’m glad I didn’t give up.

      It’s not so easy to love what you have if an entire culture is telling you you’re ugly and you have no methods for enhancing your looks.

      Things have changed.

      • I agree with you that things have changed. My friends and I are in our 40s – I see more young women in their 20s feeling comfortable with natural hair. But not without my friends checking them out and either silently not silently disapproving. ;)

        I found Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” so interesting. My friend B spends 8+ hours every third weekend or so on her hair – completely consistent with what he said in the film.

        • should have been an “or” in there silently OR not silently

        • DominicanSalonSeeker :

          I haven’t seen “Good Hair” yet because I’m afraid that Chris Rock does not tell the whole story, that is, explain why SOME, not all, black women would spend that kind of time on their hair. I would never spend 8 hours on my hair.

          I am under the impression that he short-shrifts the cultural pressures on black women to meet an impossible beauty standard. I actually read white critics’ reviews that took literally a statement about some woman not having had her hair touched by her husband since 1987.

  21. Agree with everything, especially about the caution of changing your hairstyle too often with wigs, weaves, etc. I sat behind a woman in law school who did this every month. I always enjoyed seeing whatever new hairstyle she was rocking, but it’s also the kind of thing that people notice. Plus people who know less about how black hair works won’t understand how you can go from a short sleek bob to long braids in one day and will want to talk about it. (Watching this classmate’s hair change was how I, a white woman, learned.) And those who do know how much time this can take may wonder why you’re spending that time on your hair and not on your work.

    • “And those who do know how much time this can take may wonder why you’re spending that time on your hair and not on your work.”

      Absolutely. Same issue with elaborate manicures and very long nails.

      • Don’t most women take care of their personal grooming including hair and nails during their personal time. Not sure the attitude “why are they spending time on their appearance instead of work” flies.

        • Anonymous :

          Why is bad to change your hair? I think it looks fun! Why would anyone judge a woman for changing wigs anymore than they would judge them for changing shoes. Makes me sad.

  22. Barrister in the Bayou :

    I’m Dominican and Puerto Rican with curly, leaning more towards wavy, hair that goes past my bra. I only straighten my hair in the “winter” because I’m mildly obsessive and would probably burn all my hair off if I tried to keep it straight in the summer (flat ironing the frizz away all day).

    I have to admit that I still struggle with the idea of what “professional” hair looks like. Last week I thought I was going to have to second chair a jury trial for a day and I thought to myself, “dang now I have to straighten my hair” – but I kind of thought to myself, what for? But more importantly, I thought about who was I doing it for. Is it for my Caucasian boss? The older African American judge that is only exposed to Mexicans? The jury which would have been about 60% white 40% black? I couldn’t think of a good reason to straighten it, and I think I am starting to make my peace with my hair being professional in its crazy long curly glory… as long as its not frizzy and I keep it out of my face.

    BTW: many of my girlfriends are black and I’ve noticed that they catch more flack from other black women when they decide to go natural. What do you mean you’re not going to relax/perm your hair anymore? You’re going to cut how much off (referring to relaxed longish hair)? Why would you want to walk around with “nappy” hair all day (just saying what I hear)? You’re really giving up weaves? I think its so unfortunate.

  23. Woman of Color :

    I have not been checking in to Corporette as regularly as I used to. Blame it on being a new mommy. But surprise, the day I check is when a question I posted more than two years ago is the topic of conversation. I guess it means I need to be here more often. I posted that question before starting as a summer associate at my firm. I am now 1+ years in private practice and I no longer have a mini afro, but rather a very closely cropped boy cut, that is very fitting. I have not really received any questions about my hair, since there really isn’t anything too controversial. Questions and comments about my nationality and my name are a different story and a different thread.

  24. I am SO glad to see this post on here today! I just started reading Corporette a few months ago and had really wanted to see this type of question addressed because it is something that all of us with curly or kinky hair have pondered as professionals, I’m sure. I know I have many times.

    I’m a black female and I have had natural hair since September 2009 when I did the “Big Chop” about 2 weeks after getting my final relaxer. Needless to say, my hair was super short after that, but it has grown a great deal during these 2 years. I pretty much just do wash and go type styles with a head band. For some special occasions, I get a blow out which usually shocks my friends (“I didn’t know your hair was so long!”) I think I was always told that natural hair was a hassle when actually, it has been much more low maintenance than my previously chemically treated hair. I love it.

    People in Philly generally compliment me on my natural hair choice. The blow out was the only time when I received mixed reactions at my current business casual workplace. I think it was a little much for some of my coworkers. A TWA (teeny weeny afro) is much easier to handle for some of them than a Big Afro. Now, I leave that choice for nights out on the town or weekend trips. Unfortunately, some of my family and friends in my home state of NC can’t quit understand why I want to walk around with this “nappy mess” on my head instead of getting it straightened.

    I was worried about my hair when I went to interview for a position at a rather conservative office, but I decided that I needed to go into the interview with my hair in the same style that I would normally wear. If they couldn’t accept me, natural hair and all, then I realized that it probably wasn’t a place where I would want to work anyway. Thankfully, that place called me with a job offer last weekend!

  25. DominicanSalonSeeker :

    Related threadjack: Can anyone recommend a Dominican hair salon in NYC?

    I have thick, curly/kinky hair (3C/4a if you are familiar with that system) and am frequently taken for someone of Dominican descent. I have been told more than once that there are many fairly inexpensive Dominican salons that cut hair like mine. (I want to keep it natural, not get it blown dry straight.) I have never succeeded in getting any names and I can’t see myself roaming Washington Heights in the hopes of happening upon a good place.

    I’ve gone to the well-known curly hair salons, and they’re very good, but it would be nice to have a cheaper alternative now and then.

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

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