Is Curly Hair Professional?

Pictured: Curls 1/27/09, originally uploaded to Flickr by dianecordell.Is curly hair professional enough for interviews? Reader R writes in to ask the question, which has come up a ton of times in comments but hasn’t been discussed directly. So let’s talk about it. First, her Q:

I am 23 and interviewing for a new position. I have the suit/shoes/accessories combo set for interviews, but my problem is my hair. I have very curly (shoulder length)hair, which is made more curly because I live in the very hot, humid South. I do have any frizz under control (with a veritable arsenal of hair products), but I have had trouble deciding exactly what to do with my hair on interview. I have worn my hair both straight and curly for interviews in the past, but it takes forever to blow my hair out, and it seems like my potential new bosses should see me the way I will really look when I come to work everyday. What do you think?

This question hits near and dear to my heart because, as I’ve mentioned a few times, the older I get, the curlier/wavier my hair gets. For my $.02: There is nothing unprofessional about curly hair. It looks beautiful, and a lot of strong, professional women I know (whose style I envy!) in fact have long curls. Furthermore, I strongly believe that it takes more time and energy to FIGHT your hair’s natural texture than it does to work with it — time that, frankly, is better spent elsewhere for most women.  (Pictured: Curls 1/27/09, originally uploaded to Flickr by dianecordell.)

That said, I think a few facets of The Curly Life give women pause as to its professionalism. A lot of these are personal observations, so I’m curious to hear what my fellow curly girls will say.

a) Wet hair is not professional. My curls/waves look best if they airdry. Which means that either I have to be up and out of the shower about an hour and a half before leaving for the destination, or I show up with slightly wet hair (depending how cooperative the commute is). Most women would agree that wet hair is not professional. So if you’re going anywhere important — certainly to court, a big meeting, or an interview, or even just for your regular office look — your hair should be dry.

b) Personally, my curls are unpredictable, which means that for me I would not rely on them for an interview. Some days I’ll come out of the shower — having used the same products I used the day before, the same drying techniques I’ve used before — but something in the air that day makes them dry beautifully. And I feel like a million bucks on those days! Other days I’ll repeat the exact same techniques and come out looking like a frizzy-haired mess. I’m still working out the kinks (ha ha) to my system, but for now if I have anything important going on then I’ll probably get a professional blow-out or flatiron my hair (which is so, so much worse for your hair than a blow-out). Pulling your hair back is another option.  I totally envy those curly girls who have their systems down pat — my own curly hair system has gotten a lot better over the past year or so but it still needs tweaking.  (I’d say what I’m doing now, but it wouldn’t be a complete discussion without a list of the things that I’ve tried and rejected, which would take too long and, I suspect, not be that interesting for anyone but me!)

c)  Next-day curls are something unto themselves. This doesn’t relate to professionalism, but it does factor into time (and is one of the reasons why I will spend more time in the winter to blowdry my hair).  I’ve tried a number of products designed to “perk up” next day curls, but they all offend me in some manner — either they smell too much, they make my hair too crunchy, or they make my hair LOOK too crunchy or wet (just a spritzer filled with water seems to work best for me if I try anything).  So in the winter, when it takes forever for my curls to dry and the air is fairly dry anyway, I will spend 5-10 minutes trying to blowdry my hair straight, which is all I generally have patience for.  (I do find that anti-frizz treatments help tremendously, specifically John Frieda Frizz-Ease Hair Serum, Extra Strength Formula or Lotus Shield Frizz Control Anti-Frizz Treatment.  I’m looking forward to trying the reader-recommended John Frieda Frizz-Ease 3-Day Straight Semi-Permanent Styling Spray this fall.)  This past winter it was really easy to ride that one blowout for 2 or 3 days because I wasn’t working out (I was way too nauseous and exhausted from December to February anyway) and when I started working out again I was primarily doing workouts that didn’t work up quite a sweat… I’ll be curious to see how it goes this winter when I return to more rigorous workouts like running and my beloved Jari Love/Jillian Michaels/The FIRM DVDs.  (For the record you can run well into your pregnancy — one rockstar friend ran up 5-10K daily up to her 8th month! — but one of the first pregnancy symptoms that hit me was a real lack of lung capacity, so running was really uncomfortable.  Aerobic DVDs aren’t generally encouraged because your balance is off and your risk of falling is greater.)

Those are actually the most negative things I can come up with for curly hair — so if Reader R has her system down better than mine, I encourage her to go to the interview with her regular curly hair.  Readers, what are your thoughts on the professionalism of curly hair?  Does anyone think that curly hair, in and of itself, is NOT professional — and if so why?  For those of you with curly hair, what are your best tips for getting it consistently styled?


  1. The link between naturally curly hair, black women, and vulgar racial stereotype is pretty damn clear in this ad, which has mercifully been pulled. (Not they aren’t all horrendous.)

    • Sort of related:

      I was reading an Amazon review of curly hair product. Another customer had contributed a review saying that she was one of those unfortunate white women with “black people hair.” She praised the product in question, saying she no longer felt that she had “pubic hair” growing on her head. Not that I need to spell it out, but in addition to her ignorance about the texture of black hair, which is varied, she explicitly linking such hair to sex, filth, and shame. The Summer’s Eve ad was doing something similar, putting a corona of natural African American hair over a talking vulva. I hope you noticed that no other group’s hair was singled out in those odds. Hair is used as a signifier.

      A while back, had a discussion about a video that seemed to date from the 1970s. It was never clear whether it was a real sitcom or some kind of (extremely unfunny) parody. A white girl of about 10 comes back to her white suburban neighborhood with her short, dark brown hair permed. It’s not a bad perm, her hair is healthy, but it is very, very curly. For the next several minutes, everyone mocks her for looking like a “little black boy.”

      So if there were any doubts, I hope people understand that there is indeed a racial aspect to the way curly hair is treated in America. This is way more than a simple cosmetic issue.

  2. Marie-Christine :

    Unless you’re right out of the shower, and I mean still in the bathroom, most people can’t tell your hair is wet (unless they know you really well). If you get to work some time after you get out of the shower, your hair may feel wet to you if you touch it, but nobody at work is going to touch it. And it’s especially true for curly hair, which does not look the least bit different if it’s not actually dripping. So stop obsessing..

    • My problem isn’t that my hair is dripping or looks wet. I wish I had the “wet length,” which is at my shoulder blades. It shrinks quite a bit as it dries, an the appearance is considerably different, making it difficult to predict the final shape. I have neither the time nor the inclination to keep checking my hair in a mirror, assuming I can find one. If I must go out with my hair wet, and need control I put it back in a ponytail. But the ponytail leaves an impression after the hair is dry.

      At salons, I’ve seen stylists place paper towels or paper between hair clips and the hair if they want to avoid a ridge. Yesterday, I was hunting around for a new kind of hair tie that would approximate that so I could put my hair back and wear it down later. No luck so far.

  3. I have very curly hair that sometimes does curly/wavy, sometimes does loose (or occasionally tight!) pincurls and sometimes does a bit of both at once. I agree with Kat here: curls are nothing if not unpredictable.

    I don’t actually remember the last time I straightened my hair. On the few occasions in past years that I did straighten my hair, it would become a frizzy mess, regardless of the products I used or whether a professional was doing it for me. I would actually venture to say that my curls are more professional than straight hair would be on me. My routine:

    – I cut my own hair, dry, as Curly Friend mentioned. I never could find a salon that could cut my hair well, so I finally bought my own shears, and I’ve never been happier.
    – I wash my hair every 4 days, but only using a curl-friendly conditioner (Suave Naturals…there are many others). I never shampoo.
    – On the hair washing days that fall on weekends, I follow up the wash with a Shea Moisture hair treatment, which I leave in for about a half hour.
    – I rinse my hair with cold water after the shower, then squeeze out the excess water, scrunch a clear gel into it, and plop it into an old cut-up t-shirt to help it dry without frizzing or going flat on top (I remove the tee after about 15 minutes and let it air-dry after that).
    – If I need my hair to be dry faster than air-drying, I use a diffuser on a low setting.
    – On non-hair washing days, I spritz it with a mixture of that same gel and water, then scrunch with my fingers.

    The curls are different every day, but I haven’t had a bad hair day since I started doing this. But this is just what works for me. Hopefully you can find what works for you!

    • Curl Friend :

      The new edition of the “Curly Girl” book (I should be getting royalties, considering the number of times I’ve recommended this book) demonstrates how one can cut one’s own hair. Given my general clumsiness, I’d probably only do it to maintain some shape between appointments. I believe the brand of hair scissors recommended was Hikari.

      A stylist once told me that “Curly hair has to be allowed to do what it wants to do.” You can’t beat it into submission, as you can with straight hair and a blow dryer. You have to offer gentle persuasion instead.

  4. Try DevaCurl!!! I have been using it for 5 years and it is amazing…

    • I use many of the DevaCurl products. Another line I use from time to time is Hair Rules. I use the Purifying Shampoo once a month to remove any buildup (although I don’t think that’s actually an issue). The Daily Cleansing Cream is pleasant and the Quench Conditioner is good.

      My only beef is the price. Why are so many women’s hair products so expensive?

  5. I look about 12 years old if I let my hair go into its wild natural curls… so I will continue to straighten it until I start to show my age a little more. But I could never make it look neat unless it was slicked down… How do you all deal with flyaways? Whenever I let my hair curl and put it back, I wind up with a halo of frizz around my updo.

    But when I was growing up, people would walk up and “boing” my curls…. pull one straight, then watch it bounce back in amazement. It drove me nuts.

  6. I recently moved to Floria and need to interview as well. I have hair that loves the humidity. It frizzes in seconds. For interviews I will blow dry it straight and then either put it back in a small barrette or into a headband. That way I don’t have to worry about what it may be doing. Also some buildings/offices are warm and this helps keep the frizzies away.

  7. Curl Friend :

    Why does it need a defense?

    “In Defense of Curly Hair.”

    Unbelievably, the author of a biography on Colette, spells it “Collette” in this article.

  8. and so anon :

    I couldn’t but think of this thread upon reading this article, written by a 45-year-old woman who finally gave up on tanning:

    “When I tossed my self-tanners and reverted to the bluish complexion of my Scottish ancestors, I was free. It was the same liberation I imagine curly-haired women have when they finally reject the straightening iron.”

    She wasn’t making a “statement, not that there’s anything wrong with statements. :-) She merely came to terms with the fact that she’d been spending huge amounts of time and money while possibly risking her health (her mother had skin cancer) in pursuit of a look that she could never achieve. Some people just don’t have skin that tans well.

    Instead, she decided to figure out how to enhance what she was born with. In a culture in which sporting a tan is a sign of beauty and privilege for the fair-skinned, this was not easy.

    Curly haired women who don’t straighten or blow out their hair are the same way: They want to find ways to wear their hair that are attractive, fairly easy to maintain and don’t damage their hair.

  9. I will never forget the day when my all-time-favorite sales professor became my least favorite person, all with one insulting sentence: “Curly hair is not professional, get a blow-out, it’s necessary.”

    At first, I attributed his lack of feminine knowledge to his 60 year old balding self. Then, a wave of insecurity struck me. Is he right? After all, he has he doctorate in sales.

    Six years later, I hear how a bun is more professional. Tomorrow, I’ll probably hear about how platinum blonde is best. Honestly women, whatever you feel most comfortable in is best. If you’re not comfortable with how you look, that’s going to give the biggest impression.

  10. Many women would die for curly hair. I’m a redhead with long thick curly hair. I’ve never had such a thought that having curly hair could be unprofessional. This is crazy it’s not your hair that’s important. I’t YOU that’s inportant your hair has nothing to do with it.

  11. It seems that curly hair, to some people, automatically represents a lack of seriousness. It goes against the slick-backed power suit look women are supposed to aspire to in the corporate world. Perhaps it is because curls are so unabashedly feminine.

  12. I cannot believe someone would ask such a question..really. Is being brunnette, red head or blonde professional??!!! Is being natural, a woman or a man professional??!!! Is having blue or brown eyes professional ??!!

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