Open Thread — Ponytails at the Office: Yea or Nay?

ponytails at the office2016 Update: Check out our latest discussion on whether ponytails count as professional hairstyles

Recently, we were watching the trailer for the new Sandra Bullock movie, The Proposal, and were struck by the fact that, yet again, Hollywood portrays a savvy business woman wearing a high ponytail.  Which brought up a few questions in our minds — are high ponytails appropriate?  What about low ponytails?  Sweet Hot Justice amusingly called it a “welfare-mother ponytail,” and we’ve heard of some girls who have a limit on the number of days a week they can wear a low ponytail at the office — yet another, curly-haired friend of ours said she felt it made her hair look neater than if she wore it loose and always wears a ponytail.  Similarly, some of our friends insist a low ponytail makes them look older and more professional, while other friends worry the ponytail makes them look younger.

For our $.02, our dislike of the high ponytail has always been more about comfort — the elastic always starts to make our head and our hair hurt after a while.  Also, that’s our general look when we work out, which makes it seem too… depressing, given that working, working out, and sleeping are the main things we do, with a few nights of “going out” thrown into the mix, as well.

ponytails-officeAs for the low ponytail, we have no problems with it.  It’s certainly our look of choice after the secretaries have left for the day and we’re settling in for a long night of work (that or a very messy bun) — but that said, as long as the ponytail is neat we see no reason why women can’t wear it as part of their working wardrobe.  Personally, both as a way to deal with layers and as a way to add some volume to the look, we’ve been a fan of what we’ve always thought of as a half-Gibson Girl ponytail, twisting the hair back around itself, as better explained in this YouTube video by xFLYNNIEx (end look pictured at right).  But then we worry that we’ve looked a bit like John Adams or something .  (We’ve worn it with the ponytail in the back, not to the side, as she does.)

What do you guys think?  Are ponytails acceptable? Should there be a limit on days, or on timing that you wear it?  Is there an age limit on certain styles, in one direction or the other?  Are there any comfortable elastics you use?  What about the side ponytail — they’re definitely coming back.  Is it inappropriate to be worn at an office where people inevitably have actual memories of the ’80s? (Should we run a poll on this? Let us know in comments.)


  1. I try not to wear pony tails too often, but I look very young. However, when I wear them on the weekends, etc., the clear Goody elastics are the best. They’re not heavy, they don’t hurt my head, and they’re less likely to leave an indentation in my hair for when I take the pony out! But I think with the right hair and face, a ponytail is acceptable.

  2. No side ponytails in the office, ever!

    I have generally noticed that people respond better to me when I wear my hair down as opposed to a ponytail. But I have one in for at least part of almost every work day. My hair can’t always handle daily blowdrying and my second day hair sometimes is in bad need of the ponytail. But never in court, at a depo, etc.

  3. I have very thick, long, curly, blond hair and unless I shower every morning before work and blow dry (for an hour) a ponytail or bun it is. It looks polished and is pulled out of my face, which makes it less of a distraction for coworkers and clients. I get compliments on my hair from time to time, so a ponytail can’t be all that bad.

  4. For some reason, even though it is straight, my hair just does not look good down. It looks much more polished and pulled-together pulled back in a ponytail or bun.

  5. I’m a NYC lawyer and I wear a ponytail nearly every day – whether I start out with one or not. I have above-the-shoulder straight hair and bending over documents at my desk all day makes my hair fall in my face far too much. I don’t think I have ever had anyone remark one way or the other about it. Although I will admit it looks much better when I keep up on my haircuts and I wear it down. I’m just long past my last haircut and the ponytail is sleek and easy.
    As for favorite holders – I prefer the Goody Stayput collection. I have thick but fine hair which is generally very slippery. A lot of elastics tend to slide out but these do as promised and stayput – until they are stretched out. the headbands are good for working out but they tend to slide off easier but I think that is because my head is small…..

  6. I think a ponytail, when done correctly with a good elastic that doesn’t stand out, is perfectly fine. I have long hair and prefer a ponytail on days when I know I will be looking down at documents all day.

  7. Anonymous :

    I never realized that people put so much thought into this…now I feel like I’m missing something I should have considered.

    Anyway, I wear a ponytail more than half the time. I have thin hair, and spending the time necessary to dry and style it in the morning isn’t a guarantee that it will look good all day if I leave it down. Even when I keep up with cuts and highlights, there are some days when after a few hours of being down, my hair loses all volume and looks sort of scraggly. More often then not, pulling my hair back is neater and more professional looking.

    As for holders, I use the goody no-pull holders in brown. I tried the clear ones for a while, but found they weren’t all that gentle on my fine hair.

  8. Anonymous :

    Until I got my fabulous new cut, I had long curly hair. It was a ponytail or a mess. Ponytails work best when it is really just gathering the hair back, then covering the goody holder with a pretty barrette, or fabric or something. That way you look styled, not just scraped back into a ponytail.

  9. I’m a huge fan of the ponytail. That said, a ponytail is one thing–laziness is another. The higher the ponytail the sleeker it should be in order to maintain a professional look. Flyaways and sloppy or colorful hair ties should be avoided, and it’s always good to take a piece of your own hair to cover the band if you have a few minutes it the morning; it looks more polished.

    I take offense to the welfare-mother ponytail comment in the article referenced above. I’m not exactly sure what that is supposed to mean, but it sure sounds like it might be a personal style problem, not a ponytail problem.

  10. This might be a silly question, but what are some other ways to wear long hair at the office? Just down all the time? Is there something besides wearing it down and in a ponytail that would work in an office?

    I look awful with shorter hair, and I hate the maintenance involved – my hair is virtually maintenance-free when long but gets kind of halfway wavy (and not in a good way) when short. As a 20-something, though, I don’t want my long hair to make me look even younger by wearing it in a ponytail all the time.

    I usually wear it in a low ponytail, but I would love to hear some other suggestions!

  11. Anonymous :

    Another suggestion: half up half down. You can gather the hair by your temples and pull it back with a hair pin at about the middle of you head. This looks pretty professional and it solves the problem of having hair in your eyes.

  12. Alexandra :

    It’s definitely a tough call. Wearing a ponytail in the middle or low looks the best in a corporate environment. I would save wearing a high ponytail for Fridays or the weekend. It might seem silly to analyze the height of the ponytail to some, but it really does make an impression on others.

  13. I second J’s question at 5:16–can we have an article on styles for longer hair at the office besides down and ponytail? I feel like buns make me look like a librarian or a ballerina, but that’s about the only other thing I can come up with besides up in a clip.

  14. Like the other curly-haired girls here, a high ponytail (done right!) I think looks actually more professional than when I wear my hair down. In fact, I am suprised to hear people say that they felt more professional with their hair down since I always thought that women were supposed to wear their hair back – low ponytail, half up, etc. – if it was past shoulder length for formal situations like court and interviews. I personally think that younger women wearing their (long) hair down just looks like they are trying to be “pretty” rather than “professional” – not that we can’t do both but professional should come first.

  15. PS – to anon with the new great cut – please give me details!! What kind of a cut? Any online pics you could point to? thanks!!

  16. “welfare mother ponytail” isn’t “amusing” in the least – it’s elitist. I’m pretty sad to read that kind of snobbery here on my favorite fashion blog.

  17. tinylawyer :

    While we’re at it, if anyone could share tips on how to put thick wavy hair up in a ponytail without it looking lumpy, I’d greatly appreciate it! I have so much trouble with this.

  18. Anonymous :

    Yasmin: pics coming to my law firm website soon. I got it cut shoulder length but tapered. Shorter in the front, longer in the back. It is also layered to lose some of the weight that was literally making my neck and shoulders hurt with trying to hold all that hair up. It frames my face more since I have a bit of bobblehead look going if it doesn’t. That’s why ponytails didn’t work. It was the equivalent of short hair for me.

    The front is long enough so I can push it behind my ears if it bothers me. Since my hair is so curly, it is very curly on the ends now. I wash it, towel it dry, twist some of it with fingers if I feel like it and go. Long enough to prevent bobblehead syndrome, short enough to be out my way. I absolutely positively love it.

  19. tinylawyer :

    While we’re at it, if anyone could share tips on how to put thick wavy hair up in a ponytail without it looking lumpy, I’d greatly appreciate it! I have so much trouble with this.

  20. Delta Sierra :

    E at 4:49, I agree about the welfare-mother ponytail remark, it’s offensive. Nothing wrong with a tidy ponytail at work. It’s better than long, loose hair on your shoulders, which I think looks unprofessional – especially if you are leaving hairs all over the office. Also, for people like me with hair that will. not. stay. up. no matter what I do or what I use, it’s pretty much the only alternative. In France 2 years ago I saw a lot of seriously chic business women with not-too-high ponytails tied with a black oblong thin silk scarf, in a bow, not too bulky, the whole bow was about the bulk of a man’s fist. Lots of black suits with white shirts. Looked great on them for sure. How do some women do that? They really have that ‘effortless’ thing that people talk about. Makeup is simple but perfect. Their clothes never shift position. Their hair stays put. Sigh. Someone should teach classes in this. I guess that’s one reason we come to Corporette, hoping to achieve that, or our own take on it.

  21. Sorry to double-post, but I had a 20-something female boss who wore a French twist every time she saw clients, and down and straight otherwise. It was very flattering and looked amazing. I just can’t do a great twist on myself.

  22. It’s funny, because I was just noticing at my firm (I’m a summer associate) that all the women seem to wear their hair down all the time. Or I see a few wearing it half-up, and once so far (second week) I’ve seen a bun. It makes me feel self-conscious about wearing a ponytail at work, but I think that a ponytail done right looks professional. I like to part my hair toward the side like I normally do for wearing it down and pull it back into a mid-height ponytail. A ponytail straight back looks too athletic/casual on me, but I don’t think that’s the case for everyone.

    When it’s down, it’s usually tucked behind my ears, and I’m not sure how professional that looks. Plus, when I’m working at my desk, I constantly play with it while trying to concentrate when it’s down.

  23. How about comments relating to women of color and their corporate hair issues?

  24. I just cut 5 inches off of my very long blonde hair to start my new job at an LA law firm because I just didn’t think I could ever wear it down – it was near my waist. But it’s still pretty long and I would love some ideas of good ways to wear it up beyond ponytail/bun.

    • Braids are awesome, they make a pony or bun more fun and change things up!

  25. Hair pulled back looks more professional to me than worn down, as long as it’s pinned low. But the high ponytail? Maybe someone here can carry it off, but the super-sleek high pony tail reminds me of the salesgirl at the boutique or MAC counter. No thanks!

    I agree about the Parisienne look with a small silk scarf, it does look very chic.

  26. I think that even if there is something wrong with a ponytail at work it is obviously so necessary to many of us that we ought to band together and decide by fiat that it is OK.

  27. I heard a speaker once say that your hair needs to look like you did something with it…. i.e. that you took time to style it. If that’s a ponytail but done neatly.. then ok. Here in the midwest… our probably is with the women who show up to work with wet hair. YIKES.

  28. This has been a source of constant confusion for me, so thanks for posting.

    I tend to wear my long, thick, curly hair in a bun or a mid-height ponytail. The former feels too severe unless its a little messy, but then it is messy – and the latter can make me look even younger than I am (late 20s).

    There is no way I could wear my hair down (or even just half up) without looking like a mess. The thought of blow-drying my hair for 2 hours every morning (I have 2 hairdressers blow dry it at once when I get my hair done) is just horrifying.

    I also can’t go to a short cut – my hair is just too thick and curly (and I like the length) to be managable when short.

    In my ideal world I’d have a sleek ponytail tied with an Hermes twilly or something equally cute but somehow won’t look immature and unprofessional. In this world it’s whatever gets my hair out of my face without too much effort.

    So – help!

  29. I agree that ponytails at work are fine at the office as long as they are neat. And if I were going to court with long hair, I would always pull it back rather than risk subconsciously touching my hair. Having said that, when I had long, fine hair, I noticed I was ending up putting my hair up in a ponytail at work daily (even if I started the day with it down). The inertia/laziness told me it was time to change to a shorter, more professional, haircut.

    As for other long hair dos, I agree that the half up/half down works well — you can get some neutral metal barrettes that will do the job and lie flatter than hair elastics.

  30. Wow. I sure hope that there is nothing wrong with the low ponytail at work, since that is how I wear my hair at least 80% of the time. A low ponytail with a natural part looks professional. On me, the look is nearly identical to how I look with my hair pulled into a bun at the nape of my neck (and surely no one will argue that is inappropriate).

    I use the Goody elastics. I go back and forth about whether I prefer the clear ones or the ones that match my hair. The clear ones seem to last longer without getting stretched out and ruined, though.

    If I stay late into the evening, I have been known to switch to the high ponytail, or worse, the high half-assed bun, but only if I’m fairly certain that I won’t be running into anyone who might care.

    I think that the high ponytail can look professional, but only if you have the right hair for it (sleek, fine, and straight — or very curly).

    I wear my hair in very few ways at work: low ponytail, low bun, down and blown dry straight, or front half pulled back with a small claw clip.

  31. I’m a clerk and have noticed during court that the women with longer hair who have their hair tied back in a low ponytail, usually with a barrette or something nicer than a goody elastic, look the most polished. Hair can be a distraction, particularly when all eyes are on you.

  32. I had never thought that ponytails at work were a problem (assuming it’s not a side ponytail or really high) but last year when we interviewed summer associates one of my colleagues was horrified that an interviewee wore a ponytail. I still think she’s in the minority and as someone with thick curly hair, I sometimes have to rock the pony at work. And honestly I think a low ponytail in court is better than you standing at the podium or counsel table playing with your hair… I think you just need to go with what works for your hair/face.

  33. I think ponytails are the most professional way to your hair, especially when you are under 30. I am an attorney, and I would never go to court with my slightly below shoulder length hair down. For one thing, most people tend to flip their hair back without even noticing and it can become distracting. An easy way to prevent that is to wear your hair up. Also, it makes attractive women look like they are trying to be pretty (and you can still be pretty with your hair up). . . I think it can take away from credibility.

    With that being said, a good ponytail takes me almost as long as flat ironing or hot rolling my hair. Sloppy 5 minute ponys look just that, sloppy.

    I find that I look best when I slick my bangs to the side also. I usually do a side part with a mid to low pony. (I have a very round face.) I give my hair a bit of texture (to help with a good ponytail, I actually use a bit of cheap mouse,which is sticky, to help my hair form into the pony tail. . . I have fine hair, but it is very thick). Once it is gathered correctly, I secure it. Then, I take the edge of the comb and push the crown of it up a bit to give it a lift. Then, I secure the life underneath the ponytail with three long bobby pins.

    I have always worn my hair like this to interviews and court appearances and had both men and women tell me how professional I look. With that being said, I am 25 and look pretty young. So, the ponytail makes me look a bit older…

    For other hair styles (I wear my hair up twice a week so that I don’t have to wash it every day.) I wear a nice bun. Or, sometimes I get a little crazy and pull a Sarah Palin (hair up with some curl, with a lift). I also believe a clean, loose, side ponytail is okay for a business casual office.

    I hope this helps young females with long hair!

  34. What about banana clips? (not this is not a joke – black or dark brown of course) or Headbands?

    • Anonymous :

      We were having the discussion of headbands at work, and although we all love them, we can’t seem to picture them as being professional. I would love to hear what others think about this issue though?

  35. I’m surprised no one has mentioned a french braid, particularly the style with a tucked tail. I have just past the shoulder, thick wavy hair and that is my style of choice. It keeps things neat and tidy and is very feminine.

    I’m also a fan of the half-up/half-down look. It does a great job of keeping the hair out of my face, but is still softer.

    While a high pony can look professional on those with sleek hair, it’s a bit cheerleader for most. Additionally, there’s always the “mutton dressed as lamb” effect of a more mature woman wearing the style. I would think that a low pony looks best on those who are a bit older (40+) and shouldn’t be wearing such a young look.

    I also agree with those that have commented that your hair should appear as if you have taken the time to style it. (And wet hair at the office?!?!?!?!?! GASP)

  36. The era was great. I wore my hair wet to the office all the time. Sigh.

  37. We were taught that we should have our hair back at court. I was shocked that this suggested pony tails were less professional than down. Mine goes back and forth between all down, half up, low pony, higher pony, low pony in the center w/ the remaining hair over one shoulder [i guess modified side pony] and one of my faves just pull up in a pony but have the ends tucked under – is that called a chigon or something?

    I was also told that attractive girls have a hard time not coming across as flirty. Our body movements can often be interpreted that way. Hair down makes that more pronounced I think and hair tied back low helps.

  38. When I wear a high pony I’ve been called Barbie – I think they meant I looked goofy with my long blonde-ish hair in that style, but I think it looks fine on other women.

    I prefer a bun. I’m not sure why, maybe because its more comfortable with the heavy hair. I can’t do a real french twist, I just twist it back in a fancy france luxe clip when my hair is in my face.

  39. no side ponies allowed! i usually eschew the high pony as too gymmy, but a low or medium pony is good for work. wrapping hair around the elastic, or subbing a flat barette clip, or (my newest fav) a fancy jeweled ponytail holder from j.crew definitely dresses it up. i go for the high bun at the end of the day, since mine is inevitably messy. i also wear a braid a lot.

    i rarely start the day with a pony, but when i’m busy i feel like i’m as entitled to it as i am to low-heeled shoes– constantly wearing hair down is just punishment for being female and gives me angst.

  40. I wear my hair in a low bun or ponytail (with a side part) every day. And, I style it when wet and let it dry that way. You can have my damp low-bun when you pry it from my cold dead hands!

    But really, its the only way that I’ve found in my 25 years of live to make my frizzy wavy hair behave itself. And, I think I might be one of the rare(?) women that looks much better with her hair back than down.

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