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.)

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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?

  10. 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)

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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. @1058: i do like an occasional headband at the office (in black or tortoise)– it goes well with business casual and keeps hair away from my face. i think banana clips are a no go, but it may depend on the person.

  17. NO banana clips. NO scrunchies. (Yes, I have seen it!). No french twists, you look like an aging beauty queen. Headbands are okay if you are younger than, say 35, anything else looks like Hillary Clinton circa 1992.

    Nice-looking high ponytails (like in the Sandra Bullock pic above) are fine. Low or mid ponytails are fine for pretty much everyone.

    Sephora makes a good silicone band (comes in colors that match your hair) for those of us with thin hair.

  18. is it ok to combine the ponytail with glasses? i find i can only do one or the other but not both!

  19. I agree with everyone else – a ponytail is essential when you have thick, curly hair. Mine is loose, and with styling and effort can look nice if down. I wore it this way for my first day of work as a summer associate at a London law firm.
    I can’t even do 1/2 up, 1/2 down without employing a chunky, huge clip which looks silly with the length I have.

    I just got a cut with lots of framing pieces for my face which is essential when pulling back in a ponytail since I can pin them and make it look like I have styled my hair rather than just pulling it back.

    Someone else mentioned it – what about headbands? I assume they are OK for casual Friday, but what about the rest of the week? I was thinking of wearing very thin, black or dark brown ones just to tame my hair.

  20. What about the Sarah Palin look with the clip on the back? That’s what I usually wear at work if my hair isn’t down or in a low ponytail

  21. As a straight guy…I think the pony tail looks credibly similar to a guy rolling up his shirt sleeves in the office. It has always conjured up the image that the woman was getting down to business and didn’t want distractions. Just as the man wouldn’t wear his rolled sleeves into court, I suppose that many women wouldn’t wear a pony tail. However, I noticed that one commentator mentioned she believes that she looks more professional with a pony. I agree, some women can pull it off anywhere and it allows a person to focus on their face rather than looking through their hair to find the woman’s face.

    Just the perspective from a guy…

    P.S. This site has such better decorum among the commentators than sites that appear to be dominated by male readers (e.g. Above The Law). Where did you all find your manners? … I like it.

  22. is it ok to combine the ponytail with glasses? i find i can only do one or the other but not both!

    Sure, but you can never be prom queen.

  23. Ponytails – when done right can be elegant and sophisticated…look at Audrey Hepburn photos – it’s simple, clean and with some gel..looks very professional…

  24. Sole Practioner :

    As my name indicates, i am a sole practioner and have the great fortune to work from home. So for me there are various types of work modes. If i roll out of bed at 3:00am do let my fresh brain chaw on some research project, then it is probably two loose braids (which is my preferred hairstyle for sleeping). If it’s a consultation with a brand new prospective client, then it’s definitely a low pony tail which is braided with the ends tucked under so it looks like a very nice bun. Rather matronly but even at my age i worry about looking too young especially as a first impression. If it’s a client i’ve represented over the years and have at least one major win under my belt, then it could be a high pony tail — might even be jeans and T shirt on a saturday morning appointment for signing papers, reviewing docs, etc. I almost never wear my hair out, even to court, it’s just too much hair and it tickles my face, neck…if my husband wouldn’t keel over and croak, i’d cut it off…but alas…

  25. Anonymous :

    I wish I could do a French braid but I can’t braid my own hair. I always wear my hair in a ponytail. For one thing, pulling the hair back makes you look longer. Hair worn down is aging and often gets in the way. A bun is also appropriate but can look too school marmish at times.

    Upon reflection, many of the women who appear in court wear their hair down and shoulder length. Hair that is longer is pulled back.

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