Guest Post: What Your Hair Says About You

professional hairWe’ve talked a lot about professional hairstyles, from long hair for older women, to maintainable hair, to gray hair, to work-appropriate up-dos and braids.  To continue the conversation, I’m thrilled to introduce you to today’s guest poster, Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., giving you five quick tips to ensure that your hair makes a good impression at work. Dr. Frankel is the author of Corporette-reader favorite Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, and was nice enough to let us her excerpt her most recent book a few years ago, Nice Girls Just Don’t Get ItNGDGtCO was just updated and revised for its 10th anniversary edition. Welcome, Dr. Frankel!Nice Girls Still_3D book and spine

From Cleopatra to Farrah Fawcett, Sinead O’Connor, and Lady Gaga, women make statements about themselves through their choice of hairstyle. Depending on your workplace, expressing your individualism through your hair can be tricky. And not paying attention to it all is an even bigger mistake. When one executive referred a manager to me for coaching he asked, “While you’re at it, can you do something about her hair?” He wasn’t being sexist. When I met her it was clear she did need to do something about it if she was going to be seen as professional and influential.

When Hillary Clinton decided to let her hair grow longer in 2012 – 2013 she created quite a buzz. Even those of us who are not particularly “looks-ist” wondered what she was thinking. And if you notice, as she gets closer to making a decision about running for president, the hair has changed – significantly.

Let me give you some tips for how to handle this hairy dilemma if you want to climb your corporate ladder:

  • If your hair is long, do not play with, twirl, or touch it at work. Every time you touch your hair you take a year off of your maturity and, in turn, credibility. If you have to, sit on your hands.  
  • When making a presentation or attending an important meeting, wear long hair up. There’s a reason for the stereotype of the serious librarian with her hair in a bun. When hair is worn up it gives you the appearance of having more gravitas.
  • As you age, your hair should get shorter. Long hair on older women prematurely ages them by calling attention to facial features that begin to succumb to gravity. If you’re 50 years old and just have to have the Alice in Wonderland look, then wear it up at work… at all times.
  • If you color your hair, get a good colorist and never let your roots show. And while you’re at it, invest in a good hairdresser.  
  • Consider your hair an accessory to the rest of your professional package and treat it accordingly. Nearly 40% of your credibility comes from how you look (50% is how you sound and 10% is what you say). Having the right hairstyle for your age, face, position, and company is an easy way to manage people’s impressions of you.

Readers, what do you think the worst “hair crimes” are?  Have you successfully killed any of these bad habits, or found any great updos, coloring tricks, or more?  


N.B. PLEASE KEEP YOUR COMMENTS ON TOPIC; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course I highly value all comments by my readers, I’m going ask you to please respect some boundaries on substantive posts like this one. Thank you for your understanding!


  1. Senior Attorney :

    I think this is good advice, even though I kind of hate that we have to pay attention to our hair at this level of detail. But I spend a good amount of time and money on my hair and I do think it’s worth it in terms of the effect it has on my overall look.

    I am super jealous of a woman in my service club who has this amazing, amazing silver hair in this fab spiky cut that manages to look edgy and totally professional all at the same time.

  2. brittaland :

    Good advice…I like looking at women higher up in the hierarchy and considering their hair and how it comes across. I recently cut my hair a bit shorter in preparation for my internship this summer, as I’m going for a more polished look with a “long bob.”

    On another note, I’m so thrilled to see Lois Frankel here. I can honestly say that NGDGtCO changed my life by shifting my mindset and helping me rethink how I operate at work (and now, in business school working on my MBA). It is such a practical, eye-opening resource and I wish it was required reading for all women! I am so grateful for this book.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      Yes, thank you for your post Dr. Frankel!

      There was a partner at a previous job I had who I really look up to. Her hair is just past her shoulders and it always looked fantastic and very well taken care of. I don’t think that I ever saw her wear it up, but I never ever saw her touch it.

      My hair is really long and comes down to the middle of my back. It looks really healthy though and I do pull it into a low bun for important events. I’m 30 so I am planning to keep it long, although maybe not this long, for now. I think as long as it looks healthy, I don’t play with it, and pull it back when it is this long when I need to project a super professional image that it is ok.

  3. Just a few weeks ago I gave up on my “weird” hair – for years it’s been plenty of unnatural colors and it’s never been an issue since I’ve been at a pretty casual situations. Now, however, I’ve decided some changes have to happen so I cut it short and dyed it a nice but still relatively natural color. Part of me was expecting to feel bad about it after, like I’d “sold out” my aesthetic or whatever…. turns out, nope. I am just constantly amazed by the lack of effort it now requires.

    Good hairdresser does wonders! :D

  4. I’m an attorney (currently clerking but will be working in big law starting in the fall). My (naturally brunette) hair just about reaches the top of my bra band . I blow dry it or flat-iron it straight and typically wear it down or bobby-pin the two front sections back for a half-up look. Is this professional or not? I’m 28 fwiw. Should I wear my hair up once I start at the firm? Is it an appropriate look to curl just the bottoms so it flows better?

    • Penny Proud :

      Your hair is completely fine. Curl the ends if you feel like it.

    • Orangerie :

      Oh my god, you’re fine. If your hair is clean and neatly styled, it’s appropriate for work.

    • Baconpancakes :

      I got a corporate job and cut my normally long hair to my shoulders. It looked terrible, and because of my short hair, I gained 10 lbs, got into a fight with my mother, and found out my ex had just gotten married. Well, it looked terrible, anyway. The rest of it might’ve been coincidence.

      Anyway, I tried to do the professional short hair thing for awhile, but it honestly didn’t look good on me, so after trying short hair with bangs, without bangs, layered, wavy, curled, and straight, I gave up and grew it back out. Now I have long hair and wear it pulled back most days, or curled or blown out. I do try to avoid overly girly clothes to keep from compounding the pretty little girl look, but I look professional.

      • Orangerie :

        I agree that the overall look is important. If you have long, elaborately curled hair and are wearing a shirt covered in bows with a twee circle skirt, then yeah, definitely a younger look. Neat, unfussy long hair with a sheath dress or a pencil skirt and blouse doesn’t automatically mean immature.

    • Practical :

      You may find that once you start at a big law firm that you don’t WANT to spend the time flat ironing/ blow drying and curling your hair most days. Just be sure to have a backup plan.

      My hair is longer than shoulder length and can look good styled as you say, but I just can’t bring myself to put in the effort most days. Certainly by 6PM I just want it AWAY FROM MY FACE AND NECK!

      So, I’ve bought some ridiculously expensive France Luxe Barrettes to put it back at the base of my neck. It isn’t super attractive, but it is easy. I think it’s slightly more professional than a ponytail.

    • Diana Barry :

      I think it is perfectly professional but it will most likely read young. I wouldn’t worry about it though. :)

    • BigLaw Midlevel :

      You’re probably fine, but I do see many women who look childish with the half-up look, especially with exposed bobby pins. I don’t know if the look is a bit dated or if it’s just that too many actual children wear it, but I’d stay away.

      Also, with BigLaw hours, it can be really hard to keep long, down hair looking nice all day. It will likely need to be re-brushed/combed around 5pm, which is exactly when you don’t want to have to take a few minutes to touch things up.

  5. Anonymous :

    Today my hair is wet. And in a pony tail. And it says “I hate it here “. Loud and clear.

  6. Orangerie :

    I don’t think wearing long hair up automatically projects more authority/maturity. I see plenty of women my age wearing sloppy ponytails to work and it makes them look younger and less authoritative.

    • Same with the super-high trendy sock bun that all the summer associates were rocking last year. All the older partners made remarks about how odd/young it looked. I’m not talking about mid to low style, but the “I’m wearing a bagel on top of my head” look. Might be best saved for the weekend (standard disclaimer: YMMV, know your office, etc).

      • Orangerie :

        LOL at “bagel on top of my head.”

      • I genuinely saw someone with what looked like a bagel on top of their head yesterday. The bun insert she’d used was gigantic so it was almost as wide as her head, and it was right on top of her head, not even high up on the back.
        Very odd.

    • Woods-comma-Elle :

      I don’t like the way I look with my hair up (cue giant forehead), so mine is almost exclusively down. If I had an important meeting or presentation, I would not feel confident with my hair up, so I wouldn’t follow the ‘librarian’ guidance as a strong rule. I can see the point (assuming you look nicely groomed and not sloppy) about hair up, but for me it’s more about feeling confident and hence this is not an option for me. To me, hair up is a day hanging out at home in my sweats or day three after washing my hair when I have no meetings at work and I don’t mind so much what I look like.

      • +1 i absolutely hate how my hair looks when it’s up unless its a straightened sleek pony which isn’t happening for work. I have long, pretty dark brown hair and I’m going to leave it down. Maybe I just dont know enough about how to do my hair but that also sounds like effort, which believe it or not is more than the effort I put in on my long hair.

  7. I seriously bristle at the idea that professional women need to be told how to style their hair. I’m 33 and have long thick straight dark hair, which I let air dry and wear down most of the time because I’d rather spend that extra hour in the morning working out than blowdrying my hair. I show up to court with semi-wet hair all the time. No one cares. I definitely “play” with it while at my desk bc it’s something to do with my fingers while I think. I tried a federal jury case by myself last year and wore my hair down the entire time, and probably played with it while at counsel’s table. I won.

    I know I look young, and I definitely struggle with self-esteem issues and imposter syndrome in my work, but the idea that I’m hurting myself because of how I do (or don’t do) my hair is ridiculous.

    • I watched a speaker panel once with a middle-aged, white male law professor who was leaning all the way down on his desk to one side (head and shoulder resting on desk) and waving a rubber band around a pen non-stop during everyone else’s presentations, while still onstage. Personally I thought it reflected horribly on him, but his career/reputation of course is just peachy. I agree that it’s frustrating to be told to micromanage to this extent in context of experiences like the above.

      • Anon from 1:27 :

        I agree – it’s about the sense of being micromanaged down to my personal habits which I believe have little to do with the quality of my work. The guy on the panel would look strange to me too, but I see that as much more obviously strange than my habit of running my fingers through my hair while writing on a legal pad at a table. I actually have another memory now that I think about it. It was really hot in the courtroom during one trial, and I was in the middle of cross examining a witness when I *instinctually* took the ever-present hair rubber band on my wrist and threw my hair up into a messy little bun. I didn’t even think about it. I won that one too. (Believe me, I’ve lost before, haha.) Maybe it humanized me to the jury. The judge didn’t care or was asleep.

    • I don’t know how you know that “no one cares.” This is the type of thing that subconsciously influences others’ opinion of you. No has said anything to you, and you’ve never gotten “in trouble” and you’ve had career success. But it doesn’t mean that your jury didn’t think that you had the better case AND bad hair.

      I have no opinion about your hair, BTW. But you’re adopting a very defensive posture with a lot of certainty that this doesn’t matter. And it’s really unlikely that no judge, client, supervisor, etc. has ever thought “Wow, great lawyer. How odd that her hair was wet during working hours.”

      • I don’t think your opinion on this is inconsistent with what Anon said. She’s arguing that non-ideal hair presentation, and a little fidgeting, has not interfered with her bottom line (in this case, winning in court). People can think it looks sloppy or whatever, but she’s professionally employed and doing well regardless. Her priorities are intact. Fair enough.

      • Anon from 1:27 :

        Point taken. And you’re right that people probably have noticed. I guess I just don’t care that much. But that’s me – I suppose it’s my little way of fighting the powers that be. FWIW, I am definitely more aware of it and thus don’t do it in extremely formal situations like appellate arguments and interviews.

        • Senior Attorney :

          I do think that wet hair in court is a bit over the line. It does indeed say, loud and clear, that you are fighting the powers that be by choosing not to observe the expected standards of grooming for a lawyer in court. Which is apparently okay with you, so in that case I’m not gonna try to talk you out of it!

          • It’s interesting how the expected standards of grooming for a lawyer in court are different and have changed in different areas. I used to practice in both civil and criminal court. Now I am exclusively in criminal court, and I find the grooming standards much more relaxed. Lawyers still wear suits, but they are not flashy or expensive because most of us don’t make a ton of money. Many women wear flats especially if they will be hanging around for hours at a time, which is common. I’ve seen both sexes in snowboots in front of judges in the winter. There is a sense of camaraderie in criminal court that I find different from civil cases, and somehow that translates into less formality in dress. Not saying it’s good or bad but it’s definitely something to consider.

          • Senior Attorney :

            I’ve definitely seen the differene in expected attire between criminal and civil court. I don’t think wet hair is appropriate for either, though.

    • +1….I intend to keep my long hair as long as it’s still flattering. I mostly wear mine up though.

    • I’ve been told at a corporate women’s group presentation not to play with your hair or do other kinds of grooming in public because “it takes away your power,” as men do not do it. FWIW, I’ve done better than many of my peers, despite this being a bad habit of mine, but I do think in some situations that kind of fidgeting, for both men and women, can be distracting or reveal a weakness. I’ve been in some pretty intense negotiations where all it’s all I can do not to fidget because I don’t want the other side to see me as a vulnerable human being.

      • Anonymous :

        Men don’t play with their hair, but they do adjust their garden hose an awful lot. I’ll stop playing with my hair in the office when they stop groping themselves at their desks. Really, which one is more inappropriate?

        • Manhattanite :

          One of my male supervisors pulls at his eyebrow hairs in meetings. And kinda looks like he’s cleaning his earwax out with a pen cap, too, sometimes. It’s not really appropriate, or particularly nice to look at. But he’s senior enough that it doesn’t detract from his authority, but instead says — you people are so far beneath me that I don’t even care if you see me do this.

        • anonforthis :

          My (male) boss has a rather long ponytail that he is always playing with (in a very masculine way somehow?), and is also quite fond of adjusting the garden hose. Like no qualms about it, in your face jostling it around. He’s the size and build of an NFL player, though, so I don’t think it takes away from his power. I just think it’s gross and inappropriate and probably some weird alpha male thing.

      • Frank doe’s this also! FOOEY! I get alot of coments about my hair–I often wear SCHRUNCHIES so that I do NOT have to pay attention to all the men that tell me to wear my hair DOWN, then up, then in a bun, etc etc. I am NOT a ragdoll that men can just play with. When I was in Pitsburgh, I found a big bag of SCHRUNCHIES for less then I am abel to buy 3 in NYC. So I bought them, but my releatives from Europe took most of them along with some of my new pantie’s. I think they were goieng to bring them to their girlfreind’s back in Europe, but don’t they have SCHRUNCHIES and pantie’s there? I am sure the Answer is “YES”. If anyone in the HIVE know’s otherwize, please explain!!!!!

        Butch LOVES my hair but NOT the schrunchie. So what am I to do, look good for him but be all sweatie in the summer? I say NO. Take me, take my schrunchies. What does the hive think about schrunchies? Even the manageing partner flip-flop’s on this issue. The judge does NOT care to much for my schrunchies either. FOOEY!

    • I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. I found the tone of the post to be a little condescending, especially with respect to older women. However, I think your hair should always be done – whether that’s a blow-out, or a simple updo, or left curly or what not – do your hair. I won’t criticize someone for having long hair or curly hair but I would definitely notice and comment if someone came to work with wet hair. If it takes a few hours to air dry, wash it at night. Wet hair is definitely unprofessional.

      • Then i am unprofessional :

        And I’m okay with that.

        I don’t wash at night b/c I exercise in the morning.

        I will dry it for big events/meetings, but day to day? It dries at my desk. If I’ve missed opportunities, they’ve been so small I haven’t noticed.

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        There is a difference though between sopping wet hair and hair that you are air drying that is dry to the eye (maybe unless you are up super close) but damp to the touch. I typically blow dry my hair but I will occasionally wear it curly. It is very thick. Even if I wash it at 7 it is still damp at noon. I’m sure many with curly hair are the same. My hair doesn’t look wet though. I think it is worse if you have light hair that turns dark while wet and is very clearly just hanging wet. That looks unprofessional.

        • Anon at 2:02 :

          Yes I agree with this – I was referring to the women I see on my commute with lighter hair and it’s very clearly wet. If I wear my hair curly, it often takes a while to airdry completely but it doesn’t look soaking wet which I think is the unprofessional part

      • Anon from 1:27 :

        To be clear, it’s not soaking wet when I get to work or court. Parts of it are usually damp, and within an hour or so it’s fully dry. I run in the mornings and if I didn’t wash my hair afterward I’d have way more problems than the ones you’re implying I have.

        And I do “do” my hair.. I wash it, it eventually dries, it shines, I am complemented for it, and sometimes I’ll twist it into a clip in the middle of the day. If this makes me unprofessional, so be it.

    • Anonymous :

      I also disliked the tone of this post and it confirmed why I don’t follow the NGDGTCO philosophy, much of which seems to encourage continued female mean-girl behavior. Ladies, men do not even notice these things, let alone judge us for them (and *that* is one reason why they GTCO)–why do we continue to criticize and tear down each other for it?

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        I think the point of the book is that men don’t CONSCIOUSLY judge us for these things but that they judge us SUBCONSCIOUSLY for them. Women too. Take a behavior from the book that is considered a ‘”no.” Watch someone who doesn’t do it and someone that does. Which person do you feel looks more competent. Your reaction might surprise you. I thought I wouldn’t care about a lot of the things in the book too but then I think of those I admire and those that annoy me and interestingly the first had the do’s and not the don’ts and the second did the don’ts and not the do’s.

        • I’ve had the opposite experience. Sure, when I imagine imaginary people, all these “rules” matter. But the people I know and work with–even on a tangential basis–are who they are; everything they do goes into my overall conception of them, but there’s no linear relationship between whether their hair is long or styled or never played with and how much I respect them. (Or how much career success they have.)

          I’m a lawyer in a super nerdy area of law so maybe that changes things, but many of the successful women–and men–I see practicing law break every rule in the book and yet do great. And, as a bonus, I suspect a lot of them are probably living reasonably happy and authentic lives.

        • Anonymous :

          That the judgment is subconscious, to the extent it exists, doesn’t make it any more excusable to me. Hypothetically, let’s suppose I outwardly hold no racist or sexist views, but all else equal perceive a white male coworker as more competent than a black female because of something ingrained in my subconscious. That’s a huge problem that I need to correct. Now, whether I judge someone for having a ponytail holder on her wrist is obviously not anywhere near as concerning so I may not work proactively to correct where I would in the former scenario, but at the same time I don’t see the value in reinforcing my subconscious judgment by obsessing over these silly details consciously in the way that NGDGTCO and the like do.

          • + 1 million.

          • Blonde Lawyer :

            I don’t think the book is saying it is okay to have those subconscious judgments. I think it is giving you the tools, if you so wish, to avoid being subconsciously judged. It would be great if the author could write the same book educating managers about potential ways they are unintentionally sexist and reminding them to not think less of a subordinate for having long hair or bringing in cookies. I guess it comes down to which battles we want to fight. Do you want to potentially sacrifice your career a bit to better the working world for all women or do you want to conform if it makes you move up quicker? I pick and choose. There are things I fight and things I just do.

          • hoola hoopa :

            I agree, Blonde Lawyer. I don’t do everything I could to convey power and professionalism, but I do so knowingly.

    • There’s a difference between wet hair and semi-wet hair like the OP mentioned, though.

      Wet hair is dripping. Semi-wet hair is hair that might be slightly damp to the touch, but just looks slightly sleeker than it might otherwise, unless you put your hand ‘inside’ the hair.

      I have loads of hair, so blow-drying it takes about 15-20 minutes to get to the ‘semi-wet’ stage, and the same again to be nearly dry. It’s not worth it, considering that it air dries to the ‘semi-wet’ or ‘nearly dry’ stage in about an hour and a half, which if I get out of the shower at 7am is still early.

  8. Nearly 40% of your credibility comes from how you look (50% is how you sound and 10% is what you say).

    I’m as cynical as the next girl, but no, I don’t believe this. Unless you choose an incredibly disfunctional environment.

    • Woods-comma-Elle :

      Eh, apparently refresh doesn’t fix the ‘posting too fast’ issue anymore…

      I agree with this, especially in a context where most of your dealings with people aren’t face-to-face. Sure, I’ve met many of my clients, but a majority of them are in other countries, so I deal with them almost exclusively via e-mail/phone and often they have never met me so their only basis for judging my appearance is the carefully posed firm photo on our website.

    • People's Republic :

      I am not easily offended, and don’t get on too many soapboxes, but this is honestly the most offensive statement I can even imagine a guest blogger being allowed to publish here. Also, I have given this book to tons of female friends and colleagues, so I have absolutely no concern with her general message. Wow – I. Am. Shocked.

    • Personally, I would like to see the study that supports these statistics. What? No peer-reviewed paper you say?

      • People's Republic :


        (and GAH! I accidentally just pressed report instead of reply. I do NOT report you! I support you!)

    • West Coast :

      I would say that statistic is probably not too far off; I have heard similar outcomes from other studies. I don’t like it, but it’s probably true.

      It’s not a matter of a dysfunctional environment, but a reality of the way that our culture has wired us. I take data of this sort as the ‘rules of the game.’ You can either use the rules to your advantage, break them when you have the leeway… or ignore them and then get frustrated when the game isn’t going so well for you.

      • Eh, still not even sure how you’d study that, to be honest; and just because a “study” said it doesn’t mean it’s true — or that it’s destiny. Maybe someone you just meet. But . . . you know what? I work with people, many of whom are appallingly dressed. Like, give everyone on this website conniptions dressed. And yet they’re well respected professionals because once you’ve seen someone in action, you incorporate that into your picture of them.

        So I don’t think your choices are right. You can also watch people ignore the rules and break some of them yourself and see that “the game” is going just fine for them and you and then wonder why, exactly, this type of article is being written.

  9. 6 months post-partum… and people will warn you about this, and you will not believe it’s true until it happens to you… like HALF of my hair fell out, and I do not have thick hair to begin with!

    I really had no choice but to chop my hair off to chin length. I just thought ladies did this as a matter of convenience, not because they might as well be balding. Anyway!

    I got so many comments about how nice and professional it looked, how it was a much more mature style, etc… and I was only 30! It really made me re-think my hair, but not so much that it was a permanent thing. I am currently sporting my long natural color like I have for pretty much my whole life. It’s part of me and not something I’m willing to give up quite yet.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      Ugh this. I donated my hair and cut it fairly short at one point. I got so many compliments on looking “more like a lawyer,” “more mature” etc. Clearly many favored my short hair. It just annoyed me to no end though. Probably because what they were saying is “your long hair looked less “lawyerly”” and your long hair looked less mature.

    • Mine fell out in clumps in odd spots. So now I have a clump of baby hairs regrowing along both of my temples and on the front of my head. Heaven forbid it fall out on the back of my head where I could hide it…

    • AnonLawMom :

      For me, the hair loss was by far the worst (physical) side effect of pregnancy. I was not at all prepared for how severe it was!

    • Ditto with weight loss….last year I lost 50 lbs in a 6 month span and my long thick hair started falling out. Dr. Said not enough fat in my diet and put me on supplement vitamins and told me to eat an egg a day. So, went from chubby but busty with nice hair to thinner, flat-chested, with thin hair. Can’t win, I tell ya!

  10. I’m 30 and just grew out a chin length bob to a just-past-the-shoulders style. I actually style it more now that it’s longer – with a bob, it was pretty much full perfect blow-out to look sleek, or stubby ponytail, and if I was in a rush in the mornings, stubby ponytail won. Now, I can make a blow-out last two days or do glossy, intentional looking ponytails, and I love it.

    While I’m here, paging AIMS – re: the light gray heels, the Valentinas at JCrew might be a good option, and they’re currently on sale – (I went up 1/2 a size from my typical 7, which occurs often for me with pointed toe JCrew heels)

  11. Like Anon above I also found this post a tad condescending. Sure, your personal grooming habits influence others’ perception of you. But I do not agree with Ms. Frankel’s insistence on shorter hair as you age. I have seen both good and bad hair styles on older women. I think it’s more of an individual thing–do what suits YOU. Ask your hair dresser for an opinion, ask your husband, girlfriends etc. Try different things and stick with what you are comfortable and look good in.

    • Diana Barry :

      Hillary is a good example (IMO) of longer hair not looking good because it drags down the face. She looks a lot better with shorter hair.

  12. AnonNelly :

    I think we should remember it is not just the ladies. We make judgements about the way that our male coworkers hair is too. Granted, they seem to have far fewer choices when it just comes to hair in general (but that is an over-generalization). But how many times have you seen a guy, shaggy or just in need of his regular hair cut and think, huh, he looks a little rough. Nearly trimmed, styled and well-kept is professional regardless of your gender. There is a man who serves on a committee that I regularly interact with. He is older, and has gorgeous thick silver hair. In a ponytail. It isn’t much longer than maybe 6″ past his rubber band at the nape of his neck, but whenever I see him, in a suit or a t-shirt it is always the same and because it is well-groomed I feel that it does present a professional appearance. He keeps his sideburns and the back of his neck trimmed–what doesn’t get into the pony. But if he were to show up at one of our meetings with his hair all astray, I would wonder what happened to him.

    So, while we say that we hate that this has to be an issue, it isn’t just an issue for us ladies. Oddly enough, another friend of mine used to have a similar ponytail. When he cut his, it made him look about 20 years younger when he already had a baby face. As he is a doctor, I wonder how many of his patients don’t give him a lot of credit because of his youthful appearance. He cut the ponytail long before he became a doctor though.

    • Anonymous :

      +1 I used to work with a guy who showed up with pillow hair, or wrinkled / very worn button-down shirts at a job that required formal business-casual attire (read – you’d better wear an almost-suit outfit and have a jacket handy). It impacted his career. I often heard higher-ups comment about him not looking professional and how he was not good to bring to important meetings. The quality of his work was completelly overshadowed by the physical image.

  13. Diana Barry :

    Dude, I totally judge people for bad hair. Including myself! My little pony when I was trying to grow it out? Bad. My really wet hair at work? Also bad. The partner who played with her hair all the time? Also bad!

    I have short hair now – similar to Robin Wright’s but not so asymmetrical – and it is definitely better perceived and more professional than my previous choppy, edgy bob. It has gotten universal acclaim among my friends and family and even strangers. That, to me, says that it is a good look.

    I 100% agree with Blonde Lawyer above that NGDGTCO etc. is all about “giving you the tools, if you so wish, to avoid being subconsciously judged.”

  14. hoola hoopa :

    I really want to hate this post, but it rings pretty true to my experience if I’m honest with myself. Mostly I’m referring to (1) and (4).

    I don’t agree with (2) and (3) and across the board rules, but they are appropriate considerations.

    I think (5) applies only to initial impressions. Unless you’re in an image-conscious occupation, your work is what speaks to your professionalism and competence in the long run. However, if you don’t look the part, you’re creating a handicap that has to be overcome with extra high quality work.

  15. This is interesting to me because until recently I’d had a chin length bob. However, my hairdresser stopped cutting hair and while I’ve been dragging my feet finding a new salon it has gotten quite long (2″past my shoulders). I’m 38, look much younger, and have gotten way more compliments on it now then I ever did with it short. I also find it easier to deal with now when working out. So I’m really not sure what length my next cut will be.

  16. I used to love wearing my hair down, until my 8 month old discovered what fun it is to yank on it, and gnaw on it. So now it’s in a ponytail most days, even though he goes to daycare and I go to work.

    I disagree that a woman should cut her hair as she ages. I think a woman should take care of her hair, regardless of age. Scraggly ends, grown out color, these things reflect poorly, not the length as a general rule. I have cut my hair short a few times and regretted it every time. It just doesn’t look right with my face shape. A good stylist is invaluable, and I’m of the opinion (though YMMV) that paying for color at the salon is worth it in terms of my personal self-confidence. For a long time I just did box color and it looked anywhere from “awful” to “just okay.” Yes, my highlights cost more, but IMO, they’re worth it.

  17. I think it’s important to take good care of yourself and be respectful of your work environment, but there’s so many things in life we do just to please other people and gain a positive reputation. You have to claim something back for yourself sometimes. Ultimately, I think your image and the way you look should be something that empowers you. It should reflect you and the kind of life you want to live and the dreams you want to fulfill. It shouldn’t be based on a list of rules someone gives you that are based on fear — fear that others will look down on you, basically. Maybe some clueless people function better if they have really black and white rules to follow (such as her advice that older women with long hair should “always” wear their hair up at work), but I think most of us will be better off deciding for ourselves. What you wear and how you style your hair should inspire you, right? Isn’t that a better way to approach it?

    P.S. I twirl my hair a lot. I try not to do it when it’s going to be distracting to other people, but it’s honestly a soothing habit that I’m not going to give up.

    • Anon from 1:27 :

      I agree with this. I feel like I came off before as someone who doesn’t give a $hit about others’ perceptions of me, which isn’t the case at all. I dress very professionally, wear what I deem appropriate make-up, etc. I just can’t care about these hair “rules.” I’m also with you on the “hair twirling as soothing.” Can’t stop, won’t stop. I have enough to worry about without checking myself about that habit.

  18. Two things…..(l) on a philosophical note, why does society have so many rules? There are rules for dating, when to tell people you’re with child, how long to wait to email someone again and how to dress and wear our hair. Aren’t you all tired of these boundaries that we built ourselves? I am and I follow the rules.

    (2) Duchess Kate wears her long hair down and curled. The royal family thinks it is appropriate and formal. Why doesn’t this look seem okay for us commoners?

    • (1) Because if we didn’t have rules then we’d all be a bunch of jerks and nobody would know what to do 75% of the time. I am not a huge fan of rules but they do have a place in getting us all through the daily grind we have to deal with. Think of the last time you saw someone break the rules – something as little as cut in line – Didn’t it make you mad or at least annoyed?
      There are rules for when to tell people you’re with child because statistically there is less of a chance of something going wrong after a certain point. I’ve made this “mistake” before and it’s a lot worse telling your whole family you had an early m/c than it would have been to wait another month and kept it within my close circle.
      I guess my point is that even if many rules seem dumb and arbitrary, they do have a purpose in society, and many are based on actual good reasons. If they aren’t based on a good reason, or don’t fit for you, use your judgement and don’t follow that rule.
      Just my morning philosophical two cents from a fellow rule follower.
      (2) I wish I had Kate’s hair!

      • Yes, but explain what societal purpose “no long hair on women over 40 (or whatever)” serves. (I can tell you – it helps put a level of expectations and contradictory rules and double binds on women that saps their time, energy, and money and thus serves to reinforce existing power structures. Not all “rules” are one we want to keep.)

  19. George Clooney’s fiancée has some pretty, wavy long hair and she seems to be doing okay for herself…..

  20. I am so glad to see this post has so many comments because I have been struggling with my hair lately–it’s nice to know I’m not alone! I haven’t seen anyone address “ginger” hair issues, so I wanted to know if anyone has advice/opinions/experiences they can share. I have long, curly, orange hair. I am 30, and I have been wearing my hair long since I was a teenager because I have found the best way to manage it is to keep it long. Red hair stands out, and some people may even make assumptions about a person with red hair. I guess I’m wondering if I’m always going to be “subconsciously judged” on my hair unless I dye it. I think I have always assumed that I can’t fight my frizzy red hair, so I should embrace it. At work, I wear it half up. Some times I put it all the way up, but it’s a miracle if I can get it to stay that way for more than an hour. I get compliments on my hair, but that just proves the point that people notice my hair first (and it makes me self conscious). This article and others I’ve read recently have really got me thinking. I don’t want to torpedo my career prospects because I’m insensitive to how my hair affects my appearance. All of my cohorts are chopping their hair off as they move up in the corporate law food chain, and it seems to say “I’m serious about my career”. What does my hair say? “I make irrational decisions and live in a fairy tale”?

    • AB, I have similar hair to yours, except less curly and less red. It was too wild, frizzy and heavy when it was long–I’d get severe headaches if I put it up. I finally gave up and cut it short. If it was more curly, I’d probably use curl enhancing product and keep it at a longish bob. I work in lab, so my hair must always be up if it’s longer than my shoulders. I find henna really helps with the glossiness of the hair. I also use a bit of argan oil to mosturize. You could henna in a similar colour to your own and then roots wouldn’t be a problem. I get mine from hennasooq dot com or dot ca.
      My pet peeve is the lack of hair accessories in that match red hair.

  21. midwest mom :

    My two cents… a professional looks like they have groomed. Groomed means that you do something to your hair. Not throwing a wet head of hair into a ponytail. I think you need to look like you put effort into your appearance. I have had to talk to young staff in a professional services firm about not coming to work with wet hair.

    I also think you need a friend or an honest hair dresser to speak the truth. You may think you look fine but you may not be perceived that way by others.

    I also agree that it’s not fair men get judged by different standards but that’s the way it is… so we have to deal with it.

  22. When I was doing my first law interviews ~ 10 years ago, I spent so much energy worrying about my curly hair, which I was repeatedly told was “unprofessional.” I spent so much time stressing about getting it straight (which in reality never worked well and never looked great) that I should have spent preparing for the substance of the interview. Same goes for many of my important meetings in my first few years on the job.

    So my message to curly girls, whether just starting out or many years in: If you like your hair curly, wear your hair curly. Don’t waste precious time trying to fight it. Get a good cut (try a Deva cut if you haven’t already), keep it clean and moisturized. My guess is that if you do that, you will look great, confident, and — yes — professional. Stop listening to any “experts” who say anything different.

  23. You can’t make a blanket statement about older women not wearing long hair. I am 55.

    I used to wear my hair pageboy length. Now I wear it a little below my shoulders and I look a lot better and less boring and conservative. I get compliments all the time.

    You’ve got to look at face shape and hair texture. Longer hair is NOT dragging my features down. In fact, I look younger!

  24. “As you age, your hair should get shorter… If you’re 50 years old and just have to have the Alice in Wonderland look, then wear it up at work… at all times.”

    Wow I don’t care for this categorical advice.

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