To Try: Work-Appropriate Up-Dos

work-appropriate up-dos2018 Update: We still love this conversation about work-appropriate up-dos — but you may also want to check out our more recent discussion about 14 great YouTube tutorials for updos!

I don’t know about you, but I end up pulling my hair back a lot in the winter — the frizz, the hat hair, etc., etc. I always used to keep a few bobby-pins and other pretty hair supplies in my office so I could pull it back once I got into work, but I never made it all day in any one up-do because it started to hurt. It even feels weird to write that — your hair hurting you — because I’ve never seen anyone talk about it in magazines, but after an hour or two my head and scalp would start to hurt, and I always seemed to end up with a headache. Probably the longest I’ve ever made it in one updo was while carrying out bridesmaid duties, and I remember vividly getting home each time and ripping out the hundreds and hundreds of bobby pins (or so it seemed) stuck in my hair. Ahhh… relief! (Pictured: A Gibson Roll, from the tutorial by A Cup of Jo.)

So the notion that you could wear an up-do in a “looser” way was, amazingly enough, a game changer for me. I was puttering around on the Interwebs and found this tutorial by style blogger Keiko Lynn. In it, she talks about how she does her trademark messy bun, and — shocker of shockers — how she pulls her hair back tightly into a ponytail and then “loosens it” by pulling her hair forward a bit before tightening the ponytail holder. It makes more sense when she explains it, promise (it’s nearly all the way at the end of her tutorial).

Anyway, for some reason this never occurred to me — a “looser” updo — and so now I feel like I should revisit almost all of the updos I’ve tried over the years and try them again. Another blogger, Joanna Goddard at A Cup of Jo, has a few cute ones that might be good for the office, including the Gibson Roll (pictured at top) and a Chestnut Bun. On the weekends, I’ve also been experimenting with braided looks (a bit like this, though pulled back into a bun), although I’m not sure whether they feel 100% office appropriate to me or not (or, ha, whether I’m too old for the look or not).   I’m still playing with the Goody Spin Pins beloved by so many readers, and I have only failed miserably while attempting a sock bun (I think I have too many layers to make it work, boo).

Readers, what work-appropriate up-dos do you do for the office? Do you think some of the popular looks right now, such as braids and topknots, are appropriate for work?


  1. I am always buying claw clips at Walgreens across the street from my work because my hair is driving me crazy. (I don’t know where all these claw clips go & why I need to keep buying them – is there some sort of claw clip vortex they get sucked into?)

    I just gather my hair into a low ponytail and then twist up the back of my head, like a french twist, and grab it with the claw clip, but then I end up with the ends coming out the top of the clip and I am sure that doesn’t look very professional. I could use some help!

    In other news, Happy New Year, everyone!

    • Always a NYer :

      I do the same thing with my hair, only I’m obsessive about tucking the ends into the updo. The reason I keep having to buy jaw clips is because after 2-3 months, they break. I had a clip from high school that lasted almost 10 years and something I bought a few months ago.

      And I’m sure you look very professional, just overworked!

    • dc 'rette :

      I think the claw clips look sloppy. A sock bun, bun with the Goody Spin Pins, or twist with Goody’s twist thingy (not sure what it’s called – it looks like a big V shaped pin) looks a lot neater and is just as simple.

      • Anonymous :

        I can’t get spin pin buns to work – my little chunks of layer hair poke out everywhere. Any tips?

        • dc 'rette :

          Honestly once my hair got past bra-strap length they didn’t work for me well anymore either, hence my switch to the sock bun. If you hair’s long enough that the bun is thicker than the pins are long it doesn’t seem to work as well.

          • Anonymous :

            Works great even for super-long hair, just put your hair in a ponytail first, then twist the ponytail around, tuck the ends under and secure with spin pins. My hair is waist-length and stays put like this with 2-3 spin pins.

          • Anonymous :

            Forgot to say: you want the spin pins to catch into the ponytail elastic if possible, for the most secure fit.

      • I actually agree. I like doing a French twist, but use the Spin Pins to hold it in place – I think they do a better job in my slippery hair, and in my mind claw clips are just the misguided offspring of bad 80s banana clips.

      • Wait – sock bun? Like the lunch lady type?

      • Mine looks like this

        except I use a smaller clip and just clip the top part. And I agree it looks sloppy. If I am in my office working away with my hair like this, I unclip it before I go meet with anyone. But, yes, I need help! The spin pins were not easy for me, and they did not hold my hair. They stayed in, but many pieces of hair slipped out.

        • oh, I just googled sock bun. That’s a big no thanks for me, too trying-to-medal-in-gymastics looking.

          • dc 'rette :

            I think if you wear it low or to the side it looks very chic! I wouldn’t wear it at the top of the head for that very reason, though.

        • Tired Squared :

          Oh wow … if I could get my hair to look like that picture I wouldn’t think it was sloppy at all! Maybe that’s a sign that my normal pulled-back hairstyle is sloppy too…

      • I agree, but I can’t find any other way to put up my fine, thin, layered hair than a jaw clip. I tried getting the big bobby pins and stuff but my hair slips out. Also, the jaw clips I use are very small, bc I don’t have much hair. I do tuck in the ends though and try to poof the crown a little. Once my hair is a little longer I’ll be able to use pony tail holders with a decorative thing, or just make a low pony with a big barrette. But as of right now, I don’t really have any other options than the jaw clip. They do make some dressier looking ones though.

    • Anonymous :

      I have never been able to use the claw / jaw clips. My hair is just too thick and either too heavy or too straight. but they just fall out or flip over.

    • I have bra-strap length hair that likes to go everywhere, and I’m a big fan of the gibson roll, like this:

      I generally use one of the big bar clips, plain tortoise shell, to secure the top, and voila, easy, secure, and you don’t have to worry about pieces starting to come out and fly about.

      • To clarify, I like that gibson roll tutorial better than the one posted because you don’t need to mess around with bobby pins – you use one big clip to secure the top and hide the inside part of the hair, and you’re done! It looks a bit more like a bun, as well – slightly less Heidi or costume-y than the picture above.

  2. springtime :

    Anyone with any advice for prepping a summary of your work for end of year reviews? My old job didn’t do them. I need to list off areas that I want to improve on, goals, what I’ve done, etc.

    • Esquirette :

      Are you an attorney? If so, you can try searching through your time entries to identify matters you spent significant time on. You can also search through your email to try and flag things as well. This is pretty cumbersome so I’ve learned to keep a running list of stuff I’m doing through the year (basically everything but billable projects – my firm has another means for identifying big billable matters). As for goals, you could mention areas that you’d like to gain more experience or projects that you’d like to work on in the future. I’d be honest with a positive thing on things you think you want to improve on (or which you’ve been told to improve) — e.g., multi-tasking, not being a control freak, working with others, delegating, etc. Good luck!

  3. phillygirlruns :

    i am currently in month six of growing out a short inverted bob (front pieces above chin length, back much shorter – the entire thing is just about chin length now) and am eagerly awaiting the day where i once again have hair long enough to put up.

    in the “spin pin” family, goody makes a sort of claw-ish ponytail clip called the “pony pouf.” back when my hair was still long, i picked one up at target and loved it. on amazon:

    i used it for low ponytails at the base of my neck. it gave some texture where a regular rubber band just looked flat, and sort of dressed things up. the only downside is that it was JUUUUUST big enough to accommodate my fairly thick hair, and would occasionally come open if i nudged it just right (i.e., putting on a coat or dropping a cross-body purse strap over my head).

    • I tried one of those – couldn’t get it to stay in, much less poof. But I blame that on my thick hair.

    • This didn’t work for my shoulder length thin hair. It popped open too often for my comfort and my hair wouldn’t stay in the notches very long.

      I love looking at these updos but I don’t like to see my profile when I wear them. I have weak chin issues and these seem to emphasize the recessive chin. Especially the gibson roll and any updo that places the bulk of my hair at the nape of my neck. Updos that place hair towards the top of the head (at or above ears) look better on me personally but they seem less professional.

    • Short & curly :

      I’ve had that cut before. French braid bun works great, because the hair just needs to be long enough to reach the “bend” where it first braids. So as long as your hair reaches to where the braid is, it will work. Plus, you can’t tell that the length is different in the back if it is all braided.
      Also, try twisting sections of your hair and put them up. The twist helps keep the shorter hairs up.

  4. Anyone have advice for up-dos for curly hair? Mine’s extremely curly (think ringlets) and about shoulder length. It’s definitely long enough to pull up, but it’s hard to find a good style, other than just pulling it into a boring bun/pony.

    • dc 'rette :

      Mine’s also very curly – the sock bun and Gibson roll work well.

    • I also have very curly hair, and it’s very thick too. I wear it up every day in a kind of modified french twist. I pull it back into a low pony, then twist it up about half way up my head, similar to what you’d do if you were using a claw clip. But instead of a claw clip, I secure the twist with a big french lock barrette. Then I arrange the curly ends sticking out back down over the barrette and the twist. Sometimes I tuck the ends into the twist, sometimes I let the ends just fall – it depends on what it looks like. Take advantage of those curly ringlet ends – we don’t necessarily need to tuck them in and out of the way like those with straight hair in order to look professional. This is one area where those of us with curly hair may have it easier!

    • Short & curly :

      I also have very thick and curly hair, and a french braid bun works great. I’ve had my hair down to my bra strap and a as short as mid cheek, and everywhere in between. It works for every length – bun just gets thicker. Plus, I get sooo many compliments.

  5. dc 'rette :

    My go-tos are a low sock bun (either with the ends messy or pinned) and a Gibson roll. I use Spin Pins for the Gibson roll and it is super easy and stays all day. I probably wear my hair in either a sock bun or Gibson roll four days a week.

  6. Threadjack from a claw clip user:

    A few people mentioned wanting to write something to be published as their resolution. I am a mental health professional with some publishing experience and I’d love to co-author something! If anyone would be interested in chatting about this, please email my personal account: munchkin1616 at juno dot com

    (and as a side note, if anyone knows of any job openings at a supervisory level in the NYC or south FL areas, please feel free to message me about those too)

  7. Miss Priss :

    I have shorter, curly hair. The layers make it hard to put up, so I french braid the front pieces and pull the rest back into a bun or braided bun. This keeps little fly-aways in place and my CEO has commented favorably on how it looks.

    • Yes front french braids do help keep short pieces and fly aways in check. However, the time it takes me to do one or two small french braids in front, I could have blown out my hair!

      • I do several small braids (like thick cornrows or flat twists) and bun my hair.
        It takes some time to do the hair but I can keep this style for days, I just redo the bun in the morning real quick.

    • Anonymous :

      Any pics of what this looks like? Are you french braiding the smaller pieces from your temple towards back of your head? Or the crown pieces?

  8. a future academic :

    Threadjack: How do you tread the fine line between self-confidence and bragging?
    In the past half year, I’ve gotten an enormous load of praise for my work from distinguished people, which has done wonders for my self confidence and means I’m really excited about writing papers and doing projects again and like talking about it too. However, I’ve noticed that my boyfriend is often kind of dismissive and resorting to one-word answers when I tell him what data I’m currently researching etc. so I wonder if I really am that annoying and bragging all the time? How do I find out? Should I simply stop talking to him about my work at all? (We’re in the same field, so it’s not like he doesn’t have any interest in what I do.)

    • How about you ask him how he feels about it?

    • Former Academic :

      I agree with the previous commenter that you should probably ask him about it directly. I will also throw out the general advice that some academics talk about their research and their work way, way too much, to a degree that others find boring (at best) and alienating (at worst). I have no way of knowing if you fall into this category, but if it seems like people are getting annoyed when you are talking about your work, it’s something to keep in mind. Or he could be a jealous jerk, in which case you should DTMFA.

    • Agree that you should ask him about it. Also, it may not be that you’re annoying/bragging, but since you’re in the same field, he could just be feeling a little jealous or discouraged that he’s not doing as well by comparison.

    • Esquirette :

      The others commenters all have good recommendations.

      On a more general note, my holiday reading included “Brag!: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It” by Peggy Klaus. I found it interesting and am hoping to do some of the self-analysis outlined in the book and possibly figure out a way to work some of the positive spin into my professional life appropriately.

      • my spouse and i have a rule that at night, like after 8pm, either person say ‘ok work talk moratorium’ b/c both of us can go on too long, and the other is simply tired, needs a change of pace from workday, or for any reason can’t or doesn’t want to digest the level of detail. “how are you/how was day” does not mean ‘play by play of every meeting, issue, matter, etc.’ but it took us some years to learn this and it works well now. after us getting mad at each other in past for ‘you aren’t listening’ moments. a therapist suggested each person gets 10-15 minutes per day after arriving home of getting to be listened to, but we haven’t enforced anything that rigid, just the ability to halt it when too much. we do it at least once a week.

  9. I do sock buns, spin pins or a low pony tail. Sometimes if it is a late night I will just do a bun and stick a pencil through it, but by then there is nobody around usually. Though I usually just leave my hair down.

  10. How gorgeous is Keiko Lynn? Her style is kinda out there for me, but I desperately want her flawless skin.

    Ah, updos. I really suck at fixing hair, which is one reason why I have a pixie cut. Usually I love it, but my reliable stylist didn’t do a great job this last time and it looks a bit heavy & frumpy. I’m sure it’s not as noticeable to others, but it’s bugging me.

  11. OK, I had never looked at A Cup of Jo before this, but I see a dangerous addiction coming on….

    *So* want to try out her hairstyles….not necessarily all for work, but I am hoping that if I wear my hair in such cool styles I myself will suddenly become as effortlessly chic as the models in her tutorials.

  12. When my hair was longer I would put it in a low ponytail, part the hair in front of the ponytail (as if I were going to do the 90s topsy-tail thing), then jam the ponytail through the part (but didn’t pull it the whole way through!) until it was all tucked in. Then I held it there with a few bobby pins. It made an updo very similar to the one Kat pictured above – I always got compliments on it and it would take me seconds to do.

    • Hrm, now that I’ve looked at a “Gibson roll how-to,” I realized that it is exactly what I do, I just never called it that. :)

  13. I wear a Gibson roll about once a week now. It’s ridiculously easy to do, holds all day, and is a bit nicer than a pony or regular bun.

    • MeliaraofTlanth :

      How do you get it to stay in the little “pocket” of hair you create without the hair falling through? (if that makes sense)–I’ve tried to get it to work (I think with the instructions from Cup of Jo), and I’ve only been successful once. I can’t figure it out.

      • I do it when it’s wet a lot – that helps.

      • dc 'rette :

        Twist it tight. Really tight. Once you pin it it loosens up. If it’s already loose, once you pin it, it will loosen up too much.

  14. I basically either wear my hair down or in a low ponytail. Although my ways are not the most flattering, the alternatives (like the suggestions made her, many of which don’t work for my thick and straight as nails hair) always feel too twee to me.

  15. I’ve been playing around with a french braid on the weekends. I’m not sure it’s appropriate for the office. Any thoughts?

    I usually either leave my hair down or put it in a bun for court. I will wear a low pony to the office.

    • Diana Barry :

      The french braid (only one) always looks a little 80s to me for the office. If you do it only on one side or only with part of your hair, it looks more current IMO.

      • Good advice. I’ll play with it and try the side or part of my hair. Thanks!

      • Or try a french braid that starts with a poof. Or no poof, but starts at your crown (so no braid on the top of your head).

    • Accountress :

      If you try it on both sides, start them low, just above the ears and french-braid both back all the way. Then, put both braids in a tight ponytail at your nape. Shake out the two braids and braid them together, with a tight ponytail holder at the bottom. Remove the nape-ponytail-holder, and it should be a nice two-in-one french braid.

      Practice does make perfect, I promise.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      I don’t like French braids on me (either one or two) for work because I already look young and it doesn’t help. It’s not an updo, but I sometimes part my hair to the side and then do the waterfall French braid on the side with more hair. It’s subtle but adds a little interest and I don’t think it makes me look younger.

      • Sydney Bristow :

        Oops meant to add that I learned how to do it through a YouTube video tutorial. I can’t remember the name, but if you search on YouTube it is the woman who shows styles on her daughter. She has a video where she shows how to do that braid on yourself.

  16. Mine only goes up in a jaw clip and only a certain sized one at that, or a ponytail holder twisted around. Have never been able to get it to stay with pins, spin or otherwise- wish I could as french twists etc look so much more elegant. this is a goal of mine. but thick hair does not love these things.

  17. Um this gibson roll just changed my life.. tried it and stays up with only one bobby pin. almost uncomprehensive to me given 35 yrs of what i thought was hair unable to be corraled in an elegant way. thanks much kat and ladies! love it! my office will be seeing a LOT of this one in the near term. been growing hair out of concave grad to have it long enough to put up during baby times.

    ps found out my baby is a girl today and looking healthy!

    • Omg, I just tried this style and it actually works in my thick, wavy, frizzy hair that frequently looks messy. It feels “natural” as well, not like a tight sock bun or other really structured style feels. Just a bit of hairspray to hold it together and it is up, out of the way and neat yet pretty looking.
      Congrats on your baby girl!

  18. I have shoulder length, extremely thick, but extremely fine hair. I’d love to be able to do an undo, but can’t get one to stay in place no matter how many pins or clips I put it in. So my hair is always either down or in a low pony.

  19. I have fairly short hair, but my oldest daughter used to have waist length hair. We did a lot of spin pins, but what really worked for her (and was cute) was the sock bun. I pinned it quite a bit since she’s 5 and likes to run and play, but it did the job of looking neat, keeping hair out of her face and unknotty.

  20. My daughter has hair down to the middle of her back, all one length and no bangs, and she pulls it all back into a high ponytail, twists the ponytail around and around until it is rope-width, twirls it around and around the elastic of the ponytail until she has a bun, tucks the end in, and holds it all in place with a wide velvet scrunchy. It makes her head look very small (she’s 17 and I still call her “little bun head”) and her like a ballerina. She has very big eyes and a small nose and can pull off this look. Very neat and clean. This may be the medal-in-gymnastics look that one of you was trying to avoid.

  21. hahahaha. my scalp totally hurts when my hair is up too long! awesome to see someone else mention it.

  22. anonymous :

    “[B]ut I never made it all day in any one up-do because it started to hurt. It even feels weird to write that — your hair hurting you — because I’ve never seen anyone talk about it in magazines…”

    Women’s magazines don’t talk about a lot of things, for example, the pain and damaging nature of high heels. In addition, styles that pull too much can cause alopecia.

    I couldn’t believe how painful a French Twist was when I had it done by a stylist and that was the last time I wore my hair that way. It’s hard for me to understand why women would think that walking around in pain was worth it.

    Spin Pins were a happy discovery. I wear them in a sloppy bun for curly hair.

    • Talking about women’s magazines and high heels – I was looking through an issue of Teen Vogue that my daughter brought home the other day, and I was dismayed to find that most of the models, whether in the features or in the ads, were wearing really HIGH heels – 4 inches or more. A lot of teenage girls take these magazines very seriously for “the look to have now”, and featuring these shoes is a terrible example. My 17-year-old daughter and I have had several of these “how high is too high” arguments – my win/loss record so far is about 3 out of 4. I keep imagining her breaking her ankle in one of those shoes. Actually, I know someone who did – dancing at a club at a ski resort. It would make an interesting article to see how many emergency room visits relating to foot/ankle injuries stem from these high heels.

  23. I cannot make the sock bun work, even though I’ve watched several tutorials. Spin pins have worked awesome for me, which is saying something because my hair is thick and heavy. I put the pins in from the bottom of whatever my “do” is…typically going in at an angle with them, but trying to avoid getting the pins crossed/tangled with one another.

  24. RookieRette :

    I LOVE the Gibson tuck. It’s a godsend for me – my hair’s about bra-band length and layered, ang though it’s pretty thin there’s a lot of it (like, the strands themselves aren’t “thick” but there’s a LOT of hairs!). I like to either put a spin pin (also a godsend) through the top, or bobby pin the hair tie to the back of my head – one pin on each side of the tie. A little hairspray and a cute clip or barrette over the messy bit where it all comes together and I’m ready for the day.

    I absolutely CANNOT make a sock bun work, though. Don’t know if it’s the layers or the length or me just being hopeless, but I can never make it look anywhere near acceptable.

    One look I’ve been pondering using is a side French braid – anyone who’s seen the Hunger Games movie, it’s basically Katniss’s hairstyle. I work at a bank, so it’s not quite as formal as a law office, but I’m still not quite sure if it’d fly. :)

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