What Is the Best “Professional” Haircut?

professional-hairHere’s a question we haven’t talked about in a while: what is the best professional haircut for women? I can remember, years ago, that Angela Merkel’s short, almost mannish cut was THE cut to have. Not just for women of a certain age, but for a lot of women who were coming up the ranks. But I wonder: what do you think of as the most “professional” haircut? If it were right for your hair, which CEO, anchor person, or world leader would you be taking pictures of to your salon, saying “if you want to be taken seriously, you have to have serious hair.”  (Bonus points for any reader who can find me a video link to Working Girl where she says that — in the meantime, here’s the trailer.)

So who do you look to today for the best professional hair?  Sheryl Sandberg?  Marissa Mayer?  What changes to your own hair have you made to make it more “professional”?  Or do you think we’ve reached an age where “whatever works for you” IS the best professional haircut?


  1. Anonymous :

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’ve always had longish hair and every time I’ve cut it, I’ve hated it. Its actually easier to blow-dry and style when its longer. But, I just turned 37 and am wondering if my long hair (more than a couple inches past my shoulder blades) looks silly. It has long layers, and I color it. I always keep it trimmed and blow-dry and style it daily. It looks clean and healthy. But, is it a silly style for a 37 year old professional woman?

    • I am about your age and have similar hair. My hair is wavy and I blow dry the front so it frames my face without a bunch of cowlicks, and let the back air dry into loose waves. I mostly wear it up in a twist at work just because hair around my shoulders bothers me. No bangs, just a few wisps. This is by far the easiest style for me to maintain and I do not have to get up early and deal with long blow drier time. I have always regretted cutting my hair after a few washings because of the constant maintenance and tendency for my hair to frizz when it is shorter. My hair is very thick with some highlights. Not sure if it is “professional” or not, but I cannot deal with shorter hair because of all the work.

    • You’re 37! I’m close to your age and also have long hair (clean, healthy, neat), and I’m not even thinking of cutting it shorter yet. Maybe if it gets thinner or changes too much (frizzy gray or something), then I’d reasonably contemplate cutting it shorter. But I’m going to enjoy my healthy long locks, and let me husband enjoy them, for as long as they last. On days when I want to look like I mean business (court, big meeting, etc.) I put it in a neat bun. I would hate to have short “professional hair” all the time. I would be so sad to not be able to “let my hair down” – even on vacation!

      • Anonymous :

        Ok. Good. This is a much better answer than k-padi’s below, which I realize was not a direct answer to my question, but really seemed to touch on everything I had been asking about. I love my hair and I think it fits my overall look. I’m glad that others don’t think long hair is ridiculous on a 37 year old woman.

        • Just to clarify, I don’t think long hair is ridiculous on women in their late thirties. I just think, like many commenters below, that women need to, in general, be more critical of their longer hair in terms of its condition and style as they enter their 40s. The same “long hair” styles that are appropriate for women in their twenties don’t work on women entering their 40s. I work with and have worked with many women in their 40s who have healthy, beautiful hair but who still style it like Jessica Alba with big waves and loose ringlets.

          I think Julianne Moore (except for her hair in “The Kids are Alright”–she was playing a landscaper) and Kathryn Bigelow are outstanding examples of professional women with long hair.

          • What’s wrong with styling hair in loose ringlets?

          • I’m with anon below. What’s wrong with healthy hair in loose ringlets? For someone who has such specific ideas about what colors are professional, I think it’s awfully judgmental of you to criticize women who style their hair like Jessica Alba. She looks amazing.

    • My previous boss recently emailed me to tell me how nice and more mature my haircut looks. I think that was his code for “your long hair looked too young and unprofessional, glad to see you finally cut it.” [funny coming from someone who wears jeans, tshirts, and sneakers to work fairly often]

      I now am over-analyzing it and wondering if I am already at the age where I can’t wear my hair long anymore. This makes me sad because I love my hair long! I’m 30 and just had my first baby so I have SO Much hair falling out that I HAD to cut my hair, which I’ve been growing out since the last time I chopped it all off 4 years ago.

      • Wannabe Runner :

        It is weird when men you work with compliment you on appearances.

  2. I don’t think there is a such thing as the most professional haircut. I think at any age, “whatever works for you” is the best professional haircut. You know, barring it being purple or whatever.

    • I’m reading late but very glad indeed to see the many many comments in agreement with this.

      YES PLEASE do let’s move on from dictating each other’s hairdos.

  3. “Or do you think we’ve reached an age where “whatever works for you” IS the best professional haircut?”

    This. Professionalism exudes from someone who knows what hairstyle looks good on them and is able to maintain it well. The only hair that would strike me as unprofessional would be where the wearer looks ill at ease with it, or it doesn’t match the rest of their style.

  4. BrendaPatimkin :

    I have super curly, like Elaine on Seinfeld, Sarah Jessica Parker, Minne Driver curls. I cut my hair short like hwo Audrey Tatou had hers a few years ago. People seem to like it. I like it. It is easy to take care of, doesnt get in my face and can go a few days without washing.

  5. For me, I felt a lot more professional and like I was treated more seriously when I got a short cut (above the ears). Then I grew it out to my shoulders to be a bridesmaid, felt less professional, and got a pixie.

    A year or so ago, I started playing with dying my hair (my formerly rich brown hair turned mousey and dull). Blonde…not professional (on me). It’s now a dark-ish red/auburn. Very professional.

    and … I’m thinking of dying my hair navy. Yes, blue. Well, a very pretty dark blue. My stylist is great at color and I really like how it looks on other women. I think it’ll be a shock at work but because I have a pixie, it won’t be unprofessional after people get used to it. I wouldn’t go blue with hair longer than a few inches.

    In general, I think as long as hair is “controlled”, it’s professional. I do think that many women in their late thirties need to update their hair styles–what worked at 25 looks immature and doll-like at 39. That usually, but not necessarily, means shortening hair from the [email protected] to the shoulders. But long hair in women’s 40s needs to be more Julianne Moore and less Jessica Alba.

    • Anonymous :

      I guess this answers my question above!

    • Could you post a picture of a navy hairstyle you like? I instinctively like the idea but can’t quite imagine it.

      • I have no idea what it looks like, but it puts me in mind of black that is so black is has blue undertones…that’s a thing, right?

      • This is kind of the color my stylist and I are thinking:

        My haircut is more pixie than bob and not so architectural. This color has a black base but mine would have a rich brown base (to match my coloring better).

    • Although I might get treated more Professeionally with a shorter hair cut, the manageing partner INSIST’s that I NOT get my hair cut and that I also NOT even wear it in an updo (even in the SUMMER). FOOEY!

      Also, lately, he does NOT want me to wear any scrunchie’s in court (which I understand), but also NOT even in the office, b/c he wants to see my hair (which I do NOT understand). FOOEY!

      If I worked for the goverment as a JUDGE, I think I would want to wear my hair short, once I get older. For now, I am happy to do what the manageing partner want’s, b/c he pay’s me my salary and bonus, and give’s me a clotheing allowance also. YAY!

      • I’m going to assume you are not in the US, because if I heard that from one of our associates I would be very concerned about sexual harassment. It’s none of your managing partner’s business how you wear your hair as long as it’s professional. And the idea that “he wants to see your hair” is kind of creepy.

    • Anonymous :

      You’re such a bad-a$$, k-padi. Love it.

    • Thanks everyone! I’m waiting for my stylist to come back from maternity leave and this helped cure my cold feet. My mom thinks I will never, ever get a boyfriend with blue hair. But then, she also told me to “stop looking and He Will Come When You Least Expect it” or some such nonsense. So I’m putting that theory to the test. :-)

      • MiddleCoast :

        I met my husband the week after I swore off all men, FOREVER!

        Met him at O’Hare; we were both waiting for the same delayed flight.

        So, He Will Come When You Least Expect It does work.

        • WorkingMom :

          Agreed. I met my husband after I decided I was done waiting for the college-BF to get his act together and move in with me, and decided instead to break free, buy my own condo and move on with my life – with or without a man! Then BAM, husband :)

          Downside… we still can’t get rid of that darn condo… but that’s beside the point.

        • ExcelNinja :

          I met my husband at a random dinner party on day 365 of swearing off relationships for at least one year :)

      • Divaliscious11 :

        Funny! Two months into my one year dating sabbatical, my now-husband, whom I hadn’t seen in about 7 years, called me from France……

    • Anne Shirley :

      I just can’t see blue hair as a professional choice at all.

    • I think you will rock the blue hair. I just have a problem with you calling out women with loose waves (a la Alba) but being fine with blue hair. I think they are either both professional or both not professional, but I can’t see where loose waves is on the not professional scale but blue hair is.

      • It’s my opinion. It’s entirely possible that I am wrong.

        • You don’t think that blue hair is less professional than loose waves? I find that hard to believe. Again, think its awesome that you are going to rock it, but objectively, loose waves is much more professional than blue hair.

        • Amelia Bedelia :

          I actually see K-padi’s point. To me, loose waves just seem little girl-esque or college girl. Blue hair seems [email protected]@. Again, it is all opinion, but I can see the analysis.

    • Watch out! Blue hair fades fairly quickly, and it fades to gray. Yes, GRAY. The gray you’re trying to get rid of. And gray stands out against darker hair.

  6. Calibrachoa :

    Imma be following this topic like a hawk. the joys of IT mean that I get away with ridiculously colored hair, and I have no desire to give that up until I have to, but I am looking to update the cut into something more serious and easy maintenance.

  7. Honestly, as long as it’s clean, well-maintained, and the hair color appears in nature (or is navy blue, which sounds pretty cool), it’s professional.

    Maybe my standards are fairly lax because I’m in Texas at a very collegial, casual law firm, though. The only hair I would consider “unprofessional” is obviously-slept-in-and-not-brushed-hair, greasy, horribly damaged, or anything involving a scrunchie.

  8. I don’t think there is one specific haircut, per say. Rather, I think its how you present your cut. First, it needs to be cut and colored well (no roots, no split ends). Also, I think generally it needs to be curled and washed regularly.

    • My stick-straight hair can’t hold a curl so this is irrelevant for me, but I can’t imagine curling my hair every day even if it were possible. Do people do this??

      • That wasn’t meant to be snarky… rather “wow I’m impressed by your patience!”

      • lawsuited :

        I curl my hair about 2x per week. It takes me 20 mins and is an easy cure for bedhead.

    • Uh, straight hair is ok too. Jeez.

  9. *shrugs* I have waist-length hair, which is supposed to be “unprofessional”, but I always wear it up, generally in a French twist, so I don’t see it as an issue. Then again, I’m a doctor, not a lawyer, and in my experience, as long as it’s out of the way and not, say, a tie-dyed mohawk, no one in a hospital cares how you wear your hair.

    • Lady Harriet :

      I also have waist-length hair, which is curly with bangs and shorter layers around my face. My office is casual enough that I don’t feel out of place if I leave it down, but I definitely put it up whenever I need to look more formal. I work for a university, but it’s more formal than most universities, from what I can tell. (There are male students who voluntarily wear ties to class on regular days, and there are girls who get dressed up in their pearls and heels on a regular basis.)

      • Midwest Transplant :

        Is this a school in Philadelphia?

      • Or in Utah?

      • I’ve got butt length hair, and the most I ever do is tie it back in a pony tail or a basic braid. I’m in a law firm, but I’m the librarian, so it’s not like I need to look professional for clients or anything. And the idea that hair must be curled on a regular basis is absolutely ridiculous. Mine wouldn’t hold a curl without soaking it in superglue.

        • business librarian :

          Just because you are a librarian doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t present yourself like you are going to meet external clients. From one to another – act just a professional as those who you serve!

  10. I think it’s most important that your hair looks healthy, well-kept and appropriate for you. E.g., I think long hair that’s long for the sake of being long but is dry, damaged, etc., tends to be very unbecoming.

    That said, I have long hair and it’s probably not “the most professional” hair I could have but I’m not ready to give it up yet. I just put it up for work and tend not to worry about it.

    If I was going to graduate to a more “professional” haircut, I think I would go for something just above the shoulders. I love Diane Sawyer’s hair for the mix of serious and still feminine.

    • Research, Not Law :


    • hellskitchen :

      A TJ off this post… when you put up your hair, do you do anything to make it look more professional? I twist my hair up and put a thin goody elastic around it. It looks neat from front but isn’t particularly styled… no hair wrapped around to hide the elastic or product to tame loose tendrils. Is it necessary to do more to a low bun to make it feel more professional? Any ideas?

      • I just do a low bun with a hair-colored elastic most days. When I need a little extra polish, I just spend a little more time on the part, bobby pin the sides so they have somewhat more volume and are more elegant and then use a few more pins to make the bun adhere to my head better and give it all a spritz of hair spray. I have a lot of hair and it’s naturally wavy and dark though, so I feel like you can’t really see the elastic in mine anyway. Though who knows, maybe you can. Either way, it doesn’t strike me as a huge deal.

        • hellskitchen :

          Thanks. I have dark hair too but pretty straight and wondered if a visible elastic made the look too casual. I’ll try out the bobby pins on the side idea for some interest in front before I make the bun

      • JessiJames :

        I’m really fond of the hair-wrapped-around-the-elastic trick. It seems to make the difference between “ponytail for work” and “ponytail for working out”. Two bobby pins to hold it down (usually at a 90-degree angle to each other) and it stays all day – as long as I don’t do any headbanging in the car while I’m stuck in traffic. :P

      • DefenseWonk :

        I use spin pins and goody’s version of the sock bun — both are available at drugstores and fairly easy to use (although I can’t make spin pins work without bobby pins).

  11. I agree that there isn’t one overall rule for a ‘professional’ cut. That said, I also think it’s true that long hair becomes more difficult to maintain well as it gets older – not for style reasons, but just because hair is more prone to split ends, etc.

    But if you’re able to rock it, rock it!

    • Diana Barry :

      I think as long as it looks nice and not messy, it’s fine. Just thinking of what looks NOT professional:

      – half-inch grey roots when the rest of the hair is a totally different color
      – messy long hair (no style, just down all the time and played with all the time, or with reading glasses on instead of a headband)
      – obvious blond highlights when base color is too dark. This last one is a pet peeve of mine, but I feel like if you’re going to be a blond, get a base color first and THEN the highlights. I have a friend with this hair and I always want to say to her, go blond all the way or just accept the brown! :)

      • …and I sheepishly remove my glasses from the top of my head…

        • Clearly Speaking :

          And I wonder what ladies who are accepting the gray as supposed to do while the fake color fades/grows out…

          • As a person who is accepting her gray I’m going through a somewhat protracted process of phasing out blonde highlights, getting more low lights and allowing the gray to show through. It’ll probably take several months but in the next year or so I’m planning to be back to my natural color with gray.

          • Frou Frou :

            Yeah, I have roots that are grey, but my base and my color are so close that you can only tell because you can see some of the grey strands. I’m having a really hard time deciding what to do with my hair anymore. Part of me wants to embrace the grey, the other part of me is all, “H3ll no!” How’d you ladies get to the point of embracing it? Also, my hair is long and straight – a little bit past my bra strap. So, grow out is going to be horrible.

        • ExcelNinja :

          also guilty!

      • Belt-length hair on women over 40 doesn’t look that professional, IMO.

  12. Homeroom Teacher :

    Roll Call

    Are there any Corpor 3 tt 3s we haven’t heard from in awhile that we’re wondering about?

    • Lyssa. She’s popped on a handful of times since her delivery date, but hasn’t answered any questions about how she and baby are doing (at least, not that I’ve seen). It makes me worry and I hope everything is okay.

      • AnonInfinity :

        That was my first thought, too!

      • Same re Lyssa. I also wonder about Seattleite.

        I also miss DC Jenny as she seemed to really feel me on the misanthrope-bride stuff.

        • Seattleite is doing well. She’s now getting chemo every week and it’s going well. Fortunately she has very supportive kids and mom. Most impressively, she’s kept her sense of humor through this process.

          If you’d like to send her cards/emails/care packages, please feel free to contact me: SunnyD6206 at aol (yes, aol).

          • That’s great news, thank you so much SunnyD. I actually have her address and have sent several things over the months, but hadn’t heard anything in a while and thus my concern. If you tell her Monday says hi, she will know who you mean :)

          • I think she’s just exhausted (weekly chemo? Ugh!). But when I do hear from her, she comments about how much she appreciates all the support.

      • Diana Barry :

        Ditto – I hope she’s just tired!

    • Mary Ann Singleton :

      I miss Susedna but I know she can’t access the site from work any longer. How about K…in transition? Has anyone heard from her for a while?

      • K is doing well – we were just emailing today. Seems pretty busy with work.

      • Susedna has been blogging on Tumblr now, I think.

        Do any of you remember a poster named Eponine? I always liked her handle and I wonder what’s happened to her.

        • Pretty sure :

          I believe that Eponine is still among us, and posting regularly under a different name.

          • AnonInfinity :

            Oh! That is great. I remember Eponine and remember thinking that we would be friends in real life if we knew each other.

    • and e_p and Houda.

    • Mrs. BEF.

  13. work can get a lot of things from me – time, attention, proper clothing, etc. but it does not get my hair too. I think just about any style can be professional (in a traditional office setting) so long as it’s clean, neat, etc. & you don’t have to cut it all off or short to achieve that.

    • lawsuited :

      Agreed. My hair is long and layered, with the longest layer almost waist-length. I don’t think it’s particularly professional, but I like it the way it is and don’t want to cut it off. I have to wear a pant suit every day whether I like it ornot, but I wear my hair straight, curled, half-up or in a bun, depending only on what I feel like. I need some small rebellion!

  14. CA lawyer :

    Speaking of hair, does anyone have a recommendation for a hair dryer that is good for drying thick hair quickly?

    • While we’re thinking blowdryers, does anyone have one that is very hot on the low setting? I want heat to set my curls but low so they’re minimally disrupted. I find that even with a diffuser, the high setting is too much.

      • Do you have one that has separate temp and fan speed settings? I have a nothing special one that has 3 temps (cool, warm, not) and 2 fan speeds (low and high).

        • Yes, I’ve tried a few with separate speed and temp controls, but I haven’t found one that’s actually hot when you set temp at hot and speed at low.

    • You probably need a salon quality/grade hair dryer. Ask your stylist next time you go in.

    • I swear by the Sedu Revolution hair dryer (full name is Sedu Revolution Pro Tourmaline Ionic 4000i Hair Dryer). Dries my long (4″ past collar bone), extremely thick hair in under 10 minutes. The ion feature smoothes and shines as well. I find the dryer to be fairly light & easy to handle, but YMMV. Purchased on Folica – they always have promos and I think I paid about $120 for mine.

      • Second the Sedu… bought it at ULTA for about the same price ($120)! My stylist told me that cheap, drugstore/Target type blow dryers can actually eat your hair and cause major breakage. If you have never used a quality blow dryer, you are seriously missing out. With the Sedu, I don’t need to use any styling products. I just use a round brush and a little Moroccan Oil and my hair is voluminous and shiny.

    • I have a Sedu Revolution and prefer it to the T3.

    • I find that the ion ones are pretty good (and I have 3x the hair that my sister does and she doesn’t look like she has thin hair).

    • I have one I bought from Ulta that blows hot at low speed (the temp settings are separate from the speed settings). Google Revlon retractable cord hair dryer. It is black, foldable, and comes with 2 attachments.

    • Blue Stocking :

      After much research, I got this one, which is both inexpensive and works well for my very thick hair. It’s made a huge difference on cutting down fly-aways. My first one did wear out after two years, but at less than $20, I had no problem buying another straight away:

      Revlon RV544 1875 Watt Tourmaline Ionic Lightweight Dryer, Silver/Black

      I also got this mini hairdryer for traveling. It’s not as fast as the full-size Revlon, but it’s still way better than the hotel hairdryers and it’s very small and light:

      Babyliss Tourmaline Mini Folding Travel 1000 Watt Hair Dryer – Red

  15. Great topic that seems to come up about once year. In today’s world any length of hair is accepted as long as it is neat and healthy. Personally, I think a professional woman looks her best with her hair on the shorter side. I have had hair of all different lengths and styles, but always seem to return a short cut. My husband is also one of the few guys in the world that loves short hair.

  16. Seventh Sister :

    I totally believe in serious, professional long hair on women (Kathryn Bigelow, Julianne Moore, etc.). I used to have cute pixie short hair, but I don’t have the time to get it cut every six weeks.

    That said, I think long hair looks best on the post-college woman when it is a great cut, a realistic color,* and not all that long. A friend of mine who is pushing 70 looked much younger when she cut about six inches off of her waist-length gray hair. So less “Portlandia” bookstore sketch, more Angie Harmon in “Law & Order.”

    *I love the idea of blue hair, actually. Here in Southern California, I see a lot of suspend-the-disbelief blond that would look better as light or dark brown with subtle highlighting.

  17. This is a tough question for me because I have very thick, curly hair that I recently cut to just above the shoulder and I am absolutely in love with it. My curls are more defined and I’m less inclined to flyaways and frizz. I don’t think the length corresponds to professionalism but the wonderful things it has done to the quality of my hair makes me look more polished. I’ve seen some women with long, beautiful hair that looks very professional. I’ve also seen some women with long hair that looks like it hasn’t been trimmed in years and it’s not beautiful. So for me, it’s about taking care of your hair and scalp.

  18. I have curly hair! I don’t straighten it. It’s shoulder length.
    I realize this is not the professional norm, but I do wish more women with curly hair would just wear their hair curly because then we’d be less of a minority.


    • I’ve got the same and wear it to work curly every day. I rarely if ever straighten mine.

    • Divaliscious11 :

      Same here. I’ve straightened mine once since 2009….. been promoted twice since then so am guessing a head full of curls is not a determining factor…..

    • Does anyone have product recs for curly hair? I live in the South so I’m looking for light and encouraging to my natural curls, if such a thing exists.

      • Dessert Doctor :

        I guess I’m all over this thread. I highly recommend the Curlisto line (http://shop.curlisto.com/), out of a salon in NYC. After a lifetime of searching for the right products, this has been my go-to for years. They have instructional videos and whatnot on their website to see how they suggest you utilize the products (I personally tend to follow their approach fairly strictly). I’ve also found their products stand up pretty well to heat and humidity (DC summers).

      • SAlit-a-gator :

        My hair sounds very similar to yours. I love TIGI Catwalk Curls Rock Curl Creme (turquise bottle about $13) and Paul Mitchell Curl creme (exact name escapes me, but its in a clear bottle and it’s twisted gel and creme, looks like a face product, $22).

      • Anonymous :

        My hair can be more wavy/frizzy than curly, and I have landed with Kiehl’s Strong-Hold Styling Hair Gel… Takes away the frizz and makes it curl. I have thick, shoulder length hair. Best is that it’s not greasy or stiff and I can go 3 days between washings.

        It says it’s good for all hair types, but I think it would be too heavy for most.


    • Dessert Doctor :

      Same here! I never straighten my thick, super-curly hair as I find it to be damaging, and can’t even begin to want to invest the amount of time into it that it would take. Occasionally I wear it pulled back, but that’s likely to be due to a desire to sleep in (or the expected likelihood of being able to work in my office alone without meetings). I do wish it was more common to see shoulder-length curly-haired professionals!

    • Yep. I never straighten my curly hair. It’s shoulder length with a soft fringe & I’m 37. My hairdresser often straightens my hair when she cuts it & my dh HATES it with a passion. Besides, I don’t have the patience to straighten it. I ‘do’ my bangs (blowdry & tame with a straightening iron), put product in the rest of my hair, and let it air dry on my way to work – which takes about 45 min, and by the time I’m in the office it’s 85% dry.

    • Go for it! :

      This is a absolutely a grass-is-always-greener situation, but I can tell you this (uncurl-able) straight haired gal is pretty envious of naturally curly hair. I love that curls can be so different from one person to the next; it makes your look more unique. I say keep on rocking it!

      • Silvercurls :

        Grass is greener…absolutely! I spent ages 13-26 alternately cutting and growing out my very curly hair and while longing for frizz-free, shiny, super-straight, French braidable hair. Going short for good resulted when I realized that I was spending all my time wearing my hair (badly) pinned up so that it (almost) looked short anyway. Spending lots of time with a dryer or hair products never interested me or my mom…and besides, neither one of us knew anything much about advanced hair styling. The great consolation about returning to short hair was that life got easier when I accepted my hair the way it is. I now enjoy long hair on other people and am grateful not to have to plan my hair washes so that it’s fully dry by bedtime. Sleeping on wet hair, long or short, leaves me looking like the Bride of Frankenstein; with short hair I don’t have to wash only in the morning or very early evening to allow for hours of waiting for my hair to air dry without having to stay up half the night.

        Like I said, I enjoy long hair on other people. I do agree that it should be kept under control (which includes curls!) but hey, I also think that I have to keep my gray hair neatly trimmed. I-needed-a-haircut-two-weeks-ago gray hair needs to be accessorized with a broom!

    • I’m another curly that almost always wears my hair curly to the office. I say “almost always” because today its straight and at least 3 of my coworkers looked at me like they didn’t know who I was at first. Very funny. Call it unprofessional, but I am not spending an hour/hour-and-a-half a day doing my hair.

    • wintergreen126 :

      I’ve only posted a few times before, and anonymously at that, but I wanted to chime in to say I totally agree! I’m A 3L and looking around in class, most of the women seem to wear their straight. Even the the ones I know have naturally curly or wavy hair.

      I have thick curls, and I wear it curly to class and to work. And it defintely stands out. But so long as I can keep the frizz under control, I think it looks fine.

    • Amen to this! I was getting a little frustrated with the Julianne Moore/Kathyrn Bigelow references (vs. Jessica Alba’s waves), as the consensus seemed to be that the only longer hair that is professional is that which is painfully (and harshly) blown out.

      In the last year and a half I’ve come to embrace my natural loose curls, and have even grown out my pixie cut to shoulder length to boot. Literally not a day goes by that I don’t get complements on my hair, with incredulous questions (nearly all from women) about whether or not my hair is natural. Yes, yes it is, and I am (finally) proud of it.

      Oh, and I’m going to be 45 this year. Long live the naturally curly!

      • Buttercream :

        Second that! After many years with a pixie (married, stay at home mom years), I got divorced, went back to school, became a lawyer at 48 and grew out my hair. It’s shoulder length and surprisingly, has all these loose curls that I’d long forgotten I had. I’m having a ball with it, feel so pretty and feminine, and wouldn’t dream of cutting it again. I just can’t understand why I didn’t do this years ago!

  19. When it comes to long hair, I think a styled blow-out (or DIY at-home blow-out) will automatically make a longer haircut look 10x more professional than if it were simply flat ironed. That said, it really does depend on the person and the hair.

    • +1. In general, I find long hair (past bra straps) to look very college-girl-esque when it is stick straight/flat-ironed. Something with a bit more body and curl at the ends (a la Kate Middleton) projects more maturity and professionalism.

    • Divaliscious11 :

      Blown straight or flat ironed straight does not equal more professional….. clean, healthy, well groomed = professional

      • I agree with you, however I think the point Pancakes was trying to make was not “straight is more professional than curly/other healthy & well groomed styles”, but rather “if you have long, straight-ish hair, it looks more professional when blown out vs. flat-ironed stick straight.”

  20. What do people think about coloring your hair? I overhead someone at my firm say they thought it was strange that a female candidate with obvious grays wouldn’t color her hair. Is it more professional to dye your hair? I think it would look strange to have obvious gray roots but have the rest of your hair colored, but I don’t think it’s unprofessional to have salt and pepper hair.

    • AnonInfinity :

      I currently dye my hair to cover the grays, but I am 30 and don’t have a tremendous number of them. When my whole head is gray, I’ll probably phase out the coloring because of the issue with roots.

      I don’t think it’s unprofessional at all to have grays; I just prefer not having them.

      • WorkingMom :

        Same here, I am 30 with graying roots. I feel like I’m far too young to “give in” and “own” the gray look. Plus… not sure if it’s even a full head of gray or not, since I dye it as soon as I see the roots coming in. FWIW, I do dye it back to my natural hair color.

    • Anon in DC :

      Grey or white hair is not unprofessional. It isn’t on men. When I was interviewing, I was looking for places where the senior women didn’t color their hair. We have to stop the madness.

      • Clearly Speaking :


      • hellskitchen :

        Cosign. I have actually met several men in late 20s and early 30s who went gray early and rocked a salt n pepper or almost silver head. Having gray hair has actually helped them professionally because they look more mature. I realize that standards for men and women are different but they’ll stay that way if everyone gives in. I have started seeing gray hairs and I don’t ever plan to color them.

    • I have this internal debate constantly. I am not “old enough” to have the amount of grey that I do (I just turned 28). However, I cannot do anything to my hair color-wise without that awful silver line appearing at my part in a matter of weeks. My hair is still more brown than grey, but, to my eye, the growth looks worse than full-length greys ever could. For me it is not worth the time and money that would be required to get rid of the grey *and* sufficiently deal with the growth so that my roots do not scream to everyone I meet “HEY EVERYONE, I HAVE GREY HAIR AND I’M FAILING AT HIDING IT.”

      I have never heard anyone say having grey hair in and of itself is unprofessional (whereas I know many people who share my hatred for obvious roots). I suspect the person you overheard is of the opinion that a woman should hide any sign of aging as best she can for as long as possible, which has nothing to do with professionalism. Fooey on them.

    • Clearly Speaking :

      This is the year I decided to go for it – meaning quit coloring. A decision that came in a bit of a flash (partially because my hairstylist and I could never get my color right) and partially because it is time.

      I am currently 90% less terrified of going gray and being discriminated against for it than I was even a few year ago.

      Vanity has nothing to do with it. Being billable and employed, does.

      • I’m in the same situation. I’d like to stop coloring my hair, but I don’t know how to transition. I imagine it will take many visits to a colorist and lots of cash. What’s your plan?

    • My hair lady seized my grey streak and exclaimed, “Promise me you will never dye this!” I think it looks awesome and I’m hoping to become as cool as Bonnie Raitt someday.

  21. I Do Not Like the Cone of Shame :

    This is a sensitive topic for me, because I have a love/hate relationship with my naturally curly hair. (And my curls are crazy party frizzy curls, not cute polished ringlets). A few years ago I ditched the curls, went the Brazilian Blowout route, and am happy I did it.

    So sad to have to say, but I think there are very narrow views of what a polished woman looks like. I didn’t make up these rules but after several years I admit I have succumbed to it. I think it’s no different than the clothing discussed on this blog – there’s often a pre-conceived uniform of what’s professional attire, and your hairstyle and makeup are part of it. It would be great if individuality was more celebrated in the workplace, but it’s not in many industries.

    • My hair sounds similar to yours, and I did the Brazilian Blow-Out once. I probably would have continued to do it – but then I realized the ONE feature that I have in common with my toddler daughter is our curly hair. I don’t want her to grow up thinking her gorgeous ringlets are not ideal, and I want to have something physical in common with her (because that little chickadee DOES NOT look like her momma!).

      • anon with MIL below :

        Yes, my MIL’s insistence on a blowout above all costs even at the expense of doing things she wants to do like exercise, and flat out refusal to wear her curly hair ever ever ever seems like a form of self-hatred to me. But I have straight hair, so I don’t know anything about having curly hair.

  22. Divaliscious11 :

    The one that makes you feel and look amazing……?

  23. So, I recently started playing around with using product in my hair (yes, I’m 27, and yes, I’m a little bit behind on this whole styling thing) and I’m shocked by what a huge difference it makes without adding much more time or looking like I’m using product. Right now I’m just using Kenra creme paste and Kenra silkening mist, but I’d love to hear about everyone elses’ favorite product.

    • AnonInfinity :

      Agreed! I just got a sleek new cut and am in the market for a something that cuts down on the frizzies and flyaways that will not damage my color.

      My hairdresser gave me a cream, but it’s not quite strong enough.

      • Oil. Put a teeny little drop in the palm of your hand, rub your hands together and with a light touch, run your hands through your hair.

        • hellskitchen :

          Which oil do you use? I find coconut or olive too greasy (not easily spreadable) no matter how little I use?

          • I find Camellia much lighter than coconut or olive (although I do sometimes use coconut on my ends or overnight as a deep treatment).

          • hellskitchen :

            Thanks. This is a new one for me. Where do you buy it?

  24. My MIL came to visit this weekend and I found out she gets her naturally very curly hair blown out into basically a helmet every week, and is afraid of water/rain because it will make her hair curl. She’s going on a charity trip to Africa soon (she’s a doctor and is helping a hospital) and unsuccessful searched the entire undeveloped country for a hairdresser who can do her hair, and then decided that since she can’t get her hair done, she won’t wash her hair the two weeks she’s there, and only use dry shampoo. When she went to Europe recently, she located hairdressers in each of the places she was going. She won’t work out except if the next day is a salon day because if she sweats, her hair will curl. She won’t swim because see above. She’s an accomplished and very smart woman, but her seeming terror of having her naturally curly hair deeply saddens and baffles me. Is this a normal thing? Does anyone else’s hairstyle limit their life activities?! To me it looks like a heroin addict looking for her next fix and constantly worrying about running out of drugs.

    • Oh man, this gives me the sads. I have naturally curly hair. Would it be easier if it were straight (or straight-er) so that I could style it more easily or go straight from gym to life with some dry shampoo on occasion, instead of needing to wash it? Sure. But that ain’t happening in this lifetime. And I’d rather have my curls and just be myself than be wedded to a lifetime of avoiding rain, avoiding exercise, avoiding steamy lady garden parties, etc., all in the name of preserving a false reality.

      • I absolutely agree with Anon! I’m very happy that I feel at peace with my curly hair, and even look forward to visiting humid places because my hair gets even curlier.

      • Well said. I care about my appearance quite a bit, but past a point…if you’re not living life, what are you looking so good for anyway?

      • WorkingMom :

        Makes me sad, too! Sounds like a lifetime spent wishing she had someone else’s hair. I cannot imagine skipping workouts, swimming, travel, etc – all to keep up a hairstyle! It must be EXHAUSTING. I mean, it’s kind of like living a lie – overdramatic yes, but you get my point. I wonder what else she “maintains” so rigidly to keep up a specific appearance.

    • Clearly Speaking :

      This is tragic. I get the anxiety. I am old and black and the nappy roots in my white neighborhood growing up gave me similar anxiety. But to still be ‘chasing that dragon’ at your MIL’s age – the stress would kill me. How incredibly sad for her to be living in constant fear of her natural beauty!

    • Er, (Japanese) magic straightening?

      It’s awesome. You can’t wash your hair for 3 days, but for the next 6 months, you don’t have to worry about a thing (until your roots grow out). Some salons also do touch up appointments instead of damaging all your hair. Most major cities with a decent Asian Am population should have a salon or two that does it (in case your MIL is not in NJ/NYC/LA, where you’ll have a ton of options).

      I did this for the last 10 years, and love it, except that it does damage hair a little, so I’m trying to go without but I might be looking “unprofessional” by the standards of some of the ladies here…

      • Maggie Dixon :

        The Japanese hair straightening technique doesn’t work for everyone. I had it done once — $500 plus, IIRC, and it took HOURS (like 6-7) because they had to keep repeating it b/c it didn’t seem to “take” on me. And it didn’t — within three days, my hair was back to its normal, curly/wavy/frizzy self. (I am Caucasian — Eastern European background — with very, very thick hair, which at the time was uncolored.)

    • anon in tejas :

      it’s her safety blanket (it sounds like). I like to think that we all have one. I don’t think any less of her that she does, but it is disappointing to see the chink in the armor (of such a strong professional woman).

    • Get her the book Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey. Changed my (curly) life.

      I had my hair in a super short pixie cut for 15 years because I hated my curls. I now rock shoulder length gorgeous natural curls because I finally (in my mid-40s) learned how to take care of them. Get.Her.The.Book.

  25. Changing your hair for work beyond the basic obligation to look clean/neat/polished smacks of capitulation to me. I have long straight blonde hair and I wear it down to work sometimes; recently a client suggested to me that I cut my hair to be taken more seriously. I just gave her a “say whaaaat??” look.

  26. So does this mean I don’t wear the polka dot hijab to the office? Eh, at least it covers my purple hair.

    • I see many women wearing all colors and patterns of hijabs to work, so why not go for the polka dots? I might avoid the rainbow-colored tie-dye hijab though–unless you work in a very casual office or it’s dress-like-a-hippie-day.

      • Oh, I absolutely do. All kinds of patterns and colors. I was just unsuccessfully snarking at this post – neat and professional works, regardless of your hair texture, length, style, color or covering.

  27. Clearly Speaking :

    To answer your question, Kat, and to echo some of the comments already posted:

    The best, professional hair cut/style is the one that suits your face, is easy to maintain, and is usually accepted as appropriate for your profession.

    The reasonable (wo)man test definitely applies here. Know your industry, know your clientele, know yourself.

  28. My hair is moderately curly, but fine. If I just let it dry, there are faint ringlets on the bottom, but awkwardly wavy “drowned rat” hair on top, and if it’s not very humid outside, the curls are between waves and curls and all different odd shapes. Does anyone have hair like mine? I blow it out every morning because I’ve never been able to figure out how to make the curl/wave work for me. A hairdresser once styled it curly for me after a cut and it just looked extra fine (because the curls were all separated, so there were all these thin little curls). Sigh. Would love any suggestions on how to at least make a wavy look work without the awkward slamped-down-on-skull look at the top.

    • And, yes, I’ve tried using a round brush on the crown to get some lift, but I have trouble doing that without also sort of straightening the top layer, then I have straight top layer with weird curls underneath.

    • Velcro rollers do wonders for give my fine straight hair for volume and bounce. Added bonus that they curl under my ends a bit. Maybe they would work on your curls

    • Sounds like mine – it’ll be curly/wavy if I convince it too and don’t touch it until it’s absolutely dry and then don’t touch it after that. And even if I do let it air dry, I risk getting Klingon hair (see any Klingon in Star Trek:TNG – big and volumious).

      So, I usually twist it up in a bun wet (or almost dry and let in air dry the rest of the way). I usually try to put in on the crown or towards the top of my head, so it’s tight along the back of my head, but still a little loose/poufy on top – and then I’ll sleep on it. It helps smooth out the frizz and gives it a little wave without being all crazy. I also use a rich moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, with a small dab of hairdresser oil to heat protect (if I blow dry) and fight static (in the winter).

    • I have hair like yours.

      I call it, “Using the power of curl for good instead of evil.”

      I finally found a stylist who cut my hair in the way it wanted to be cut.


      (And my hair has loved the side-swept bangs look the last few years. Blow dry with big round brush.)

    • Curly gals, I recently decided to stop fighting my curls and sought out information to help me manage them while healing the damage I’ve done with straightening, blowing, curling and generally frying. Here is what I’ve found: it’s all about how you handle it after “washing” to allow the curl to form without disruption. This includes leave-in conditioner, not drying with a terrycloth towel, but pressing the curls to your head with an old t-shirt or microfiber towel to remove water. Adding gel and more conditioner, depending on your hair type. I was never able previously to get rid of frizzies AND get any curl at the scalp (as previous posters have mentioned), but following the advice I found in the book Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey, and websites such as naturallycurly.com for advice on cutting, shampooing (or not), types of ingredients to use or avoid, handling and refreshing, I’m able to style my hair well and have it merely be refreshed on day two and three…and it feels so much more healthy. Have stopped brushing/combing and ironing to allow the curl to really develop, and have much more time on my hands as a consequence.

  29. Seriously? :

    Oh my gawd, seriously? Keep your hair clean and presentable and up-to-date, whatever that means for you. There is no such thing as The One Most Professional Hairstyle, and thank God for that. Is Kat running out of topics? Some of the issues raised here lately have me wondering WTF else I’m supposed to be worrying my pretty little head about.

    • I’m actually really pleased by the number of people who think this is a silly topic. My mom’s Dress for Success book circa 1985 was pretty adamant about NO LONG HAIR. Makes me happy that we might live in a post “no being all feminine and…female” era.

  30. If you’re competent, your hair looks fine. :). In fact, your hair looks amazing.

  31. JessiJames :

    Seconding all the “if it looks clean, neat, and presentable, it’s FINE.” comments. It’s just hair!

    I’ve had coworkers tell me I should dye or cut my bra-length blonde hair (mostly straight, little bit of wave if I air-dry it, natural color), either to be taken more seriously or “just for a change” (excuse YOU, Mr. Nosy, if I want a change I’ll be the one who decides what changes!). No, I do not want to get a chin-length bob, I tried it in middle school and hated it, and NO, I do not want to dye my hair burgundy. Props to the ladies who can rock that color, but it would not look good on me!

  32. Anon 4this :

    Well…I’m going to state a minority opinion here and say that I don’t think neat and clean is all that is needed to make a hairstyle professional. I think for some women certain long hairstyles read “too young” or even “not serious”. Maybe this isn’t fair, but it is true. And I do notice that often women wearing long hair down fiddle with it without realizing they are doing so. Just a reminder. Sorry to be negative. But I think a shorter style is “safer”.

    • Give me a break. Of course, if you say something is “safer” that’s what we should all strive for, right? Puhleeze.

      • Anon 4this :

        No. That’s not what I said. Kat asked the question about “professional hairstyles”. I am responding to that, and to the number of folks here who seem to think that anything goes. I don’t agree.

        If you are in a position where it is important that you be taken seriously…especially if you are new to it…you do have to pay attention to things like hairstyle, fashion choices, nails, etc. That’s one of the reasons people follow this blog, actually.

  33. PA Attorney :

    Does anyone have the problem of rapidly thinning hair? I have AGA and I’m seriously wondering if I’ll have to wear a wig in a few years and how that will play out…

  34. Any thoughts on whether straight across bangs makes one look too young or unprofessional? I’m in my twenties and have a chin-length layered cut. I’ve been debating getting bangs, yet worry it will make me look even younger at the office…

    • Yes, I think it’s a look that makes you look younger.

      If you’re going for gravitas, I’d avoid the Zoey Deschanel look.

  35. Anonymous :

    Heck, when I was in my late 30s I started growing out my hair just to see if I could do it. The beauty of long hair is that you can wear it up or down. In professional situations, I always made sure it was “controlled” and styled but whenever I was running late, I threw it up into a chignon. Very elegant. Now I have collar bone length hair which is so much easier to take care of but I do miss the long long hair (mine was down to the middle of my back). Really, there is not “age limit” on hairstyles as long as they are flattering.

  36. Move to Southern California and you can wear long hair forever.

  37. An Anonymous Lurker :

    Who has suggestions for a young (under 30) professional who has obviously female patterned hair loss/baldness? Embrace the reality or opt for a wig?

  38. What’s the best length for making an afro look professional? (I’m going to sidestep the whole is an afro professional debate. I don’t like spending half an hour each day blowdrying my hair and spending loads of money straightening it and on products to keep it from being damaged by the heat and the relaxer.) I usually let my afro grow to about two and a half inches before I cut it down to half an inch. But, I think that might be two long. I think shorter looks more professional for afros.

    • One of my colleagues has beautiful twists that are about 3 inches long. She had a short afro previously and her longer hair looks SO much better on her. She is 100% natural (she’s actually the person who recommended the book Curly Girl to me, which has changed my outlook on my hair tremendously). She sometimes clips her hair back too. I have another colleague who has a more traditional afro which is fairly long (2-3 inches) and she look FABULOUS. I think it’s a matter of confidence.

  39. I came across this thread with a bit of delay and I have to say I find it very amusing that Angela Merkel could ever be anyone’s hair goddess! Her bad haircuts have been the subject of much ridicule in Germany for years, even though they’ve improved considerably since she’s in office (check out pictures of her when she was younger… good grief!).

    To stay on topic, I cut my hair into an (ever-shorter) pixie after starting out at my first “proper” job after grad school. My hair was below my shoulder blades when I started and after I cut it I got a lot of comments (from friends, not colleagues! That would creep me out!) on my more “adult” cut. I haven’t regretted it even for a second. Still, I fall into the “whatever floats your boat” camp. As long as it’s well kept and tidy, long hair can look very professional.

  40. I sure would like to revisit this hair thing again. Hair is so personal I don’t know if anybody would tell me if my hair style was professional or not.

    I’m 45 and a I’m a bodybuilder. My physique looks young.- mid 30s. I am a corporate executive and I have shoulder length wavy hair that’s a bit messy. I realized that looks good with my face – the curls do. But in terms of professionalism I’m at a loss. I don’t know if it looks bad or good. What to do?

  41. This may not get any responses since I’m posting late but this topic comes at a good time. I just cut about 6 inches off my hair. I’m in my mid-20s, but I started feeling it was just a bit too long to be professional, and when I went to get it cut decided to just make a big change. It’s now an inch past my shoulders.

    It seems to get oily MUCH faster than when it was long, which is kind of the opposite of what I was expecting. I used to be able to absolutely go 2 days without washing, 3 depending on the time of year. Now it starts getting oily at the end of the first day and I feel like the second is pushing it.

    I’m not really looking for recommendations since I already use dry shampoo, just curious if anyone else has experienced this?