Ask The Editors: Hair, Hair, Everywhere

Greetings, kittens, and welcome back to another roundabout session of Ask The Editors, where we dive into the ethos of the Persephone question game. This week, we are talking about a subject that most ladies seem to deal with once they move into a certain sphere of life: hair–what’s professional? How will we answer? Who knows? Seek the answers you wish to find below, as we expend our collective knowledge on frizz, pigtails, and what the hell “professional” hair means. (Frankly, we still aren’t all that sure.)

I am about to graduate with a Master’s degree and the thought of entering the “professional world” has led me to wonder: what are the best hairstyles to look both good and professional but that can be done quickly and easily. Is it appropriate to keep your hair down or should it usually be up in some way? Does length ever have its own issues? Thanks!


Zoe Saladana sports a swept up look thats sure to win you big bonuses.

Sally J: My answer: length doesn’t matter as much as tidiness does–if it’s short, keep it cut in some sort of style, if it’s long, keep the ends trimmed. If you’re in an awkward phase growing-wise, figure out a way to tame it with accessories. Basically, most work places are more professional than most classrooms, so make sure your morning routine includes more than a headband in wet hair (my hair style of choice during my college years).

SaraB: Keep it neat and keep it out of your face and you will be fine.

Michelle Miller: It’s perfectly acceptable to wear your hair down, but try to keep it swept off your face and tidy. If your hair is particularly long, you may want to consider whether it will get caught behind you when you sit in an office chair–that used to drive me nuts when I had long hair. Some professional-looking up-dos also do not take much time. You can do a sleeked-back ponytail or a ponytail with a teased crown so that it looks “done.” You can also do the sock bun method to bring some curl into your hair that will stay all day and take almost no time in the morning (Google it!). Once you’ve got curled hair, just about any sort of pinning up or half back will look great and professional.

Stock photo professionalism! Yet, still a great example of keeping hair of your face, while still keeping it loose.

Coco Papy: I’ve got a huge head of frizzy hair (think Malou Airaudo) that looks “unprofessional” no matter what I do. I don’t think length is an indicator of professional-ness, nor the look of it, but as they say, don’t hate the player, hate the game, I find that having your hair up always looks very nice–a quick French twist, a bun, ponytail, or even something a bit more playful, yet still about being pulled back. For short hair, I think it’s about maintaining it so that when your cut grows out, it doesn’t look askew. One thing I learned that can be of benefit to you is: what’s more important, how you want to look everyday or where you work? Hair is valuable and personal–sometimes it’s an indicator of who we are and what we deal with. Personally, I go running for the hills if I ever go somewhere and the vibe is not friendly to any hair outside of a few choice of stark options, but I also have worked in very casual environments. In a way, it makes me feel like it relates to the rest of the place. However, this is one of the worst economic times and what one lady’s conservative is, is another lady’s “freak out!” Look to your mentors–what are they doing? Look at those already in your field–how are they styling themselves? And more importantly, what is comfortable for you?

QueSarahSarah:  I agree with everyone else … keep it neat and out of your face.

Michelle Williams sports a fashionable and manageable haircut for both work and play.

Meghan Krogh: Length is not really an indicator of professionalism, though some professional circles will have people who note to themselves whether you keep your ends trimmed or not. (Trufax.) Your basic guidelines are: probably don’t want to do any cuts that are TOO edgy, though it depends on the professional sphere you’ll be entering. By “too edgy,” i mean stuff like shaving half your head or cutting designs into your hair; feather extensions are probably out too unless your master’s degree was in Graphic Design or Marketing, in which case you do what you want, girl (no, seriously). In terms of up versus down, there’s no guideline, but hair that is down should be clean, combed, and dry when you come into the office or into an interview. Hair that is up should probably avoid stuff like Princess Leia buns or side ponies. Nothing too cutesy. Regular buns, pony tails, braids, and so forth are all considered pretty much de rigeur and you’ll see them everywhere, but people mostly pull their hair up in professional spheres so they have cooler necks and can see their computer screens. As far as ease, short hair dries faster and can be fairly easy to style (and you can talk to a stylist about giving you a cut that is easy to style, professional, and suits your personal style and look well). Long hair is certainly within the professional wheelhouse, though. You really have a lot of freedom. Choose something you like, take out rainbow colors or dramatically asymmetrical styles, and you can pretty much do what you want. Best of luck in your post-academic career search.

Hattie McDoogal: I think it depends upon what kind of working you’re doing physically, as well as how often you are going to be around people (particularly outside your office). I spend a decent amount of time leaning over papers and I find that a two small clips or bobby pins can be your best friend in this case. You can keep those front hairs away from your face while still having it mostly down, if that’s what you prefer. Even when my hair is up, I keep the pins on standby in case there are too many frizzies or stray hairs that come down. If you have a lot of face-to face time with clients or outside people, it’s important to make sure you have a simple, neat hairdo–it’s not terribly important what exactly it is. But it should be something that doesn’t command any attention. You can relax a bit around your day-to-day coworkers in the sense that, as long as you set a precedent of being put-together most of the time, you don’t need to fret about the occasional “off day.” People don’t notice these details as much as you may think, but they *will* notice if your hair is often messy or disheveled.

Another cute and sleek style to impress both colleagues and friends. Points for those glasses I am now pining for.

Slay Belle:  I think that the rest of the editors have really good comments, but I thought I’d chime in as someone who hasn’t always worked in traditional industries. I’ve been very lucky to work in several fields where the color, cut, and freakiness of my hair hasn’t ever been an issue (comics publishing, libraries, desk jockey). My hair has been every color under the sun, most of which do not occur in nature, been shaved, been long, and for a while I had that unfortunate spikey backed hair that was popular in the early aughts. However, shit like that is always a post-interview, post-hiring, post-feeling out office culture.  Always err on the side of conservative as you’re looking for a job. Long hair is ok, really, just keep it trimmed, use product, and AGE APPROPRIATE hair accessories. I can not underline that last part enough. If you dye your hair, keep on top of the roots. The basic french twist is a classic for a reason and super easy to do. Invest in some of those Goody hair spin-curl pins if you have any length to your hair at all–it makes up-dos super easy. Master the sleek ponytail and the not-too-severe bun. You’ll go far with them.

Sally Lawton: Professional hair is really just neat, tidy and put together with nothing crazy. I happen to have a pixie, which is great because I can smooth it down for the office, but make it a little more funky on the weekend. Of course, you have to have the paycheck to afford frequent trims (or be okay braving your cheap-haircut place). I’ve also had a bob, which can be a great option, but again, it will need frequent trimming (though not as much as a pixie). Regarding long hair, I was never too fussy when mine was long, usually just blowing it dry and occasionally curling it (I have stick-straight hair).I’d say for sure to stick with natural hair colors and nothing too edgy, though I’ve worked in offices where pink hair was totally okay. Regarding ponytails: a low, tidy ponytail is sleek. Anything too high might feel to sporty in a more conservative office. Honestly, most haircuts are fine, and many offices these days encourage individuality, so feel it out your first few months and see if you can go a little crazy.

pileofmonkeys:  I think it all depends on your workplace’s culture. If you work in the fashion or beauty industry, you can get a way with a lot: purple hair, mohawks, whatever. In a more conservative environment, I think it’s less about specific styles and more about making sure that your hair is neat and professional looking, and, most importantly, that you aren’t constantly touching/playing with it. If you have awesomely huge, curly, out-of-control hair, that can absolutely still look professional. It’s all in how you present yourself. It doesn’t need to be back or up or tamed or relaxed. If your overall look is professional, your hair is just part of that: long, short, wild, tame, whatever.

Slay Belle: I refuse to believe that crazy lion hair is not a professional look.

Dont we wish we could all go to work like this?

Stephanie:  I believe it is okay to wear your hair down in professional settings if it looks neat; this doesn’t happen naturally for many people, so if you don’t have the time to spend on styling your hair, here are a few quick ideas that I tend to go with. If you have longer hair, a sleek ponytail (as in brush the hair, apply serum to the tail to prevent frizz) is always good, as is a simple bun. Both are pretty easy to do; make sure you give it a light mist of hair spray to keep it in place, and so the part that’s slicked back stays that way. If you’re good with your hands, a French braid is also professional, and it’s great for disguising dirty hair. If your hair isn’t manageable enough to pull it back in a bun or ponytail, pull it back with a barrette, preferably something in a neutral color and in a neutral style. A simple black clip will do. Short hair is often easier to maintain and style. A pixie cut really requires no work. If you have a longer bob, the shorter length still only takes a few minutes with a flat iron to make presentable. If you do have short hair, try to avoid too much teasing. This is all assuming, of course, you’re in a more formal business environment. Some workplaces are more laid back, but in my opinion, it is better to start more conservative and then get more casual as you get a feel for your workplace’s culture. But for goodness’ sakes, don’t put your hair in pigtails. It’s never appropriate (unless you act on children’s shows, I guess).

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35 thoughts on “Ask The Editors: Hair, Hair, Everywhere”

  1. Question! I’m a guy with short hair which curls like a mo fo when it grows out (My mum calls it Irish hair, I call it Wtfery of the highest order). I really love having curly hair and hate having long hair – is there any way I can combine the curl (maybe by having my hair longer on top?!) and the short? Also, is there a way of making short hair curlier?

  2. I’m sad at all of the “don’t leave your hair in your face” comments.  :-(  I have long red hair and most of the time, I wear it in loose, tousled, messy curls that brush my cheeks and fall over one eye.

    I’m just going to pretend I didn’t know that my hairstyle isn’t professional.  Not listening!  lalalalalalalalala

      1. True story – I literally caught myself twirling a curl around my finger while talking to the cute UPS guy last week.  Literally.  I’m 46, people, not 16!

        Grr.  The only thing missing was an accidental bend & snap.

  3. Help! I have had some fun bleaching my hair blonde. I have done it twice and really like it but I do not want to be bleaching mah hair fo’eva. My hair is like a dark grey/brown and I am ready to except that, but what to do about these roots? Would it be best to dye my hair a darker brown while it grows out, something closer to my natural color? Or do I need to face the music of my decisions and invest in a good wig while these roots grow out?

     

    1. When I get tired of the root-bleaching business, I usually just dye it back to a color closer to my roots. Not exactly my ‘natural’ color, because I don’t really care for it, but something in the neighborhood. Get a good trim too, that always makes hair happy after too much bleaching.

  4. A bit late to the party, but right now my hair is a little longer than Michelle Williams’ in that photo. I plan to get it trimmed to around that same length this weekend. I think it looks stylish and professional, and I get complimented every time I get my hair cut to that length.  I keep it styled with pomade, but usually I don’t even have to do anything with it. I still plan to get it cut in that style even though I read recently that the older you get, the shorter your hair should be, and I’m still pretty young.

    1. That’s really awesome. I wouldn’t have any idea how to do that, I can’t even curl my hair.

      I have a pixie cut now, it suits me because I have no idea how to do anything hair-related.

      I can’t even really do makeup that well. My mother has to wipe off the extra blush from my cheeks before I leave the house. I just make myself look like a clown!

  5. I wish I was going into a really liberal work environment, where I could be around people who don’t fit so neatly into boxes and went crazy and creative with their hair and outfits. It can be really inspiring to be around such people and frees me up.

    I plan on going into academia, so that’s out. Maybe I can find some weird hippie college and dress like an eccentric professor.

    I guess, once I really make it, I can work the eccentric professor route and no one will bother me about it.

  6. I would be interested in any recommendations people might have for taming frizziness on the little hairs that appear at the front/top of my head that stick out when I pull it back. I have long, slightly wavy hair, which is only frizzy on the top. I am also pretty much a wash-and-go sort of person, with my daily hair “style” being pulled back in a ponytail or up in a bun, and while in my daily life I really don’t care about them, when I’m dressing up they just look really messy to me. I have tried blowdrying my hair to see if that got rid of the frizz, but it actually made it worse for some reason. I have also tried a ceramic hair straightener in years past, which actually resulted in me having short straight hairs sticking up at the front of my head (NOT a good look). If someone has a product that really works at plastering those little fuckers down, I would be eternally grateful.

    I also have to point out that I don’t actually cut or trim my hair more than once every year or so, in large part because I wear it in a bun quite a lot, and the untrimmed edges are perfect for tucking in to make a smooth-looking bun. But then again, I am currently not actually in a professional environment, so that makes it easier for me!

    1. Weirdly, I recently found that a small amount of Aloe Vera gel works wonders. I pull my hair back and put just a little bit (pea sized drop) in my on my fingers, rub my hands together, then smooth back the hair. It makes a big difference but still seems natural.

      If I’m going out or doing something fancy, I then use a quick spray of Chi hairspray on top.

       

       

      1. I can proudly say that I dyed mine hot pink a few years ago. I loved it – I put sparkles in it too (using clear-sparkle mascara). The process is a wee uncomfy and it requires a general air of maintenance (undergrowth, all the areas you didnt dye growing in). But I loved mine.

  7. I have to go to work right now and will actually comment in full later, but I wanted to say right away that I love your guts(es) for writing about this.

    OKAY REAL COMMENT: I have shoulder length, “natural” hair that comes out in tight waves when it feels like it, and goes nuts when it doesn’t. (I’m Caribbean-American, natural = unprocessed = non-chemically or permanently straightened. I’m not dissing everyone else’s hair, or assuming you grew it in a lab.) I wash it and blow it out right after conditioning the living shit out of it so it’s less frizzy and lies flat on my head, and put it into a bun an inch or two above the nape of my neck. I’ve found that the lower down my bun is, the older/less like a teenager I look.

    Sometimes I’ll put it in braided (box braids) extensions, but apparently, if you leave your braids out, it looks “unprofessional”? So, I put it in a bun then, too. Because, with any kind of ponytail, I manage to look like a cheerleader. Not the sexy kind, the middle-school kind. I’m also a fan of headbands, and while I love the ones with giant bows on them, I can’t wear them in public without looking five.

    I think having unrelaxed, un-straight and/or not ‘mainstream’ hair (meaning, most beauty/fashion magazines won’t feature my hair type. Oddly enough, except Vogue when they’re doing some ridiculous editorial. Which is…often.) makes my professional getting-ready a little more difficult, since I have to make sure everything in the front is smooth and as un-frizzy as I can get it. I also often lose hair pins, but I need those too. A trick I’ve found is that if I put mousse in, brush it, and cover it with a scarf-bun to sleep, in the morning, it’s not going anywhere for a good half a day.

    Terribly sorry if that was very long-winded, I get really passionate about hair. What does everyone else think about “natural” hair and professionalism?

     

    1. I like natural hair on women, but I’m white so thats something to bear in mind.  I mean, I have issues with the pushing of “professional” hair because it can be code for a wee bit o’ spot of racism and I can’t imagine dealing with something like that as a person who kicks ass at a job and like, thats the thing thats concentrated on. Coco & Creme  always does a kick ass job of covering it too.

      I love braids in whatever style they take because I just think the style of a braid is just sexy and fun on whoever sports it (no not 5 year olds, yes on grown women). My mom sports the braided pigtail often and I think it makes her look hot – when shes at work, she does the braids into a bun as well.

    2. I think any time “professional hair” gets discussed, it runs the risk of dipping into racial issues. Personally (although I work in what’s considered a more “creative” field, and my hair often has blue or purple highlights), I think natural hair is just as professional as every other kind of hair. I mean, it’s your hair. It’s not like making the choice between pumps or flip-flops. It’s a part of your body, and as such, like weight or eye color or bra size, it’s part of you. So as long as the things you can control on a day-to-day basis (clothing, footwear, etc.) fit in with your workplace’s environment, what you do with your hair is kind of irrelevant.

      1. So true. I figure that as long as I at least look like I tried to be neat, it’s all okay. I’m mostly concerned because I’m interviewing, and stress out about so many other little things (I will have a meltdown if my nail polish is chipped or if I have fuzzy edges) that it gets added to the pile. But, that seems like pretty sound advice.

        In other news, my hair’s doing all sorts of weird shit lately. I wish your powers extended to unfucking my hair.

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