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Cost and Value of a Professional Image: Hair

August 1, 2011

My hair is pretty long, past my shoulders.  It is naturally straight (even when I try to make it curly or wavy).  I have it cut with long layers and sideswept bangs.

One of my struggles at work is feeling like I’m not always taken seriously at first.  I do not think it is because I am a woman, I think it is because I am young.  My team is very much older and experienced.  I think I look even younger than i really am.  I have a solid 5 years of experience (plus an M.S.!), which in my opinion, is way out of the “newbie” category and well into the “young, bright, talented up-and-comer” category.  (That a category, right?!)

I toyed with the idea of cutting my hair in an attempt to look older and more professional.  But I’m really hesitant.  Shorter hair is a lot more work, and in my “real life”, I don’t want to look older!  I queried Twitter, and popular opinion was:  it matters, and “unstyled hair” is probably the worst.  (Hmmm….  I usually air dry my hair and do a quick flat iron, or I pull it back.  Pretty unstyled!)

I do not think it will make a big difference at work.  But I don’t work with a lot of women.  Most of the ones I do work with have similarly low maintenance hair.  Even the highest ranked woman in SoCal has longish relatively unstyled hair, so I take that as a good sign.  I think it is a little bit of the SoCal casual culture.  You can have fancy hair, or you can have short spiky-ish hair with blue in it.  No one cares, as long as what comes out of your mouth can be taken seriously.   So I think that’s it.  I need to continue to speak up at work and let my words say what my hair does not.  This is not true in all company cultures.  What about yours? 

As a compromise, I’m going to (try to!) be better about trims, etc.  My current girl costs about $65 (including tip) w/free bang trims.  I’m also going to (try to) be better about make-up and eyebrows.  I pluck regularly, but I only get them professionally done right before I have something important, like a big meeting or a vacation (actually, same with my hair).  My nails?  Probably a lost cause.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Bonnie permalink
    August 1, 2011 7:36 am

    The corporate culture here is about as relaxed as it gets (meaning, I’ve seen people wearing sweats and fuzzy slippers at times), so on the one hand I’d say no. That said, even though the company as a whole is OK with very causual dress/hair/tattoos etc., the people who tend to move up quickly are the ones who dress up (meaning at least business-casual on a daily basis) and are really well-groomed with the done hair, makeup, etc.

  2. August 1, 2011 9:39 am

    I always wonder about this, too, actually. My hair is longer than most, and I wonder if it makes me look less professional. I’m also quite young, though certainly qualified for the job I’m in! My industry is pretty casual, but I do sometimes worry if I’m doing myself a disservice by not having a “grown up haircut.”

  3. August 1, 2011 11:31 am

    My company is fairly relaxed (I’m in so cal too) but my position puts me in the public eye a lot so I have to dress up and have a polished/professional look because I’m representing my organization to the community.

    I’ve really tried to cut down on some personal care/beauty stuff in my budget but getting my hair highlighted everyother month is still a priority . . . as for length of hair – well, I have a story about that.

    When I was promoted into my position at the age of 28 I felt like I had to take on an “older” look to be taken seriously. So often I was asked if I was a college intern! So, I cut my long hair drastically to chin length. . . what a mistake!! I hated it – it just wasn’t me. I’ve since grown it out (and now it’s just below my shoulders). To be honest I don’t notice a difference in the way people treat me. I think it’s more important that I look polished and professional than that I have short (or long) hair. 🙂

  4. Bonnie permalink
    August 1, 2011 12:59 pm

    Also, I would never CUT my hair for anyone. I plan on being one of those 90-year-olds with long hair. 🙂 (Albeit perhaps in a bun at that time.)

  5. Jane permalink
    August 1, 2011 3:02 pm

    You seem to work in an engineering-oriented culture, correct? I work in a male-dominated tech company. My hair, my dress, ranges from unimportant to actually working against me if I were to show up looking too “girly.”

    If you’re concerned about not being taken seriously because you’re too young, I would suggest reading “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” and “How to Say It for Women.” There is a lot you can do with communication, speech patterns, and other behaviors that have a much greater affect on your credibility before you get to your hair. I never thought of myself as meek but in reading the books I found I often talked in ways that softened my message and was able to change how I phrased things to make my ideas heard.

  6. August 1, 2011 5:15 pm

    Hmm. I think short hair is less work! I’m kind of unstyled…just brush and go. I suppose it does mean you can’t get away without cutting your hair for a year, so it does take more frequent maintenance in that sense.

  7. Chris permalink
    August 1, 2011 5:28 pm

    As long as it’s neat and clean, it isn’t that big of a deal.

    I did flinch when you mentioned your nails. I am not sure what you meant, exactly, as this is the first time I’ve seen your site, but unattractive (bitten/picked at/nasty cuticle) nails are a pet peeve and I have a gut reaction/strong aversion to someone in that situation. They don’t have to be “done” just neat and clean.

  8. August 1, 2011 5:40 pm

    i shave my head myself with clippers but sometimes I’ll have a really long beard. i don’t think it matters at all provided you’re right:) I think glasses help though

  9. August 1, 2011 5:50 pm

    i think it’s more important in companies that can’t measure your production. If you’re the one kicking ass I don’t think it matters

  10. Karen permalink
    August 1, 2011 6:50 pm

    I think we work in the same industry although different fields. My previous jobs were predominately men although only the last 2 companies did I have an office job. My last company, we (management) wore suits. I usually wore pant suits especially as my position entailed visiting vendors’ shops. I have always had long hair and mine is wavy/curly, kind of messy. I don’t wear makeup. I’ve been mistaken for 13 years younger (I’m also petite).
    My current place is more casual and I’m in FL.

    I’m with Bonnie; I’ll be 90 with long hair.

  11. August 2, 2011 9:41 am

    I have struggled with exact same thing. I am trying to grow my hair out, which is fine. But I find that it always looks like i just rolled out of bed. I do not have time nor the skill to do a good job of styling it, and my ends and layers have faded colour and the cut is just all over the place. I do want to keep growing it, but a big part of me wants to trim it down to pull it together (my hair grows EXTREMELY slow). So it is a hard decision.

    Plus like you my hair cut is in the same price range, and sometimes I cheap out and do not go in as often as I should.

    Overall I think a pulled together hair style makes anyone look much better. Even if you are just wearing sweats.

    Keep us posted on how it works out.

    • August 2, 2011 10:35 am

      I was so inspired by this blog…I am going for a trim tonight.

  12. the bachelorette pad permalink
    August 2, 2011 10:28 am

    I definitely noticed a difference in the way I was treated at work when I made the decision to cut off my hair. I chopped off 14 inches in the spring, and ended up with a angular bob with the front just past my chin. It was a change for the better. Though I do miss my “real life” long hair, there are always extensions! The shorter length has allowed me to play with color and shape too! It will grow back if you don’t like it. I say go for it!

  13. Serendipity permalink
    August 3, 2011 3:40 pm

    I get my hair done regulrary and it’s always something with color, a cut, etc, although I have recently went back to my naturarl color to help with hair damage and the expensive touchups every eight weeks. I remember talking to you on Twitter about this and I think that looking polished and put together is a bigger deal then if you have long hair or not. I think looking put together puts forward a more professional tone.

  14. August 4, 2011 1:48 pm

    I think hair definitely matters a lot (if not the most) when it comes to your personal/professional image – and I’ve been fretting about it lately. I am a lot like you – I’m young with long straight hair, and while it’s healthy and well-trimmed it is pretty much always unstyled. When I “do” my hair for big dates or events I feel like it’s too girly for work (i.e. I don’t want to look like I’m headed to a beauty pageant with big blond curls at the office) – plus I’m way to lazy to spend 30+ minutes on my hair each morning. Whenever I’m going to meet a new client or executive within the company I try to pull it back into a sleek ponytail, since I feel this is more professional/sophisticated – and I thrown on some foundation that morning as well for a fuller makeup look. Otherwise – particularly after work when I’m in casual clothes – I can easily be mistaken for a college student. I know that learning how to style my hair could be the biggest thing I can do for my professional image. I’ve got to find a middle ground where I just can do a relatively quick blowout with some tonic and create some volume and curled ends without all the fuss.

  15. August 4, 2011 1:50 pm

    It’s a conundrum. Long, volumninous, shiny hair makes you look young and sexy and even innocent- which is great in your “real” life but can be hazardous at work. My friends who pull it off the best sweep their hair back into professional ponytails or buns at work. Maybe I should start doing the same. Thanks for the inspiration!

  16. August 6, 2011 7:21 pm

    I’m working on taking my naturally wavy/curly hair to straight. I recently had an experience at that has turned me onto going straight.

  17. Kay permalink
    August 16, 2011 12:58 pm

    I have similar hair, wavy and I dont style my hair. I have tried flat ironing my hair. While it looks GREAT, I honestly can’t bothered as I have problems with my right shoulder and I’m right handed.. and it took 30 mins to make it flat! Some are lucky to have it done once and that lasts 3-4 days but no, my hair has to be done every single day as it would get crazy on the second day.

    I can recommend one suggestion.. IF you look at “naturally curly” or the book by ouidad , it tells you how to style wavy / curly hair.. no iron needed.. but scrunchign with a bit of gel etc.. maybe you can look into that..

    and also change your attire to ‘more’ business than casual in business casual style. maybe add a light jacket or cardigan..

    there’s also a book I recommend. why women should rule the world by Dee Dee Meyers


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