Ask Belle: The Hair Apparent

Jun 4, 2012

Dear Belle,

I recently started work in a professional business setting after three years at a non-profit with a very casual dress code. I’m fine to make the transition, but I’m struggling with professional ways to style my long (past my bra strap) fine-yet-wavy and flyaway-prone hair.  I took the “wash and wear” approach with my hair at my last job, and that was sufficient for the environment.  But none of my female colleagues in my new workplace have hair longer than shoulder-length, and I feel like my hair does not look professional compared to theirs.  Should I chop my hair shorter, or is it possibly for long hair to look business-like?

Thanks,
Annie

Over the years, I think I have received every version of this question you can imagine.  Is my short/long hair professional?  Is curly hair professional?  Is dyed hair (ombre, highlights, etc.) professional?

There is no doubt that some hairstyles are unprofessional.  I wouldn’t recommend a hot pink mohawk or braided pigtails.  I’d caution against jawclips and scrunchies.  I’d ask that you never walk through the door of my office with wet or dirty hair.  And I’d advise against platinum-dyed Barbie hair or wearing your hair as long as Crystal Gayle.

But whatever the length or texture of your hair, if it’s clean and you’ve taken the time to style it so that it’s “put together,” I think it will be considered professional.  

From your description of your hair, I think you just need to get comfortable styling it in the morning for work.  I have hair that falls to my shoulder blades, and I’ve found that jumbo-sized hot rollers really simplify my morning routine.  You might want to visit a stylist to get some ideas for how to style your longer hair, but I don’t think you need to chop it into a bob in order to be seen as a professional.

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  1. e says:

    I have long (past the shoulder), thick, pin straight hair that takes forever to dry, especially when it starts to get humid in the summer. Do hot rollers work as well on thick hair? I always have issues doing anything but just a simple, straight, blow dry.

  2. Emme Gee says:

    As a young female lawyer, my two cents: If you don't want to cut it, find a way to wear it up – like in a sock bun or a french twist. Wearing long hair that is past your bra strap in a conservative environment (such a law firm) isn't considered professional – especially if the other women in your office don't wear it that way.

  3. E says:

    Thanks for the tip — I've been wondering for years how to use these!! What size of these conair rollers are considered “jumbo”? Are these the dimensions you recommend: 5 in. H x 12 in. W x 7 in. D ?

  4. LL says:

    Anyone have suggestions of Extra Jumbo sets? I can't seem to find a set that is all extra jumbo sized. Thanks!

  5. Lindy says:

    I would recommend you look at hairstyling on Youtube. Search for updos, office hair styles, etc. Some of the very long haired ladies have truly excellent videos that detail how to do some really, really chic and professional styles. My hair is no where near as long as yours, but I have gotten some great ideas for professional looks from Youtube.

  6. Belle says:

    LL and E: I buy my Conair Jumbo rollers on eBay. I bet they have Extra Jumbos too https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_trksid=p5197.m570.l1313&_nkw=conair+jumbo+rollers&_sacat=0

  7. CB says:

    It really is all about styling with the long hair. As a graduate student, I worked part time at a small consulting firm, and my long hair had gotten to a point where it was in need of a cut/style, so I was wearing it in various types of buns. However, I think chopped to chin-length and my boss made a comment that the style looked “more professional”. I think long hair is fine as long as it doesn't got past your bra, keep it maintained, and styled (and no “messy” buns).

  8. E says:

    Belle,

    Brilliant! Thanks 🙂

    E

  9. H says:

    I think it really depends on the condition of the hair – are the ends raggedy? Is it frizzy or does it look damaged? I think past-bra-strap hair can look professional, but it needs to look like an intentional style, not the result of being too lazy to cut it. I can speak from experience because I let my hair get WAY too long a few years ago and now I look back on those photos and cringe.

  10. Belle says:

    I think H and CB make good points. It takes a lot of work to make long hair look professionally styled all the time. That is why most women cut it. It's why I cut mine. But as long as you are working to make it look nice every day, longer hair can be professional.

  11. B says:

    Apart from your hair and how well you keep it, I think it also depends on the rest of your facial structure, complexion, etc. I just chopped my hair from about your length to very short (think longish pixie) and I've had a few comments from close friends on how much more professional it looks.
    It's also about the poise that a well-done haircut gives you though. By feeling less frumpy, I think I carry myself differently and am feeling a lot more put together. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and claim that such a confidence boost will affect how people perceive you.
    The gist of it is, perhaps you should talk to a few close friends and see what they think, and maybe even find a good hair dresser who can counsel you.

  12. AH says:

    Does anybody have URLs for hair tutorials? My hair falls a few inches below my shoulders, and I'm afraid I'll have to cut it shorter unless I can find some easy styles (buns, etc.)
    Thanks!

  13. Belle says:

    AH: Here are some tutorials that I posted earlier in the year. https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=capitol+hill+style+hair+tutorials&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

    I find most of mine on YouTube.

  14. AH says:

    Belle-
    Thank you! Also, thanks for everything you post; I love your blog!

  15. gingerr says:

    Is it all one length? A graduated cut that doesn't take length off as much as it gives your do shape might be a way to begin.
    I find that long hair often pulls out it's style if it's straight so you might get more bang for your rollers if your cut is structured a little more.

    Beginning with a trip to a stylist is probably the best place. You don't have to go short, just embark on a program of regular hair maintenance and see how it goes.

  16. Merabella says:

    I love the styles on letsmakeitup1 on youtube. She does a lot of braids, which might not be work appropriate for your office, but she also has good tutorials on buns and updos.

  17. Claire says:

    Thank you Belle for recognition of jumbo hot rollers. Greatest time saver and style tool ever.

    I too have shoulder blade length, fine hair and these save my life everyday. I have used Conair Big Curls – 5 rollers – since high school. They discontinued temporarily and I love them so much I had to find them on eBay. I SWEAR by them. I can put them in in 20 seconds. Hair sets while I do my makeup or dress, saving time in addition to wrist strength (should I have to blowout with a round brush). And I have bounce and style all day long. Love.

    here is a link to the ones I use….https://www.amazon.com/Conair-Rollers-Instant-Travel-Setter/dp/B002UG72XA

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