Ask Belle: Wet Hair and the Office

May 8, 2013

Hi Belle-

A few friends and I got into a debate, and as we all love your blog, we thought you might settle it. If you sleep through your alarm in the morning, what’s the best thing to do about getting ready for work? A) get to work on time but a little greasy (even with dry shampoo); B) get to work on time, clean but with wet hair; or C) get to work late, freshly showered and blow-dried?

Thank you!


Being on-time for work is important.  It establishes credibility and shows respect for the office.  But sometimes, things happen.  We’ve all had one of those mornings when things go wrong.

However, if you’re going to be late, you need to let your Boss know beforehand, and not just stroll through the door after the bell rings.  Most employers understand that these things happen, and if you give them some warning, they’ll let it slide as long as it’s not habitual.

But to answer this questions specifically, let’s address it in three parts.

A) If your dry shampoo leaves your hair noticeably greasy, you’re either not using enough (this isn’t hairspray, you really need to let the powder fly) or it’s time to switch brands.

I love Psssst with all of my heart (they also make a wavy hair version).  A few spritzes and a hot roller touch up, and I’m ready to go.  I’ve also heard good things about Clean Freak dry shampoo.  And if you have an oily scalp, I recommend bringing a can to the office for touch ups.

B) There are also ways to make wet hair presentable on days when it is unavoidable.  I recommend that you rough dry your hair as much as possible and throw it into a updo. The ladies of YouTube have a lot of tips for quick wet-hair updos.

Also, I understand that the rules are a bit different for ladies with curly hair, and I accept that.  As long as you hair isn’t dripping wet–which don’t kid yourself, I’ve seen–a little dampness shouldn’t raise anyone’s ire.

C) To clarify, I asked Anon. how late she was talking about.  Her response? 45 minutes to an hour.

If being fully done up is going to make you an hour late for work, it’s time to wing it. Take a quick shower, spray some dry shampoo, quickly apply a bit of makeup, grab an outfit and go.  20-minutes is one thing, a half-hour even, but once you cross that line, your daily routine is longer an option.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I would rather a subordinate be 20-minutes late and look presentable, than on time looking and smelling unwashed.  If you give me a heads up that you’ll be late, and this doesn’t happen regularly, I won’t give you grief about it.  And a brief poll of friends who work in supervisory positions revealed an almost general consensus that it was better to be a bit late and clean.

However, when I asked a few of my girls how they felt regarding being an hour late to the office, the tone changed dramatically.  More than one told me that if you arrive an hour late, it would actually be detrimental to stroll in looking fresh as a daisy.

“The assumption is that if an employee oversleeps, she’ll show up a bit disheveled.  Perfect hair, perfect lipstick and the perfect outfit would make me wonder if it was really an accident,” one friend said.

And if you’re going to be more than an hour late, four of the seven women I talked to actually said that they would call in sick before they would show up that late. In fact, one Hill staffer told me that she was more afraid of being late than taking the sick day.

“One of the guys in my office once called to say he’d be two hours late because a power outage knocked out his alarm clock, and our chief told him not to bother coming in at all.  I’d claim 24-hour stomach bug before I’d make that phone call.”

So what do you ladies think, esp. those in supervisory positions?  Of course, employees should make every effort to get to work on time, but if a once-in-a-blue-moon event strikes, which would you prefer?

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  1. Erin says:

    I’m with you until the two hour thing. If someone had something like a power outtage and is going to be two hours late, I’d prefer they come in two hours late (although I’d hope they’d actually manage to make it less than two hours). But then I’ve only ever supervised people in a law firm — more junior lawyers, paralegals, and secretaries — where it’s more important that the work get done than that it get done at a specific time.

    • Giggling Gourmand says:

      I was about to say something similar. I work for the government now, but many people are from firms. If you’re running late as long as you’re not missing a deadline or a meeting don’t sweat it – but plan to stay as late as you need to get the work that’s required done.

  2. J says:

    My current job is flexible so I don’t normally have to be there at a certain time, I just have to get the work done in a certain number of hours. But when I’m traveling out of town specifically for business meetings or conferences I do have a strict schedule and need to look presentable. In those instances, if I happen to oversleep due to the comfort of the hotel’s king size bed, I always go with the french braid or sock bun rather than wearing my hair down. That way I can quickly shower without washing my hair and be out the door in 15 minutes. I think it’s better to not wash your hair than be late because you washed it.

  3. Amy says:

    I’m most likely your oldest follower, and I’m sure that I’ll sound like it, but DON’T BE LATE! Yes, you can control this. Go to Target or Walmart and purchase a battery operated clock, so you don’t have to worry about power outages. If you do oversleep, send a message to someone in the office and get out the door as quickly as possible. I refuse to believe that anyone on this site has such poor hygiene that forgoing a shower for one day will make a difference in smell. You may feel gross, but that’s what you get. Everyone needs to master one dirty hair trick: a bun, ponytail, or a headband for shorter hair. Skip the full make up, but take time to put on mascara. That is the one giveaway that you aren’t completely together that day. Other makeup can be added during breaks that day. And have one “go to” outfit in the closet that you always have ready and can be put on in flash. Again, I’m the old woman here, but I’m high up in the workplace. There is far too much competition out there to lose opportunities from something controllable like being late. I’ll shut up now.

    • Caroline says:

      I’m guessing you don’t work in DC. Getting to work on time is not always controllable unless you walk or bike there (or leave the house at 4am where there’s not much traffic, like many of my coworkers do).

      • raq says:

        there are a lot of cities with high traffic- in the chicago area driving or taking public transit can be hours for what would be 20 min in other cities, but you build traffic and delays into your routine and commute so that you aren’t constantly late. To me, unpredictable traffic patterns and public transportation aren’t excuses for chronic lateness. Taht being said, occasionally things do happen, everyone is late every once in a while

        • raq says:

          ugh *that being said

        • Caroline says:

          Sure, it’s a problem in other cities, but that doesn’t make the traffic any more predictable here. My old 12-mile commute would take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours on a normal day; I’d normally give myself an hour and a half to get to work but there were still a few days a month where I’d be late.

    • GoGoGo says:

      On the one hand, I totally am that late, disheveled person all the time. On the other hand…tell it, Amy, I think that’s all exactly right.

    • Chloe says:

      This is a job where you get paid, right? And your employer expects that you have value as a professional- that you care enough about work to arrive prepared to work…maybe you even care enough about your job to contribute to moving the mission and work forward. It’s not a club. It’s not college. Get up on time, get ready for work and don’t be late. And do not come to work with wet hair. Jesus-this isn’t rocket science.

  4. Caroline says:

    I have curly hair, so I only wash it once or twice a week, and if I have to wash it during the week I do it the night before. But sometimes it’s still wet the next morning because it’s so thick! Blow drying is out of the question, so I just try my best to fluff it out on my way to work. My commute is a 30-minute walk, so on a warm day it gets pretty dry. When I used to drive I would blast the heat and stick my head close to the vents while stopped at lights or in non-moving traffic.

  5. M says:

    In my book, dry shampoo + curling iron touch-up or ponytail/bun is 1000x better than obviously wet hair (no matter how artfully styled). I don’t care if your hair looks dirty to you, 99% of the people you interact with will not know the difference. Wet hair, on the other hand, lets the whole world know that you were running late.

    As an aside, it sounds like Anon and her friends might benefit from letting go of the idea that it is paramount that one looks her absolute picture-day best on a daily basis, to the point that she would even consider being 45 minutes to an hour late toward that end. As much as we all want to look and feel great every day, on some days it’s just not in the cards. This is going to sound really grouchy of me, but let’s get real: Your preferred beauty routine does not take priority over being where you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to do. As Belle noted, you should look presentable; however, presentable is a pretty low standard that can be achieved in far less than an hour.

  6. Shelley says:

    This is a great post, Belle. There’s nothing worse than someone strolling into work an hour or so late and looking completely polished. I want to see someone who got ready in a hurry because their job is more important than making each curl on their head perfect.

  7. Ellen says:

    In my opinion, as long as someone has a good record of coming in on time and gets all the work done it doesn’t matter what time there are in the office. As long as the work gets done that is all that matters. If it doesn’t or if they have a job where they need to be glued to their chair then it’s a bit of a different story.

    While I’m pretty laid back about that (I have a laid back boss and that has rubbed off on me) I’m not about personal appearance. In my opinion there are ways to make sure, even if you sleep in, you will look fine. I put out and iron my outfit the night before down to my shoes and accessories. I also shower the night before (my hair is thick so it takes me 45+ to do it) and curl it and roll it in pin curls so when I get up in the morning I don’t need much time.

    As far as wet hair, I LOVE putting my soaking wet hair in a pony tail, braiding the tail and then pinning it into a bun. It is fast and looks professional. It is a go to for me in humidity.

    • MM says:

      Ellen–I have pretty much the same thoughts here. I think it’s both a product of my boss and work environment/role.

      That being said, if someone was going to be uncharacteristically “late” (again, relative term) and they told me “I have a personal emergency that I’m handling this morning and will be in shortly”…I wouldn’t press and don’t know too many in my office who would. As long as it wasn’t happening all the time or they weren’t missing a scheduled meeting, it would be completely fine.

      • Ellen says:

        Here her! Totally agree.

        • Nancy M. says:

          Yes, I agree as well. My boss trusts I put in 8hrs of work a day, and no one wants to know why I might be late. Just throw the hair up into a bun, and fix the makeup in your office!

  8. Beth says:

    When you have insomnia, you never sleep in.

  9. GingerR says:

    There is a lot of variance in late issues. I’ve worked for managers who were time-neurotic and made it their business to notice if you were at your desk by 8 am. In the same organization I’ve worked for people who could care less as long as no one was complaining about you. It’s been my experience that if your performance is marginal or management is out to oust you (for whatever reason) then tardiness will be noted.

    Many Black women I work with have a wig. If things don’t go well with their hair they wear it. A White gal with long hair probably isn’t going to pop a wig on, but it’s a good idea to have a in-a-hurry-no-time-for-anything hair style that you can use for days when there is not time to get ready.

  10. K says:

    I’ll add to the general opinion that if you’re runnng late, there’s not time for your full routine and people at work are expecting you to be a bit “off” that day. With that being said, I think it’s important to still look presentable and as such you should have a go-to look that can be accomplished without showering or a full face of make-up.

    In my experience, alerting your boss ahead of time about lateness is always a good decision and if it’s a rare occurence it shouldn’t be a huge factor in your overall job. I’m also with Belle’s co-workers on calling in sick vs. showing up more than an hour late.

  11. Yang says:

    Do you have any suggestions on accessories or quick hairstyles to do when your bangs are growing out?

  12. Kim says:

    I have curly hair, and I shower most mornings- it’s a medium length that just doesn’t look good, or even acceptable, if I sleep on it (even when trying various braids or the pineapple method). I often go into work, or out, with wet hair because I won’t blow dry my curls because my hair is so fine and prone to damage. Is this really unaccepable for curly-haired folks? All the best curl gurus say not to touch hot tools, so the other choice is to get up 4 hours before work so it will be dry upon arrival?? I don’t think so… I’d love to hear what other curl haired women here do and any suggestions for how to get it to look nice after being slept upon would also be great.

    • Abigail says:

      I agree 100%. My hair is curly and there’s nothing wrong with our natural texture–which means that if I shower in the morning (I have to as well, can’t sleep on it at night wet) then it will still be damp when I get to work.

      What this means is you’ve showered and you’re clean. No one will fault you for that. If you have a presentation or briefing in the AM, then you’re likely to wear your hair back in some fashion, so it becomes less of an issue.

  13. Abigail says:

    I think calling in sick rather than just call and explain that you’re late because something weird happened is selfish. You’d rather let your team and your boss go through a day where you can’t contribute at all than just admit that you mess up? Not to mention it eats a ton of sick leave.

    If I were a boss, I’d much rather someone come in late, apologize profusely, and get to work than have them lie and leave us hanging. You never know when some emergency might happen and what if they really need you to pull your weight, or to produce something?? Immediate and unforeseen deadlines happen all the time; what if upper management decides they need the project you had been heading before COB and you’re not there because you were too embarrassed to come in?

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