Style + Ask The Edit

Ask Belle: Is Wet Hair Office-Appropriate?

Hi Belle,

Long time reader, first time writer. I was debating whether it is appropriate to walk into the office with wet hair either in the morning or after lunch with some of my friends from college yesterday. I don’t think it looks professional and I work in a decidedly business casual office. My friends all work in more formal settings and they have no problem with it at either time of day. I think it is more inappropriate after lunch, but I’m also opposed to it in the morning.

Would love to hear your thoughts. -Carlie

This is a topic that we’ve discussed on the blog before, but it never hurts to bring it up again.

First off, arriving to work with sopping wet hair is never okay.  If you have curly hair, I’m informed that arriving at the office with damp hair is sometimes the only way to have a good hair day.  I also think it’s okay to come into work with damp hair if it’s in an updo.

Outside of those exceptions and the occasional nightmare morning meltdown (it happens), I don’t think it’s appropriate.  So what do you do instead?

Dry shampoo is my salvation when I need to be at work or school right now and don’t have time to wash, dry, and style.  I like the Psssst brand, oilier scalps are better off with BlowPro Faux Dry.

Looking for tips on how to style your hair post-workout?  Fitness Magazine discusses how to skip washing your hair.  Well + Good offers tips for women who can’t shower post-workout.

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    27 comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    I’d have to disagree with this assessment. I work in Arlington for a large, international consulting firm that provides a monetary bonus for biking/walking/taking public transportation to work, and provides a shower room. People at all levels of the company and in other regional offices take advantage of this setup.
    The attire is somewhere between casual and business casual normally, and I would much rather see wet hair for a while in the morning than smell stale sweat all day.
    *Obviously if people have a big meeting and are wearing a suit they don’t bike in, but on normal days it’s not an issue.

    July 13, 2015/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I think it’s a misnomer that just because you didn’t wash your hair that morning you’re going to smell. Sure after two days of not washing, I’d caution against pouring on the dry shampoo, or maybe a REALLY hard workout. But after a moderate workout or one day without washing, you shouldn’t notice an odor.

      July 13, 2015/Reply
      • Jennifer says:

        Sure, I don’t wash my hair every day and it doesn’t smell. But at least 2 workdays per week I need to wash it, and it’s silly to shower again at home just so my coworkers (who all also have wet hair several days a week) don’t see me with wet hair for an hour. And most people prefer to wet their hair every day anyway so they don’t have 8 hours of helmet hair.

        Maybe it’s just an office culture thing, and I would be more worked up about wet hair if we regularly had clients in the office, or if it wasn’t already the norm. Just pointing out that there are other kinds of offices than the ones you’ve worked in.

        July 13, 2015/Reply
        • Belle says:

          I can see the culture thing playing a big role. I’ve never worked in an office where anyone showing up with wet hair would have been okay. But if every one is doing it, then it’s likely not a problem.

          July 13, 2015/Reply
      • Molly says:

        I don’t have to wash my hair every day, but I do have to rinse and condition it, so it’s still when I leave for work every morning – it looks greasy otherwise, especially if I shower without washing (something about hot showers makes my scalp sweat more just to spite me). And I’m blonde, so yes, you can tell. Those with really thin hair can’t go a day without washing (though thin hair air dries quickly.) So it’s a misnomer that what works for one person will work for all.

        July 13, 2015/Reply
        • Molly says:

          *still wet when I leave for work

          July 13, 2015/Reply
        • Belle says:

          I agree that individuals have different concerns, but I think in many cases (not all), people (I’ve seen men come in with wet hair too, and it makes me even more nuts) are choosing what’s easiest and not thinking about whether it’s appropriate. Like I said, if you don’t care and your boss doesn’t care and your clients don’t care, then my opinion shouldn’t trump that. But I would care, my old and current bosses would care, and I think my current clients and former constituents would at lease notice and make a judgment based on that.

          July 13, 2015/Reply
  2. Sally says:

    It’s just not practical to expect people with long hair to fully dry their hair every morning after showering. I would prefer to see a coworker with wet hair than dirty hair or hair that stinks of fragrance. Most people’s hair air dries within an hour anyway. Who cares?

    July 13, 2015/Reply
    • Belle says:

      If I’m your boss, I do. I think part of the reason is that I worked for a Congressman where visitors from the state routinely dropped by for meetings at all hours (scheduled and unscheduled), and if I were a visitor and saw a staffer walk into a meeting with wet hair, I’d be taken aback. If you can’t fully dry your hair, how difficult is it to pin it up until it dries? One of our committee staff used to show up routinely with wet hair, as a result the back of her clothes were either damp or rumpled all day, to me, it wasn’t professional.

      July 13, 2015/Reply
      • Belle says:

        That being said, if you really think your boss and clients/constituents don’t care, then it’s your call. But I think more people probably notice/care and don’t say anything, than actually don’t care.

        July 13, 2015/Reply
    • Molly says:

      If my hair hasn’t fully air dried by the time I get to work (e.g. it’s raining out or super humid), or if I have an unexpected meeting after showering at the gym, I’ll pull it back into a bun. But I don’t think the very fact of having damp hair is offensive if you’re pulled together, hair included.

      July 13, 2015/Reply
    • Anna says:

      I’m sorry, but if you have long hair, it’s not gonna air dry in an hour. My hair is halfway down my back and if I just let it air dry, it won’t be fully dry until mid-day. Ween your hair off of washing every day, wear your hair in a style that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, or wash it at night so you only need to style in the morning. I’ve seen way too many people stroll into work looking like they just got out of the shower and it just looks unprofessional. At the very least, dry the roots and put it up or braid it.

      July 13, 2015/Reply
      • Caroline says:

        I wash mine at night and it’s still pretty wet the next morning. I only wash it twice a week though, and try to make one of those a weekend night so I’m only showing up once a week with wet hair. Blow drying takes hours and makes it a frizzy pouf so that’s not an option.

        July 13, 2015/Reply
  3. Wet Hair says:

    I consider sopping hair to be significantly different than damp hair. Damp hair, I have no issue with. Sopping hair looks like you really just couldn’t be bothered.

    I found that cheap plastic clips were my salvation when hit with first trimester pregnancy morning sickness and I found that a cold shower and no blow dryer were the only things that helped me crawl into work on time in the mornings. I would simply let my hair air dry on the commute, fluff it with my fingers outside my workplace, and twist it up into a plastic clip until it dried. The Twist + Clip move gave it a little wave and volume and made it look like I had put some effort in.

    July 13, 2015/Reply
  4. Helena says:

    I’m with Belle on this one. On the few occasions that I’ve come into the office with wet hair, I felt that I looked disheveled and that everyone knew I’d had a rough night and overslept.

    BTW, I think the word to use was “misperception,” not “misnomer.”

    July 13, 2015/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Thanks. I guess I’ve been using that word wrong then.

      July 13, 2015/Reply
  5. Bunny says:

    As someone whose hair takes 4+ hours to air dry, I would be miserable with wet hair all day. Putting it up in a top knot or bun just makes it take longer to dry.

    If you haven’t made up your mind yet this might help you: wet hair up in a clip or a bun also runs the risk of getting a staph infection in your scalp with all that dampness/lack of air flow providing a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. (Seriously!)

    July 13, 2015/Reply
  6. Gabby says:

    I’m in the “generally a no, but your office environment may vary” camp. If it’s something that everyone does and it’s not a big deal, like Jennifer above, then go for it. But if I were to walk into an office for a meeting or be greeted by someone whose hair was obviously wet, I’d honestly be a little taken aback. Unless it’s very difficult to tell that it’s damp, I don’t think it’s professional. I try to show up at work ready for whatever the day may bring, including unscheduled meetings. But my office is not everyone else’s, so I’d just try to match the general vibe of where I’m at

    July 13, 2015/Reply
  7. Cecile says:

    I’m one of the lucky ones when it comes to hair washing and dry shampoo is my BEST friend, but on days when I need to wash my hair I make sure I get up early enough to allow enough time to style properly. I don’t care where you work, being well dressed is a form of politeness. And if I was in the set up where I biked to work I would make sure I arrived with enough time to do my hair.

    July 13, 2015/Reply
  8. Laura says:

    I guess if someone’s office is one where EVERYONE does that, fine. (Though I assume that is also the kind of office where people wear jorts and flip flops and it’s casual-casual?) But you could argue that any/all fashion is someone else’s problem if it’s not formal enough. The fact is that wet hair is not professional – and if you want to argue that it SHOULDN’T matter, that’s fine, but it does matter to a lot of people. I am rather surprised this is even a question. Wear your hair wet if you really want to, but know that it DOES give the perception of unprofessionalism.

    July 13, 2015/Reply
  9. Arlington says:

    To be honest, my hair and scalp do get a gamer smell if I don’t wash it every day. I’ve tried dry shampoo but it doesn’t work for me. I have no problem seeing other women with damp hair and hopefully they feel the same about me. If not, I don’t really care. I come to work to do my work, not to win a beauty contest. Besides, men come to work with damp hair all the time! Glad this post came up!

    July 13, 2015/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I find it even more upsetting when men do it. Because when you have short hair, what is your excuse?

      July 13, 2015/Reply
  10. Trista says:

    I would say that in a professional setting, sopping wet hair that is bleeding/dripping water onto your clothes is inappropriate. On days that I wash my hair, I go in with it wet about 50% of the time. However, I slick it back into a bun and hairspray it, so it just ends up looking sleek. But that’s because I don’t want my clothes to be wet. Granted, i have a casual-casual office, but this is so much of a non-issue that I want to tell you all to stop judging other women. You don’t know that woman’s story. Maybe she has migraines and can’t bear to have her hair up. Maybe the man just came from the gym. Stop making stuff like this an issue. Go with your comfort level, and let other people do the same.

    July 13, 2015/Reply
    • pilates princess says:

      Thank you!

      July 14, 2015/Reply
  11. Ellen says:

    Im with Belle on this. I have long hair, an infant, and work in a casual office with only 2 others and I would never do that. My hair takes forever to dry and curl because it is long and thick so I
    shower at night. I was every other day and bathe on non hair wash days. It really boggles my mind why it’s so hard to essentially getting dressed.

    July 13, 2015/Reply
  12. Katherine says:

    I have to admit I’m astounded by this thread–I expect my colleagues to show up at work and look professional. If ones hair/makeup/mid-day workout interferes with your job, then either switch your workout to the end of the day, wake up earlier or get a new hairstyle. I Don’t care what people wear/do on the weekends or their own time, but it’s called work for a reason, am I’m a firm believer in looking professional = being professional. My job requires me to do multi-hour site visits to construction sites at least 2 days a week, and while on those days I’ll opt for easier laundering pants and hard-hat friendly hair, I’m not looking like I just rolled out of bed.

    (And this def extends to guys too–either have a beard or shave or, if you’re doing the stubble thing, groom and trim yourself!)

    July 13, 2015/Reply
  13. Kate says:

    I agree that wet hair looks unprofessional, at least for the kind of office where you’re expected to wear the kind of clothes featured on this site. If you work at a tech company or something and everyone’s biking in, obviously that’s different! The exception would be if your hair is short enough to slick it back and pull off a “wet look,” but I don’t want my coworkers thinking about me in the shower, thank you.

    July 14, 2015/Reply