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Is Your Hair Holding You Back?

A psychologist and top hairstylists reveal how certain cuts, colors, and textures are perceived in the workplace

We found this ELLE article utterly intriguing because, really, who doesn't wonder what their hair says to their colleagues? Here, we've highlighted our favorite sections from the piece. You can then go to ELLE.com to read the rest. —Glo

By Emily Hebert for ELLE

In Working Girl, when Tess famously lops off her below-the-shoulder tresses for a chin-length bob, she proclaims with resolve, “You wanna be taken seriously, you need serious hair.” The notion hasn't changed much since the box-office hit first debuted in 1988. “Hairstyle and hair color may not be accurate indicators of personality, but society's stereotypes can sometimes influence how various styles and colors are perceived,” says Erin Bogart, colorist at Sally Hershberger Downtown New York. And in the professional world, where first impressions are everything, your hairstyle can easily work for — or against — your chance of success.

“Though policies on what hairstyles are acceptable in the workplace have loosened, hair can still signify certain levels of professionalism,” says Midge Wilson, Ph.D., professor of psychology at DePaul University.

The question is what sort of messages are your tresses sending? Is your hair helping you rise to the top — or holding you back?


— There's evidence that blondes are beginning to get a more serious rep. While a 2002 survey by Clairol revealed that of the 1,000-plus women interviewed, 76 percent believed the first female president of the United States would be a brunette, a similar survey by Clairol in 2008 yielded split results between a brunette and a blonde. “Today blond women are the new brunettes, and they have Hillary Clinton to thank for that,” says Franco Della Grazia, senior stylist at Cutler Salon in NYC. “She's a powerful woman, telling it like it is, sitting down with heads of state from all over the world. I don't know how much fun she's having, but she's being taken seriously.”

— Interestingly, if you're in a creative or artsy field, says Wilson, it could be to your advantage to go either super-blond (think Agyness Deyn's platinum phase) or super-dark (note Nicole Richie's deep brown locks), rather than choosing an au naturel hue, which tends to send a neutral message. “While a natural-looking color fits in better at more conservative offices, bold color can be an asset in the creative workplace,” says Bogart.


— The majority of women surveyed by Clairol in 2008 said that if they could change their hair color for a day, they'd go red — and it's no wonder: “If you look at the major fashion campaigns this season, you'll see that the hottest color is red,” says Della Grazia, who cites Tom Ford's leading lady and current Bulgari spokesmodel Julianne Moore, an actress whose auburn locks are coveted the world over.


— Regardless of length, Wilson says the key is giving the impression that your hair is low-maintenance: “Short and manageable or, if it's long, pulled back into a chignon or low ponytail — so that you're not shaking it out of your eyes, tucking it behind your ear, and wrapping your finger around it,” she says. “These kinds of things can be very distracting and can send the message that you aren't task-focused.”

— Della Grazia agrees: “A woman who turns up for a corporate job interview with long, super styled hair will be perceived as high-maintenance. And, unfortunately, a woman who labors over her hairstyle and appearance will be seen as someone who might spend too much time on herself — and not enough on her work.”


— “Straight hair reflects more shine than curly hair, feels more groomed, and can be slimming,” says Kérestase celebrity colorist and stylist Ashley Javier, adding that in the workplace, women with straight hair are often perceived as being more serious than those with curls. (Take caution with a flatiron, however, to avoid appearing “too hard,” says Della Grazia.) “Curly haired women are thought to be carefree and approachable.”

— But, while those with sleek strands might convey steadfast efficiency, “women with curly hair are seen as risk-takers — people who are prepared to go out on a limb for the company,” says Della Grazia.

— The one rule of thumb when it comes to curls: Keep them well-coiffed. “If you choose to wear your hair curly for an interview, make sure it's under control and doesn't upstage you and your talents,” says Erin Anderson, co-owner of Woodley and Bunny apothecary and salon in Brooklyn.


— Blunt bangs are often interpreted as trendy and bold — perfect for creative workplaces. “You will definitely give off a high-fashion, strong, and secure message with blunt bangs,” says stylist James Vides of Sally Hershberger Downtown New York. “It gives you a very definitive look.”


— The verdict on middle versus side parts: Like blunt bangs, a middle part is considered a bolder, edgier statement than the side-swept alternative, which Javier calls “more preppy and sophisticated.” “A middle part is a strong look,” says Vides. “But depending on how you style it, it can become much softer. For example, if you blow it out with soft layers or waves, a middle part becomes less harsh.”


— No matter how society, employees, or potential employers may perceive certain hairdos, experts say the most office-appropriate coifs are ultimately the ones that make you feel most comfortable and confident. Della Grazia encourages women to tailor their hairstyle to their office atmosphere without compromising their personal aesthetic: “You should be respectful of your work environment but still be able to show your true personality traits through your hairstyle,” he says.

For more interesting insights, continue reading on ELLE


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Is Your Hair Holding You Back?
A psychologist and top hairstylists reveal how certain cuts, colors, and textures are perceived in the workplace
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