Delaware workplace hairstyles: Can wearing you hair long hurt your career?
You’re over 40. Can long hair hold you back? More important, should it?
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Medium-length hair has long been “preferred” for and by professional women. Shorter coifs are viewed as being serious, sophisticated and strong. In the 1988 box-office hit “Working Girl,” Tess (played by Melanie Griffith) lops off her below-the-shoulder tresses for a chin-length bob proclaiming, “You wanna be taken seriously, you need serious hair.”
Author John Molloy was just as blunt in the 1996 edition of “New Women’s Dress for Success,” when he wrote: To succeed in the business world, women should wear their hair “shoulder length or shorter, manageable but not so short as to look masculine.” Also to be avoided are styles that are “too cute, too sexy, too young, too severe, too dated or too disheveled.”
Policies on what constitutes “appropriate” hairstyles in the workplace have loosened. “The conventional wisdom will tell you that the more professional image is short to medium-length hair,” says Erin Sicuranza, co-founder of Springboard Careers, a Wilmington-based company that helps women overcome obstacles associated with long employment gaps. “But that’s probably a hang-up of the women’s movement of the ’60s when women were trying to make themselves look more masculine to get into the boardroom.
“Now that women are coming into their own in terms of what qualifications they bring, I don’t think we have to make ourselves look like men.”
Very long hair can detract from your overall professionalism if it’s by “default” rather than by “design,” says Julia MacWilliams, co-founder of Springboard Careers. “The women who are criticized tend to be the ones who let it grow long because they don’t make the time to get it groomed, or they don’t know what’s right for their face or they haven’t gone to a good stylist,” she says.
Today many successful women have extremely long hair and still ooze professionalism. “It’s not necessarily the length of the hair and the age of the woman, but the message that she wants to send and how she styles it,” says Beth Yvette Strange, president of Philadelphia-based Beth Yvette Strange Image Consulting. “What needs to be taken into consideration is the style of the hair and the style of the woman and her professional role, and how she needs to be perceived professionally.”
Indeed, even though workplaces are trending more casual and there are more opportunities for qualified women candidates, tousled tresses that convey a romantic or soft look can be a risky choice in a competitive corporate environment. In other words, your business best should be different from your dating best.
“It’s what we in the image industry refer to as a more ‘yin’ characteristic which is more approachable, less authoritative and sometimes that can be perceived as less credible,” says Strange.
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