In a perfect world, a woman’s competency at her job would have absolutely zero to do with her grooming habits. A curly fauxhawk and nail art do not make one unprofessional or ill-equipped to do a kickass job in their chosen career field. Sadly, we do not live in a perfect world, as evidenced by the fact that we don’t own an island in Tahiti, and adorable fluffy puppies do not spontaneously appear for us to cuddle when we are feeling stressed or sad. Which means, as much as it’s a total load of crap, that you do have to be mindful about the choices you make with your hair and makeup in the workplace — especially if you happen to work in a very conservative or super-corporate environment. All right, fine, so no neon-purple lipstick then — we can handle that. But, what about our hair?For what feels like since the dawn of women in the workplace, the prevalent theory has been that professional hair equals slicked back, pulled-up strands. But, why? As the great Mindy Kaling so perfectly expressed in Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns), “Since when does having a career necessitate women having their hair pulled back in a severe, tight bun?” Preach it, sister.According to Anna Akbari, sociologist, style expert, and founder of Sociology of Style, while we’re starting to move away from that generalization in many offices, the way we style our hair (and dress and do your makeup) still have an effect on how we’re viewed in the workplace. “Every single one of those components is demonstrating a piece of your identity,” she explains. “They are seen as an extension of your identity and capabilities, and the effort you are putting forth. If your image doesn’t reflect that then people believe your work product is going to be similarly reflected — that is just the way it is. We can lament that reality all we want, but that is the symbiotic exchange that happens [in the workplace].
“So, as much as it sucks, it continues to be the corporate culture some of us have to deal with. But, that doesn’t have to mean conforming to a beauty standard that’s not right for you or your hair type. Akbari says it’s not about changing your hair, but rather showing that you’ve put time and care into your appearance, but in a way that doesn’t distract your colleagues. And, distracting doesn’t just refer to the way a style looks. It can also be about how you interact with your hair. “We [all] have physical tics that we do and that extend to what we do with our hair,” notes Akbari. “If you twirl your hair constantly, or suck on the ends of your hair, or pick your split ends, those things can be the hair equivalents to clipping your nails or plucking your eyebrows at your desk. [That’s the] the backstage portion of our lives, and you should be in your front-stage area exclusively at work.
“We know better than anyone that your hairstyle is so much more than just a hairstyle — it’s an expression of yourself and your personal aesthetic. But, according to Akbari, there is a way to balance those seemingly at-odds ideals in a way that will satisfy both you and your bosses.”In general, the rule to remember is that — whether it’s your hair, makeup, or clothes — you are striving to strike a balance between expressing individuality while still demonstrating belonging,” she says. “The way you can do that is in the details. Find a way to express that originality in the small details of your experience, not in a way that disrupts the larger visual flow.”With that in mind, we went to hair pro Bradley Irion to dream up work-appropriate hairstyles that won’t bore you to tears. A few months ago, we tackled this topic for girls with long hair, so this go-round we focused on short, medium-length, and curly strands. Keep clicking for some professional ‘do inspiration that will have you feeling like a total boss lady, without having to resort to that stereotypical slicked-back bun.Like this post? There’s more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page!”
Controlled CurlsThere’s a common misconception among the uninformed that we’d like to dispel here and now: Curly hair is not disheveled or unkempt by nature, and no one should ever feel pressured to straighten their strands to look professional. Irion says the way to keep your coils from sending off any unintentionally “messy” vibes comes down not to the straightness of the strands, but their health — fried locks are harder to control than moisturized, healthy ones. Which is why Irion says finding the right product or product combo mixed with the right technique is so important to keeping your curls looking healthy and formed all day.The great thing about this piece-y updo is that it shows off your natural texture and keeps your curls off your face, as well as doing double-duty to hydrate them.”
Before you start, Irion recommends applying a leave-in conditioner treatment to your dry hair, working it into the strands. This will help soften your curls and allow you to treat any damage while you work.Begin by sectioning off the hair, starting with the front. Take the hair about a half inch behind the the hairline, from one ear across to the other, comb it forward, and clip it out of the way.
Section the remaining hair into four parts: a horseshoe-shaped section at the top of the head to the back of the crown, a section on each side from the crown of the head to the ear, and then the remaining hair at the nape of your neck.Take one of your side sections, and create a loose French braid. Secure it with a hair tie, and then pull it apart gently to create what Irion calls “loose, but contained” softness. Repeat on the other side and on your top section.
Take the back section of your hair and braid it, and then pull it up into a tight chignon. This will be the anchor for the rest of the updo. It’s okay if a few curls fall out — this adds to the softness of the look, notes Irion.
Take one of your side braids, and pin it to the head and around the chignon. Irion created an S-shape with our model Dakota’s hair to obscure the parting. Pin the end of the braid into the chignon when you’ve finished wrapping. Repeat with the other side.
Take your top braid and wrap it around the chignon, pinning the ends in place.
Unclip the front section of hair and gently pull it back, and pin the hair into your chignon. Irion says to work your fingers through the side bits to create a visual texture that is still pulled back and secured.Pulled back, yet soft, loose, and contained — this style lets your curls shine and doesn’t require you to compromise on your natural texture in order to look like a total pro.
Short StackWomen with short hair face what we’ll call the “effort problem.” The aesthetic goal with most short styles is to look effortless, which goes against the very core of what Akbari says our ideal professional hair goal should be — looking like we’ve put time, attention, and care into our appearance.The solution? A crafted coiff that shows clear effort without looking too contrived or overdone. We think this pushed-forward ‘do checks all of those boxes, and then some.
Section off a horseshoe-shaped piece at the very top of the head.
Starting at the front of that section, create big pin curls. The goal is not to create curls, but to get a big bend in the hair — but be sure to keep your curls loose. Irion notes that it’s okay if some pieces stick out, as it’s not meant to be perfect. The pin curls will “give the hair motion and texture so it melts into itself” when they are undone. You should create around five curls total, depending on your hair length and thickness.
After you finish putting in the curls, give them a quick shot of heat from your blowdryer and then sit down and do your makeup. After you’ve given them time to set, take a medium-hold wax (Irion likes Rene Furterer Modeling Paste) and apply it to the sides of your hair — you want to get the hair as flat against the head as possible to replicate the look of an undercut. Irion recommends using a comb to smooth it down after you’ve gone through with your hands.
Unpin your curls. Warm up a dab of the wax on the palm of your hand with a quick blast from your blowdryer, to soften it up and make it pliable. Then, run the bristles of a brush over the softened product on your hand to deposit it on the brush — this will give a lighter and more even distribution of the product, says Irion, and also prevents the wax from clumping in your hair.Use the brush to comb your hair forward, and then use your hands to sculpt it into the shape you want. If your hair is a bit longer on top like our model’s, Irion says you can sprinkle in some dry shampoo and then backcomb at the roots after you unpin the curls. This will ensure you get the height without having your hair hanging in your face.
The slicked-down sides, careful parting, shiny texture, and crafted height send a clear message of effort in this power pompadour.
Undercover EdgeInspired by the chain-link hairstyles we saw at the Dior couture show, this incognito origami style adds an interesting, understated spark to a more conventional look. And, since Irion says the biggest challenge many girls with mid-length hair face is that “It can get a little boring because it can look neither here nor there, or like it’s in a growing-out phase,” it’s the perfect way to freshen up your usual workday ‘do.Lie Sangbong top and skirt.
Divide your hair into four distinct sections to nail the look. Start by creating a deep side-part that goes all the way to the back of the head. Then, using the part as a guide, section out a triangle-shaped lock on the top front of the head. Clip this up and out of the way.For your back section, take the loose hair from the back of the ear to the back of the crown to the back of the opposite ear (so, a U-shaped section), and pin that back and out of the way. As for your side sections, take the loose hair from the back of the ear to the part on either side and clip that out of the way as well.
Unclip that back U-section of hair, and backcomb it to create a foundation. This is the security of your style, says Irion; what everything else is going to be anchored into. Pull the backcombed hair straight up and into a ponytail, and then use a “buttload of pins” and hairspray to twist that hair into a small, flat bun at the back of the head. The bun itself doesn’t have to be perfect — it’s going to be hidden underneath the other section of hair. The only part that will be visible is the pulled-up hair at the nape, so make sure that is directed upward and looks smooth.
Undo the side section of hair, and backcomb it at the roots to get volume. You’ll need that volume to create security and hold in the hair for the next step. “For in-between-length hair, you need that security in order to maneuver your hair around,” says Irion.
Take a brush and run it over the top of the backcombed strands, smoothing down the top of the hair without breaking up all the volume you created underneath. Pull the hair back into a ponytail, making sure the base of the ponytail is just underneath the base of your bun, hiding it from view.
Take the ends of your ponytail and loop it upward, pinning the ends underneath and pushing the pins into that hidden bun. Unpin your front section and drape it backwards, creating a kind of swoopy faux-bang from the front.Having trouble getting those ends folded and pinned? Irion says to pinch your ends, and then wrap a small, clear elastic around them to keep them together and make them slightly easier to tuck under and pin. Just be sure that the elastic isn’t visible after you’ve tucked. He recommends crisscrossing two bobby pins to keep the ends securely fastened to the head and prevent flyaways from poking out.
Wrap the ends of the front section around the base of the ponytail to hide the elastic and complete the draping effect. Irion admits that this style is going to be a bit tricky and will take lots of practice to pull off. He notes that if you’re a DIY-hairstyle newb, having a hard time mastering the technique, or if your hair is a bit shorter than our models’, you can just skip the pony-folding and just leave it as a simple ponytail. You’ll still get that same playful parting effect, but without struggling to keep all of those ends from sticking out.