Is straight hair more “professional”?

Can you be taken seriously with curly hair? Is straight hair more professional?

A tweet piqued my interest today about whether curls can be taken seriously. I grabbed my copy of this month’s Vogue Australia to re-read Rebecca Huntley’s article, “Curl curse”.

Huntley discusses a theory that women with a certain hairstyle have little hope of succeeding in serious professions such as law, politics and business. She searches for examples and only comes up with women with serious straight hairstyles.

I tried to think of examples to prove curls can be CEOs but couldn’t think of any either.

This anti-curl stereotype does exist. I can’t speak for why others do it, but I can explain why I used to conform to this straight hair image.

During my time in the corporate world I wanted to fit in, and look in control. Straight hair looks organised. Straight hair looks serious. I just didn’t believe in my skills enough.

“To be taken seriously, you need serious hair.”

In the 1988 movie classic “Working Girl” Melanie Griffith’s character Tess utters this quote about how to get ahead in business.

Tess believed in her herself, but her hair was a little distracting. As long as your hair isn’t obscuring your peripheral vision or those around you, you can still be yourself and succeed.

Traditional notions of beauty will always exist, and so will stereotypes, but you don’t need to conform. I love people who break the rules and play with these beliefs. Take Dolly Parton, she distracts you with her big hair and boobs so you don’t notice her business brain. Grace Coddington is another successful hair icon for those who can’t tame their mane.

It’s taken me a long time, but I love my curls. Like Huntley, I wear them with pride and I don’t feel any less “professional” than with straight hair.

There isn’t only one way to success and you shouldn’t feel pressured to look a certain way to achieve your goals.

So do you still think you need a serious haircut to be taken seriously? Do you know of any curly-haired women in boardrooms?

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  1. says

    Hmmm, interesting. I think I’d have to agree. My hair has a natural wave to it. On a regular day, I don’t do anything to it, except maybe straighten my bangs. But I find myself trying to make my hair pin-straight and neat for job interviews or other “serious” events. I tend to curl my hair for parties and special events. It’s a shame that we have to think about what our hair is saying about us and our abilities!

    • Hair Romance says

      It’s a shame but it’s also fun. That’s the beauty of fashion, you can play with your image.
      I would like to see a change for curls though, that they can be serious and be noticed for the right reasons.

  2. says

    Great post, you’ve got me thinking about whether I should start categorizing the business chic people I photograph for my blog by hair type!

    I’ve worked with at least three senior women with curly hair and do you know what? They are all really strong, sensible and gutsy women who each have a great sense of humour, personal style and oodles of heart. That said, I was so glad when my own mum (of Chinese descent) stopped perming her hair! 😀

    Ps: Dolly Parton forever, I went to her concert last year and was blown away by her talent, charisma, humor, EQ and cleverness. What a woman!

    • Hair Romance says

      Thanks Cheryl!
      It’s an interesting idea isn’t it? I think when you try to be something you’re not it shows. Hence perming/straightening when it doesn’t suit your personality seems wrong. However I colour my hair and prefer being a blonde, is that any different to straightening or curling your hair?
      Yay for more Dolly love.

  3. Andrea says

    I can tell you that on a normal day, I enjoy my curly hair. However, I do know that when things like interviews come around, I have to do something with it to at the very least tame it or the interview will not go well. I also have to take weather into account, because humid weather will change straightened hair into a nightmare worse than just having curly hair.

    So I guess the moral is: I embrace my hair, but a lot of people don’t. Most days, I’m not going to conform to make others happy, but when it matters, I’m willing to change my hair to get where I want to go in life.

    • Hair Romance says

      Thanks Andrea!
      It’s like putting on a suit for an interview, you tame your hair to comply with the corporate requirements. I guess I’m trying to say tamed curls are still serious, you don’t always need to go straight.

  4. says

    Its really sad, but I think straight hair is an easy way to look more professional, especially in a corporate environment. The problem is that curly hair, when it’s not styled properly, looks wild and sometimes messy, more so than unstyled straight hair. A person’s whole look (clothes, makeup, hair, nails) is a reflection of their personality and perceived capabilities and getting that promotion is so much about what other people think. I think curly haired girls have it a lot harder than their straight haired sisters but there are ways (as your blog clearly demonstrates) to work with curly hair to make it look professional and not messy and unkept.

    • Hair Romance says

      Thanks Clare.
      I agree it’s about your whole image – clothes, hair, nails, makeup – that form a professional image. I think that long hair, whether or curly or straight, looks better tied back for a corporate image. Maybe one day we won’t judge people on appearances but it’s a hard task.

  5. Hannah says

    I’m a curly haired girl and I PREACH to girls who straighten their hair daily to just let it be free! You get so many more compliments (if your hair isn’t a frizz ball) when it’s curly rather than straight. However, I have never thought of straightening my hair in job interviews or for business – and now that you mention it I wonder if my choice of hair style has reflected on how professional I am, and wonder if my success in interviews would change if I would just give in to straightening my hair! I have actually never thought of this before, I always thought my hair reflected my personality – which is fun, unique and outgoing. On another note, my mom who has twice the amount of curl I do is a VERY successful business woman and she didn’t even know how to straighten her hair till I showed her, so who knows!

  6. says

    Hmmm…you’ve got me thinking there and wondering who I’ve seen – at the top – with curly hair. Funny though in the ’80s when curls were the IN thing, and everyone, including my mum permed her hair. She wasn’t really in the business corporate world, but still, in a pretty high position working as a civil servant. Unfortunately though we are often judged on how we look and most definitely in the boardroom. I mean, even politicians get judged on how they look, especially if they’re a woman – sad but true. Remember Amanda Vanstone? Personally, I think as long as you look neat – be it curly or straight hair – that should be all that matters. Funny how I used to hate my slightly wavy hair when I was younger and now would LOVE to have them back!

    • Hair Romance says

      Thanks Norlin. Would you believe perms are back, but in a more controlled, Veronica Lake way!
      Women are always judged more on their appearance than men, I agree it should be more about looking neat than curls vs straight.

  7. says

    I totally agree with you on this one, my hair has a natural wave to it and I used to straighten it all the time for my desk job but as my priorities have moved away from the corporate world, I’ve moved ever so slightly away from my GHD and embraced my natural waviness. In fact I would have to say I use my GHD more to enhance my curls now than to straighten them out.

    • Hair Romance says

      Thanks Larah, do you think ghd’s made this more of an issue? They made straight hair so much more easily available and with far better results than a brush and a blowdryer.

  8. Amy says

    I have super curly, unruly hair that is a real nuisance to tame each morning, but I roll with it anyway. It speaks to my personality – casual and unique. But here’s the kicker: I am a stay at home Mum for now and have been for the last few years. ‘Casual and unique’ fits my current lifestyle. Pop me back into corporate land and I’d have to straighten, straighten, straighten because it gives a PREDICTABLE result. A bad hair day with curls is NOT something you want to take to the office!!!

    Also worth noting is that curls come in all shapes and sizes, and there is a big image difference between coarse frizzy curls and glossy ‘tidy’ curls.

  9. Sally says

    Rebecca Brooks, the woman involved in the News of The World phone hacking, and Rupert Murdoch’s right hand woman has curly hair and she was one of the most powerful women in the UK for a long time.
    Didnt really work out for her in the end so maybe not a great example!!

  10. says

    Elizabeth Ann MacGregor who is the Director at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, and fallen from grace ex News Of The World Editor, Rebekah Wade are two examples of curly haired power ladies. :)

  11. says

    No way!!!! You know what I have found in the last six-twelve months?? Neither Coles nor Woolworths/Safeway stock shampoo/conditioner for curly haired people. I used to use Herbal Essences Totally Twisted shampoo/conditioner and then they replaced it with some other crap, it’s horrible! I was told by a Woolworths employee that all the big brands were trying to push for “straight hair” these days. I said, “that’s great, but what about me? I still have curly hair, and I don’t want to straighten it. These products don’t work for me.” They said “..[read:nothing]…” and I have struggled to find a good shampoo/conditioner since =(

    I am lawyer (well, officially will be in seven days) and I rock my curly hair at work. I straighten it once in a blue moon. I tend to tidy/curl with my ghd the front part of my hair because it’s frizzy and unmanageable when I wake up in that area, and if the back is too flat/knotted from where I slept, I pull it into a loose side ponytail.

    I’ve never even honestly given any thought about straightening my hair for work to seem more “professional”. I am curly hair and they can love it or leave it =)

    • Hair Romance says

      Go Lecinda! I haven’t noticed the lack of curly shampoos, but now that you mention it, it’s all about sleek hair. If in doubt go for moisturising shampoos as curly hair tends to be dry.

  12. says

    I don’t think you have to have straight hair to be taken seriously. But I think the curls have to look taken care of. Of course, I work in graphic design, so I can potentially get away with a bit more (depending on where I’m employed).

    • Hair Romance says

      Thanks Melody, I agree, ‘professional’ is about looking neat and well groomed. It’s not a question of curls vs straight.

  13. says

    This is interesting. I see and wear my hair curly quite often for work (it’s straight as a board naturally)… but, I work with nonprofits so we generally do what we want. On the other hand I’ve always thought that because people know I have straight hair curling it says that I took the time to intentionally style my hair which makes me feel a little more put together. (They don’t know I use the elastic headband method and it only took moments)

    But, when it comes down to interviews I always head back to my straight and kept.So weird to think about.

  14. Caitlin says

    This post came out at the most coincidental time…I’ve had curly hair forever (Think Taylor swift curls but slightly thicker) and it’s only been recently that I’ve committed to the 100% curly girl way of life. No Sulphates/parabens/alcohols, etc, etc…and I agree with others when they say products can be hard to find. I think partly because curly hair requires more TLC and major brands don’t want to put the extra $$$ for ingredients. Marketing has a strong pull towards women…think about back in highschool when you wanted to use the same shampoo/products as all the other girls!!! The “popular” stuff!

    After completing my Masters, I now have a professional corporate job in the biomedical communications industry. As a medical illustrator, I DO have an artsy side (which is probably why my curls are accepted) but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with veterinary/medical clients and they’ve marveled at my updo’s/curly style.

    It’s all about taking PROPER care of your curls. We curly folks can definetely give them a run for their money :)

  15. says

    I think the only reason why people might consider straight hair more “business-y” is it conforms to the prim and proper business woman notion. Some people may think that those with curly hair don’t try as hard – well in reality they try harder. I have wavy hair with a few ringlets underneath. I used to blow it straight and then take a straightener to it, now I can’t remember the last time I touched my straightener. =]

  16. Jen says

    I never thought about whether straight hair looks more professional than curly, but then again i’m stuck with stick-straight hair (tho i really do want a perm, i’m just scared i’d look like a poodle!). But i do know that when i started working in a professional environment i cut my hair short, to me it felt more adult and like i’d be taken more seriously with short-styled hair than if i wore it long or pulled back (which i regularly did often enough that people who were acquaintances when they’d see me with my hair down they were surprised i had long hair).

  17. Wendy says

    My friend and I, both nurses, both with dark brown SUPER curly hair, had this discussion just the other day after a patient commented to her, “I don’t see how you hold down a job with a head of hair like that!”

    It’s funny because I tend to straighten mine a lot more than she does and after that comment we decided to try a little experiment, and it really seems like our patients and their families take us more seriously when our hair is straight.

    Also funny because the main reason I straighten mine is because I can get 3 and the occasional 4 days out of it between washes….terrible, I know, but if I go curly it MUST be washed after sleeping on it. :)

    • Hair Romance says

      I can’t believe anyone would say that! That’s terrible, but makes for an interesting hair experiment.
      I know what you mean about straight hair. It lasts for days in my hair whereas curly gets messy and knotty. I still push it for a few days with a braid or a twist & pin updo on day 3.

  18. says

    I totally agree! I used to straighten my hair then when I realized how unique curly hair was (and that it felt less fake, b/c curly is def my personality haha) now I just put mouse in and air dry. I always wear it like that (granted I def need some tips b/c there’s only so much you can do with long curly hair!). When I do straighten it I notice more looks my way. It’s a shame b/c I really look to famous Latin women and their curly hair and it’s so sexy and powerful!! I actually use that as a test for dating. If the guy likes it better straight… they have to go! haha Luckily my boyfriend is latin and prefers the curl.

    So glad I found this & I will be looking to your blog for further advice!

  19. says

    If anything, I think curls make people look more mature and therefore, makes them look more serious. I used to look older when I had permed hair. I look younger now that the curls are gone, giving way to my natural wavy hair.

    • Hair Romance says

      I’ve never thought about it that way, as I thought curls were quite youthful. Interesting how we all interpret hair differently. It might be that your natural hair suits you better and so you look younger!

  20. says

    I straighten my hair every day for work. I once left it curly (its natural state) and my boss said something about my holiday hair! I have no idea why, I think because curly hair isn’t as restrained, but really if you’re not going to take someone seriously because they have curly hair, you’re crazy yourself! :)

  21. Andrea says

    I do tame my curls though. I typically do my best to look put together. Unfortunately, in mock interviews, I’ve been told multiple tims about making my hair look more professional by straightening it. If I ever interview someone, I will not look down on them for curls, as I know tamed curls are more of a hassle than stick straight perfect hair.

  22. Laura says

    Hi there!

    I just found your website and I’m loving it so far! I know I’m a little late to the game but I’m wondering about your thoughts on a topic that has only been peripherally addressed in this comment thread.

    This thread has sparked a debate between my roommate and I about the concept of “professional hair” and whether or not it boils down to an ideal that excludes people of colour. Specifically, is straightened hair professional *because* it removes the visual impression that a person might in any way resemble a person of colour?

    Please note that I am not calling anyone out on racism. I just happen to find it an interesting topic of discussion. I myself am of Chinese descent and where I’m from, leaving straight hair alone can almost be considered lazy or “not Westernized enough.”

    • Hair Romance says

      I think there is a racial bias against curly hair for this reason, but it’s a complicated and multi-layered issue. I think this “profesional” bias against certain hairstyles is the perception on how long it takes to style. If your hair looks like you made an effort, or is a very neat or complicated style, there is a perception that you are organised and in control, hence more professional. Depending on your work environment, conservative hairstyles are as important as what you wear to convey your company’s brand. But I still wear my hair however I want :)

  23. Nina says

    I’m thinking about writing an essay about the pressure to straighten your hair. My ethnic background is that of African, Colombian, and Mexican and my hair has always been coarse and curly. Ever since I was younger my father and step mother would pressure me to flat iron or relax my hair. The results have been that my hair is much thinner than when I was younger. When I got old enough to care for my own hair, I decided to be kind to it. I conditioned it and it actually b ecame softer and more easily cared for. Currently I live in Hawaii and I feel there is strong pressure, especially in the Asian arena, to wear your hair straight. All of my female coworkers and bosses wear their hair straight regaredless of their natural textures. It really irritates me.

    • Hair Romance says

      Hi Nina, that would be a great essay. There is definitely cultural pressure, but I’m seeing more of these stereotypes breaking down which is great news. Beauty comes in all forms x

  24. Emily says

    I do agree this is a definite sterotype, however when I interviewed for the job I have now, I wore my hair naturally (corkscrew curls everywhere); apparently it wasn’t a big deal. As a young girl, I hated my hair. When I was in my ealry teens, I straightened it for the first time and fell in love. I got so many compliments. Sometime during high school, I started accepting my hair and learned to love it. It’s so normal for me now. Sometimes people make comments “wow, your hair really makes a ‘statement’…” or “you must be the crazy one, huh?”. I usually just ignore it. I straighten it on rare occasions, but it feels strange, as if I’m missing a part of me or trying to be like somebody else.

    • Hair Romance says

      Love the relationship you have with your curls Emily! I know exactly what you mean. It’s funny how people think you’re making a ‘statement’ when you wear your natural hair x

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