Why Is Colorful Hair Still Considered Unprofessional in the Workplace?
"You don't look professional."
"You won't get hired."
These are two of the dozens of comments I received when I decided to dye my hair pink in 2017. All I'd ever wanted was to have the cotton-candy pink hair of my dreams, and when I got it, I was ecstatic. While I walked around with a new vibrant pink mane, that was the only different thing about me. I still went to the same school, had the same friends and worked the same job. Same old me, just a different hair color.
That's what I thought, but apparently society seemed to think differently. All of a sudden, having pink hair meant I was no longer viewed as intelligent or responsible, but a teenager who was "acting out." Anyone who knows me can tell you my colored hair did absolutely nothing to me either professionally or personally. If anything, it made me more confident because I loved my hair color. During my early years of college, I had a 4.0 with pink, blue, and red hair—so I can personally attest that my intellect remained.
However, when it came time for me to get a job (that wasn't babysitting my neighbors), I realized how there was a strong aversion to colored hair in the workplace. No, I'm not talking about highlights, ombre, or anything like that, but those bright pastels and "unnatural" colors (blue, pink, purple, orange, green, yellow, blue, etc.). Essentially, anything that isn't blonde, brown, black, or gray is a no-go.
Now, I'll admit, I fell prey to these dress codes and appearance guidelines in the workplace because I really wanted to work for a specific company. However, as I sit here and type this with my natural hair color, I can't help but think it's ridiculous how many assume your personality when a color lands on your head. Frankly, I'm at the stage in my life where I'm looking for a full-time job and also want to dye my hair pink again. I'm fearful that I'll be looked down upon in the workplace if I show up to an interview with pink hair, but at the same time, it really says nothing about how I can do my job.
With that said, I was curious as to how other people felt about this and decided to talk to a few professional hairstylists. After all, they are the ones who make the magic happen and get to listen to people's stories from behind the chair.
From the five hairstylists I spoke with, most think the narrative is beginning to change in regards to colored hair in the workplace.
Views of Hair Color in the Workplace Are Changing
Many stylists have seen an influx of clients coming in looking to get colored hair. Many of these clients are in the arts and entertainment industry, but not all of them.
"Most of my vibrant-haired clients are artists that have more freedom to express themselves through vibrant color," Brian O'Connor, co-founder and chief innovation officer of Good Dye Young, says. "However, I have seen a bit of a breakthrough with school teachers being allowed to have vibrant hair colors now."
The same goes for Brittney Rodriguez, hairstylist at Medusa Salon in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I have a decent amount of white collar clients with vibrant hair colors," she says. "Most of them stick to more pastel shades, and have it balayage on for a more natural look."
Not only are views changing, but some are working right alongside those with vibrant hair colors. "One of the owners of my agency had pink hair for a while," says Justine Marjan, celebrity hairstylist and OLLY ambassador. "I love that she could be an incredible leader and businesswoman while expressing her creativity."
But Colorful Hair in the Workplace Is Still Relatively Taboo
While attitudes are changing regarding colored hair in the workplace, it still isn't completely accepted from one stylist's experience.
"Most people in professional settings from what I know aren't doing anything crazy," says Stephanie Brown, hairstylist at IGK Salon. "I don't have any professionals that do crazy colors. I think it's still considered unprofessional."
How to Make Colored Hair Look Professional
There's no overwhelming push for people to have a full head of pink hair, but color that can be hidden while at work or in professional settings.
Color blocking and ombré are two methods Rodriguez uses with her clients and recommends for those who are looking to dye their hair, but might be a bit skeptical about judgment. "Color blocking [allows the color to be] applied from roots to ends in a large streak," Rodriguez says. "Ombré is another great option, the color is painted onto the ends of the hair. If a client decides they don't want the color anymore they can simply cut it off as it grows out."
Peekaboo highlights are another option that one stylist suggests. "[These highlights] are generally applied to hair underneath the top layer," says Daniel Sanchez, color specialist at Fekkai. For those not looking to commit their whole head, O'Connor says, "Highlights, just the tips, dark/natural roots, money pieces, and the underneath layer are all amazing options."
And there's always the option for hair extensions to get the colorful look without the commitment, "If you want to avoid damaging the hair with bleach, extensions are a great way to get a pop of color without any commitment or damage," says Marjan. "Great Lengths has gorgeous vivid colors in its custom extension range that can last several months."
It's important to note that regardless of hair color, people can do their jobs just the same. They are not going to be any less intelligent or less professional than people with pink or purple hair. If anything, allowing for colorful expression can inspire more people to be their authentic, unapologetic selves.
Although it seems that attitudes regarding colored hair in the workplace are changing in larger cities and creative industries, there's still a great effort made to hide it in order to maintain a "professional appearance" in some businesses. If you're interested in changing your hair color to a statement shade but are unsure of workplace expectations, it's always a good idea to have a conversation with your manager first. Their response may surprise you, or better yet, pave the way for other bright-hair enthusiasts to come.