Non-Boring Work Hairstyles That Won't Get You Fired

Photographed by Kristiina Wilson.
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, PhD, 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 our makeup) still has 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. Dr. 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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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 appearance, 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 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.

More from Hair