I stopped getting relaxers when I was in undergrad and did the “big chop” in 2011. I started wearing my hair in its natural curls because I was on the track and field team at the University of South Carolina and I simply couldn’t keep my hair flat-ironed with all the working out I was doing. This wasn’t a problem until I started working a part-time job at a law firm while I was in undergrad.
What was I supposed to wear to work?
The firm had no attorneys of color; would my curls be too ethnic?
Was my natural hair… unprofessional?
Once I got to law school, I wore my natural curls almost daily. It wasn’t until it was time to go to interviews for internships that I flat-ironed it or pulled it back into a bun. Although I wore my natural curls to class all the time, I never once wore my natural curls to a single one of my six summer internships (I attended Wake Forest for four years while I earned my JD and my MBA).
Why was I so afraid of wearing my natural hair to work? Well, if you haven’t heard, there are plenty of women who have been told that their natural hair is unprofessional. Some women are told to wear a weave to work instead of their natural hair. Some women are told that natural hair is “unkempt.” Women of color are acutely affected by biases against natural hairstyles, as shown by a recent study that confirmed that black women are twice as likely to feel pressured to straighten their hair for work as compared to white women. White women certainly aren’t exempt from pressures against wearing natural curls to the office, though.
When I finally entered the corporate world as an attorney, I worried about how I’d be perceived if I wore my natural hair to the office. One attorney in a different firm told me to slowly ease into wearing natural hairstyles. Don’t shock everyone. Start with a bun. Not a slicked-back bun, a looser one that would allow you to see some curls. Transition to a ponytail. Then maybe half-up half-down. Seriously, this was a real conversation.
Eventually, I was fed up with worrying about having to tip toe into wearing my hair the way that it grows out of my head. Instead of easing into it, I just showed up to work a few weeks after my first day with a normal wash-and-go. I was glad that I wasn’t met with some of the negative experiences that many women have talked about. Nobody told me to straighten my hair. Only one person tried to touch it. Everyone who said something to me about it loved it and a few asked why I’d never worn my hair naturally when I was an intern. I was honest–I said I was afraid.
Wear your hair naturally, ladies. Be bold and unapologetic. I’m glad that I received warm reactions from my colleagues and I hope you will too. Is natural hair unprofessional? NO. Here are five reasons why you should try it:
1. IT IS ACCEPTABLE FOR WORK.
There is nothing wrong with wearing your hair just the way it grows out of your head.
You may have heard that various branches of the military recently expanded the number and type of permissible hairstyles for women. In July this year the Navy expanded its dress code to allow French braids, larger buns, and *gasp* dreadlocks. The most shocking part of these changes is that the Navy waited until 2018 to fix its regulations on hairstyles. Better late than never, I guess.
Although there are some people who still bear biases against natural hairstyles, society as whole is working towards making workplaces more inclusive. We live in a time when diversity and inclusion is a hot topic in businesses across the country. This focus is well-placed, considering that a 2018 study by Deloitte found that millennials and Gen Z “correlate diversity with a forward-thinking mindset,” making businesses with greater levels of diversity more attractive as employers. Since 75% of the global workforce will comprise of millennials and Gen Z by 2025, employers who address diversity and inclusion–especially as it relates to hairstyles in the office–are the ones that will emerge as successful leaders in their respective industries in coming years.
Wear your dreadlocks, your braids, your beach waves, your twist-outs, your wash-and-gos, and your afros, ladies. And if anyone tells you natural hair is unprofessional, turn with a hair flip and walk away. (Actually, it would probably be better if you engage in productive conversation to help them understand why natural hair is perfectly acceptable for the office, but for the sake of sassiness in this article, the hair flip works.)
2. PROTECTIVE STYLES ARE NICE TO YOUR HAIR.
I took a month off from work in July to study for the South Carolina Bar Exam. While I was away, I didn’t want to have to spend time styling my hair, so I had my sister braid it up for me. She owns her own place, Page Veronica Salon, and focuses on natural hairstyles, so she’d been telling me for a while that I needed to figure out some protective styles that worked on my hair. After wearing braids for a few weeks, my hair was more soft, manageable, and moisturized when I took the braids out than it had been in months.
For those who haven’t heard of protective styles, they’re styles like braids and twists that give your hair a break. Having some time away from flat irons, brushes, styling, and hair dryers is really good for your hair. Try finding a protective style that you’d feel comfortable wearing to the office. If you need some help and you live in or around Charlotte, NC, you can book an appointment with my sister here. She’s the reason my hair has grown this much over the years.
3. NATURAL HAIR IS EASY TO STYLE.
My natural curls/wash-and-go style takes three hours to do. Three hours to wash it, detangle, put product in it, and dry it. Obviously, my natural hair isn’t that easy to style, initially.
The good thing is that my wash-and-go lasts 4-6 days. So, although I have to invest three hours at the beginning of the style cycle, I spend almost no time styling after that.
A wash-and-go obviously isn’t the only natural style you can wear to the office, though. Dreadlocks, braids, twist-outs, beach waves, afros, twists, these are all acceptable styles for work and many of them take little to no time to do. When I had my braids in (photos at the bottom of this article), the only time I spent styling my hair everyday was when I took off the hair scarf that I slept in. Voila! Ready for the day.
Here are some general guidelines I recommend using when styling your natural hair for the workplace:
- Stay away from dying your hair in an unnatural color (i.e. blue, green, fire engine red, etc.).
- Avoid beads/charms. I liked the look of my gold charms/beads in my braids in the photos for this article, but I would not wear them to work. It’s stylish and I would add the beads and gold charms on the weekend, but not to the office. They’re a bit much, in my opinion.
- Keep your style well-maintained. For example, don’t go months without retwisting your dreadlocks and then wonder why your boss says they’re unprofessional.
4. YOU’LL HAVE ONE LESS REASON TO SKIP THE GYM.
My hair curls up at the slightest hint of humidity or moisture. You could spit outside and my hair would frizz. As you can imagine, this means that flat-ironing my hair and going to the gym is a recipe for disaster.
Typically, if I straighten my hair, I avoid the gym altogether. If I sweat, my hair frizzes up and starts to curl and I’m forced to flat-iron it again, which causes breakage and dryness over time. I rarely flat-iron my hair nowadays so that I won’t use it as a reason to avoid the gym. By “rarely” I mean it’s August and I’ve straightened my hair twice this year. My flat iron is collecting dust. I’m really not even sure where it is right now.
Braids, dreadlocks, and twists are P E R F E C T for the gym since you generally don’t have to worry about your hair frizzing up after you sweat. It’s also especially nice to not worry about allotting extra time in the morning before work to fixing your sweat-destroyed hair after a workout. Yay.
5. STRENGTH IN NUMBERS.
It’s never easy being the token person at work wearing a natural hairstyle.
I remember being a part of an organization that met frequently. I was one of only two women of color in the organization. The other was an older woman who was well-established in her career. We talked about wearing natural hairstyles to our meetings and how I avoided it since I didn’t know how our fellow members would perceive it. I didn’t know if they thought natural hair was unprofessional. I’ll never forget her response.
She said she’d be my trailblazer.
She knew I was new and that her position as an established businesswoman wouldn’t be affected by a hairstyle. The next time I saw her, she was wearing twists. Since then, I’ve seldom worried about wearing my natural curls to our meetings. In fact, since the two of us started wearing our natural hair more often, I’ve noticed more of the white women in the organization wearing their natural curls as well.
Don’t forget that your wearing your natural hair could mean something to someone who is uneasy about the stigma that used to accompany natural hairstyles. Be the trailblazer your office needs and there will be others who will follow. The best way to fight the stereotype that natural hair is unprofessional is to have more and more people come to work showing that it is.
Yours in the fight,