Business etiquette is, sometimes, taken to extreme lengths, right to the point where it can be misogynistic, sexist, and even down lifting, and this includes a long-term debate and the question “is long hair unprofessional”?
Unfortunately, when it comes to business and professional attire, few things have changed over the years, and it depends on the company and the industry you’re working in. English attorneys are still wearing wigs just like they did centuries ago, while many women in the Japanese culture, and not only, are forced to wear heels and skirts as part of their daily uniform.
Even the flight attendants’ etiquette is different depending on the sex. Women are still required to look their best, which often involves perfect makeup, strict rules regarding the length, color, and style of their hair, as well as polished nails in nude or red tones.
On the other hand, men have a looser dress code and can even sport facial hair in the form of mustaches and beards, as long as they are kept to a minimum and properly trimmed. So, let’s talk about the importance of your hair’s length and how it should or shouldn’t affect your career.
It is no secret that women tend to have a harder time finding the right job and they are constantly judged by every aspect of their physical appearance.
Ever since the earliest stages of life, society has felt the need to impose a certain set of features, suitable for men and women. While men are often described as powerful, strong, intelligent, bold, and charismatic, most women are rather attributed to physical features such as pretty, beautiful, hot, or sexy.
Men in their late 40s are usually described as “silver foxes”, while women of the same age must dye their hair and submit to society’s standards. Wrinkles on men are signs of knowledge and experience but women must look perfect at any given moment of the day. They shouldn’t have dark circles, wrinkles, and should always apply moisturizing creams.
Men smoking cigars and drinking whiskey are seen as powerful and successful, while women should rather stick to “lighter” beverages and shouldn’t smoke.
Unfortunately, society’s perception is also reflected in the work field, where women still face blunt discrimination and sexism, especially in some areas. Gender pay gaps are still in place, and according to Payscale, the median salary for men is roughly 19% higher than that of women.
Although the controlled gender pay gap (the median salary between men and women with the same job and qualifications) is only 2% in favor of men, the situation isn’t quite the same for all companies.
Many jobs are still considered as men-only, such as truck drivers, mechanics, scientists, brokers, constructors, and even architects or bartenders, while “women jobs” are often related to those in education and healthcare. Women are, by definition, nurturers, while men are still seen as providers and the head of the family.
So, what does this have to do with hair?
Women power examples
According to statistics, women who are in power positions (judges, CEOs, politicians) also tend to adopt a more “masculine” style, often displaying short hair.
And, even though policies on what hairstyles are acceptable in some workplaces are loosened, there seems to still be a link between the hair’s length and certain levels of professionalism. Just take a look at America’s finest female representatives in the Senate and the Government, and you will mainly see women flaunting short, blonde hair.
Many surveys conducted in the past two decades have shown a direct link between a woman’s hair color and the way she was perceived. Statistically speaking, darker hair is better for women in their workplace as the overall perception is that brunette females are intelligent, mature, intimidating, and even arrogant.
Although 90% of the female population is naturally brunette or has darker hair and only 2% of the population is blonde, over 50% of the women with darker hair end up dying it lighter or blonde.
The general perception of blonde women is that they are likable, vain, and even incompetent or needy. On the other hand, blonde women are also considered more fun and “ready to party”. By comparison, women with natural or dyed red hair are often seen as overly sexual, temperamental, and even aggressive.
The science behind a woman’s hair doesn’t stop at its length or color but also tackles other features, including texture.
When it comes to the work environment, sleek, straight hair is superior to wavy, curly, or natural hair. The latter is often associated with personal neglect, “a rough night” or rebellion.
Research in the field has shown that women sporting straight hair are often perceived as more competent, professional, intelligent, and even “clean”. By comparison, curly hair is considered approachable and mainly suitable for casual Fridays at the office rather than business meetings.
This false perception has led to numerous conflicts at the workplace and has even generated fears, especially in the African-American community, where black women are worried that their natural hair texture could affect job employment and career promotions.
When it comes to the length of the hair, short hair is preferred in the workplace. Despite various researches indicating that long hair is preferred by males and is often attributed to a woman’s beauty, fertility, and charm when it comes to a woman’s workplace, the data changes dramatically.
Women sporting long hair in their field of work are considered young, unprofessional, and even insecure, which can negatively impact one’s professional credibility. Long hair has a more significant impact on a woman’s body language because they tend to touch it more often, creating a distraction during communication.
However, the main concern of a woman’s hair length is its association with professional expertise and age. According to most people, long hair is socially acceptable for women under 40 years old and it should significantly be cut as they enter new life stages. Long hair in older women is mainly considered messy, silly, and even “hippie”.
On the other hand, women with short hair are often seen as more powerful, stronger, confident, mature, and more intelligent.
As we previously mentioned, psychologists explain this difference in perception through the link between sexes. In other words, historically speaking, males were the only ones in charge and they were given all the power. Most males sported short hair as it was easier in combats and wars, while women were supposed to keep their hair long to remain feminine and attractive.
The shorter the hair, the bigger the proximity to men, which is why women with short hair are considered more powerful. Not at all surprisingly, men also associate short hair on women with female homosexuality, perpetuating stereotypes that are hundreds of years old, where the only ones with short hair were men.
As sexist as these stereotypes may seem, they are deeply rooted in our society, and chances are that they won’t be easily changed in the next decades.
Long hair on men
It is also worth mentioning that long hair in men is considered almost unacceptable for those who want to be taken seriously at their job. Due to the same sexist stereotypes, men with long hair are often considered more feminine and less professional.
Men with long hair are less likely to hold powerful positions in their work field, although there are plenty of exceptions in recent history. However, there is also a difference in perception between what is considered “long” hair in men, as opposed to the standards for women.
For men, long hair is considered any type of haircut near or below the shoulder level, whereas women are still considered to have short hair if their hair reaches their shoulders. Any hairstyle that goes below the shoulder level in men is considered highly unprofessional and even “hippie”. It is mainly linked to art-related careers and jobs such as art teachers, musicians, painters, actors, and models.
To sum up, long hair is rarely a sign of professionalism, for both men and women. It is often linked to youth, lack of experience, discipline, and motivation, whereas short hairstyles are empowering, bold, and “professional”.
Both men and women face criticism if they keep their hair longer than the “acceptable norm” and may even face backlash in their careers. Women under 40 years old may get away with longer haircuts but not in empowering positions, especially if they don’t work in fields generally dedicated to women such as cosmetics, fashion, or beauty.
The general agreement is that once a woman turns 40 years old, she is no longer considered “young” and, therefore, shouldn’t be seen with hair longer than the shoulder level. As they age, women are expected to cut their hair even shorter and keep it as simple as possible, preferably dyed in a light shade.
On the contrary, men who turn 40 are considered more mature, handsome, and financially potent, which is why spotting the “silver fox” look is appealing to the opposite sex. As for the length of their hair, they face the same backlash.
Hair should be kept short and trimmed, and so should beards and mustaches. A man with a successful career is often envisioned as always wearing suits, having a clean shave, and short hair at all times.