Is long hair unprofessional (for men or women)?

Published on June 13, 2023

The world of professional hairstyles is as diverse and vibrant as the individuals sporting them.

While perceptions are rapidly evolving, there still exists an intriguing intersection of hairstyle and professional image, particularly when it comes to men with long hair.

Here we will delve into the rich tapestry of hairstyles in the workplace, exploring examples of professional environments where long hair is traditionally seen as less accepted, and other more liberal work settings where flowing locks are welcomed with open arms.

We'll also get under the roots of what styles may be considered unprofessional and why, for both men and women.

From law firms to tech startups, from buzz cuts to slicked-back styles, we're combing through it all.

So, let's navigate this hairy – but never mundane – topic together, always remembering that our worth as professionals is truly defined by our skills, work ethic, and attitude.

Is long hair unprofessional for men

Long hair on men is not inherently unprofessional. Objectively, the concept of professionalism is tied to behavior, skills, and ethics, not solely appearance.

However, we can't deny that personal grooming is a factor and varies across different professional settings, cultures, and industries. Therefore, it's important for anyone, regardless of gender, to maintain clean, well-kept hair.

Why is long hair seen as unprofessional?

Why is long hair seen as unprofessional

The perception of professionalism is not a one-size-fits-all concept, but rather, it can be influenced by various factors, such as:

1. Cultural norms

Different cultures have different norms and expectations for appearance, including hair length.

For example, in some indigenous cultures, long hair for men is a symbol of wisdom and spiritual strength.

Therefore, what is considered professional in one culture may not necessarily be seen the same way in another.

2. Societal expectations

Societal expectations can play a significant role in shaping what is considered professional.

Traditionally, in some societies, short hair on men has been associated with professionalism due to its military origins and perceived neatness.

However, these norms are shifting as societies become more accepting and inclusive.

Today, many people understand that professionalism is more about one's conduct, expertise, and commitment to ethical standards, rather than the length of one's hair.

3. Industry standards

Different industries and workplaces have different standards for what is considered professional.

For example, in the creative industries like fashion, music, and film, long hair on men is quite common and often seen as a form of personal expression.

On the other hand, more conservative industries like finance or law may have a more traditional approach to professional appearances.

However, this isn't a strict rule, and many businesses in these sectors are embracing a more relaxed approach to personal appearance, as long as cleanliness and grooming are maintained.

Unprofessional work hairstyles for men

Unprofessional work hairstyles for men

Let's explore ten examples of hairstyles that might traditionally be perceived as unprofessional in certain work environments.

1. Extreme mohawks

This dramatic, punk-inspired style might be seen as a little too rebellious for conventional corporate environments that value a more conservative look.

2. Messy, unkempt hair

Regardless of length, hair that looks dirty or unkempt can be considered unprofessional.

It gives off the impression that one doesn't care about their personal appearance, which might unfairly raise questions about their professionalism.

3. Wildly colored hair

While creative industries might embrace vibrant, unnatural hair colors, in more conservative fields, these colors might be seen as distracting and thus, less professional.

4. Uncontrolled bedhead

We all have those mornings, but showing up to work with a hairstyle that screams, "I just rolled out of bed," might not be the best for your professional image.

5. Over-the-top spikes

While a little product to style your hair is fine, extremely spiky hair can sometimes be seen as too casual or youthful for a professional setting.

6. Long hair that isn’t maintained

Long hair on men can absolutely be professional, but if it's not well-maintained, it could be perceived as unprofessional. This includes hair that's greasy, full of split ends, or generally looks untidy.

7. Excessively gelled hair

Using a ton of product until your hair is rock-hard might not send the right message. It can look overly slick and give the impression of trying too hard.

8. Visor hair or hat hair

Showing up to work with hair that's been squashed by a hat can look a bit sloppy. It's best to restyle your hair if a hat has left it flat or misshapen.

9. In-your-face facial hair

Facial hair can be completely professional when groomed well. However, styles that are overly bold, such as handlebar mustaches or very long, untamed beards might be perceived as less professional in certain environments.

10. Extreme undercuts or shaved designs

While these can be stylish in the right context, very drastic undercuts or shaved patterns can be seen as too edgy or distracting in some professional settings.

Work environments where long hair on men will be seen as unprofessional

Here are ten examples where long hair on men might traditionally be seen as less professional.

1. Corporate law firms

These firms have been known for their conservatism when it comes to appearance. Here, the traditional perception is that short hair denotes seriousness and respectability, important traits for any lawyer.

2. Investment banking

This high-stakes, fast-paced industry is another arena where the standard often leans toward the conservative side, including hairstyles. Short, neatly groomed hair is seen as a reflection of the meticulous nature of the job.

3. Military and police forces

For reasons of practicality and uniformity, these roles require very short hair or even a shaved head. It ensures neatness and reduces any risks during physical activities or operations.

4. Politics

In politics, appearances can play a crucial role in public perception. While this is changing, many male politicians still opt for short hair, as it's traditionally seen as more statesmanlike and authoritative.

5. Medicine and healthcare

For doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals, short hair or long hair neatly tied back is often preferred for hygiene reasons and to prevent hair from obstructing their work.

6. Hospitality industry (especially fine dining)

In high-end restaurants, waitstaff and hosts often adhere to strict grooming standards, including short or neatly tied-back hair, to maintain a polished, professional appearance that aligns with the elegant ambiance.

7. Airline industry

Male flight attendants and pilots traditionally have had grooming standards that include short, neatly styled hair, reflecting the industry's emphasis on safety, neatness, and a uniform appearance.

8. Sales (especially high-value sectors)

In high-value sales roles, such as luxury cars or real estate, appearances often play a part in the initial client interaction. Short, tidy hair can be seen as part of a professional and trustworthy image.

9. Consulting firms

In these environments, consultants often have to adapt to the culture of their clients, many of which might be in more conservative industries.

Therefore, consultants might choose short hair to ensure they fit seamlessly into various work environments.

10. Education (certain institutions)

In some conservative educational institutions, teachers are often seen as role models for students and are expected to adhere to certain grooming standards, which may include short hair for men.

Professional work hairstyles for men

Professional work hairstyles for men

The world of professional hairstyles for men is diverse and adaptable, just like the modern man himself.

Here are ten hairstyles that can help you project a polished, professional image without compromising your personal style:

1. Crew cut

This classic short hairstyle is easy to maintain and universally accepted in professional settings. It suggests neatness and order, leaving you looking sharp and ready for business.

2. The Taper cut

A taper cut maintains length on top while the hair gradually becomes shorter towards the neck. This versatile cut can be styled in various ways to fit the mood of any professional setting.

3. Side part

A well-executed side part can speak volumes about your attention to detail. It’s a traditional and elegant look that fits right into a professional environment.

4. Buzz cut

For those who want to keep things very low maintenance, a buzz cut is a clean-cut style that takes seconds to style in the morning.

5. Slicked-back hair

If you have medium-length hair, a slicked-back look can come across as suave and put-together. It's best paired with hair that's healthy and well cared for, so make sure to keep it in good condition.

6. Ivy League cut

Also known as a Princeton cut, this style is similar to a crew cut but leaves a bit more length on top. This gives you some flexibility to style it to your liking.

7. French crop

This style features a longer front and a shorter back and sides. It's modern, stylish, and suitable for most professional settings.

8. Neat pompadour

While a traditional pompadour might be a bit bold for some workplaces, a neatly styled, less voluminous version can strike a balance between style and professionalism.

9. Low-maintenance waves

For men with naturally wavy hair, keeping it a medium length and well-maintained can project a professional image. You can use a bit of product to control frizz and add definition.

10. Neat beard style

Facial hair can be professional if well-maintained. If you have a beard, ensure it’s neatly trimmed and clean. A well-styled mustache can also look professional, provided it's kept neat.

Is long hair unprofessional for a woman?

Long hair is not considered unprofessional for women because professionalism is not inherently tied to hair length but rather to how one presents oneself in the workplace.

It's about cleanliness, neatness, and appropriateness, which women generally achieve quite well with long hair.

Unprofessional work hairstyles for women

Unprofessional work hairstyles for women

Just as with men, professionalism isn't solely determined by hairstyle for women either.

However, certain styles might traditionally be perceived as less professional in certain environments.

Here are ten examples, but remember, these norms are rapidly evolving, and what's most important is a presentable hairstyle that makes you feel confident and comfortable!

1. Excessively messy styles

Regardless of gender, hairstyles that look unkempt or unwashed can be seen as unprofessional because they might suggest a lack of attention to detail.

2. Overly complicated styles

While creativity is not a bad thing, extremely elaborate hairstyles might be perceived as distracting in a more conservative work environment.

3. Extreme hair colors

Similar to men, brightly colored hair might be seen as unprofessional in some work settings. This can depend on the specific environment and the industry.

4. Styles that obscure the face

Hair that consistently falls in your face or obscures your eyes might be perceived as unprofessional, simply because clear communication is often key in a workplace and this can be impeded if your face is hidden.

5. Unnaturally voluminous styles

While natural volume is fine, excessively teased or over-the-top voluminous styles might be seen as more fitting for a party than a meeting.

6. Bedhead look

Just like for men, a hairstyle that appears as though you've just rolled out of bed might not project the professional image you’re aiming for.

7. Extremely long hair that isn't maintained

Long hair can absolutely be professional, but if it isn't taken care of, it can look untidy. Split ends, frizziness, or greasiness can be easily perceived as unprofessional.

8. Overuse of hair accessories

While hair accessories can add a touch of personality or keep your hair out of your face, excessive or overly flashy accessories might be perceived as unprofessional or distracting in some workplaces.

9. Hat hair

If a hat has left your hair noticeably flat or misshapen, it's a good idea to restyle it before stepping into a professional setting.

10. Excessive use of hair products

Hair that is overly stiff or shiny from too much product can look unnatural and thus, potentially unprofessional.

Professional work hairstyles for women

Professional work hairstyles for women

Professional hairstyles for women are a blend of style, sophistication, and personal flair. Here are ten examples that can effortlessly straddle the line between chic and office-appropriate.

1. Classic bun

This timeless style is elegant and practical, keeping your hair neatly out of your face. Whether you opt for a sleek, low bun or a more casual messy bun, it communicates professionalism.

2. Chignon

A chignon is a sophisticated twist (literally!) on the classic bun. Located at the nape of your neck, it's an elegant choice for any professional setting.

3. Long and straight

There's nothing wrong with keeping things simple! Long, straight hair that's neatly combed and well-maintained communicates a tidy, professional image.

4. Ponytail

A ponytail can look professional when done right - think sleek, high, and tight, or low and loose with a bit of volume at the crown.

5. French twist

The French twist is a classic updo that oozes elegance. It’s a superb choice for formal professional settings or important meetings.

6. Pixie cut

If you prefer short hair, a neat pixie cut can look very chic and professional. It's stylish, modern, and low maintenance.

7. Braids

A neat, single braid or two French braids can be professional and practical, especially if you have long hair. They're also a great way to add a touch of personality to your professional look.

8. Half-up, half-down

This style gives you the best of both worlds and can be done in a way that looks professional yet stylish. A half-updo is also a great way to keep hair out of your face while still showcasing your length.

9. Short bob or lob

A neatly styled bob or lob (long bob) is an enduring favorite that can look very professional. Pair it with some soft waves for a touch of sophistication.

10. Natural curls

If you're blessed with naturally curly hair, don't feel you need to hide it. Well-maintained and neatly styled curls can look professional and stunning.

Jobs that don't care about long hair

As the professional landscape evolves and becomes more inclusive, long hair is being increasingly accepted and even celebrated across many industries.

Here are ten examples where long hair on both men and women might fit right in:

1. The creative arts

The world of music, theater, and visual arts often encourages personal expression, including through hairstyles. Long hair can be seen as a marker of creativity and individuality.

2. Fashion industry

Fashion is all about personal style, making it an industry where long hair can be seen not just as appropriate but as a form of self-expression that's encouraged.

3. Hair and beauty industry

Where better to showcase the versatility and beauty of long hair than in the very industry devoted to styling and celebrating it?

4. Academia

Universities and colleges are often environments of diverse ideas and people. Long hair is usually not a problem in these settings, as focus is given to knowledge and expertise.

5. Tech industry

Tech companies, especially in recent years, have become known for their relaxed and inclusive work environments. Long hair, often associated with the stereotype of the laid-back coder, can be quite common.

6. Advertising and marketing

These creative and often forward-thinking fields tend to be open to various forms of personal expression, including a range of hairstyles.

7. Design (graphic, interior, architectural, etc.)

Like other creative fields, design professions often embrace diversity, including the diversity of hairstyles.

8. Wellness and fitness industry

From yoga instructors to personal trainers, long hair can be quite common and acceptable, as long as it's kept tidy and doesn't interfere with the job.

9. Writing and journalism

Whether they're working independently or in a newsroom, writers and journalists are often judged more on their output than their appearance, making long hair an acceptable choice.

10. Nonprofit sector

Many nonprofit organizations value diversity and inclusivity, and they usually focus more on an individual's passion and commitment to the cause than their hairstyle.

My experience with long hair in a professional environment

Believe it or not, this is what I looked like over 10 years ago when I was hired at the international tech company I work for to this day.

me with long hair 10 years ago

I remember that I walked into my interview with my hair worn long and an intentionally messy style, that somehow seemed to match the untamed curiosity and ambition I carried within me.

I remember the nervousness I felt, not just about the demanding interview ahead, but also about how my unconventional hairstyle would be perceived in the professional world.

However, as soon as I started speaking, sharing my ideas, and demonstrating my competency in project management,

I saw the interviewers' focus shift. It was no longer about how I looked, but about what I could bring to the table.

The meticulous way I managed workflows, the innovative solutions I offered to potential obstacles, and my profound understanding of the tech landscape – it became evident that these were the qualities that truly mattered.

My hair, which I initially thought might be a stumbling block, faded into the background. It was not a sign of incompetence or nonchalance, as some might think, but a mark of my individuality.

I was hired, not because I fit a certain mold, but because I could contribute significantly to the company with my skills and expertise.

Over the years, my journey has reinforced the belief that professionalism isn't about conforming to a stereotypical appearance, but about competence, integrity, and dedication to one's work.

I've managed countless successful projects, led diverse teams, and faced high-pressure situations, all with my long hair. It never affected my ability to excel at my job or be taken seriously by my peers or subordinates.

Today, as I run my fingers through my now slightly graying hair, I smile at the thought that in this constantly evolving tech world, my hair and I have found our space.

I am a testament to the fact that in the end, what truly matters is not the length of your hair but the breadth of your abilities, the depth of your knowledge, and the willingness to adapt and grow.

Frequently asked questions about long hair in the workplace

Can my employer enforce a hair policy that prohibits long hair?

Yes, an employer can enforce a hair policy as long as it doesn't discriminate and is applied equally to all employees. However, it's important to note that policies must also respect cultural, religious, and medical considerations. Always consult the company's guidelines or human resources department if you have any questions or concerns about such policies.

How can I address concerns about my long hair in a job interview?

If you suspect that your long hair may raise concerns during a job interview, be proactive. Make sure your hair is neatly styled and well-groomed to present a professional image. If asked about it, reassure the interviewer that your hairstyle does not interfere with your ability to perform the job responsibilities.

Does long hair affect job opportunities?

The impact of long hair on job opportunities can vary depending on the industry and specific company culture. While most modern workplaces prioritize skills and competence over appearance, there are still some industries or positions that may have a more conservative view on hairstyles. It's always best to research the company's culture and values when considering your hairstyle for a job opportunity.

Do I need to cut my hair for a job interview?

Not necessarily. What's most important is that your hair is clean, neat, and professional-looking for the job interview. Research the company culture and norms beforehand, and style your hair in a way that you feel reflects the professional image you want to convey. Cutting your hair is a personal decision and isn't required unless it's specified by a company policy or necessary for safety reasons in certain job roles.

Written by:
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co-founder / office worker
Alex has been an office worker for more than 10 years. He is dedicated to helping other office workers to achieve the perfect life-work balance through well-being, effective communication, and building productive habits.

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