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Home>> 9 Tips for Professional-Looking Hair

9 Tips for Professional-Looking Hair-
by Mary Mitchell

Everyone has had bad hair days. Unfortunately, when it comes to work, many women have bad hair years.

"If your professional style isn't easy-care and adaptable, you lose," says New York City stylist Julien Farel.

"Too many women walk into the salon with a picture of how they want to look," says the stylist, who has worked at the uptown Manhattan salon Frederick Fekkai Beaute de Provence.

"They can walk out of the salon looking like the picture, but things fall apart when the technician isn't there the next morning to maintain it."

And hair is one of the most noticeable physical factors affecting others' opinions of us.

"Women who work very long hours or travel a lot need easily maintained hairstyles," says Anna M. Loh, director of human resources at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.


"Usually that translates into shorter, straighter hair, so they can do it quickly in the morning and not think about it again throughout the workday."

But does that mean the only career-minded solution is a boring pageboy? And what if your hair has a frizzy, mind-of-its-own bent? The best choices are elegant styles with soft lines, says Farel. "Don't be a slave to trends."

Here are 9 ways to get a handle on your hair so it says the best about you.

  1. The first and overriding rule is that hair always must be clean and well groomed. That means a trim every six to eight weeks. If your hair grows fast, make that every four to five weeks. Often, bang trims and other minor touch-ups are free or very inexpensive; ask your stylist.
    Skip the Pat Benatar look. Heavily sprayed, crunched and gelled hair can be "the equivalent of wearing a skirt slit up to the thigh," says Jennie Brooks, stylist for Ovations Salon in Philadelphia. Instead, she suggests products that provide a softer, more polished look that won't distract from your professionalism. "It's possible to have an edge while still being professional. Think of an altogether polished look."

  2. Find products that not only fit your hairdo but also your routine. "A stylist who knows your hair usually can recommend," says Brooks, "but he or she isn't with you every morning when you do your hair. If something seems too heavy or not heavy enough, keep experimenting."

  3. Match your style to the vibe of your workplace, no matter what level you're at. At the prestigious Hotel Bel Air in L.A., ALL employees are required to look sophisticated and yet low-key (so they fit in but don't rival guests like Meg Ryan, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Nancy Reagan). The director of human resources, Antoinette Lara, tells employees, "Think about how you'd wear your hair at a club on a Saturday night. Then do the opposite when you come to work." "If you're working for a dot-com," says Wharton's Loh, "you can get away with a wilder, younger, hipper look. If you're working in an accounting firm, a law firm or an investment banking firm, a green streak down the back of your head won't help you succeed at your job." Sad, but true.

  4. The debate about long vs. short continues. But these days, just as there is no hard-and-fast business dress code, the old rules about tumbling locks being too youthful or curly 'dos too cutesy don't apply across the board. As long as hair is clean, isn't covering the face and isn't shedding off the shoulders, it can look professional. For example, a colleague of mine braids her chestnut hair into a neat plait that hangs to her mid-back, and secures it with an unobtrusive scrunchie.

  5. Avoid flashy hair accessories. Stick to tortoiseshell or natural colors and accessories like jaw clips that sweep up hair in back to keep it tidy. Tragically cute barrettes and pins in candy colors are better suited to club kids than professional women. And hair bands can project an air of inexperience or naiveté. Remember how Hillary Rodham Clinton's headband drew criticism for being too unsophisticated for a first lady?

  6. Keep the size of your face in mind when choosing a style. Big 'dos overwhelm small, fine-featured faces, but can provide balance to stronger, more pronounced features. Look for a style in proportion to the size of your head.

  7. Ditch the roots. Blonde hair with black roots only plays well in Hollywood. Everywhere else it just looks unkempt. Schedule touch-up appointments (usually every month or so) at the same time you get your hair bleached or colored.

  8. Next time you make an appointment with a stylist, consult with him or her about updating your look. Some things to discuss so you get a style suited to your life: How much time you want to spend on your hair in the morning What kind of styling implements you use -- hot rollers, round brush and hairdryer, diffuser What your office and corporate culture are like How your hair frequently misbehaves What you're willing to contend with -- e.g., length, layers, bangs What kind of work you do -- do you move around all day, or are you at a computer with your head down? Do you have client meetings or after-work functions that require a picture-perfect look?

  9. Use these stylist-suggested tips for different lengths:
    Short, straight hair: Let it grow slightly longer so it's not spiky; be careful of cowlicks.
    Long, straight hair: Keep it especially clean and fresh; otherwise it tends to flatten and appear messy.
    Short, curly hair: Find the right products that keep it calm and smooth without greasing ringlets.
    Long, curly hair: Give hair a boost in height and volume, and keep it manageable by getting long layered cuts.
    Curly hair: Experiment with different products until you find the perfect one for you that controls fuzziness but emphasizes the waves. "Just don't let curly hair do its own thing," warns Brooks. "It ends up looking overwhelmingly unprofessional."
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