First impressions are everything, especially in situations like job interviews. Whether they are accurate assumptions is a separate issue – there’s no denying that an employer’s immediate opinion of a candidate is at least in part influenced by what he or she sees.
Even after you've landed that job, how you present yourself in the office will shape your colleagues’ and supervisors’ perception of you, and could potentially affect the likelihood of you getting a promotion down the road.
Guidelines are there for a reason. There is some level of flexibility, even with corporate dress rules – it’s all about awareness and recognising the limits.
NO HARD AND FAST RULES
Of course, there are many variables in determining if a hairstyle is work-appropriate – not forgetting that work environments can differ vastly too. A flashy dye job might be a big no-no in a corporate office but could be acceptable in a creative workplace with looser rules.
“I don’t think there is a generic language of what is acceptable or not when it comes to a work dress code or appropriate hairstyle – it all depends on what role and industry we're talking about," said Ellen Lee, a human resources director at a multinational financial institution.
A professional-looking haircut should leave your eyebrows and eyes visible at all times, so that you can have good eye contact with the person you are communicating with.
“That said, guidelines are there for a reason. There is some level of flexibility, even with corporate dress rules. It’s all about awareness and recognising the limits – you can certainly be fashionable while looking professional," said Lee.
"It's important for an employee to be mindful of the audiences he or she is facing in the context of his or her work – knowing that will help define what is acceptable."
As workplace flexibility becomes more commonplace, have corporate rules on hairstyles also eased up? “I do think that as society becomes more open, in a way, the rules have indeed relaxed – quicker in some industries and slower in others, such as finance,” said Lee.
“For example, there’s a significantly higher tolerance for hair-dyeing – extreme colours like pink, purple, blue, green or the rainbow treatment are still big no-nos but ashy-toned colours are generally becoming acceptable, provided that they are done in a neutral tone and are not overly light,” she added.
Outre hairstyles are obviously a don’t, but what, then, is a professional-looking, work-appropriate haircut? “It should be in line with or suitable for your face shape and it also needs to fulfil certain criteria,” shared Theresa Huang, master trainer at Style Coaching Institute and Urban Beauty Academy.
“A professional-looking haircut should leave your eyebrows and eyes visible at all times, so that you can have good eye contact with the person you are communicating with. Watch out for long, unmanageable fringes too – you shouldn’t be constantly running your fingers through your hair while interacting with clients or colleagues,” Huang elaborated.
For men, Huang notes that the undercut has gotten increasingly acceptable in the workplace. “In the right style, it can look distinguished, provided that it doesn’t go too high up the head and there is no design crafted into the undercut,” she said.
Short haircuts are also best, as medium-length hair can potentially look messy. Ponytails are still a strict no-no for men in most corporate settings.
A LITTLE HELP
Styling aids like hair products are extremely useful for maintaining a professional appearance if your natural hair texture is a little hard to tame. Most men’s hairstyles look neater and better-defined with some wax, while a little hairspray can keep a women’s updo free of flyaways and firmly in place.
If you really want to have a long fringe or Rapunzel-esque hair – simply keep the length out of the way when at work with appropriate hair accessories. Having long hair could also encourage certain bad habits – for example, if you’re prone to flicking and twirling your hair, tie up your hair into a ponytail to stop yourself from doing it.
Another pointer to note regarding ponytails: Place it just slightly above the middle of the back of the head. A low ponytail can be dowdy-looking on some, while one that’s too high can look too “playful” – which is not what you want to project if you want to be taken seriously at work.