is experimenting with your appearance unprofessional?

A reader writes:

For the most part, I’m pretty conservative. Lately, I’ve had the urge to experiment a bit with my hair. When I was hired at my current job, it was shoulder-length and brown. A few months ago, I cut it fairly short and colored it red (auburn red, not, you know, clown red). Last week I cut it again, shorter than the first time, and colored it dusty blonde. I always wear little to no makeup and mild jewelry.

My supervisor spoke to me after this latest cut and said that she’s concerned about the changes. At first, she said a few vague things about the dress code, but couldn’t cite any specific language that applied to me. (I checked and all it says is no visible tattoos or unusual piercings, plus our uniform, which I always wear). But the supervisor claimed I was not being professional and our customers would be upset by the change.

This is a retail job and it’s not like I plan to be here forever anyway. And I hardly think the customers are upset; a lot have even complimented me. But I wonder if you agree that it’s unprofessional to make changes in your appearance. I could see if I showed up with Effie Trinket hair and Goth makeup, but I never would have thought that coloring my hair a standard color or changing the length would cause a problem. If I decided to change my look again later when I’m working in an office setting, would it really be seen as improper?

It’s not unprofessional. As long as you’re staying with colors found in nature, and hairstyles reasonably within the mainstream, changing it really isn’t unprofessional, and I’d love to hear more about your manager’s reasoning. It actually sounds like it’s the frequency of the changes that she objects to, and not the changes themselves, but I can’t come up with a good defense of her position. (Can anyone else? I’d be interested in hearing this argued.)

That said, as your manager, she’s allowed to make silly judgments like this, and you have to decide if you’re willing to comply with them or risk your job by ignoring them.

P.S. Also, I’m jealous. I never experiment with my hair and want to.

{ 145 comments… read them below }

  1. Rob*

    I don’t see the issue here at all. It sounds like your manager is a bit of an ass. As long as your color is a ‘normal’ color, I don’t see how any customer would have a problem with that. It’s not like they would notice the abrupt change (unless they are a regular that you interact with a lot).

    If it continues to be an ‘issue’ with your manager, perhaps it’s best if you consider whether you want to continue working for this person.

  2. Ariancita*

    I wonder if part of this is some sort of bias against women having short hair. There’s a real weird preference out there that expects women to have no shorter than bob length hair. As someone who also changes their hair color a lot (in only natural shades, of course), I find management’s issue strange. Also, I wonder if there are other things going on and they are looking to let you go and using any excuse they can find? Not to frighten OP, but those are the usual kinds of weird complaints that precede letting someone go, from what I’ve heard (no personal experience).

    1. Indie_Rachael*

      I agree with the bias aspect. I recently made a similar drastic charge and have since received the silent treatment from one exceedingly judgmental coworker. Some people are just really intimidated by it.

    2. mh_76*

      I agree that there is a bias. Some women are threatened by women with short hair. Throw in unpainted nails (it’s been years since I’ve bothered…whatta PITA!) and…good grief! It sounds like your haircut looks professional and that your manager is an insecure damsel.

      Is there a profound reason that you cut your hair (sorry if the word “profound” sounds jerk-ish, I don’t mean it to), did you just want a change, or did you get sick of dealing with it? Also: be careful to keep re-dyeing it because dark roots do look unkempt.

      I had my hair (mid-back) cut short a few years ago and I don’t intend to ever grow it back. I got sick of dealing with it and reached a point at which I gave up and decided to have it cut. People tend to understand when I say that I tired of dealing with long hair (braiding or putting it up…gave the cut-off hair to Locks of Love).

      Hang in there and enjoy life with short hair! It is much much easier than long hair and if people are some threatened by that, well, that’s their problem…and there are plenty of people who can handle us short-haired gals!

      1. Alisha*

        I got picked on in college for having a Mohawk and other punk hairstyles, and then again in my very early 20s for having a short, fashionably messy platinum-blonde haircut at a professional job. Every critic was male. Reactions ranged from sending me a letter threatening to remove me from the honors college for unladylike and unbecoming behavior (didn’t happen because my GPA was in the top 2% of the college), to sexual harassment on the job, to an ex calling me some really terrific homophobic slurs. So I think men hate short or unusual hair on women just as much, based on my (anecdotal) experience. Maybe more, if what I’ve read online is to be believed. I still had the platinum bed-head ‘do when I met my husband and I knew he was a keeper because he found it sexy, and he meant it, too.

        Now my hair is below my shoulders and back to its natural auburn color. I sometimes miss having crazy hair, but dying it platinum is too much work (to strip out the red, I have to double-process), and so is short hair (my hair is naturally curly). A conditioner-based wash 2x a week, a quick twist-style updo most days – and wearing it down and wavy a couple times a month – and a dye job every two months to color my greys is all I can manage now. The OP’s hairstyles sound hella fun. I wish we had pictures!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Naturally curly, naturally red? No fair! You have my dream hair, and I have to torture it to make it look like that. I wish people could program their bodies to grow the hair they want rather than having to use chemicals to get it that way!

          1. Anonymous*

            Speaking as another short haired woman (hair is currently cut into a VERY short pixie cut), the only people who gave me guff about it were my friends who all had really long hair. Eh, whatever! They’re not the ones dealing with it on a daily basis.

            Not every woman can pull off long hair. I really couldn’t. My hair was always flat, flat, flat and the only way to keep it looking professional at a job interview was keeping it back in a clip. Now it’s literally no fuss, no muss.

          2. Dan Ruiz*

            Especially because we all want what we don’t have. I want straight brown hair :-D

      2. Anonymous*

        Unpainted nails are WAY more professional than chipped nails, which is probably what you’d end up with at some point in the week if you’re not into painting them on a frequent basis.

    3. Anonymous*

      My experience has been the exact opposite. I am young (under 25) and have risen fairly quickly in the working world. During my first year of post-grad employment I cut my long hair (well below my shoulders) into a chin-length bob. I’ve since experimented with cutting it shorter over the years but have never gone back to long hair.

      The feedback I’ve received is that I look much older with shorter hair (I went from having co-workers estimate my age as 19-20 to 28-29) and have since found that I’m taken more seriously as a young person in the work place.

    4. Ellen M.*

      “those are the usual kinds of weird complaints that precede letting someone go, from what I’ve heard”

      That’s what I thought. Sounds like a witch hunt – they’ve decided on a punishment and are now making up a crime…

  3. Angela S.*

    OP, if you work for places like Tiffany or any high-end retail store, I will expect that your supervisor to be a bit of an ass and ask you to maintain a certain appearance. If you aren’t working at those places, and like AAM said your hair colour is still fairly natural, I don’t think there’s a problem here.

    1. mh_76*

      Years ago, I worked briefly at a Victoria’s Secret store. Clothes had to be mostly black, some people had to wear suits (um, nearly had a freudian slip and typed s*its…current job is jeans/tevas/ultra-casual normally, unless we’re notified otherwise in advance) but others didn’t (one of the head manager’s ways of discriminating against those of us who’d been to college…ugh, whatta damsel). Red or pink nail polish, brown was iffy. Red or pink lipstick. No more than 2 piercings per ear and nowhere else, no visible tattoos, natural hair colors. And I’ve seen many variations in clothing, hair, & nail polish colors, hairstyles (yes, even neatly kempt dreds), piercings, tattoos, etc. pulled off in a very professional manner… a lot more professional a manner that head manager could ever muster. ’twas a lot of bull—- for a job that paid less than $7/hour (in 1999)… so glad that I quit that job!!

      1. Angela S.*

        Exactly! I work in an office where I can show up for work in tees (ok, they were bought from Banana Republic) and trousers or skirt. However, I have a friend who works part-time at a clothing store (which I shall not name here). She told me that her supervisor requires her to wear blazer and dress shirts while at work. She absolutely hates it because she is a tees and jeans girl! But while at work she looks more “professional” than I usually do. Bear in mind that she’s only earning minimum wages while I’m earning an associate level salary.

  4. Kat*

    Well that just seems stupid on the manager’s part. I have a friend who works for a big bank and has worked there for years and she changes her hair color and style almost every month, and I’m not talking tame styles/color like the OP. I’m talking from jet black, to purple, to blue to white blonde. As far as I know she’s never had an issue although this I could see being a problem, but standard changes that the OP is making, I can’t even think of a reason why a manager would balk.

  5. Had the spikey 'do in my twenties*

    Are you cutting your own hair, or allowing it to grow out a bit too long before getting it cut again? I can see a bad short hair cut, or needs-to-be-cut-now hair being an issue because it looks sloppy. Otherwise your ok.

  6. Anonymous*

    not the appearance but how you go about it, the attitude etc.
    the manager has some concerns somewhere.

  7. Kev*

    I’m a guy, and have a similar question, but in reference to job interviews: what if I want to grow out my beard? Sadly, it takes me awhile to do so, and in the process, I have a perpetual 5 o’clock shadow until it fills in. Should I wait until after I’ve found a new job to try to grow out my beard or just go to interviews possibly looking scruffy?

    Pretty sure I know the answer, but I thought ask. ;-)

    1. mh_76*

      Wait until you’ve established yourself on the next job, whether that be 3 months in or 6 months or more. If you’re like my 2 brothers, you’ll have changed your mind at least once in that time and will want to grow something completely different! When you do grow out your beard (etc.), make sure that you keep it neat.

      Also (and this goes for everyone re: dress, hairstyle, etc) look around at your colleagues and see how their facial hair is. I’m not suggesting that you copy or try to blend in but do try to stay somewhere in the middle-ground: if some of them look like ZZ Top and some of them are clean-shaven, then something neatly-kempt should be no problem.

  8. anonymous*

    I did some time at a grocery store, and the store manager (a 6’5″ hulk of a man) would make a fuss over any beards grown by his employees. He would frequently cite a non-existent passage in the employee handbook about his concerns, and when challenged, would sulk off and avoid contact for a few days.

    Some managers lack adequate managerial experience, and some supervisors would have better success supervising their own expectations. Maybe keep a copy of the handbook near where you work, so you can make reference to your adherence to the rules.

    You’re working retail- and even so, it’s not likely that your customers are so accustomed to seeing your face that they’ll be unable to proceed with transactions due to a change in your hairstyle.

    1. AD*

      Were you actually handling food? If it’s a job where you’d typically need a hairnet, it makes sense to also have regulations against facial hair.

      1. Anonymous*

        Yeah, there’s a “beard net” guy serving samples at my local Costco. Not sure how comfortable that would be to wear, but he’s been there for a while and I’ve never seen him without facial hair.

  9. Sean*

    Personally I would go speak with your manager. Ask why she feels it’s unprofessional and perhaps even tell her what you told us if you feel you need to. Dusty blonde is normal, and I don’t see how cutting your hair short (shorter than before) is that big of a deal and even bring up the customer compliments…though maybe not as that could be seen as you trying to prove her wrong, probably not the best idea. But just ask her nicely why she is concerned about the hair. I mean honestly though, she can’t fire you for cutting your hair nor growing your hair back because the latter isn’t in your control. I hope everything works out :)

    1. Kimberlee*

      She totes CAN get fired for her hair not growing fast enough. I mean, she shouldn’t, but she can.

      1. Natalie*

        Actually, women wearing their hair short should be protected under EEO laws, assuming men are allowed to wear their hair short. (Assuming the business is big enough for EEO to apply, of course.)

        1. fposte*

          Might be more complicated than that, because appearance rules don’t have to apply without regard to gender–the employer can argue that they enforce a male equivalent without having to enforce the exact same thing (they could require skirts on women, for instance, without requiring skirts on men).

          1. Natalie*

            Interesting. I know they can enforce typical societal standards (no skirts on men, for example) but short hair is common enough on women it seems to be typical.

            1. fposte*

              I don’t think it’s automatically inapplicable–I just am not sure it’s automatically applicable either. And there’s short hair and short hair, so it wouldn’t necessarily have to be just about hair length but also the conservatism or edginess of the style.

              I still think they’d be idiots to fire over it, though–even if they win the suit, what kind of morons would they look like?

  10. Elise*

    The only semi-logical reasoning I can think of for this is that it might make you seem flaky and inconsistent to change so often. Especially, since it is both the length and color which keep changing. It’s not quite as big a change to keep varying the color if the cut stays the same (or vice versa). It may seem that you cannot commit to a decision and stick with it.

    I’m not saying anything against the changes — I used to do a lot of hair changes, now it’s mostly make-up looks. I’m just thinking of how they may be viewing the sudden alterations.

    1. B*

      I wondered that too. Maybe she’s thinking, what’s up with this person? In the media, changing your hair color is associated with an emotional breakdown of some kind – like when Sarah Jessica Parker changed from blonde to brown in the SATC movie after she broke up with Big. Maybe the boss is judging the OP and assuming that her external changes reflect some kind of internal dilemma.

      The only other thing I could think of is maybe the store has a certain “look” and now the OP doesn’t fit it anymore. Some stores want their employees to reflect the mood/style of the store as a sort of walking advertisement or model for what their version of “cool” looks like. Maybe she’s worried the OP will give off the wrong vibe.

  11. Tami M*

    Personally, I feel the Manager is over-stepping her bounds. It sounds as if she’s got a personal issue going on, and wants to exert more control, so she’s picking on the hair, and using the customers as rationalization for it.

    I once worked with a Doctor that hated the color yellow, and if anyone wore it, or had a yellow decoration, she’d throw a livid fit!!! Seriously! Fortunately, she wasn’t the ‘boss’, so she couldn’t do anything about it, but if she had her way, there would be no yellow in the world!!!

    But, like one person suggested, perhaps the Manager is starting to look for ways to escort you out. Which I hate, because if she’s got an issue, she should either talk to you and resolve it, or let you go. Why be petty? What’s the payoff?

    As for the customers, I would guess the only customers that might have an issue would be new ones. Certainly if they are ‘regulars’, they know her and her fun personality, and look forward to what might be next. I know I certainly would…even if it were in a Bank.

    Bottom Line: It sounds like she just doesn’t like it, therefore ‘you can’t do it’! If it were me, I’d respectfully ask to speak to her and let her know that you respect company policies, and want to abide by them, but if there’s another issue to resolve, you’d like to do so, so you can clear the air. Good luck. :D

    1. Andrea*

      Regarding your coworker hating the color yellow, she must have really identified with the Green Lantern, huh?

    2. Gene*

      Re: the yellow-hating doctor, somewhere in a box I have a lemon yellow polyester leisure suit. Just for her I’d dig it out (now that I can fit into it again.)

      1. Tami M*

        LOL Yeah, she was a real piece of work!
        Gene, I didn’t go out of my way to wear yellow, nor did anyone else, but it was fun to see her face twitch when she saw it. Even the other Doctors were irritated by her constant ‘issues’. Next time you look at the suit, just know that she’ll be feeling the force when the box is opened. hehehehe bwahaha (that’s mean; is that mean?; I don’t wanna be mean; ok, maybe I do.) Humpf. hehehehehe

        Andrea & Indie, It would appear that she would indeed identify with the Green Lantern. LMAO If I’d have known that all those years ago, I’d have had yellow all over the place. hehehe ;P

  12. Nichole*

    The mention of a uniform suggests this isn’t a super high end, image conscious place, which was the only suggestion that has made sense to me as a reason why the boss would have any reason to say anything. One thing did come to me though-OP, do you happen to be a woman of color? For a white woman, the changes described could all be fairly natural looking, but for a WOC, they would likely be very drastic changes ranging from natural to quite dramatic. WOC who go blonde tend to be viewed as trashy (some pull it off beautifully, but it’s pretty unusual and verrry expensive to do it right so you don’t turn your hair brassy orange). Especially if the OP and boss are a pair of WOC’s, the boss may have felt within her rights to tell her employee (poorly) that she’s putting off that impression. If the OP is of a skin tone that looks natural with brown, red, or blonde hair then yeah, her boss is a freak. If not, then I may actually get where she was going with it. I’ll spare you all the lengthy discussion of black women and hair hierarchy, but race could be relevant to the context of this letter. For those interested in the topic, Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair” is a good way to start scratching the surface.

    1. Nichole*

      Just to clarify-her boss handled it poorly either way. I just think the OP and perhaps the boss’s race puts into perspective how drastic this change was exactly and what connotations and stereotypes the boss might be working with.

    2. BCW*

      Thats a great point. I worked for Disney, and I think their policy was that you could dye your hair a color that looked natural on you. As bad as it sounds, it does make a lot of sense. You don’t see too many people with dark skin and red hair.

    3. khilde*

      I’ll spare you all the lengthy discussion of black women and hair hierarchy

      Wait, no, I’m interested in this!! I’m just a plain old white girl and find this fascinating. When I was in the military, I worked closely with a few black women and was just spellbound by their discussions about their hair. I never knew a “hierarchy” exists. I’ll have to find that documentary sometime.

      1. Natalie*

        Another good resource is the book “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America”. It’s a little bit outdated (published at least 10 years ago) but very well written and comprehensive.

    4. AX*

      I was wondering if the LW is a WOC as well. There is such a narrow range of acceptable “professional” hairstyle/colors for WOC that it makes a bit more sense why the manager would flip out. It’s still absolute CRAP, just to be clear. But I can understand how subtle (not really) racism could make a really reasonable situation into something some jackass would flip out about.


    5. sparky629*

      ^^This x1000. Skin tone and coloring count for everything when you are coloring your hair. Especially for WOC, there are just some shades that we can NOT pull off in a professional environment.

      Also, if the OP is a WOC then short hair has a different connotation for her. I’ve had some really short hairstyles over the years that would look incredibly odd on a white woman (sorry). Whereas, I can wear my hair cut really low in the back with no problems. I’ve seen similar haircuts on white women get them pegged as #insert homophobic slur here#.

      OTH, I could never get away with middle of my back hair length because well…that would just open up too many discussions from people (known and unknown) about whether it was real or fake. ;-)

      1. .*

        Don’t a lot of WOC wear wigs/weaves/falls? That could be a different hairdo every day. That would really throw this image-obsessed manager over the edge.!

        1. Sparky629*

          Some of us do some don’t. It depends on how much of a priority it is to you and your career. I know where I live a full head of weave (the professional kind) could easily run upwards of $250.
          So to change that every month could become ridiculously expensive for your budget. I don’t have a profession where it would matter if I had a $300 or $30 hairstyle. *shrug*
          Also, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the black beauty shop experience (ymmv), going to the beauty shop is an afternoon in and of itself. In my experience, I have yet to go to the beauty shop (and I’ve tried everything from shops to home salons over the years) and leave out in under 3 hours. That’s the price we pay-no great clips, super cuts, or sam’s for us.
          So if I had the time and money, yeah I would totally rock a different style/cut/color every month.

    6. HR Gorilla*

      That’s a great documentary; I’ve seen it several times on cable. Fascinating.

  13. Kelly O*

    I don’t have any advice, but will echo Alison’s “sometimes I wish I had the nerve to change my hair like that” – I thought I was being all daring and experimental when I cut mine into a fairly short bob. (I’ve never actually colored my hair. Afraid it won’t go back the same color if I don’t like it, and it’s the one body part type thing I get complimented on. Because yes, I am that vain.)

    I guess the only advice I could give you is, just ask what’s wrong with your hair. Because if you don’t know what’s wrong you can’t fix it, right?

  14. VintageLydia*

    Alison, I’m not sure where to tell you this but on my iPhone, I’m getting an annoying pop-up ad and even x-ing it out isn’t getting rid of it for more than a minute or two. Is this intentional? I don’t mind advertisements but pop ups are really intrusive, especially on such a small screen :/

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Thanks for telling me! It’s a new ad network I was trying out for mobile users, and you’re the third complaint I’ve gotten so I’m disabling it. Let me know if you continue to have problems.

      1. Cat*

        I experienced this last night on my iPad – the pop up took up about 1/3 of the screen and the “x” to close out was very small and difficult to close without clicking through; the ad came back when I switched pages.

          1. Cat*

            Thanks! A lurker here and chagrined that my first comment was negative, because I really enjoy your site!

          2. Sheila*

            Oh, thank you for disabling it. I wasn’t sure if it was from your site or my new iPod app that I was using to read your site, but either way it was awful, and blocked so much of the tiny screen.

  15. Emily*

    The OP asks if these types of changes would be frowned upon in an office environment, and my answer is that it totally depends on the office. I just had dinner with a friend who isn’t allowed to wear her hair in a ponytail (there are reportedly illustrations in the dress code section of her employee handbook) at her law firm. A few weeks ago, I pondered aloud the notion of dying a chunk of my hair dark purple and my boss got so excited, I think he would have helped me do it in the kitchen sink if I’d let him.

    I’m surprised that your current manager alluded to the dress code, but couldn’t point to anything specific that prohibits your hair changes. It sounds like she’s kind of weakly beating around the bush about some other problem, or that she subscribes to one of the biases mentioned above for some reason and is thrown off by your changes, which is what my gut says.

  16. K.*

    I say as long as you’re not violating company policy, do you!

    I am African-American and stopped chemically straightening my hair about four and a half years ago. To do that I cut it off at the roots and started over (by far the most drastic thing I’ve ever done with my hair), and a big fear of mine was that people would give me the “it’s not professional!” lecture. It didn’t happen, thankfully – I actually got compliments, and get complimented on my Diana Ross hair now, although I do tend to wear it up or back for interviews.

    (Part of my insistence that you go on and play with your hair color all you want is that I am thinking of dyeing mine for the first time ever! It’s dark brown and I’m thinking of trying something in the auburn family.)

  17. fposte*

    I think that the conservative view of hair is that you either keep it the color it grows or keep it a color that you pretend is the color it grows. Colors not found in nature violate the second part, obviously, which is why they’re not generally welcomed in conservative workplaces. I suspect changing your hair color with such frequency may well hit the same button with your manager–you’re not playing the “pretending it’s your natural color” game. If it’s an “edgier” do like a buzz or crew cut, you’re straying that much farther from the pearls-and-twin-set hair rules.

    It’s even dumber than objections to primary colors in hair, because a customer has to see you more than once to even realize that (gasp) you’ve altered your natural color in this situation, so it’s about the manager rather than the customers, really. But there’s a long cultural history of coloring one’s hair, no matter what the color, being a sign of cheap vulgarity and therefore only to be done if you couldn’t possibly be caught at it. (It’s the sort of thing that might be done by a girl who chews gum and has long red fingernails, so you know we’re sliding down Depravity Gulch here.) As the old ad campaign had it, “Does she or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.” Your manager is not comfortable with “Hell, yes, she does, whenever she pleases, and who cares?”

    I don’t have a solution to that, but I’d be tempted to swear to her that the next change you promise to keep for at least a year, and then go purple.

    1. Jamie*

      “I think that the conservative view of hair is that you either keep it the color it grows or keep it a color that you pretend is the color it grows.”

      I love this. I was raised that it was the height of bad manners to mention a woman’s hair color change – the social convention to assume (pretend) that the color was natural…no matter how drastically or recently changed.

      I have found that other people are not as reticent to ask, though. At least every couple of months someone will ask me if this is my natural color, or if I dye it (always a man – weirdly enough). It seems like almost every woman I know with hair in the red family can tell the same story. My hair was a much more vibrant red when I was a kid, and it was the opening topic of conversation for 99% of the adults meeting me for the first time.

      I did have a guy in college ask me if my hair was naturally red and upon hearing that it was proceeded to tell me that it was too bad – because he was going to ask me out but redheads are b*tches so he decided to pass. Too bad, I’m sure my life would have been fabulous if I had managed to snag that smooth talker.

      1. Anonymous*

        I did have a guy in college ask me if my hair was naturally red and upon hearing that it was proceeded to tell me that it was too bad – because he was going to ask me out but redheads are b*tches so he decided to pass. Too bad, I’m sure my life would have been fabulous if I had managed to snag that smooth talker.

        I about DIED laughing here. I’ve gotten the same line when my hair is red, believe it or not. “Redheads are CRAY, so I’m not asking you out.” Well, that’s special – apparently just the act of putting red dye on my head suddenly changes my entire mental state!

      2. Ivy*

        It’s funny because I have obviously unnatural red hair, but I still have guys asking me if it’s my natural hair colour. No person on this earth naturally has hair this colour (its a deep, bright red). not to mention the fact that my eyebrows are brown. Guys just don’t get it sometimes.

        PS: I also found the “smooth talker” comment hilarious!

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ha! I’ve traditionally gotten the opposite — guys who have a thing for redheads and announce it up-front. Which to me is kind of the same thing as saying “Hi, I’m interested in you because of your bra size.” I’ve always been baffled by why guys think telling me that they love redheads is a good pick-up line.

        1. SW*

          I get that same squicky feeling when I’m approached by guys with an Asian fetish. “I’ve been known to have a case of yellow fever” or “my last three girlfriends were Asian” — blegh.

      4. HR Gorilla*

        I was bright strawberry-blond as a kid, and now have auburn/reddish/brown hair, depending on the season and how much I’ve been out in the sun recently. Guys are by FAR the ones who ask the most if it’s my natural hair color–sometimes to the point of trying to “ambush” me into confessing that I dye my hair by asking things like “does your son know you color your hair?”

        ugh…as Kelly O mentions above, let me have *one* attractive trait, will ya? It’s about all I got. ; )

        1. Erica B*

          my has is naturally light blonde, and people constantly think I color my hair. No, No.. I’m actually a little bit swedish, and most of my ancestry is northern european where being fair is common.. lol *sigh*

          My family always said that if I dyed my hair they would be mad! Once I dyed my bangs orange. It barely lasted 2 weeks.

          although I do fall back on the “oh, that was dumb, you’ll have to excuse my blondeness” line when I do stupid things lol

  18. ARS*

    I have short hair. I cut it short a long time ago and I love it. I change the “shortness” of it (sometimes my bangs are longer and to the right, sometimes they’re shorter and to the left) and the color frequently. I’ve even had pink, purple, and RED chunks of color in my hair. The extreme color was done even while I worked in an office. My long winded point is that as long you are not breaking the dress code you are fine. I think a) women who are brave enough to wear their hair short can be intimidating and b) the fact that you’re changing it up probably freaks your boss out a little. You are fine. Your boss is not. And I can’t think of a single boss who would say “changed their hair length and color” was a legitimate reason to fire someone.

  19. EngineerGirl*

    The only thing I could think of is that some women tend to change their hair as a means of signalling an internal shift in attitude. Maybe the boss is worried?

    1. Anonymous*

      My thoughts exactly. I always say…”if you can’t change your life, change your hair!”

      1. Anonymous*

        I definitely do that every time I break up with someone. At least I can get SOMETHING good out of the relationship that way, even if it’s only a swishy new haircut.

  20. What the?*

    It’s funny, because I work in a office, that is business casual and my boss, changes her hair every month, like radical, People love it – I echo Alsion’s comment – i wish I could do that to my hair instead of keeping the same boring cut/color forever, I think there’s more going on here than just hairy issues. If the op can muster up the courage, it might just better to ask her straight out, why customers would be upset with the changes? Is there something going on that she;s not aware of?

  21. Vicki*

    anonymous (why anon??) wrote: “Some managers lack adequate managerial experience, and some supervisors would have better success supervising their own expectations.”

    I love this. I am keeping this.

    1. Jamie*

      I love this, too. I would add only that while the manager is supervising their own expectations s/he may want to also find something work related to do.

      I can’t imagine how bored I would need to be with my job to care at all about this type of hair issue.

    1. Grey*

      Oh. I thought that was a picture of the letter writer. I didn’t understand how AAM could say it wasn’t unprofessional.

  22. Unmana (@Unmana)*

    Nothing to add to all the comments, only wanted to say I was so excited to see this because I just cut my hair this morning!

    Yeah, I cut my own hair. I don’t have any training (or much practice–I’ve done it once before) but it looks okay to me!

  23. Sandrine*

    My hair is naturally brown. I’ve dyed it black a few times, red too, and my new idea is to have it… blue.

    Thankfully, I don’t work face to face with customers AND my boss seems to be okay with it… friends and family are surprised but what can I say, I’m weird.

    I might just end up looking like a giant flag as I usually wear red and white anyway XD …

      1. Sandrine*

        I’m not, but “our” day is on July 14th anyway, so I’ll probably try it.

        *pssht, don’t tell anyone, but I’m secretly American, I think. Maybe it’s a previous life or my bizarre attraction to that country. Go figure :P .

  24. Anonymous*

    The only thing I can come up with is that your boss may be concerned with a possible “mental issue.” I know the OP most likely doesn’t have something like this, but, a drastic change can signal some underlying issue. Everyone tries too hard to be mini doctor’s, and your manager may be one of them.

    I know when I dyed my hair light pink, a manager thought I had some sort of mental issue or ADD because I had dyed my hair platinum blonde a few weeks beforehand. I just like color and style in my life, much like the OP. I wouldn’t worry too much about it unless your boss makes this more than what it is and it interferes with your job.

  25. Ms Enthusiasm*

    I’ve always wanted to try one of those funky, asymmetrical haircuts. I don’t know, maybe short on one side and a bit longer on the other; or short in the back but longer in the front. I know it really depends on where you work (I work in corporate America at a Fortune 500 company) but would anyone here have an issue with an asymmetrical haircut?

    1. MeganO*

      I wouldn’t think so – I had one of those a few years ago (shorter in the back, longer in the front) and got a lot of compliments on it. Granted, I work in a library, but the libraries I’ve worked in have mostly been pretty conservative dress-wise.

    2. MaryTerry*

      Had a co-worker in the 80’s who had an asymmetrical cut. I don’t know if anyone ever told her, but no one thought it looked good and it was definitely a topic of discussion.

      1. MaryTerry*

        Asymmetrical – as in long (shoulder length) on one side and really short on the other. I don’t remember what the back looked like, just that the whole thing looked like a3 year old cut it with nail scissors while she was sleeping.

    3. Nichole*

      Mine is slightly asymetrical, and I think it looks much more professional and up to date than my standard long hair bun. I have a round face, so instead of being severe, it angles me out a little bit. It blends well, so you can’t tell that in the back it’s really short. Maybe try gently asymetrical and a little long, and if you like it, graduate to something more dramatic.

  26. Scott Woode*

    The only thing I can see her having issue with is if the changes were of a drastic nature and she hadn’t been told. While changing hair lengths isn’t terribly drastic, making whole shifts in shade would cause those who know you to turn their heads (brown-red-dusty blonde). However, even those shifts, as they are all natural colors are completely within the acceptable realm, as Alison said.

    I work in a corporate environment now and am presently growing my hair out back to collar length (I’m a male) and will be lightening it in the next three weeks with some natural highlights. I let my boss know about this change when I first began entertaining the idea and had her help me pick out some professional styles that would not be out of place in our culture and setting. I’m new to corporate so this makes perfect sense for me to do, as I’m not always sure which way is up when it comes to what is “appropriate” (my hair has been every color of the rainbow from green to blue to orange to purple, and every technicolor combination possible).

    Overall, I think the key to hair is just to “do you” as someone above said, and if a comment is made, don’t be defensive and confront it “head on.” :)

    1. Mike C.*

      I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t have to clear a perfectly normal hair style or natural hair color with a boss. It’s your own body and you’re an adult.

      1. Indie_Rachael*

        It’s a good idea to check, especially in an unfamiliar culture. If making such a change could affect your reputation (flake, unprofessional, etc) and thus impact promotion, bonus, raise, etc then i’m sure most people would want to know what consequences they face.

      2. KellyK*

        Yeah, I agree with that. If it’s terribly outlandish, it’s definitely reasonable to ask if it would be appropriate before you go and do it. In some office environments, collar length highlighted hair on a guy would be seen as outlandish, so it makes sense that Scott asked. I wouldn’t expect the OP to have asked, though, because short hair on a woman isn’t outlandish unless it’s a buzz-cut or a mohawk, and the colors she mentioned are all pretty tame.

        I’d also be much more inclined to ask if it’s something you can’t easily undo or something that would be a pain to hide. “Hey, I’m planning on getting a tattoo. Is it okay if it’s visible at work?” is pretty reasonable. “Is it okay if I dye my hair blonde?” just seems odd.

        1. Scott Woode*

          @Mike C: I’ve only ever really had experience in super casual industry environments where how I did my hair was my business and mine alone. It wasn’t until recently (past two years) where I’ve felt unsure so felt the need to ask. Totally get where you’re coming from though.

          @Indie_Rachael: That’s pretty much why I asked. I don’t want to end up in that situation down the line.

          @ KellyK: Agree with you on all counts. The OP shouldn’t have to ask, unless it is something that would definitely cause a stir.

  27. Andrea*

    I just cut more than a foot of length off my hair (and donated it to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program), so my hair went from middle of my back to a pixie cut. I’ve gotten nothing but compliments in my office.

  28. Anonymous*

    I currently work in retail, and near the punch clock, management posted the dress code on the bulletin board near it. It does mention hair. It mentions that hairstyle and hair colors are not to be exaggerated. My take is that it means nothing out of the normal range (no mohawks, no pink with purple polka dots, etc.). It doesn’t appear from the OP’s description tat she is sporting exaggerated hairstyles, but to some degree, it might be subjective – to management’s discretion. If I were the OP, I double check the dress code, make sure there isn’t a longer version hidden somewhere (ask a coworker maybe), and then approach the manager.

    Your manager might be upset by the changes for reasons beyond hair. Maybe she thinks it’s a sign of something you are dealing with, and she doesn’t know how to approach you appropriately. Sometimes people change like that to show outward signs that something is wrong inside. If this is not the OP’s case, she might put the manager at ease then.

    1. Anonymous*

      Furthermore, one of the department managers in the store, not my own direct manager, decided she was going to take issue with my hair a while back. I tend to wear my hair down all the time. My wavy hair also like to be frizzy, no matter what. Of course, rainy and humid weather love to play games with it. Anyway, she decided to make it an issue, saying that I don’t know how to work with my hair, that she needs to sit me down and style it for me, etc. Then she touches it and wants to know why I have these little fly-aways (when I put my hair up in a pony tail, I always have these baby hairs that do not cooperate). Usually I just ducked out of her reach. She bugged for about a month, and then something or someone else must have caught her attention because she hasn’t said anything else in the longest time (I probably just jinxed myself).

      1. Jamie*

        I was horrified by something kind of buried in your comment:

        “Then she touches it”

        Seriously? That is creepy. Maybe it’s just me, but I think touching someone’s hair is a way more intimate act than touching on the arm, hand, or back. I don’t know what I would do if someone did that to me, but I have a feeling it would involve a great deal of recoiling in disgust and demanding to know why they were touching me.

        1. Tami M*

          you might find this disturbing, but about 2 years ago, my hair was down to my knees. I got it cut, and have never looked back. Anyway, I had people touch my hair AAAAAALL the time. They’d pull my braid, or gather it into a pony tail, or grab it and fling it over my face. And yes, some of this was by people I didn’t know. One co-worker used to just lift it as she was walking behind me, because she new it was heavy, and it felt good to have the weight off my head. It never bothered me. Ever. People would say….”I just couldn’t resist”, and we’d have a good laugh. But they were touching my hair….NOT stroking it. Had that been the case, I would have been uncomfortable. :/

          1. Anonymous*

            I was like that in school. Albeit my hair wasn’t as long as yours, it was still long. I had one friend who loved to french braid it when we had free time in class. I’d come home with these gorgeous french braids; I was jealous I couldn’t do them on my own (still can’t) and if she wanted to practice, I’d let her work on my hair!

      2. Tami M*


        Unless you are terribly young and/or have limited dexterity, it is absolutely out of line for the Manager to tell you you don’t know how to work with your own hair and that she needs to show you how!!! Really???? Who died and made *her* Vidal Sassoon????That really bothers me! It’s not only offensive but degrading.

        But, I applaud you; you handled the situation perfectly. You didn’t give creedance to her comments, and she got bored and went away. Good for you!!! ^^^^^5

        1. Anonymous*

          Terribly young as in my late 20s, yes. As for dexterity, I am quick when I’m with people I know personally (such as family and friends), but because I can come out with too much bite at times, I tend to know how to hold it back when I’m in a situation where it would be inappropriate. To me, that situation is the workplace. My initial reaction probably would be a real snippy “Don’t touch me!” which would be rather loud, but I also take into consideration quickly how this woman could make my life a living hell at this place even though she does not directly manage me. I have seen her tear into other employees in front of customers regarding other things, and I have been told that she has always been like this. I really try to limit my time around her, and I have been pretty successful for quite a while now.

          But yes, I did realize at the time that it was wrong of her to do so; it caught me off guard and I got out of her reach as soon as I could.

  29. KayDay*

    Your manager is silly. The only retail positions I can think of where frequently changing your hair would be a problem would be really high-end places that also have regular customers (and where they expect their associates to build relationships with these regular customers). If you worked in a situation where you regularly inter-acted with the same people and building relationships was important, I could see how frequent and very noticeable changes would be a problem–but they should have let you know that the first time you changed your hair (e.g. “Ms. OP, Pimp-my-mega-yacht customers expect consistency when interacting with their trusted mega-yacht-accessory representative. I am concerned that they will be put-off by your drastic appearance change.”)

    Similarly, the only office-jobs where I can see this being a problem would be in positions at very conservative organizations where you are *frequently* interacting with the public/regular clients–e.g. some lawyers, as a spokesperson, possibly some bank relationship managers or sales jobs. But changing your hair to a new, but natural, style would definitely not be a problem for most jobs.

  30. BCW*

    This is a bit off topic, but I’m curious what people think. This is all about hair, but what do people think of actual workplace differences for men and women. I tend to feel that in more “conservative” places, men are stifled way more than women. My last job (I was a teacher) the men were all required to wear shirts and ties with dress shoes all the time. The kids also had to wear uniforms. So all the boys wore shirts and ties, and the girls had to wear these cross tie tings (don’t know the technical fashion term for them). However the women’s wardrobe seemed to be far less restrictive. Some of their blouses looked just like casual short sleeve shirts I owned but wasn’t allowed to wear. Their “dress shoes” were often nicer sandals (at least in summer). Us guys brought this up to our administration once, and they blew us off like we were being ridiculous. We suggested that if we make our male teachers dress in a similar way to the male students (collared shirt, tie, dress shoes), that the females should be held to the same standard as the female students. Well in a setting thats mostly female, that suggestion did not go over well. I really think women don’t know how uncomfortable shirts and ties are in general and kind of want it both ways so they can look good and be comfortable. And before you bring up high heels being uncomfortable, I’m pretty sure very few workplaces actually require those, women wear those by choice usually.

    1. RJ*

      I agree that men’s dress codes are often much more restrictive than women’s. I’m a woman who works in a business-casual office. Women can wear capri pants, casual tops, and sandals. In reality, this often looks like leggings, tees, and slightly dressy flip flops. Men here can wear polos and khakis, so it’s not that bad, but they have to wear full-length pants and real shoes. OFten, the men look like they’re ready to work and the women look like they’re ready for a barbecue.

    2. Jamie*

      The uniforms the male students are required to wear are more in line with normal dress than the girls – from your description.

      I know in Catholic school the uniform for the boys was navy blue chinos and a polo shirt – which my middle aged husband could wear now and not look out of place, but I would certainly look silly in a girls uniform of plaid skirt, white blouse, and cross tie (I don’t know the name, either, but I know what you’re talking about).

      FWIW, the trade off for having more freedom of dress for women (where it exists) is that it’s more complicated and expensive. If I were a man I could several pair of chinos and maybe a dozen dress shirts/ties and I’m set for the year. If I recycled the same clothes as often it would be seen as strange, so women need a larger wardrobe. And the rules aren’t as clear cut – men tend to have more limited options so it’s hard to violate those…women can think they look perfectly fine and professional and have someone disagree. It’s more subjective.

      1. Anonymous*

        When I was a kid in the Catholic gulag, those cross ties were called ‘Continental ties.’

        And if pantyhose are required for women, IMHO the dress code for women is punitive.

        IMHO, of course.

    3. KayDay*

      You are correct that men are much more restricted in their dress than women. I do not disagree with you on that point at all. But I wouldn’t say that women are necessarily better off because of it. Dress codes can be much more complicated for women. At the more casual end, women definitely have more options. On the other hand, the most formal dress codes (that often require or strongly encourage women to wear skirts and heals) are just as, if not more, stifling for women than they are for men.

      The added flexibility of women’s business casual dress also means that dressing is much more complicated and it can be more difficult for women to find the correct type of business casual. It’s very easy for women to be criticized for wearing the *wrong* outfit, even if that outfit complies with the official dress code and would fit in just fine at a similar organization. A woman can simultaneously be looked down on for being too fashionable/trendy and not fashionable/trendy enough depending on who is judging. (And some people can be quite judgmental. I have one friend who says skirts must be 0.1-1″ above the knee; another says they must be 0.1-1″ below the knee). In some industries that put a premium on dress, women require far more clothes, and must update their wardrobes more often because women’s fashion (even business fashion) changes more often than men’s fashion.

      Also, as Jamie says, in your situation, most of the female teachers would probably be quite insulted by having to wear something similar to the girls uniforms–those uniforms bear no resemblance to normal adult business casual dress, unlike the boys uniforms. That doesn’t mean the school can’t tighten up the dress code, but forcing teachers to dress like catholic school girls is not a good way to do that.

      1. BCW*

        As far as grown women looking ridiculous wearing catholic skirts, I get thats a bit much. But what I’m saying is that if the girl (students) had to wear skirts or slacks and a shirt buttoned up, there is no reason an adult woman couldn’t wear something somewhat similar. Once again, not the exact same, but similar.

        And as far as women’s clothes costing more, isn’t that really about where you shop? I mean if I’m going to Brooks Brothers for all my clothes, thats probably more expensive then you going to Macy’s. But we could probably easily spend less at a TJ Max or Marshalls. And I probably rotated my shirts about every 2 weeks, so I doubt that was far more often than women. I could have multiple white shirts, but they are still being rotated as much.

        I’ll give you the judgment factor of whats inappropriate for women is there a bit more.

        Overall though I think many women like to use the dress code and appearance things as negatives only when it doesn’t benefit them, even though it often does.

        1. Jamie*

          I agree that men have fewer options – but I disagree that the rotation of clothing is the same. That’s where the additional cost for women comes in.

          Because I was curious (and am taking an early lunch) I checked the Carson Pirie Scott website to see what it would cost – for those unfamiliar it’s a department store somewhere in between Kohl’s and Macy’s price-wise.

          For a man to have 10 dress shirts, 10 pairs of khakis/chinos, and 20 silk ties it would average just over $900. That’s fresh clothes for two weeks and a different tie each day of the month. Add in two pair of shoes and you’re set for a year for about $1000.

          A woman could certainly get two weeks worth of work clothes for the same amount, but we couldn’t get away with wearing the same outfits every two weeks. Someone would write into AAM asking about their co-worker who is clean and pressed, but keeps wearing the same outfits over and over. In fact, I think someone already did.

          So the upside to being more restricted is that there is no expectation that you be in something new and different as often. I’ve actually envied the freedom men have to not worry about this issue…if I were a guy I would get a bunch of ties and dress shirts – done and done. I guess the grass is greener depending on whether you’re more bothered by the lack of freedom or the imposition of the added effort and expense.

          1. Anonymous*

            Yes, your last 2 paragraphs are exactly what I was getting at (and I was referring to industries/companies/positions where clothing is considered important; not all jobs). While men’s business suits are usually more expensive, women generally need to purchase more clothes more frequently to be considered polished. Men can show up to event after event in a dark suit, white shirt, and a blue tie; but it would be noticed if a woman wore the same thing all the time.

            Also, I’m not trying to say that women have it better or worse, it’s just that each gender has its own challenges–men are restricted in their options, women have much more confusion/pressure regarding their choices. I’m actually quite happy to have all the options I have, but I work in a business casual environment, and no one really cares about my clothes that much. On the other hand, I would much rather be a man if I worked at some of the firms my friends work for, where there is a lot of pressure on the women to dress the part.

    4. Phyllis*

      Our male teachers and administrators are no longer required to wear ties after a kid almost chocked one of the principals to death by grabbing his tie during an altercation. And my supervisor at a former job caught his tie caught in the shredder once. There is a case to be made about ties being safety hazards.

      1. Phyllis*

        And that’s ‘choked’, not chocked. Oh how my heart yearns for an edit function ;-).

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It sounds to me like the school was saying “you need to be the same level of formality (or more so) than the students.” For men, this means shirt and tie, which happens to be the same as the boys’ uniform — but it wasn’t about mimicking the boys’ uniform; it was about matching that level of formality. Women were presumably also expected to do so, but then you get into the issue of there being so much variation in women’s workwear and that there isn’t really an adult professional “uniform” for women like there is for men.

  31. Xay*

    I’m African American woman with locs, highlights, and an office job. I started dyeing my hair about 2 years ago and I haven’t had any negative feedback so far. I keep fairly close to colors in nature (aside from one rinsing mishap where I did not pay close attention to the color on the bottle) and so far so good.

    One of my coworkers changes her hairstyle, length and color every month and as far as more coworkers are concerned, we just wait to see what she is going to do next.

  32. Rachel B*

    I agree that changing hair style shouldn’t be a big concern, unless you work for a company that has strict appearance guidelines for “branding” purposes (ie Victoria Secret, Starbucks, etc).

    We have a manager who calls out employees on clothing (“your striped shirt looks like Where’s Waldo”) and new make-up (While squinting: “your face looks… different.”). Seriously, when a female employee wore light brown eyeshadow instead of tan one day. Totally inappropriate and off-putting.

  33. The recruiter.*

    The first thing I thought was that there was some sort of issue because the OP is a woman and there are biases around women’s hair. I have naturally wavy hair that when worn curly had to be washed every single day, I spent $60+ a month on products and it took an hour to style – every day. A couple years ago, I decided to start wearing it straight and that means I can squeak out 3 days between washes and spend about $80 a YEAR on products for it. But wouldn’t you know…everyone from my mother in law (because of course) to my coworkers had opinions about my curls being lost.

    And at this point, I reply snottily that it’s my hair and my time is valuable so perhaps they should STFU when someone comments on it…it’s almost always women who make those comments.

    The other thing that I thought that is a terrible thing to think but my mind went there is that perhaps the OP’s manager is a homophobe and thinks the short hair signifies something else to clients?

    1. Amina*

      Short hair = lesbian? Only in America. Seriously, I’ve lived the UK, Thailand, Pakistan and travelled all over and only here have I found people treated me differently with my hair shorter. Men would get aggressive and angry whereas now that it’s longer, they give me seats on the train.

      Anywhere else it never made a difference. In fact, I probably got even more attention when it was shorter because that actually looks better on me.

    2. Laura L*

      Do you ever wear your hair wavy?

      I have naturally curly hair (on the loose side) and it’s so much easier for me to wear it curly. I don’t spend much money on product and I spend next to no time styling. It’s nice.

  34. Anonymous_J*

    She sounds like she’s a bit of a control freak, frankly. I mean, really: Dusty blonde and short? Oh, wow. What a freak! (/sarcasm).

    It just sounds like she’s someone who is freaked out by change of any kind.

  35. Anonymous in London*

    This is not really related but I wanted to share an experience I had when I had only been in the workforce for a couple of years, and was with a big multi-national firm. My manager suggested in one of our meetings that unless I removed my nose piercing (for reference- inconspicuous small stud, not a big ring or anything like that), I might struggle to be ‘taken seriously’. Now I really agonised over this, and over how much this was a true reflection of the corporate culture I was in (which didn’t fit with my experience from the previous 18 months there) vs. her perspective (she is VERY conservative in her own appearance). At the time I thanked her for her feedback, and said I would take it on board. After lots of reflection, I decided to keep it in- my view then (and now) is that people take me seriously because I am good at my job, confident and credible, not because of the way I look!

    All that to say that even advice given with the best intentions can be off the mark, and where possible you should use other cues on corporate culture to judge what is and isn’t acceptable (while accepting this won’t apply to all work environments!).

  36. Amina*

    Love that picture! Wish I could dress like that every day, but would need a maid to help dress my hair and manage my big poufy dresses. And I could afford that, why work?

  37. Ivy*

    I battled with this a bit. My conclusion is that if you still look and act professional, then do whatever you want. Life is too short to live in neutral bland tones! So what if my hair isn’t a “natural” colour of red (don’t worry it’s not clown red). So what if I want to wear a bright blue dress shirt under my black blazer. I like colour and I’m going to live with it. It’s who I am and I don’t want to work for an employer who is so stifling that they won’t even allow a little bit of yourself to shine. I know the office isn’t about individuality and you should shine because of your work and not your cloths, but I don’t want to be in a place that’s as dry as unbuttered toast.

  38. DeNic*

    I think this really depends on the company she’s working for. Since some retail is very appearance based I can see why retailers like The Limited, Sephora or Abercerombie & Fitch would have an issue with employees appearance changing if it does not match the style or culture of the company. Also, I think it depends on the dye job. I know their are individuals I work with that color their hair at home and it can look very sloppy if you don’t know what you’re doing (especially with red tones), so this could also be part of the issue. In retail as in many other industries front line employees can be seen as the face of the company, so I think its reasonable that managers may question an employees change in appearance if it could affect the perception of the org.

  39. Editor*

    Is there a big difference in age between the supervisor and the OP? That might explain why the supervisor thinks a couple of hair color and style changes are a big deal, and why the OP doesn’t. The whole thing could be a Young People Today issue, not a dress code issue.

    What I’m notice, now that I’m in my 60s, is that there’s been a huge change in what is considered normal about appearance. When I graduated from college, piercings other than for one earring in each ear for women, tattoos, and weird hair colors were all unacceptable. Now they’re so common for younger employees I’m surprised older employees haven’t figured out that norms are changing.

    But that’s the thing — there are plenty of people who think what they learned in high school or college is gospel. It isn’t just tattoos or piercings, it’s two spaces after a period or resumes on high quality paper or any number of similar issues.

    Frankly, the only resentment I really cling to is that employers are willing to ignore experience and knowledge in favor of software skills. When I entered the work force, I was told I had to pay my dues to advance. Now, I’m pretty much told my dues are irrelevant if I don’t know a particular bit of software — something I can learn and do learn, but the employer doesn’t want to wait for that. Whether my attitude is justified or not doesn’t really matter to me, because the change uprooted the one thing I thought would be important — my experience would trump younger workers’ experience and I would be more valuable and earn more later in life.

    Some days I feel like Rodney Dangerfield, and saying that to young grads who know their software also brings up the issue of age — they don’t remember Mr. “I get no respect.”

    P.S. for Alison — I’ve never colored or permed my hair, and my hairdresser says she enjoys cutting it because the texture is so nice. So maybe you benefit from avoiding the coloring.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree, very well said!

      And re: your P.S. — my hair stylist tells me that my hair is so smooth from never having been colored that it won’t hold any styles correctly!

    2. your mileage may vary*

      Ack! The two spaces after the period. I learned to type on a real typewriter and learned the two spaces. It’s so ingrained in my muscle memory that I have to struggle not to do it. I mostly fail.

    3. Tami M*


      Ditto what Ms Enthusiasm said…very, VERY well said. :)

      More notes I’d like to make are:
      2 spaces after a period-Guilty! (Ain’t changin’ either) ;)
      2 earring holes in each ear-Guilty!
      Old Skool Values-Guilty! (and proud of it!)

      And as for Mr. “I get no respect”….I am sooo on board with you on that! It’s sad to think we worked (actually performed our duties) all our lives to gain knowledge, experience and wisdom, and find it’s a secondary asset. It makes me wonder what it was all for?

      If I were a Manager, I’d value the qualities that *can’t* be taught, and 20 years of real world experience, and deal with the rest, as opposed to getting some new to the workforce computer wiz that has the personality of a Brillo pad. KWIM? (Did I go OT? I’m sorry if I did)

    4. The Engineer*

      I have an employee who has retired a couple of times (well into a second decade collecting social security). His experience is extremely valuable. He isn’t (clearly stated when we hired him again) going to learn to use a computer but he knows how to get things done. Only the inexperienced knock what they don’t have. The best thing is that he is willing to learn new things and change (as long as it doesn’t require using a computer). Experience does count for some of us. – Respect.

      1. Jamie*

        I’ve seen some excellent mentor relationships spring from pairing the experienced employee with someone more tech savvy, without as many years under the belt. They work when there is mutual respect…the collateral benefit of the discussions rising from one teaching how to use the new ERP and in the process getting tons of tutoring in core knowledge can’t be overstated.

  40. Frustrated Job Seeker*

    I think she’s just jealous. Unless it’s affecting your work or distracting to your co-workers, I don’t see where she has a valid argument. She needs to get a life and quit meddling in yours!

  41. Anonymous*

    Will always remember the time I was trying to find the Archie McPhee store, looking everywhere, then I saw a girl walking down the street with waist length turquoise hair and red eyeshadow. Just needed to follow her. If you don’t know what I’m saying here, just look up and you’ll understand!

    1. Tami M*

      Ok, I just have to admit that I’d never heard of Archie McPhee. After glancing at their website, I can see why you’d want to go. That looks like it’d be an absolute HOOT to go the actual store! :D I love fun, silly stuff like that. It’s so unconventional. :D

      1. Gene*

        I do a LOT of my gift shopping at Archie McPhee. My boss’s supervisor still has his Dashboard Monk in his car.

        1. Editor*

          They have a Seth Godin Marketing Guru Action Figure.

          I soo want to get that and throw stones at it until it’s dust. And then throw some more stones. I should go back and find out if they have a Jeff Jarvis Action Figure too.

  42. merc*

    I would look for another job if you can. You want to work in a place that fits you and where you can be yourself, and that includes your hair. If you ask me, I think it’s more unprofessional when people do the opposite of changing their hairstyles; when people don’t groom themselves at all.

  43. Lils*

    Many have mentioned that the boss may need to work on her supervisory skills because a) she’s unhappy with you about something else and the hair isn’t the real issue, or b) she’s really uptight about hair and shouldn’t be. One other possibility, which I have experienced, is a socially awkward supervisor who (apparently, desperately) wants to be “friends,” and the means by which she tries to be friendly is to make overly personal comments or give personal advice without being asked. Her comments caused me no end of anxiety at first–until I realized that she didn’t comprehend the heavy impact that any boss’s statements have to an employee. As a manager, I strictly differentiate between performance issues and my personal preferences and try never to talk about the latter. I’m there to be civil and a good boss, not someone’s pal or life coach.

  44. annemarie*

    We’re talking about hair, not chopping off a limb or another appendage (I live in the San Francisco area)! the boss/manager has issues with change, and if she were more anal retentive she’d look like a donut. I say start a trend, make sure you are upbeat, and let the manager show how mentally unwell she she really is – life is about change, she needs therapy.

  45. Sara*

    Last year I went through a “life-change” and went for a haircut….but the stylist went a little too scissor crazy. But everyone loved it and said it suited me so well but I absolutely HATED it. Some said it looked more professional. Due to the texture (thin, prone to oiliness, not exactly straight but barely wavy) I quickly realized that in order to look even halfway polished, I’d have to straighten/style it every single time. curls/waves were out fo the question too and leaving it alone just made it look messy.

    17 months and 3 haircuts later, my hair is well below shoulder length and I love it at this length. I feel like it’s more versatile–I can curl it, straighten it or leave it alone and I like how it looks (of course aftera few hours it just turns into a sweaty frizzy mess no matter how much hairspray/styling I do).

  46. Jacki*

    I am a 66yo female who had long thick wavy hair right up until I was 63yo. Because of the high maintenance/ cost/ damage caused by regular treatments/ colours/ straightening, and the fact that very few older women can get away with long hair, I decided I was going to get the Sinead O’Connor/ Amber Rose buzz-cut look.

    I love it! I can now do my own clip/ colour jobs, and can even go to the beach, out in the wind/ rain/ humidity, and even wash it every day. Things I could never ever do with my long hair! And, because I like to pretend that I’m still only 55yo, lol, I feel that the dark brown/ black buzz-cut does make me look younger. And, to ensure that I still look “female”, lol, I always wear make-up, earrings, and have long painted finger nails.

    I’ve been told by females that I look good, and it really suits me, but I think that some males find it harder to accept, mainly because I believe that they have always expected ALL females to always have “beautiful long hair”, and that only males are allowed to wear it so short. Bit unfair, I feel, since we females accept long/ short/ bald, and even the very patchy 1/2 bald look on the males.

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