Fashion, Gender, Hair, Old People, Women's Issues

If You’re Good at Your Job, Your Hairstyle Shouldn’t Matter

Lately, it seems that all of the regular legal media outlets have turned an eye toward women and their success in the profession. For example, earlier this week, we discussed whether women will ever be able to close the gender gap in Biglaw equity partnership ranks. Now, we’re faced with another “important” question: can older career women sport longer hairstyles?

According to some, such a look isn’t considered age-appropriate for the office. In fact, you could end up looking “rather sad and dated,” which may have an impact on your legal career. But then again, the National Law Journal’s survey on women who make partner didn’t include a question about the length of partnership candidates’ hair. Because at the end of the day, who cares? If a woman is great at her job, then the length of her hair shouldn’t matter.

Why can’t older women be successful and feminine at the same time?

Vivia Chen of The Careerist opined on this hairstyle issue yesterday. (Funny that she should also write about the Biglaw equity gender gap for the NLJ, since older women are the ones who typically make partner.) Chen used Hilary Clinton as an example, noting that she thought the Secretary of State’s hair “has been growing like an unruly potted plant.” and that ever since, Clinton has often looked “haggard and rumpled.”

Here’s what else Chen had to say about older women with longer hair:

I know this doesn’t sound very liberated, but I find women over 40 with very long hair unsettling — particularly if it is straight and hangs more than a few inches below the shoulder. (And don’t get me started on straight, blond long hair on women over a certain age!) They look rather sad and dated to me — as if they’re desperately trying to rechannel Joni Mitchell in her heyday.

One law firm consultant told Chen that there’s “nothing wrong with wearing long hair to the office, if the cut is right. It’s a matter of how you carry it.” But a lawyer questioned on the issue thought that “the juxtaposition of aging or — to be politically correct — ‘mature’ facial features and youthful hairstyle doesn’t work.”

Again, we’ve got to ask whether anyone really cares about how women style their hair. Yes, you need to look professional, but in a career track that’s constantly criticized for being a good old boys club, shouldn’t longer hair be seen as a positive if it’s cut and styled well? (As Anna Akbari previously noted in these pages, in a male-dominated field like law, there’s no harm in trying to look “more appealing to men.”)

That being said, you’ve got to wonder why we’re so focused on the way that older women should style their hair, as opposed to older men. Where are the articles that posit that men may be “playing havoc with their careers” for going bald? They don’t exist, and the reason why is because no one cares what a man’s hair looks like, so long as he’s doing his job, and doing it well — and even if he’s doing an awful job, his hair (or lack thereof) isn’t going to affect his performance reviews.

Perhaps in the future this profession will care less about how women style their hair. But for now, it’s quite clear that it’s still a mad, mad, Mad Men’s world out there. So ladies, you may want to get a shoulder-length cut — whether you like it or not — because your career could be on the line.

Can older women wear longer hairstyles in the office?

  • As long as you get your hours in, no one gives a damn. (55%, 573 Votes)
  • Yes, if Demi Moore can do it, so can they. (25%, 261 Votes)
  • No, they look like sad grandmas. (19%, 201 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,035

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UPDATE (1:30 p.m.): It looks like Vivia Chen offers equal opportunity hairstyle critiques. In April 2012, she wrote about men who were going bald, and whether having a full head of hair was “essential to [their] ego[s] (and, by extension, [their] career[s]).” From what we know, there are plenty of bald or balding partners, so it doesn’t seem like their egos or their careers have been affected all that much.

Too Old for That Joni Mitchell Look? [The Careerist]
Is Long Hair a Bad Choice for Older Career Women? [ABA Journal]

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