Monday, December 12, 2011

Natural Hair at the Office

One of the most common topics I hear from new naturals and the natural-curious women is how to wear your hair at work. To the broad question, "Can I go natural and still look professional?" the two-word answer is simply "Absolutely, yes."  

Pinned-up twists at the office

With so many styles and so many places from which to draw inspiration (message boards, blogs, YouTube, etc.), I would be shocked if a new natural couldn't find a fitting natural hairstyle for her lifestyle. I think the biggest issue is not so much what other people think of our hair at work, but how we think of ourselves and our level of confidence in our appearance. We've been so conditioned to believe that only straight hair is "acceptable" -- not just at work, but in general -- the idea of wearing curly or kinky hair to work really challenges our definition of a "professional appearance." However, the more we open our minds to the idea of our curly hair being "good" and go beyond that to "beautiful" and even "normal" (after all, this is the way it grows out of our heads), the more I think we will continue to see natural hair accepted in different work environments. 

My current job as a recruiter for a global technology company allows me to rock my hair just about any way I want. Now, those who know me well are rolling their eyes right now because they know I often work from home, but this isn't always the case. I do go into the office sometimes, and when I do I want to look my best. I often wear a puff, twist updo, or a bun. Sometimes I wear my afro out, yet pulled back with a few pins. My job environment is known for being diverse and accepting, so my hair has never been a big deal. The more people see how comfortable I am with myself and my hair, the more they relax. It's both eye-opening and sad, but when I do get weird looks and stares at my hair, it's usually from other black women who are determined to wear their hair bone straight

For the record, I do not believe my choice of hairstyle has sidetracked my progress in any way. During the roughly 14 years I've been natural, God has blessed me with promotions in business across industries -- media, banking, government and HR. I recently had the opportunity to travel to recruitment events -- all glory to God.  Funny story though:  a few years ago when I was out of a job, my dear Mommy actually asked if I could straighten my hair temporarily. I had shoulder-length locs at the times, so yes... I'm saying she suggested I straighten my locs. *Sigh* Oh, Mom... I love you. I know you were just trying to be helpful.

And I understand the importance of subdued styling. You have to know your office culture, but even in some of the most conservative environments, you might be surprised at how many different styles you can wear. Here are are a few professional styles I've tried over the years:

TWA - The teeny-weeny afro, or TWA is perhaps the easiest professional style of all, and perfect for the busy woman. Just wash and go, and even during the cold months the drying time is easy. My favorite example of a professional with a TWA is Xerox CEO Ursula Burns. 

Ursula Burns, Xerox CEO - Photo Source

My wash-n-go (WnG) about 6 months post-2nd BC

Twists and Twist-Outs - This is a quick, easy and versatile style which translates well on various lengths of hair. You can pin them into an updo, curl them, create bangs, do mini-twists, and then set them free for a twist-out. Twists stretch the hair without heat to better show your length and increase styling options, which also can be a time-saver if you don't have time to spend styling your hair every day. I usually wear my hair in some sort of a twisted or stretched state to avoid tangles, especially now that my hair is much longer, and I'm typically able to go for week or two before I feel compelled to wash and style again.

Twists set on foam rollers

If your hair is long enough, you can shape it into a french roll, dramatic flat twists or various updos. Depending on your technique and products used, you can achieve a well-defined twist-out or something more chunky and textured. 

A twist-out on short natural hair
SavvyBrown's donut bun on stretched hair - tutorial here
My version of cinnabun updo

The number of ways to style natural hair will boggle your mind, but for a glimpse, check out this video by Naptural85 with pics of more than 200 natural styles.

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