By LaKrishia Armour
Non-traditional hair colors are becoming more popular. (Forget those face-framing caramel highlights and rich chocolate browns.) I’ll admit it: I’m a fan. When it comes to the workplace, hair colors like hot pink, indigo blue and fire engine K. Michelle red can be workplace appropriate. It’s a matter of office culture, perception and styling, and color choice.
Vivian Diller notes in an article for Psychology Today that women “associate confidence with feeling in control, and hair is one way most of us can be in charge.” When we change our hair through styling methods, we feel better about ourselves because we control our image. If you consider yourself a cute hipster-adjacent professional, you’ll feel better when your hair, clothes and makeup match how you perceive yourself.
Office politics are a quiet, unspoken war we fight daily with our co-workers and boss. And we will all get judged in the workplace based on our appearance, which is a form of non-verbal communication. Companies like tech startups, creative media agencies and non-client facing offices extend more generosity to dress code and self-expression because of the relaxed culture. In offices like these, pretty much anything goes. I worked for a company whose biggest brand ambassador had this Mohawk situation that was awesome. It won’t be the same in organizations that specialize in serious industries like banking, politics, business and more. Yet, traditional workplaces are beginning to relax a bit after seeing the success of companies like Google that give employees plenty of control and freedom.
In the ongoing conversation about black women’s hair and overall image, we’re conservative. Scrutiny of our image and fashion choices usually comes more from other black women more than the people who decide who gets what job. Most often, when black women have unnatural hair colors like blue, the first reaction is that it looks ‘hood.’ When others, mostly white girls, color their hair in the latest Pantone color of the year, it’s assumed they’re artsy, hipster or edgy. The difference is the approach to color. If the hair in question is clearly a cheap weave, then it’s going to look like a cheap weave. When a woman dyes her real hair, she’s committed to the color. Hairstyle is a factor too. A fluffy ‘fro with bright highlights is a lot different than a 3-in-1 fantasy out of a Bronner Bros hair show. Now, I’m not telling you how to style your newly dyed (or installed) sky blue hair, I’m saying the styling will indicate how the color is perceived, and later judged.
There are “traditional” unnatural colors that are acceptable, like shades of blonde, auburn and red, which are fine for work. We rock these consistently with no problem. (Don’t act like your favorite “cool” auntie hasn’t been working a bold, blonde NeNe-esque shade since ’92.) Then there are jewel-toned colors like bright burgundies, rich plums, forest greens and deep blues that work best if your hair color is naturally dark. These colors are fun and edgy, but don’t have to be distracting during a presentation. Neon colors, however, are best left to the self-employed, the super creative and the college-aged kids. They’re in judged less since they’re either working out of coffee shops or going to class. (I will admit though, I had pink and purple bangs on a blonde fro at 28 and I loved it.)
So, are crazy colors appropriate for career-oriented women? I think so. It’s all based on how it’s styled, office culture and what type of person co-workers perceive you to be. If you’re unsure about incorporating a few rad chunks of emerald highlights, mention it to some of your team members or boss to gauge their reaction to the idea. And, if your office absolutely doesn’t allow it, go for it anyway. You can always put on a perfectly curled wig during work hours, and then go bold and beautiful after hours.