Ponytails and the Office: Is This Hairstyle Professional?

This is the latest installment of Dress for Success, Lawyerist’s column on fashion for lawyers, written by Staci Zaretsky and Josh Camson.

For some women, a proper hairstyle can take hours to perfect each morning. However, after all the blow-drying, straightening, and brushing, we usually end up with a ‘do that we flip and play with all day, whether we realize that we’re doing it or not. As women lawyers, we all know that hair can be a distraction, especially when all eyes are on you. The ponytail, oftentimes controversial in terms of office couture, can really be a lifesaver. But we’ve got to wonder: is this look professional enough for the office?

I think that the answer to this question is a resounding “yes.” When done the right way, a ponytail can look just as professional, if not more so, than the typical down hairstyle. A sleek ponytail will both keep your hair out of your eyes, and prevent you from playing with it, all day long. If you do decide to wear a ponytail, the classic question becomes whether you will be wearing a high ponytail or a low ponytail.

High Ponytail vs. Low Ponytail

Although my friend Kat Griffin over at Corporette isn’t a fan of the high ponytail for comfort reasons, this is definitely my ponytail of choice. The high ponytail is typically worn at the crown of the head, and can be paired with office-appropriate hair accessories. While some may be hesitant to style their hair in this way, the high ponytail can make you look both professional and sophisticated.

On the other side of the spectrum is the low ponytail. The low ponytail is often worn at the nape of the neck, and can quickly be styled into a bun or chignon. Low ponytails tend to work well for women with curly or shorter hair. Low ponytails, if styled well, can make the wearer look professional and fashionable.

There are, of course, downsides to either style of ponytail. Several months ago, Jezebel featured a story entitled “What the Angle of Your Ponytail Says About You,” based in part on an image that had been making its rounds on the internet. The image in question assigns an intelligence rating to each style of ponytail. So, while I tend to favor a ponytail at a “below average” intelligence height, women who wear low ponytails are apparently of “above average” intelligence.

Jezebel is correct in stating that how a woman wears her hair has nothing to do with her intelligence. However, personality traits are assigned to hairstyles, no matter how intelligent we actually are, or how we behave in real life. That said, fans of the high ponytail, like me, may be labeled as spunky and fun (or, in the law world, immature and lacking in credibility). Similarly, fans of the low ponytail may be thought of as mature and brainy (or, in legalese, plain and old-fashioned).

Professional Accessories for Your ‘Do

No matter how you high or low you decide to wear your ponytail, there are a variety of work-appropriate accessories that you can use to accentuate your hairstyle. Hair accessories that can be worn with a ponytail range from simple headbands to elaborate fascinators. Corporette has a poll that may offer some guidance as to whether your accessory of choice will be appropriate to wear to work.

So ladies, what do you think about wearing ponytails at the office? Should we be limiting ourselves as to how many times we are allowed to wear a ponytail each week? Are ponytails truly professional enough for the office? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

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  • Greta Kirkland

    I don’t think there is any problem with wearing a ponytail at the office, as long as it’s neat. I think it’s personal preference whether it’s a low or high ponytail — I’ve always been a low ponytail myself. Just say no to braids, though.

    One thing I would watch is slicking it all back in a sort of severe look — that’s probably not a good thing every day. Natural hair pulled back gives a better look IMO.

    I know that scrunchies are out, but I find that bands of any sort, even covered ones, damage my hair.

    Greta

  • Sweet B

    Dress for the job you want. IMO a CEO nor a lawyer should wear a ponytail. Especially with all the accessories available to create a professional updo.

  • Back in the day, I almost always wore my hair in a ponytail because it looked much more professional than letting go loose.

    Now I no longer have that option.

  • I often wear ponytails, but do avoid them on days with a presentation or important meeting. And I’m glad to see you’re a fan of the high ponytail. I tried to do more low ponytails after reading Corporette’s opinion on them and seeing the intelligence rating joke earlier this year, but they look less professional on me. Even messy. Mid- and high ponytails look like I put more effort into it. So I think it depends on hair length and personal style.

  • Catherine

    I have actually narrowly dodged being written up at work for wearing my hair in ponytails. I overheard my (female) boss saying “I don’t care what she wears. If her hair is in a ponytail, she might as well be wearing sweatpants.”

    My hair is wavy, frizzy, and unmanageable. I am completely unwilling to spend an hour or more on my hair every morning. To insist I do is totally unreasonable. Clean, wellkempt, and professional dressed should be acceptable by any office standards.