This morning I was clip-clopping through the third floor stairwell of my office building, looking weird. Y’know: like I do. I don’t work on the third floor, it’s a completely separate department with which I have no contact; it’s just where the good coffee lives.
I passed someone on the stairs, and we glanced at each other and gave polite smiles. Then I heard her do a double-take behind me.
“Hey,” this perfect stranger said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but can I ask where you work within the company? My friends and I have seen you in the hallways and we keep trying to figure out where you work.”
It’s a strange question, right? But I know why she was asking.
It’s because at work, I’m usually looking weird.
I should say that I look weird by choice. In skin color, body shape, gender presentation, and other such ways, I am utterly unremarkable. Just your average factory-issued slender, white, cisgender femme woman.
But I’ve made some interesting choices with my styling. As I mentioned to our Twitter followers, I have a lost lesbian Targaryen sister look. My hair is silver-white, and I wear it in a half shave.
I do this for a lot of reasons. Only one of them is that it looks real good on me. AND IT DOES.
Proclaim your identity
It’s important to me to be out in the workplace. I’m a bisexual woman, with an overall stronger preference for women. I just happened to fall in love with and marry a man.
It happens a lot! Four out of five bi people will end up with an opposite-sex partner because there are a lot more straight people in the world than gay people. But this doesn’t mean my queer credentials get revoked. My identity as a non-heterosexual person is super important to me.
It requires a lot of work to be visible as a queer person when you’re femme, married to a man, and spending all day talking about how to improve our customer net promoter score. Everyone assumes you’re straight, and you rarely have opportunities to bring it up in conversation, because guys, how are we gonna move this CNPS?!
It’s easy to telegraph it to other gay people. They’re like prairie dogs, constantly scanning the area for coyotes and eagles—and other prairie dogs. But straight people can be pretty oblivious if they have already mentally sorted you into the default hetero category.
The side-shave haircut is a great, easy way for me to throw some ambiguity into My Lewk.
Mister Kitty has a unisex first name, like Alex or Jesse. I use the words “partner” and “husband” fairly interchangeably to describe him. When I had long, straight brown hair and I used the phrase “my partner Adrian,” I’d say close to 100% of folks assumed he was male. After the shave, the same phrase would elicit cautious “they” pronouns.
That’s a marketing success story, baby.
Own your youth
Literally just now, as I was typing this sentence, a late-middle-aged male manager within the company came over to my desk to tell me his son had successfully begged for a haircut like mine. His son is eleven.
“I guess that’s what all the kids want now!” he said, in clearly mystified tones.
Did you know that there are more Millennials than Baby Boomers? It’s true. 77 million of the latter versus 92 million of the former. We are the largest generation in human history. And by the year 2025, we will make up 75% of the world’s workforce. And with any luck, we’ll all be looking weird!
Businesses are kinda freaked out over so-called “digital natives.” The way we research, learn, buy, sell, make decisions, and live is very different. We make companies very nervous, mainly because they find us difficult to predict. They’re used to marketing to Baby Boomers, a generation of brand loyal credit card jockeys who somehow raised the most tightfisted, credit-averse crop of young folks this side of the Great Depression.
My weird-ass hair is the first thing people in the office notice about me. And it makes them scared. I can see it in their eyes. They don’t understand it, but they’re afraid to question it. They don’t want to be revealed as irrelevant Olds who don’t understand this brave new world.
Young people looking weird are like the swelling tide of King Haggard’s unicorns. Baby Boomers are the Red Bull, slowly and stubbornly being pushed with dragging steps into economic disempowerment. And every company on the planet feels like Prince Lir, lying wounded upon the beach, holding its breath to see if it is delivered to safety or trampled to death.
As Sharon Needles wisely tells us: “When in doubt, freak ‘em out.” You know things they don’t, and you can see the future far more clearly than they can.
Your age is a strength, not a weakness. Sell it by looking however the fuck you want to look, even if that means “looking weird.” If they don’t get it, they’re just revealing exactly how behind the times they are.
Remind them they’re divers’ty thirsty
I work in a large technology company. Like all technology companies, it has a diversity problem in its high-level, high-visibility roles. Most of their leaders are straight white men over the age of forty.
It’s something they’re acutely aware of, and desperately trying to address. They’re terrified of not addressing it. And they have good reason to be.
This generation is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before. Its women are more educated and command more purchasing power. We’re less religious than any other generation. We embrace LGBT people so hard we damn near pop their little gay heads off. We aren’t getting married, having children, buying houses, or spending money in a way to which companies can easily adapt. Diversity is a core part of who we are as a generation.
And yet despite that, many of the crucial industries that drive our economy fail to reflect this new normal.
Race and looking “professional”
My side shave haircut, like most good things, comes from Black culture. I thought long and hard about whether the choice I was making was appropriative (spoiler: it is). But ultimately, I decided I could use my privilege as a white woman to broaden the spectrum of hairstyles that are considered “professional.”
I do not know a single Black woman who hasn’t felt immense social pressure to change the texture of her hair to fit social norms driven by white supremacist beauty standards. Our culture loves to appropriate some aspects of Black beauty, while arbitrarily shaming Black women for the way their hair naturally grows out of their heads.
These women are expected to go through the expense, discomfort, labor, and emotional stress of altering their appearances so as to be taken seriously in careers that should have nothing whatsoever to do with their appearance.
White women appropriate when they wear the styles of other cultures like costumes, devoid of context or thoughtful consideration. Don’t do that. Ever. But if you are white, I think that one of the ways you can use your privilege for good is to reject dumb beauty standards that favor your default appearance as inherently valuable. You can “get away with it” and still be respected. People of color often cannot.
A recent study found that “white women demonstrate the strongest bias—both explicit and implicit—against textured hair, rating it as less beautiful, less sexy/attractive, and less professional than smooth hair.” As women begin their slow takeover of leadership and management positions within American workplaces, it is our responsibility to face our implicit biases and move the burden of change off the shoulders of women of color.
When I’m speaking to someone on the phone, and we’re trying to figure out if we’ve met before, it’s really easy to figure out.
Guy in Seattle office: “Did we meet at that conference last year?”
Me: “Maybe. I only have hair on one side of my head?”
Guy in Seattle office: “I know exactly who you are! You were at the table across from me!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation. Looking weird means people remember me even if they have only seen me in passing. I work in an industry where remote cooperation is vital, and it’s an easy way to be more visible in situations where face-to-face interactions are limited.
Look the part
A horrible old boss I’ll call Tina (because her name was fucking Tina) was once hiring for a creative leadership role. She had six creative professionals working under her, two of whom (both women) would’ve been excellent candidates. Their suitability proclaimed itself so loudly that all six of her direct reports assumed she was looking at them for the role.
But on a group call, a tremendously awkward moment arose when Tina mentioned she was searching externally. All of us stared at the two overachievers in the room, who both had thunderstruck expressions.
“Tina,” I ventured, “wouldn’t it make sense to start our search internally?”
“Oh no,” she said, brushing the question aside. “I’ve met lots of creative directors before, and we don’t have anyone at the company like that. They’re always looking weird, like guys with cool tattoo sleeves, or funky hair, or plugs in their ears… they’re super creative. We need to look outside to find someone with that kind of vision.”
I promise that a real human woman actually said those words. I can’t make this shit up.
This insane moment taught me two valuable things. Number one is that women can be sexist fuckwits too. The fact that she’d used male identifiers to describe the hypothetical new leader of a team comprised of five women and one gay guy escaped no one’s notice.
Number two is that there is an expectation that creative professionals look creative, even if they’re working in the dullest of dull industries. (The creative team I just described sold paper shredding services. I dare you to out-boring that shit.)
Let them know you’re cool
The preceding story was from my time at my first ever giant white collar corporation. I’d worked hard to blend in, outfitting myself with a new “professional” wardrobe and a “traditional” haircut and color, avoiding looking weird at all costs.
Hindsight makes it clear that imposter syndrome drove some of this behavior in my early career. I couldn’t believe someone was paying me so much money for such easy work. I kept thinking I’d be caught and thrown out. So I tried to fit in, but the effect was more like becoming a ghost. Only the people in my immediate team knew who I really was—and non-coincidentally, those people were my only champions within the company. No leader ever looked at me twice.
So I decided to move on. I got a new job, gave my two weeks notice, and got my half-shave to celebrate. And I thoroughly enjoyed all the dropped jaws I received strutting around looking weird during my last week.
On my final day at that company, my lovely supportive teammates took me out for drinks and we were joined by a handful of coworkers who weren’t part of my inner circle. Completely uninhibited, I was my lusty, crass, biting self. A coworker who’d worked with me for two and a half years turned to my team and asked, in complete sincerity, “Wait… has Kitty been cool this whole time?”
“YES!” they shouted back. “How are you just figuring this out now?!”
“I don’t know!” he said defensively. “She just seemed like… I don’t know, like she was just… normal.”
OUCH. Seriously, ouch tho! That’s basically the worst thing someone could say about me! You say that shit to me now and we’re gonna fight about it!
Bitchlings, don’t do what I did. Don’t wait until your last day to let everyone know you’re unique and exceptional. You’ll attract attention, make friends, and gain support so much faster if you tell people who you are right from the get-go.
Progress at work sometimes boils down to luck, but the respect of your coworkers is a luck-amplifying magical McGuffin. Friendships make or break you in the workplace, both in terms of career opportunities and your personal sanity. And I can’t think of anything more exhausting than trying to make friends with people who don’t get you.
Reject gender roles
Our lady readers already know this, so I’ll explain it for the dudes and the babies.
Gender bias in the office is an enormous, pervasive, and irritating problem. That much you surely know.
What you may not realize is how often working groups unconsciously task women with traditionally feminine tasks, and men with traditionally masculine tasks. When a mixed-gender group meets to discuss a project, women almost always end up facilitating more than participating: scheduling the conference room, taking down notes, mediating conflicting ideas, sending follow-up emails, and procuring coffee or snacks.
Yes, this Mad Men shit still happens! It’s really common, and it’s more than merely annoying. One woman I know took a six-figure pay cut to work for a nonprofit she loved. She told everyone she was excited to do something emotionally meaningful, but behind closed doors she told me the real reason. “I’ll go anywhere I must to make sure I never take notes for a grown man again,” she said, with the skin-ripping coldness of a Hufflepuff pushed far past her limits.
When I conformed to traditional expectations for feminine gender presentation, I was asked to take on those little administrative tasks all the time.
Once I had a weird haircut, these requests stopped cold.
For better or worse, most men (and women) perceive confrontation from women (and men) who refuse to conform to the beauty standards of their assigned gender. Women are expected to be compliant, detail-oriented, and content to martyr themselves with unglamorous toiling. My appearance broadcasts a rejection of those expectations.
I am also never mistaken for an admin or secretary. Now, admins and secretaries are beautiful angel people sent from heaven to make our lives easier, but it’s insulting to face regular assumptions that I am one simply due to my genitalia.
Screen out the unworthy
If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “I want to make this unusual choice with my appearance, but I can’t because of my job,” I would have many, many nickels.
Please do not exacerbate my suffering by forcing more heavy, useless metal discs into my possession. I moved away from the grocery store that has a Coinstar in the lobby, and I have no Plan B for what to do with all these goddamn nickels.
It’s not that this is an unfounded fear, especially while interviewing for new jobs. There are many workplaces that would turn otherwise perfect applicants down because they don’t like their appearance or appreciate their aesthetic.
And you don’t want to work at any of those companies.
Workplaces that reject an applicant because they have a weird haircut, clothing, or body modifications are companies that prioritize appearances over results. Racially diverse companies outperform industry peers by 35%. Companies without female leadership are 24% more likely to be plagued with governance issues like corruption and fraud. Startups with young founders (under 25) perform 30% better than average.
Any business that insists upon a visually homogenous workforce is a business whose time on this earth is limited. And if they judge you for looking weird on the way in the door, you’d better believe they’ll continue to do it at every future opportunity as well.
Don’t edit yourself for work. Especially not for interviews. Tell them exactly who you are by looking exactly the way you want to. If they reject you because of it, so much the better. You’ve successfully screened out an employer who might’ve wasted years of your time.
Extrapolate for the gods
I’ve cringed a thousand, thousand times while writing this article because I feel like I’m overanalyzing my appearance to a truly ridiculous degree. “Guys, I’m just, like, so original with my extremely popular hair color!” Or even worse, “Guys, it’s just so hard to cope with being a slender, white, cisgender passably-conventionally-attractive woman!”
First, please extrapolate this far beyond haircuts and into your sense of personal style overall. Visual cues like hair style, hair color, tattoos, body jewelry, and body modifications were at the front of my mind while writing this, but it’s more than just that. It’s the language you use, the hobbies you love, the ideas you bring, the values you hold.
And finally, remember that not everyone has the option to look unconventional. Some people look unconventional in ways that are not a choice.
I’ve worked with plenty of folks who are fat, people of color, queer, gender nonconforming, or disabled in an immediately perceptible way. People who are visibly different have a really rough time. When you are courageous with your personal choices, you are using your privilege for good and expanding the definition of what a responsible, professional person can look like.
We talk a lot more about this in the followup to this article: Why Is Short Hair Controversial? An Examination of Expensive, Annoying Beauty Standards .
Okay bitches, time to let your freak flag fly! Tell me about how weird you look. (This is a contest. There will be a winner. My scoring rubric is purely intuitive and all decisions are final.) Have you ever gotten pushback for your style choices in the office?
Tell us about it in the comments below!
59 thoughts to “Can Looking Weird at Work Be Good for Your Career?”
Oh my god. Everything in this article is fucking gold. “…with the skin-ripping coldness of a Hufflepuff pushed far past her limits,” is one of my favorite descriptions of all time.
I’ve always had long brown hair. Every once in a while I get the urge to do something freaky with it. But then I see the price of a fancy salon haircut and dye job and that calms me down right the fuck quick. 🙂
I do like wearing shirts from my favorite metal bands, though. I confess I didn’t wear them to work when I was working for other people (I’m currently self employed so I spend most of my time covered in cat hair). Jobs in my industry (wildlife biology) are rarer than unicorns, so you DO need to put on a good show for them (at least in the interview), or you will never get a job in that field. Luckily, most people are pretty laid back once you’re in, and you can wear whatever the hell you want. No one cared about my tattoo after they saw the work I could do.
Oh trust. The price is insane. My first trip to had this done was $300. If I continued going to her, it’d be $80 every two weeks for fresh toner and shave, plus another $300 every six weeks for bleaching the roots and updating the long side’s cut.
The only reason I can stick with it is because MR. KITTY DOES IT FOR ME. I have the holy grail of husbands: one who has the patience to learn to paint bleach onto roots, and one who’s been playing video games long enough to have the fine motor control to actually pull it off. Three months worth of products at Sally’s Beauty costs me $20.
“I’m currently self employed so I spend most of my time covered in cat hair.” is my favourite sentence at the moment.
Looove this post! Admittedly, I do a terrible job of standing out at work visually. I have 5 outfits that I repeat every week. It eliminates all those useless minutes spent fussing over what I’m going to wear for the day. I had a co-worker call me out once for wearing the same outfit two Tuesdays in a row (super fun perk of working in a female-dominated industry), so I declared that outfit my Tuesday outfit and proceeded to wear it 6 weeks in a row as a nice lil fuck you.
On the other hand, I’m 5’11” and thoroughly adore towering over people (especially male superiors). Any interview I go on, I make sure to wear at least a 3-inch heel, because I gotta be sure the shorter execs aren’t intimidated by a tall lady!
…. ARE WE THE SAME PERSON?!?!
I wear the exact same outfit a la Steve Jobs (which is easier since I work in tech, not fashion, and with mostly dudes) and I also top 6′ in heels, and it’s my favourite power move. Oh, you want to talk down to me in a meeting cause I’m young? Good luck, cause I’m 6’2″ in these shoes and you should be afraid of how tall I am.
AHAHAHAHAHA I LOOOOVE IT!!
Mr. Kitty and I are both 5’7″, and he loves going to weddings or other fancy events where I tower over him in five- or six-inch heels. “People will look at my tall hot wife and think ‘that guy must be rich!'”
Damn, you’re making me want to try wearing heels again. I’m 5’9″ and basically never wear them because a) my ankles are super inflexible, which is a real thing, and b) at some point I decided I didn’t want to scare away men by being too tall.
Fuck that shit. I’m going to go buy some heels, even if they have to be from Clarks. And then maybe I’ll get a tattoo. Thanks for this post! I feel unstoppable.
Hello! You probably won’t even see this comment because it’s from so long ago – but I have to say!
I’m 5’8″ and have so many people (mostly women in my family) tell me I can’t wear heels because I’ll be “too tall”, “taller than the men”. Over the weekend I bought a pair of 5inch boots, and I. Look. Great.
(although do take care of your ankles)
YASSSSSS. Your comment has been seen and your 5-inch tall-girl heels approved!
I love this post and all the comments!
I come at this from a slightly opposite point of view – I have shit feet (legit technical diagnosis there) and so my rebellion is to wear ugly comfortable shoes , or trainers, rather than office-appropriate girly pretty shoes which cripple me. I like being able to walk home, thank you very much, and with a comfortable stride .
late to the party: actually that would work in your favor to have a samey outfit. Find your power look and own it. it will cut down on mornings meandering about getting dressed because you don’t know what to wear.
I think that wearing who you are is important. I’m glad you wrote about this. It’s awfully hard to be happy when you feel repressed/oppressed (not sure which word is more accurate here) by what you’re able to wear at work.
And now that a new BGR post is out, I feel I’ve got a proper start to the week! Happy Monday, Ladies.
Ok, this puts my “I wear the same thing every day” TO SHAME. Also, it’s my favourite post of the whole summer. Also, I’ve legit scheduled it twice to tweet out today BECAUSE IT’S SO GOOD.
Since wearing a uniform is so banal that I can’t even discuss it anymore (IT’S JUST THE SAME SHIRT, LET IT GO, THE MEDIA) I will share that in the summer, I get lazy and sweaty and I don’t want to blow dry my hair, so I adopt a ballerina style slicked back bun out of sheer convenience. Makes me look bald, but whatever, my head isn’t that lumpy so it’s fine.
Last year at the Christmas party, a white dude in HR told me he preferred my hair down. I, being socialized as a cisgender woman, giggled politely.
A dude…in HR. A dude…IN HR. A dude…IN HFUCKINGR.
Thank god he said something. Now you are armed with the information you need to change your less-hot-to-Jerry-in-HR ways! Go forth, and sin no more!!
Take my frustration-nickels!!! The nose-piercing one, and the colorful hair one, and the visible tattoo one. How was I okay with passing on being myself, expressing myself…”for work.” Can you please hold my nickels for bouncing between bare-face, somewhat bareface, and the one month a year I’m feeling myself full face? And the outfit pressure?! I’m naked by nature so none of them fit right! (Love this!!! Thank you.)
I hate to say it, but the best cure I have found for outfit-pressure and makeup-pressure is moving from an all-girl team with a token guy to an all-male team with a token girl.
I hate being the Smurfette for SO many reasons, but the one nice tradeoff is that everyone wears light, high-waisted dad jeans and polos that I suspect they have owned since college. OH THE JOYS OF A LOW BAR!
I work in a law library at a fairly prestigious law school. The majority of the school employees, from professors to the lowly clinic assistants, dress identically like extras in Law and Order. Suits, button-up blouses, pencil skirts, heels, and shined shoes. The whole building is told to fit the same aesthetic for appearances’ sake, even if they will never set foot inside a courtroom. Hell, part of the law students’ training is on courtroom appearance and what impression they should be making. Fun fact – female law students are encouraged to wear more colors like pink/purple/blue to look more “approachable” and less “aggressive” in court….
So yeah, the library staff stick out like sore thumbs when we walk around the building. Our dress code is pretty much “do whatever the hell you feel like”, so we range from the stereotypical librarian cardigans with comfy shoes to miniskirts with purple lipstick to anime tees and sweatpants. Hair colors span the whole rainbow and tattoos are displayed proudly. Even after professors have complained about our unprofessional appearance, our director is adamant that there is no need to regulate our dress code. Even though it shouldn’t feel like a perk, it really is so wonderful to be able to express ourselves and only be judged by the quality of our work.
LOVE that half shaved look on women!!! Or men, for that matter. Super cool. I’m lame and shave both my sides for the hawk 😉
I wish I could pull off a mohawk. My hair is just too fine and limp, I would’ve looked like a Silky Terrier that got into a car accident and had to be shaved for surgery on both sides.
But I loooooooove my side-shave, and I love the fade variation for guys.
I’ve always worried about the opposite problem – I look really traditionally femme and much prefer skirts and dresses, but I’m always worried that dressing the way I want will land me in a subordinate role at work, especially since I’m in a pretty sexist field.
I also have a strong preference for dresses, so I know this pain! Getting a weird haircut was my best solution. But you can totally maintain your look if you draw a really, really thick boundary around what you’re willing to do and not willing to do.
I’d suggest having some strong stock reactions banked so that you’re not surprised when they come up.
Like, if someone asks you to book a conference room, stare at them for a slightly-uncomfortable amount of time with a bemused expression, then say “oh, do you not know how to do it? sure, I can show you how.” Resist your deeply-socialized urge to smooth over the awkwardness. Ya gotta make them feel it. It will be weird, but if you make THEM feel the weirdness, they will hesitate to ask a second time. And it’s too small of an issue for them to badmouth you to anyone else. “I asked her to book a conference room for our next meeting, and she was all ‘I’ll help you do it!'”
This post is great!
Back when I was in nursing school, I had a nursing instructor tell me that I asked great questions, patients loved me, my clinical knowledge was solid, but I “just didn’t look like a nurse.” The reason for this was a simple, mid size wrist tattoo and a small nose piercing. Otherwise, I was an average white 24 year old woman. I was told to cover up the tattoo and remove the piercing, or I would fail the course. So I did. And I wore a big ass bandage over the wrist tattoo, which freaked out my patients because it looked like I had some sort of massive wound on my arm, and/or I just had a wrist slitting suicide attempt. I had a number of patients ask, and then be very relieved when I revealed that it was just a tattoo.
Now I have been nursing for several years, and not once has anyone given half a shit about my tattoos, earrings, or nose ring. Most of my patients have tattoos or body mods, and if anything, they seem to like that I do too. I have gotten multiple promotions, and have been recently asked to move into a management position. I think the life lesson is show up, work hard, do your job, and remember that nursing school ain’t actual nursing by a long shot.
Thanks for another fantastic post!
OMG. This whole cover-your-tatty thing is hilariously stupid to me. I feel like nurses must be one of the most diverse career pools I’ve ever interacted with–aside from the fact that they’re still predominantly women, I’ve had nurses of all ages, colors, backgrounds, and bedside manners.
You know who I don’t want fixing my body? Repressed people. That’s it, that’s literally the end of my list.
Ugh, this so hits the nail on the head – but in an opposite way for me. My old job tried SO HARD to be cool – hiring people with a certain “creative look” yet totally bypassing all of us with better credentials and who were much better suited to the job.
I’ll admit it: I look boring AF but that’s my style! My creativity is in my writing and the way I relate to people. I just can’t with dressing “pretty” or “cool” – I rock the traditional Banana Republic style (although not at those prices) with a copper/auburn color, short-ish hairstyle that easy AF to maintain and style in the morning. When you have crazy curls like me, maintenance takes you 20 min in the morning. Effortless curls, these are not. (Oh but I did get flak for having curls – that wasn’t “professional” so I straightened for 2 years until I realized that was damaging to my hair!)
That said, I was overlooked all the time for positions because, although a Millennial, I didn’t look cool. I literally had to manage up and do the work of superiors because they were hired for their look and not their skills. When I went for promotions, several people (honestly – no joke) told me they “thought I was super religious” (wtf?? why does that even matter? I’m not, but it doesn’t matter).
The funny part is, I worked in a very traditional setting where 90% of the people dressed like me. But because our company’s direction was “hip for Millennials”, all of the traditional stuff went out the window.
Best part though? When I left and we had a goodbye happy hour, all of the coworkers who hadn’t bothered to get to know me suddenly realized I was also “cool” and several of the people I managed were like, “yeah, duh!! You didn’t realize this because you overlooked her and now we’re losing her! Ahfhggghghg!!” So that was fun. And it leaves the door open for me to return as all my co-worker friends promote up and have hiring authority 🙂
OMFG. We are the same person.
I should’ve run the moment my director within that company told me “perception is reality” was her “motto.” WHAAAAAAT.
I’ve worked at home long enough that I feel like a phony going into the office once a year for our all hands meetings. It’s like putting on a costume. Still, I play the game.
I do wish I could go my full version of full Targaryen…
I have a pixie cut which you wouldn’t think is THAT crazy, but I have had a lot of men comment on how I should grow out my hair. Even in a professional context.
Like thanks, I didn’t ask you.
um, this makes me want to shave my head
I have done it, and I highly recommend it.
As a white, 36 y/o, fairly attractive woman I consider my signature style my graying hair. It’s about 50/50 gray/light brown at this point and I often notice people’s double takes and squinty stares – many ask if it’s highlighted. Two women I work with, both older, have asked if I plan to color it, or made commentary to the effect of “wow, that’s really gray!” with the insinuation I should color it.
I work in a creative field, graphic design, and thought that my colleagues would be more supportive of my decision to be memorable or buck societal trends, but I still feel pressure to color it and therefore maintain a more youthful appearance. Still I’m staying the course, saving time, money and stress of (more) routine hair maintenance.
Oh man, I feel you- I’m going prematurely white, and at 31 I am about 25% white (and will hit at least 50% in the next five years). It runs in my family, and I chose to stop dying it because it is really a losing battle. I have come to accept and enjoy it- my white hair is distinctive and I don’t have to play by anyone’s rules about how women are supposed to look. What is always kind of shocking to me is the number of people who tell me “you know you can dye it, right?” Yes. Yes, I do know that. I am a participant in human society and a consumer of beauty products, so I am very aware of how to change the color of my hair if I choose.
Yep, I just had to decide to own my greying hair. I’m fortunate that most (not all) of it is growing in a pattern that looks like it might have been intentional. Some of my dude friends tell me I look like an X-Man. I think it also has certain professional benefits – I’m a young-looking 33-year-old from a legal and policy background, so the white makes it harder for people to typecast me as an inexperienced pushover. When people aren’t sure how to read you, it throws them off and that can put you at an advantage.
The decision not to colour it was partly that I can’t be bothered with the hassle and expense, but also partly a fuck-you to unfair beauty standards. Caitlin Moran has some line to the effect that society has a problem with women who look like they’re old enough to be interesting.
It also helps that my hairstylist is an enthusiastic fan and tells me so every time I see her. With that kind of authority in your corner, who cares what anyone else thinks?
My look is… super basic! Generic Asian chick with glasses. I’ve had fun colourful frames in the past: currently I think dark simple ones look best and I have navy ones. I do nothing with my hair whatsoever and don’t wear makeup apart from a swipe of lippy, and i prefer dresses because they are literally the simplest outfit ever. But no heels. Never.
I’ve had the same issue with not standing out and nobody knowing me at all. My fault for retreating into shyness/ fear / anxiety and not really knowing who I was. The last few years that is changing thankfully and i plan to take that forward into my next role.
I love that you’ve found a standout look and work it to your advantage – it can definitely work to your advantage as you’ve demonstrated.
Awesome post as always!
I am jealous of your look and ability to rock it. I am as average as they come in about every physical category. I often joke it is a lot of work to look this average. I work in a corporate office for a retail company so I feel judged all the time for my choices.
I really don’t care what people think and I stay pretty basic in my choices. White shirt, tie, pants. I still find way to make sure my style sticks out a little bit. For example, I HATE Socks. I hate the look, feel, and always pulling up over the calf socks. I only wear the little liners and people notice all the time I am not wearing visible socks. I also only wear monkstrap shoes without laces. As much as they get talked about, my owning it and ability to produce at my job keeps me memorable for the right reasons, instead of the being weird guy with no socks.
I like that I stand out and am noticed around the office because of it. It has kept me memorable to many high level execs that come by my office or that I fly with on the corporate plane. Never know what those connections and conversations may lead to in the future.
Glad to have you two back!
This is sooo 2002!! 😛
Good one, ladies (with style).
I have a lot of tattoos (including a couple on my fingers), and I’m pretty much the only one who does is my company. I’m also the youngest one here, so I think it makes a lot of the older generation uncomfortable. I’ve always been too scared to do anything crazy with my hair though. But, this post makes me rethink that 😉
YOU GUYS ROCK. But, seriously. I love everything about this.
Everything about this is awesome. Sometimes I’m a bit disappointed in my pretty standard, heteronormative white girl appearance: I have straight brown hair that’s currently long (and when it’s dyed it’s a “normal” color like auburn) and I like dresses and flats and floral patterns. About the only way I stand out is that a) I don’t wear makeup, b) I usually stay away from heels, especially after spraining my ankle in them at work last fall (ahem), and c) I’m a 6-year-old who likes lots of colors and fun patterns. It’s true that I have gotten compliments on some of my bolder outfit/pattern-on-pattern choices. That’s just sad. Surely I could branch out just a bit and be more badass/project my SMASH THE PATRIARCHY feelings, especially as a straight white girl? Perhaps I should get over my fear of needles and start thinking about a tattoo… 😉
The hilarious/sad thing is I entered the workforce in an admin position because I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I figured I was at least good at the small details shit. So now I’m in a track that I hate and feel stuck in, and yep, I’m taking the notes at meetings. Thanks, self.
On the plus side though, a few months ago I switched my teeny, unobtrusive nose stud out for a ring so I’ve got that going for me at least.
Erin!!! When I met you, you had blue/green hair, a tattoo, and a nose ring! Yay for making strides
Its really strange to be a millennial with some money, because you go to fancy unaffordable places ( like the dentist) and they have their sale pitch that they use on the baby boomers ( Who love to pretend millionaire wherever they go, Let’s pretend I’m your personal shopper, let’s pretend you own this limo, let’s pretend I’m your own personal chef etc) And they were doing this whole tour of the dental office and all of the 3D technologies and implants designed just for me, and I was like ” um….1.) I’m a millennial, I have no delusions at being able to afford any of the shit you are showing me and 2.) please don’t talk to me like you are reading from a script because then you force me to reach out and touch your face and say ” wow, this robot is sooo lifelike” and then you get all uncomfortable and won’t clean my teeth…..
I’m kinda a combination of this and Des’s ‘uniform’ look. I rocked a side-shave for a year and by NO COINCIDENCE, it was also one of my most productive years of my life. I feel like once I wore on the outside how I felt on the inside, I was more confident and self-assured then when I was hiding as a ‘normal’ person wearing ‘normal’ person business attire in the workplace and normal person style. After a year of the side-shave I lopped it all off into a fuschia pixie cut, which then turned into a DARK AMYTHEST pixie in the winter, and a ORANGE PYLON to peach pastel in the spring. People DEFINITELY recognize me and people I’ve met ONCE at my head office come up to me and chat with me and I’m often like ((Oh god, who is this again??)) I also approached the side-shave from a self-othering, because I am also, like you, a bisexual femme-passing woman in a long-term relationship with a man but I still feel very gay a lot, but it was hard to show that when I was also trying so hard to blend.
On the flip-side, my clothes are not BORING per se, but I do have few and I tend to wear repeats of the same outfits weekly. It’s not Barack Obama level of same outfits, I wear a lot more colour and pattern, but it IS the same shirts and pants. I prefer it this way, it’s a uniform but in a colourful way.
Who runs the world? Powerful people who are comfortable with themselves and are able to represent themselves anyway they want and also be powerful in the workplace at the same time. PHEW.
Sigh..all the feels on this one. I’ve only went bronde but I’ve been thinking about dying my hair rainbow colors lately. I also work in tech and now that I want to achieve financial independence, I’m less worried about the impact physical changes will have up the food chain. So true on the notes as well.
A long time ago I decided that I should start wearing button down shirts for my job to maintain a “professional” look… However, since I’m in the costume design field, I have developed a very pronounced style of plaid, rolled up sleeves with the occasional nerdy t-shirts over the top and ties. As for my hair, it flirts with the boys and girls, I’m bi too, but doesn’t stun spore the fossils around the shop. I shoot for a jaunty hair style. I got a mildly edgy hair cut before, but I did not like how it looked or felt. I just do me and call it a day. Ain’t got time for anything else.
At my last job I felt the pressure to dress a certain way. Dress pants and button downs to mimic the guys, but not be too femine, but not too Pat from SNL either. It was honestly stressful. I also let my hair get long. I had a pixie cut when I started.
I started at this job and one gal had purple and blue in her hair. I finally had the ‘permission’ to get some color in mine. The last fall I went back to a pixie cut. It is so much easier to take care of. I miss pulling my hair up, so I’m debating growing it out again, but this is all for me, not a workplace.
I keep a jacket at my desk in case I get cold and have a button (pin) that says ‘221b baker street’. It’s a subtle enough, yet professional geek reference and if I like Sherlock, do I know about that Doctor Who show?
I still like some of my button down shirts, but I’ve had some a while and I blame some shrinking in the wash over the years, but doing yoga, my biceps aren’t skinny anymore, so some just don’t fit well. I often go for a long sleeve with a suit jacket style over, dress pants or jeans. A few years about I got pants with a matching vest, and the gal I share a cube with said I looked like a magician. That’s fine, I do magic all day! 😛 I got other compliments on it, so it’s all good.
As much as I tell people I’m happy at my job because of my bosses, it’s also the acceptance as part of the department and company culture. This is the most myself I’ve felt in the workplace in a really long time.
This is the first article I’ve read that doesn’t make me feel bad about wanting a sleeve or half sleeves of tattoos! I currently only have 2 smaller upper arm tattoos and I always cover them for job interviews. I like knowing that maybe one day my love for art and tattoos will get me noticed in the work place. It’s a refreshing idea. Take that my older family members :p
Here is my experience: https://imgur.com/a/8VqQx
So I explained a little bit in the imgur link I attached, but.. I am COVERED in tattoos and normally have really bright, crazy colored hair. In the past, at pretty much every job I’ve had actually, I’ve been forced to cover my tattoos, take my piercings out, and dye my hair a “normal” natural color. I remember once, working at applebee’s, I dyed my hair bright red thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal because lots of girls have red in their hair. They literally SENT ME HOME and wouldn’t let me work my shifts until I made it dark red. When I started working in medicine, especially during my clinical rotations, I had to do the same thing… And honestly, I am so happy that I can turn into a normal looking person by just wearing long sleeves and hiding my piercings. A lot of patients when they get a glimpse of how heavily tattooed I am turn out to be extremely judgemental and think that I’m incapable of being as intelligent and knowledgeable as a “normal” person. (this has literally happened to me, they’ll treat me like I’m stupid and act like they want a different healthcare provider). I’m lucky that the job I have now is so cool and relaxed. They hired me with lavender hair, let me roll my sleeves up if I want, and don’t make me take my piercings out. In the same respect though, I think it’s important to tone it down to a certain level to still be able to look professional and respectable and put together.
I left a job earlier this year because they disapproved of my hair dyeing habit. It was a minimum wage fast food job that I already hated, so I didn’t feel a need to stay if they were so concerned about the color of my hair. (They even wrote me up for it, even though one of the cooks had literal rainbow hair! :/ )
I have an interview for another job (in the same field, sigh) soon, and you can bet I’m gonna rock my blue locks. If working inventory has taught me anything, it’s that being good at what I do speaks louder than my hair ever will.
I love you ugh. And this blog. But I wonder if people at your work appreciate your quirkiness because you are thin? I’ve let my lazy self gain so much weight, I feel like if I wanted to dress differently, do my hair weird, etc, I’d be banished to the basement of the IT Crowd with Richmond. You brushed on the topic a little bit in the post, but I feel like you kind of down played how freaking it hard it is to be unconventionally looking. It’s so hard for women to let their work and accomplishments when all the company sees is our weight.
How can us chubby, unattractive women get ahead at work while portraying ourselves as the true weirdos we are? Am I doomed forever to straightening my hair for an hour every day, caking enough make up in my face to paint the Great Wall, and hiding my curves in boring cardigans!?!! None of my more uh, attractively challenged, male coworkers have this problem. They don’t get judged by their clothes, accessories, or weight nearly as much. And it sucks.
If you haven’t already read it, Lindy West’s “Shrill” might offer a really helpful perspective on exactly this topic. Basically her thesis (and lived experience) is that fat women are expected to do everything possible to make themselves invisible and unobtrusive because their fatness is transgressive. (Just as black women’s blackness is transgressive, and brown women’s brownness, queer women’s queerness, old women’s oldness. We want young, white, thin, attractive women to be visible, compliant, and consumable objects of performance and spectacle. And any woman who “fails” to meet this ideal is expected to “get that cat out of the way.”) And basically West finds a lot of happiness when she stops waiting for a point in her life where she’s thin enough to have “earned” her own self-expression. Quote:
“I reject the notion that thinness is the goal, that thin = better–that I am an unfinished thing and that my life can really start when I lose weight. That then I will be a real person and have finally succeeded as a woman. I am not going to waste another second of my life thinking about this.”
I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
In broad ways, I am Conventionally Attractive, IE I’m slender and white. But that doesn’t mean I am personally stunning. Without getting into details, let’s agree that I am not good-looking. Now I’m not saying that I have it just as hard; I don’t. Society treats fat people like a very special kind of garbage, and I’m very glad I am exempt from that. What I AM saying is: you can’t wait until you feel beautiful to start doing the things that make you feel beautiful. That shit don’t make sense.
People who loathe unconventional women already loathe you because of your weight. You will never capture their hearts, no matter how straight your hair is. So the best policy is to FUCK ‘EM and do whatever the hell you like. Because at the very least, it will probably make you feel better about yourself. And when you like and respect yourself, you will much more easily attract people who like and respect you too.
Now sis, I love you too, so I’m gonna give it to you straight. I’m getting a little bit of a vibe like you’re looking at other women and making assumptions about the easiness or hardness of their lives. That’s a road you don’t wanna go down. Women all face the same bullshit, just different flavors. Yes, even conventionally hot women! Where you are assumed to be lazy, they are assumed to be idiots. If you feel ignored and hidden away, they go into every meeting wondering if this guy wants to like ACTUALLY mentor them, or just shut the door and try to shove his tongue down their throats. Wishing you were some other kinda woman is a zero-sum game because it sucks to be literally any kind of woman.
To quote Her Majesty West one more time:
“Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time—that moves the rudder of the world. It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience.”
I’m not actually in this job (unfortunately) but I’ve been wanting to go into the fbi for years, and every time I got a tattoo people would say “but the FBI won’t hire you if you have tattoos!!!” – I believed them for a while and only got tattoos in places I could easily cover, until I went to a hiring seminar about the fbi and was told that no, they don’t care if I have tattoos (as long as it’s nothing offensive)
Yes! My Dykey hair definitely sets me apart as defiant. Even owning my own business prevents me from going the full-freak I’d prefer, because my industry is not yet there.
And you are so right. I may put on a conforming dress for the industry holiday party, but my hair and accessories attract all of the stealth queers.
I had brightly colored hair but I had to die it to get an internship (and to remain employed at that said internship).
This post is amazing and SO TRUE. Our department instituted a dress code several years ago, no visible tattoos and no odd piercings (anything but one piercing in your lobe was considered odd). My tattoo isn’t in a visible spot, but one woman who had a tasteful tattoo on her arm had to wear a large bandage. This was a stupid solution, since the goal of the policy was to make our department appear more ‘professional’ within the company, and the ginormous band-aid looked waaay more stupid than her tattoo did.
I am still at this company, and no one hands out the dress code to newbies anymore, yet those of us who originally received it are expected to follow it. So that is fun! Some managers make their underlings conform while others ignore it completely – a sure recipe for department harmony with no resentment whatsoever!
You are 100% correct that some companies value appearances over productivity. My department does NOT interact with customers or frankly anyone at all – so our appearance is only viewed by the others in the department. We recently interviewed candidates for a position, and the best-qualified woman had a nose piercing. Our boss offered her the job with the caveat that she couldn’t wear the nose ring at work. She thought about it for a few days then declined the offer. I was SO happy for her! Maybe she read your post? 😉
Thanks for your amazing blog, from a very sympathetic baby boomer. Your generation will truly effect change, in our country and our workforce, and I couldn’t be more happy about it.
Oh. Im totally feeling this. I work as an ESL teacher for an institute and the morons have a dress code even tho most of their classes are with children.
I really wanna leave this place but can’t due to lack of $$. But I cant wait to work somewhere where I can show off my piercings, and finally get my tat.
I didn’t write this but I feel the same way….
” This got me thinking. I feel like this idea probably resonates with a few people, but I always felt pretty bad about my looks growing up. I’m short and pale and I was a little chubby, and so on. Once I figured out people could buy things like hair, and nails, or even bigger breasts or nicer teeth or whatever, it made me realize that choices like cosmetic surgery or makeup or whatever are just that: choices. Meaning that someone who wears hair extensions went, you know what, fuck my natural hair, I want to look like a mermaid or whatever. Me and that person aren’t any better or worse than each other, it’s just that they picked longer hair and I chose to spend my money on tattoos, for example. Once I found out that the way people look is basically customizing your own body it’s a lot easier to let go of my own insecurities. I picked piercings and makeup and someone else picked long nails and self-tanner, and we both look great. Thanks for coming to my TED talk ”
Ahem anyway, I have short pink hair, a few facial piercings, wish to get more tats, want breast augmentation, want fake fangs cemented onto my teeth, and want cosmetic surgery on my ears to get the “elf ear” look, and almost always wear bold makeup. My clothing style varies but I’ve been called “modern vampire”, “elvish,” “dark fairy” or “borderline goth” lol 😀
At age 45, I was working for a federal govt organization. I’d only been there 5 or 6 months when I was diagnosed with colon cancer. After my surgery, we determined that I needed to go into 6 months of chemo. I dyed my hair peacock colors: purple, blue, teal, green.
I’d wanted to do that my whole life and never felt able to. At this point, I was gonna lose the hair soon anyway, so why the fuck not?
One person who was a manager on another floor was fascinated. “They let you do that?”
Well, no one has said anything yet but you. And, well, if anyone does, I’ll just tell them this is my “fuck you” to cancer. Everyone is scared of the word cancer.
My hair thinned and I got a pixie cut, keeping the colors. Then it thinned some more and I shaved it. Then had my daughter put henna tattoos on my head. It was glorious.
I kept it boy-short for a couple years. I’m growing it out now mostly because I’m tired of paying someone to cut it. I had it blue-black for a bit and now it’s dark brown with a purple sheen. I love finally feeling like I have the freedom to do what I want with my hair.
This is such a great post! I got my first ~professional dress code office coop~ this summer and as the youngest person in the office by far I definitely fucked with people’s heads with my clothes. I’m nb but was going stealth as a woman at the time, and my favourite part was introducing myself to people with my men’s clothes and androgynous hair and high voice and visibly seeing the “error 404: gender not found” flash across their eyeballs as they didn’t know how to address me as mr or mrs.
I just found this blog and I love it. Unfortunately I am technically a Boomer, but I was a millennial before it was popular, or something, and I am a lolita fashion enthusiast. I work in a hospital, so for the past year and a half I haven’t been wearing anything to on-site work that I can’t throw in a washing machine on HOT. But I normally wear lace blouses and frilly skirts to work, and I am fat AF, and I have rose-gold hair, purple hair, or blonde/brown greying hair depending on how much effort I want to put into anything.
I am super cis and super femme (though not super straight hahaha) and I find that I get much more respect in frills than I do in “business casual” femme. I am an admin, but I get so much less shit than the ones in comfortable business casual feminine clothing, which isn’t fair at all, but there’s something about having the cojones to put a giant bow on your rose gold hair when you weigh over 250.
I used to try and look “normal” because you used to have to. This blog is very comforting to me, because it reassures me that with people younger than me now running the show, while I have to contend with some ageism, I don’t have to contend with people who want me to look like a banker when they’re paying me to take minutes and book conference rooms. I’ve been working in the same company for over 20 years, but job security is what it is, so it’s nice to know that if I did need to get another job, all I’d have to do is dress well for the interview, avoid answering illegal questions designed to ferret out whether I’m planning retirement or have poor health (I have disabilities, yes, almost everyone who isn’t wildly rich and stress-free does by the time they’re 50, but I’ve had mine long enough to be used to them) and I don’t even have to have an ugly resume.
(I. hate. Times New Roman.)
In fact I may now be inspired to take a look out there and see if there’s not something better out there with a less awful commute (even though my commute for the last year has mostly been from the bedroom to the living room, it can be up to 90 minutes when we open up fully, not that I’m not gonna insist on keeping some telework time.)
I know I’m like suuuuuuper late to this party but I just got my first “big kid job” at a small branch of a fortune-500 company. I’ve been trying to fit in for six months and I feel like I don’t get to have fun anymore.
All of this to say: thanks for the permission to go back to my scene-kid haircut once it grows a bit more (I dyed my hair right in February, right before covid, and by November I was sick of the line between bleached and non bleached so I cut it off at said line) and non-conforming appearances. Even if I can’t go band shirt and thigh highs like in college, I still have some funky accessories and I’m going to start playing with my non-binary-ness more. I’m sick of being perceived as a woman, but I only ever learned how to be professional as a woman. Might buy myself a tie…
Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to show off my septum ring at work. For now though, i feel like I’ve been given permission to start being myself again.