Staying True to Yourself In Corporate America

This is how my hair looks (well with crappy lighting) at work when it's out. If this distracts might have ADD.

This is how my hair looks (well with crappy lighting) at work when it’s out. If this distracts you…you might have ADD.

An opinion about my hair color post on BGLH was about wearing colored hair in the professional world (basically stating that it can prevent you from getting a job or keeping your job). Even Lil Duval (I only know this b/c a friend texted it to me lol) posted today on Instagram, “I might be wrong but I don’t know no women with good jobs that got bright color hair.” Grammar issues aside, I want to give him a FULL on side eye, but he is not totally wrong regarding corporate and your overall appearance (not just colored hair, some people could have replaced that with several other characteristics).

The crappy truth is that in Corporate America, you are encouraged to not stand out in any way regarding your appearance because people feel as if it deflects from your overall work or it brings too much attention to you and Corporate America is basically obsessed with work (drones baby!!!). Hell, I’ve even been told that I should not wear brightly colored dresses or printed slacks to work (that were professional work dresses or slacks) because the color was “distracting.” And note, these comments were made by my friends, not my management or HR.

This point of view is bullshit to me, because I know plenty of folks who dress boring as hell and suck at their jobs (nor do they care, they only want to do enough to not get fired), BUT I know when to pick my battles. You won’t see me in HR fighting to wear thigh high boots even though my way of dress has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to complete my daily tasks. We have other hurdles we need to jump before the superficial stuff (’cause really, I care way more about my natural hair than thigh high boots – and I can easily change my shoes).

However…damn the man and save the empire (s/o if you know that quote)! I think (IMO) that you can do some things so you don’t go crazy sacrificing your creative well being for the sake of a paycheck:

  • KICK ASS AT YOUR JOB. It is unlikely that someone is going to call you out about how you look (again, not too far, let’s not with the mini dresses and 6 inch heels, time and place, y’all!) when every single performance review you get is exemplary. And I mean overtime work, encouraging collaboration with colleagues, being proactive, asking to lead initiatives, etc. Simply doing what you’re told is not enough. You need to realize that going above and beyond is a key to having people recognize you for your skills, rather than your hair color or how you look.
  • Know when the time is right. If you have a job interview at a new company and they don’t know you from Adam, it’s probably not the best idea to show up looking like you could be an extra from Love and Hip Hop. Again, you have to realize that people who don’t know you will assess your appearance FIRST, and one job interview is not long enough for them to truly understand your awesomeness, unfortunately. In my first interview out of college, I wore my hair in a bun with glasses. Y’all, I don’t even wear glasses in real life. But I will rock them to a new business meeting in a second. Think of it as your corporate costume. You’re modern day Super(wo)man.
  • Know when enough is enough. Compromise! Beyond my fear of all my hair falling out, I know that it’s not a good
    Okay, I would not wear this outfit to the office, but you can see that when my hair is pulled up, only a bit of purple shows.

    Okay, I would not wear this outfit to the office, but you can see that when my hair is pulled up, only a bit of purple shows.

    idea for me to dye my whole head the color of Nicole Richie’s – again, I may have proven myself to my immediate team and management, but to prospects, potential partners, etc – they don’t know me. I chose highlights because when my hair is pulled back you can only see some streaks and it’s not overpowering. I was at a conference today and had “warned” one of my former colleagues that my hair was purple, and while my hair was in a bun he came up to me and said, “Your hair isn’t nearly as purple as I thought it would be.” I doubt most people even noticed. But when I was wearing my hair out, my colleagues walked up to me and the first thing they said was, “Ooh, I like the purple!” or “Hey Pink!” I have nice coworkers.

  • Know your job’s dress code. If your dress code clearly states, “No brightly colored hair,” you can’t really be upset if people give you a side eye at work for dyeing your hair without first speaking to HR. Just follow the rules so if someone says something to you, you can kindly email them the dress code with the subject line “BOOYAH.” Okay, don’t really do that. But do it in your head.
  • Last, don’t adhere to any “standards” that make you uncomfortable. Sure, I wear my hair in a bun a lot of the time at work, but that’s mainly because it’s easy and I hate it when my hair gets caught on my work bag. If I want to wear my hair out, I have no issue doing so. If I didn’t feel as if I could even wear my natural (purple highlighted) hair without feeling insecure or “wrong,” I would need to find a new job. I know that’s it’s not easy to find a new job in our current economy, but it’s damn sad to go to work with your head down in order to stay under the radar. It may help to speak with your manager or HR and let them know how you feel and why.

Hopefully one day, people won’t be focused so much on our appearance and our work will be the only thing that matters…wait, who the hell am I kidding? Show me that day and glitter will rain down from the sky. But in the meantime…find some ways to add your personality to your attire so you don’t lose your wonderful self in the sea of corporate drones. Because that, my lovelies, would be the ultimate injustice to yourself. xoxo

12 thoughts on “Staying True to Yourself In Corporate America

  1. Yemi says:

    Empire Records shout out…whaaat?!! You just became my fave blogger ever. Also, great article! I totally agree that it is possible to express your creativity while keeping the peace in the corporate beehive as long as you’re smart about it.

  2. aoyewole2586 says:

    I completely agree with you. You have to dress appropriately for where you work. I currently work at a corporate law firm. About 2 weeks after I started, on a whim I had my stylist color my hair. But nothing super drastic, just caramel highlights throughout my whole head. If I put my hair back, you don’t really see the color. If it’s out it’s like whoa! But everything in moderation. And generally I’m about moderation, especially with my hair. So anyone who comes across me sees me and respects me. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Jen. Miller says:

    Okay I LOVED this article, I seriously read and re-read it like 3 times, laughing at the same damn parts lol. You and your way with words are awesome!! I do have a blogger to blogger question- do you ever feel like you have to censor yourself on Youtube or your blog because of your role in a corporate position?

    • Elle says:

      Aw what a nice comment, thank you! And YESSSSSS, all the time!!! I don’t really think I can use profanity not only because some viewers will be offended, but b/c some people at my job follow my blog and I don’t want to offend them and then have to be at work with them. Talk about awkward. I also think I have to watch how much ‘tude I give so they don’t find me too abrasive. Writing “bullshit” in this post was a big deal for me!

  4. Brandie Aleman says:

    Personally, I feel more comfortable and do my best when I can truly be myself. There is the sweat pants me and the business me. But I’m happy to finally work somewhere where I don’t have to dress up unless I want to. You are right performance is key.

  5. Huglori says:

    Excellent article. I wholeheartedly agree. When I began at my last job, I knew from working with them previously they were a lot more “professional” about their corporate wardrobe code than any other company I’ve worked for. I knew what to expect, but when I read the dress code in the new hire kit, I became instantly depressed. This is the south and it’s hot as hell from March through even November sometimes. Well, the dress code included: no capris, no crops (even on “casual Friday”), no thong sandals (even if they were heeled and dressy…no flip flopping allowed), no shirts with ANY words or logos, including sports teams and EVEN on casual Friday. Now, this was an Alabama heavy staff, and that hurt badly during football season. BUT, it was in the handbook. I wanted the job, I liked the environment and I had to suck it up. I think it was a shock because having worked as a government contractor before, I knew how casual federal offices can be and also how conservative. I’d been lucky enough to have worked for companies that didn’t have a strict dress code and it was just a bit of a transition to not wear my crops/capris and fancy sandals (that flopped and flipped). But it’s NOT a big deal. In the big scheme of things, it did not detract from my job enjoyment. It was just something to bitch about during lunch hour with the other secretaries. *Hair was never a problem and I was much more concerned about that. I was in shock by #1 the number of black employees, #2 by the number of NATURAL haired black employees, and #3 that they didn’t seem to care about the elaborate loc designs some of them wore. LOL Seriously, all the admins were old, southern, genteel white folks and I expected them to raise a fuss about the Black Power evident in the house. LMAO But they were cool. You never know.

  6. Vajney says:

    Very well written piece with a great take on the subject. I struggled with balancing corporate and comfort early in my career. I could’ve used this post back in the day. Cheers!!

Comments are closed.