In this week’s edition of Things I Wish I Knew, solo attorney, Joleena Louis gives us her thoughts on “natural hair” and whether it is appropriate or not for an attorney in practice.
One of the benefits of being a solo is that I get to choose my own dress code.
I like to think I dress very professionally most of the time; I almost always wear a suit when meeting clients and going to court and I dress never anything less than business casual.
While I agree that hair is part of your overall professional look, it never occurred to me that my decision to stop chemically straightening my hair could possibly be viewed as unprofessional.
Chemically straightening my hair really has adverse effects.
For most of my life, I have chemically straightened my hair.
It was something that my mother started when I was a child and I just kept it up because I believed my natural hair texture would be unruly otherwise.
As an adult, I’ve learned just how damaging chemical straightening is to my hair and recently made the decision to stop.As an adult, I’ve learned just how damaging chemical straightening is to my hair Click To Tweet
I went natural, but professionalism came into question.
While deciding what to do with my hair, I choose to wear twists as a protective style for the summer.
I thought this particular style looked professional and I mostly wore it in a neat bun while working and within the first few days of having the style, another African-American attorney in my office suite said she was thinking about getting her hair done the same way.
However, she wasn’t sure if it was “professional.”
I was colossally confused when my hair came into question.
My confusion was evident and I was even a bit defensive about it.
It’s just hair! It looked nice and neat to me so why should anyone be concerned about it?
I started paying closer attention to others reactions to my hair, which was mostly no reaction at all. Some of my clients and even one judge commented that they liked my new hairstyle.
Lots of women on the street asked where I got it done. And that was it.
My curiosity was piqued, so I started asking other attorneys how they felt about the professionalism of “ethnic” or “natural” hair. Were my twists professional? What about dreads or an afro? Does it really matter?
Neatness is what matters with hair as an NYC solo.
For the most part, as long as my hair was neat and polished, most of the attorneys in New York thought it was professional. However, NYC is a different arena where fashion and beauty is used as a way to express yourself and for many it is a way of life.
I have heard stories from attorneys outside of New York City where natural and protective styles are not the norm. They were told by mentors, supervisors or HR that they should straighten their hair.
This was not limited to women of color either. Even women of other races with naturally curly hair were given this advice.
The whole concept of natural hair and legal practice seems ridiculous to me. Shouldn’t I be focusing on the quality of my work instead of my hair style?Shouldn’t I be focusing on the quality of my work instead of my hair style? Click To Tweet
As long as my hair is neat, clean and well kept, it should not be a topic of discussion.
Rocking my natural curls does not affect my ability as a lawyer and the best part of being a solo is having control over who I choose to work with. If I have to change my hair to get a certain client, they are not the client for me anyway.