Every stylist has had a curly-haired client ask for a smooth blow-out in order to look professional at a work conference or to make a good impression at a job interview.
“I find that clients with curly hair believe that they’re taken more seriously if their hair is straight,” explains Morgan Wilheite, creative director at Ouidad. Having frizzy and unruly hair at a business meeting can be the equivalent of showing up wearing a tank top and shorts, so curlies either straighten their hair or slick it back into a ponytail.
But curls and briefcases need not be mutually exclusive. By getting a curl-specific cut and color and using the skills, tools and care routines you need to maintain it, your curls will be workplace-ready. “Professional curly hair is all about maintenance and how you present it,” says Marie France, owner of Madusalon in San Francisco. “Dry hair tied back in a ponytail is not professional; it just shows lack of attention. What says ‘professional’ is moisture. It’s a cut, it’s style, it’s care.”
The Foundation: A Good Cut
Whether you plan on wearing your hair loose or pinned up in a style, your hair must be cut in a way that enhances your texture, not works against it. The cutting of textured hair presents a unique opportunity not only to create volume, shape and dimension, but also to control the curl. “The key is to make sure the hair is cut in a way that is conducive to the curl pattern, especially if the client plans on wearing her hair curly,” explains Rafe Hardy, artistic creative director at Sexy Hair Concepts. “If you’re cutting waves, for example, don’t cut the hair in the middle of the S-pattern, because that’s when it will kick out. Make sure to cut at the beginning of the wave so that it naturally curves under.”
Executing a proper curly hair cut using techniques you wouldn’t use on straight hair presents an opportunity for you to develop and demonstrate an expertise in texture. “Stylists who specialize in curly cuts tend to have a cult following,” Hardy notes. “If you can build up a business that includes people with textured hair, you’ll be sure to gain influence in this specific curly niche.”
9-to-5 Styling + Care
Once your curls are clipped into shape, the next step is determining a maintenance routine and some workday styling options. “When a client is in your chair, this is the opportunity to show her results and teach her how to achieve them on her own,” explains Hardy. “More than with any other client, styling curly hair should be about education. Show these clients how to diffuse their curls and scrunch in product so that they can take the good curl care habits home with them.”
For the client, the benefits of a good session with her stylist are both immediate and long-lasting. “My hair used to be dry and frizzy so I always pulled it back at work because I didn’t know how to give it the attention it needs,” confides one salon client, Paloma Herman, who became loyal to a salon once she found a stylist who specializes in textured hair. Co-director of admissions at the San Francisco School, Herman says this was the first stylist who’d ever given her a cut that was “intentional and mature.” She adds, “The stylist showed me how to maintain it with only a couple of products. Since then, I’ve been much more comfortable with wearing my curls loose in the office.”
Salon client Bianca Ummat, a Resident MD in Washington, DC, interacts with patients on a daily basis and, to prevent a health hazard, needs to have her hair pulled back from her face. Still, she wants style. “I like to switch it up,” Bianca says. “I do loose buns, ponytails and braids to keep my curls from being in the way.” To secure curls away from the face, Wilheite advises using pins as opposed to ponytail holders. “A slick ponytail is a very severe look and potentially damaging to curls,” she says. “Instead, use larger bobby pins to pull pieces back and secure pieces section by section for a professional style that is also gentle on curls.” For longer curls from loose to tight, Wilheite suggests an on-trend high bun, again using bobby pins to secure the hair around the base.
For tighter curls that have the tendency to shrink up to 80 percent of their length, Product Specialist and Celebrity Stylist Felicia Leatherwood suggests styles allowing the back section of the hair to remain loose while the front sections are pulled away from the face in a half ponytail or bouffant, or sweeping just one side back and securing with a pin. “This allows your clients and colleagues to focus on the face, eyes and smile, not the hair,” says Leatherwood, who offers chemical-free solutions to her ethnic clients who struggle with trying to wear their natural hair at the office.
Even with the right curly cut and maintenance routine available to them, many curly-haired professionals prefer to wear their hair straight. “That’s the beauty of curls,” says Hardy. “They’re so versatile. One day they can be full and voluminous, and the next they can be sleek and straight.”
Consult with your stylist to determine how to incorporate a straight look into a curly styling routine.
Put Your Best Curl Forward
Your looks can be almost as important as your PowerPoint presentation for navigating your career path. Professional curly hair is about mitigating the hair’s tendency to be unkempt, which means keeping frizz, dryness and flyaways in check by promoting the hair’s health and hydration. It’s important to take the extra step for your curls, such as deep conditioning before an interview, or even style and diffuse them before a presentation.
“Your clients’ curls represent their personality, so you really want them looking their best,” encourages Wilheite. “Curls show off a distinctive personality and self-confidence, which is critical in business.” By starting with a proper cut, style and color to enhance texture and you can ensure that you look great on every rung of the career ladder — from the interview to the boardroom. “I used to think of my hair as something that detracted from my professional appearance,” says Paloma Herman. “Now that I know how to take care of my curls, they’ve become an asset.”
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