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I've been with a company for about nine months now. When I first started out my hair was cut to just above eye level, now I've grown it out close to my chin. For a while now, my higher-ups have been bugging me to get a hair cut, but I like it how it is.

I'm a part-time employee at a retail store. I just don't understand this request, because whenever I go somewhere to go shopping, I really couldn't care less how the employees' hair looks. Maybe it's due to the generation gap (I'm only 18). Could someone try to kindly explain this to me?

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    Ask George Thorogood about it: youtube.com/watch?v=PbAoXw_DqvM - It's not generational (Thorogood was born in 1950), but how you fit into society. – jfrankcarr Jun 10 '12 at 16:01
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    Funny, the opposite is true when working in the UNIX domain. – Der Hochstapler Jun 10 '12 at 23:25
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    Do you tie your hair back? Are you clean shaven every day? Do you look clean? One can have long hair and look presentable to even the most stuck up somebody its just harder. I would say that you should considering getting a hair-cut if you want to keep your job. – Donald Jun 11 '12 at 11:42
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    It really depends on what store you work in. Is everyone else very conservative with their approach to fashion? – Austyn Mahoney Jun 12 '12 at 19:30
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    The interesting thing is it's ok for women to not tie their hair back in a workplace, but for a man to come in with his hair down is a bit risky. I've actually had one HR person casually suggest that I should cut my (shoulder-length) hair. My first reacton was to say "Strange, you are a woman, yet you're wearing pants!" but I decided against it. Professionalism, right? – MrFox Mar 12 '13 at 15:54
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The reality is that long hair ranks alongside visible tattoos, scruffy clothes, piercings and any number of other fashion choices (ie. points of appearance that are very much within your control).

In all these cases, I have never seen a study which shows a correlation between fashion choices and professionalism. In my personal experience, I have also never seen a correlation between fashion choices and professionalism. I strongly contend that there is no correlation.

However, none of that matters. The fact of the matter is that some of your customers will assume a correlation between fashion choices and professionalism, even if none exists.

I used to have long hair at your age, but I was never customer-facing and nature took its course long before I was forced into cutting it short. I have tattoos but they are covered whenever I'm in the office, certainly whenever I'm facing a customer. I have deliberately had my tattoos in places that are usually covered.

Because I know that I'm professional, people who work with me know that I'm professional, but others don't, and I have to accept that society is such that someone may make an incorrect assumption based on my visible personal choices.

(I guarantee you that at least one person is already thinking about responding with a comment about tattoos being an indication of my poor judgement and that they wouldn't want to deal with me based on that alone. Some might even judge me for having a beard. But I'm lucky enough to be marketable and can ignore those people.)

Sadly, if you're going to be in retail, your bosses have every right to suggest that you will appear more professional to your customers if you keep your hair reasonably short. It stinks, I know, but they do. Because it doesn't matter what you or I think, if one customer walks away because of their assumptions, the business has lost out because you didn't cut your hair.

Most people, nowadays, simply don't care. But no one ever assumed that someone was unprofessional because they have short hair, no tattoos or piercings, were clean-shaven and wore a nice smart suit. (Except a tattoo artist, of course, to pick a rare example.)

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    So, it pretty much comes down to most people not caring whether one's haircut is short or long. It's just because it's what the employer wants? – James Litewski Jun 10 '12 at 3:13
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    @JamesLitewski: No, read again. It's nothing to do with what the employer wants, it's entirely about what that one judgemental customer wants. The employer only cares about the bottom line and losing that one judgemental customer hurts that bottom line. – pdr Jun 10 '12 at 3:14
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    Web/graphics designers would be another example. They're often given extra credit for freaky personal dress, tats and piercings. Looking like Don Draper is frowned upon in those circles. – jfrankcarr Jun 10 '12 at 15:51
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    I have long hair, visible piercings and tattoos and I've only had one case of being chastised for it, which was in a retail job. My manager's complaints quickly died down when an elderly lady, with exquisite timing, walked past and complemented my sense of individuality. The concept that customers are put off by such things is archaic. I now work as a programmer, and the subject has never been mentioned. As long as you don't have offensive tattoos or anything too outrageous (e.g. 14 facial piercings) you should be fine outside of retail. – Polynomial Jul 24 '12 at 13:47
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    "I have never seen a study which shows a correlation between fashion choices and professionalism" <- there's a reason for that: define 'professionalism' in a way that could be satisfactorily used in a study. – robertc Mar 31 '13 at 1:51
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The more you deal with customers, face-to-face, the more important being neat in appearance is to your employer. Retail doesn't mean short hair. If your clientele were teenagers or early 20's, or you worked in surf shop, or music store it might look appropriate. If the clientele was older, the company might think they would be turned-off.

If your company/store has a employee hand book, review it. They might discuss length of hair, or other appearance issues. They could discuss warnings or consequences. They might even suggest ways to minimize the issue.

If there are guidelines, were they discussed during the interview, training or orientation? Did you sign anything saying you read the handbook?

Keep in mind that in some places there are safety or health concern/regulations. There can also be religious exemptions.

  • Yeah, I might have to look into the handbook if the issue escalates. – James Litewski Jun 10 '12 at 3:14
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    @James Actually, looking at the handbook probably should've been your first move, as that is what guides your employment in this situation. – jcmeloni Jun 10 '12 at 14:43
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    Seems like most of my local coffee shops here in Cambridge MA, USA have the following requirements: long hair, [Male]-beard (funky kind), [Female: tattoos]. – Michael Durrant Jun 11 '12 at 2:13
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Long hair (or loud shirts, or tattoos, etc) signal that you're not in the tight bounds of normal. In places that value standardization (Walmart, the Army, McDonalds, the Phone Company) you don't want to signal creativity. You want to signal that you know what's expected, and you'll do what you're told. There's little upside to the firm in you being better (does McDonalds want someone to experiment on their Big Macs?) and plenty of downside if you're worse.

In creative fields (software, advertising) there is more room for creativity. Even at some banks there is freedom. But... If you buck convention, you need to be good, because will assume you're either the best or the worst.

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You can have long hair and look professional.

I have known men with hair like Fabio that looked professional. I have seen more that pulled their long hair into a pony tail. But most of them compensate with extra attention to detail in their professional dress. If you want long hair you may need to compensate with extra effort in other places.

Getting a hair cut does not mean getting your hair cut short.

The style you choose has quite a bit to do with this. Choose a style that is neat and ordered. I know people who have the unkempt look out of the office but make sure their hair is neat and orderly. Then after work then go into the bathroom and spend 10+ minutes to make it look like they just got out of bed.

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Well, your productivity or professionalism doesn't get affected by having long or short hair. The point is that whenever you are working in a position which requires client/customer interaction, people(customers) would want to see the company representative as someone who looks well dressed and clean. They could judge you, and more importantly, the company, based on your appearance. Also, it's just maybe an unwritten rule. Like always wearing formals at the workplace.

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