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Are Businesswomen With Short Hair a Cut Above the Rest?

I thought bicycle helmets, bangs and gusts of wind were my only hair-related challenges, but this week I discovered something far worse: According to a carefully highlighted copy of “The Woman’s Dress for Success Book” (published 1978) that my colleague discovered on the street, my long curls mean my career is doomed.

In a chapter titled “Packaging Yourself,” the female reader is warned:

Your hair must not be excessively curly or wavy. If the current fashion calls for curls and waves, forget it. Too many curls and waves will hurt you in business.”

“Gray hair adds authority to a man and takes it away from a woman.”

“All exotic things done to hair are absolutely wrong.”

Those rules were written by a man (gray-haired and authoritative) named John T. Molloy, who today offers sartorial suggestions on a blog. But I wondered whether his original advice is still abided by and, for the sake of my career, tried to find out.

Here are the do’s and dont’s offered in the book (I added the letters):

Typology Mona Chalabi

So, do today’s high-powered women abide by such guidelines? I took the pictures from Fortune’s list of 2013’s 50 most powerful women in business and looked at how they fared on the late-1970s typology.


My career outlook might be bleaker than I thought. Shonda Rhimes, executive producer of “Grey’s Anatomy,” was the only woman on the list to wear her hair curly. Only eight women broke the long-hair rule, and not one double sinned, with long curly hair.


More depressingly, academic research (with a slightly more rigorous methodology than the one I used here) suggests that women’s hair does matter. For example, some studies have found that women with long hair are associated with “decreased forcefulness” and seen as “high maintenance,” or that long hair on a woman can “signify reproductive potential” (think maternity-leave discrimination at a job interview). Long hair really could adversely affect my career.

Mona Chalabi is data editor at the Guardian US, and a columnist at New York Magazine. She was previously a lead news writer for FiveThirtyEight.