Will Bright Hair Dim Job Prospects?

photo by Rose McDermott-Pinch

Pumpkin Spice: latte or hair color? This fall, it’s both. Pumpkin spice hair is the newest addition to the subtle and yet colorful hair trends emerging for fall.

For many college students, physical appearance is of high importance and changing hair colors is one of the less permanent options for beautification. Some students, however, are concerned about how the way they look could affect their professional lives.

Although semi-permanent hair color is an option, it can take six weeks or longer to wash out depending on the color. Red and black coloring can remain in hair for several extra weeks depending on how often the hair is washed.  

For those who are concerned that bright hair will harm them professionally, the new trend is toward a more subtly colored style. Some examples of this would be oil slick, rose gold, pumpkin spice, rainbow roots, or bright colors that are hidden underneath a typical hair color.

Oil Slick hair, a style that incorporates several bright colors into brunette hair, was created by celebrity colorist Aura Friedman of Sally Hershberger Salon. She wanted to create a look that mirrored the rainbow an oil spill makes. Friedman does the hair of major celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lawrence, M.I.A., and Sophie Dahl.

Emma Roberts debuted Rose Gold hair in an Instagram photo posted by a stylist at Nine Zero One salon. Elle Fanning, Zayn Malik, and many other celebrities have also done a variation on this pink hue.

For celebrities, this can serve as a boost to their career because being the first one with a hair color can bring massive publicity. Students face an equally critical audience with social media and they must also defend their appearance to employers.

“I figured high school was probably the last chance I would get to dye it before I was interviewing for jobs, where it not might be okay to have brightly colored hair. I really liked the style where you left your roots normal and dyed the rest of your hair. I decided on a different style but was happy with it,” said Sarah Lam, a second-year cultural anthropology major.

Depending on the field, some students may be fine with bright hair that makes a statement. Others, however, could be judged on their personality or ability to do work because of how they look.

“My advice for students is that you don’t want to stand out because of the way you look, you want to stand out because of what you have to say. If you make sure to dress and look professional, the employer will focus on what you have to say instead of what you look like,” said Lisa Campagnoni, an assistant co-op coordinator in the College of Science.

Craig Bettinson, a co-op coordinator in the College of Arts, Media and Design, said “the basic rule is that for the creative career fields it is much more widely acceptable, as are piercings, tattoos, etc.”

Those in an arts field are less likely to be reprimanded for colorful hair, as creativity and body art is common and very different than such fields as finance, business, and science. Co-op coordinators from these fields did not respond for comment on whether they thought bright hair was appropriate for students applying to co-op.  

“I work with art and design students and believe that brightly colored hair is not an issue for the vast majority of my employers. In fact, some employers will have brightly colored hair themselves!” said Dori Mazor a co-op coordinator for the department of art and design.

She added, “the one exception would be creative jobs within more conservative companies. So for example, I have a design position at State Street Global Advisors, a financial company. An ‘offbeat’ appearance would be less common there. A student with bright hair would most likely get the job regardless, but once starting the co-op may be advised to tone down his/her appearance.”

This trend is an expensive risk for students to take. At a chain salon like Fantastic Sams, a single process color is $60 and they do not list bleaching or ombre as a service according to the Salon Price Lady website.

Ulta, a mid range salon, has prices that start around $60 but they offer all over highlights and also dimensional highlights that start at $100 and $110 respectively. Color removal services, like bleaching, start at $53 for one application and reach $153 for three applications. Then, all over highlights would be added to get a bright color.

Higher end salons, like those on Newbury Street, offer more services but at a higher price. Single process colors can start at $80 and most do not list a price for ombres or “creative” colors, instead saying that it will be priced upon consultation.

“In such a competitive job market, people pay so much attention to tiny details because small differences can deter an employer from hiring you. A lot of the most recent hair trends are gorgeous but I wouldn’t get them done because I’m afraid it could impact my career,” said Sarah Williams, a second-year biochemistry major.

Despite the concerns, colorful hair is still becoming a popular trend.