Usually, in a work environment, a certain degree of professionalism is expected. While rules are different everywhere, this usually means that one’s behavior is respectful, they are competent at their job, and their appearance is also acceptable. Although it differs among work environments, showing up in pajamas or unclean clothes probably wouldn’t be tolerated. 

While companies have the right to enforce certain dress codes upon their employees, how strict can they really be? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed the unequal application of voter registration requirements and discrimination in public facilities, in government, and in employment. Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act specifically guarantees equal opportunity in employment. As a result, dress codes in the workplace cannot discriminate based on race, color, sex, gender, age, or any other factor. In addition, dress codes have to allow for religious accommodations, such as head coverings or religious jewelry. However, a recent issue in workplaces all across the United States is the policing of how women wear their hair. 

Angela de Joseph, a former associate beauty editor for Essence magazine, and the founding editor of Sophisticate’s Black Hairstyles and Care Guide says, “Speaking in a very general way, straight hair is often thought of as more conservative and curly hair more casual.” In February 2019, the New York City Human Rights commission released new guidelines that made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of hairstyle. Residents have the right to have “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.” 

Sadly many women of color, especially black and Latina women, frequently come under fire for not having hair that is considered “professional”. In 2018, news anchor Brittany Noble Jones was allegedly fired from her on air job in Jackson, Mississippi for switching to natural hairstyles after years of wearing her hair straight. In 2010, Chastity Jones, a woman from Alabama, had her job offer rescinded after she refused to cut off her dreadlocks. Not only are women in workplaces affected, but women on college campuses and children in schools are also banned from wearing their hair naturally or in natural hairstyles. According to a 2015 study, “Black, as compared to White, evaluators gave higher agency penalties to Black employment candidates when they donned Afrocentric versus Eurocentric hair, rating them as more dominant and less professional.”

For too long, eurocentric standards of beauty and appearances have been the basis of what is considered “professional” or “acceptable.” Hair is not a reflection of what an individual can accomplish or succeed at, and women should have the right to wear their hair however they like without worrying about putting their career or education at risk.