Yes, curly hair is professional - here's proof.

There is a damaging, baseless rumor out there that curly hair is not professional. We have heard far too many first hand accounts of women being told to straighten or fix their hair at the risk of missing out on promotions or even losing their jobs. In fact we polled our community and 57% of you said you had experienced natural hair discrimination in the workplace. These incidents are far too common, and we’re here to say that if women are professionals, then their natural hair is professional too. Here are 8 professional hairstyles for naturally curly, coily and wavy hair.

1. Top Knot

To reinvent the topknot, we didn’t want to pull the topknot back into a super tight and slick J.Lo-style bun. Instead we chose to style this more loosely, so you can still appreciate Amanda’s curls. And the best part is when she takes this bun down she’s not left with stretched out curls with a dent in them.

  1. Start with dry hair, not wet hair. That way when you take your hair down it’s not stretched or dented.
  2. Spray your hairline with a light coat of flexible hairspray such as R&CO flex hairspray Outer Space or DevaCurl’s Flexible Hold Hairspray. These are flexible enough that they won’t flake.
  3. Rub a pomade between your hands to give your hair light control as you’re styling it.
  4. Flip your head upside down and gently gather your hair at the top of your head. Make sure not to rake your fingers through your hair as you do this, which disrupts the curl. This topknot looks better when it is not pulled tightly or perfectly.
  5. Tie your hair into a knot and use long bobby pins to secure it – do not use a hair tie! Tuck the ends of your hair into the knot and pin.
  6. Once the top knot is secure you can go in and pull the knot into place, tucking in any hairs that are sticking out with a rat tail comb.

This knot is a more modern version of the traditional bun which involves pulling the hair tightly and using a hair tie, leaving a dent in your hair when you take it down later. This way you don’t have to wash your curls again and start over the next day.

2. Deep Side Part

We love the texture and shape of Ishia’s hair so we wanted to work with it, rather than trying to slick it back or fight it. We firmly believe that yes, of course textured hair is professional! This style flaunts your natural texture while keeping it pinned back from your face and out of your way.

  1. Create a deep side part, take a small section from your part down to the top of the ear.
  2. Loosely take a brush (a toothbrush, teasing brush or boar bristle brush would work, you can get them at the beauty supply store for just $1) to smooth back the roots.
  3. Divide the section into 2 and twist these around each other, pin it back leaving the ends loose. Gold bobby pins can be a fun way to dress up the look.
  4. Above the other ear, take a 3-inch section and twist it up and away from the face, creating an undercut effect. Bobby pin to secure and use pomade to smooth the roots.

3. Twists

If the hair at the back of your head is a dense, tight texture like Tey’s, it can be hard to style by yourself. But as long as you have a good cut and shape you can leave the back of your hair out in a wash and go and focus your styling efforts on the hair framing your face.

We love that this style only takes 10 minutes to do in the morning.

  1. Before you start, lightly coat your fingers with a gummy pomade product, this will help prevent little hairs from sticking out as you’re twisting your hair. For this texture, hairstylist Ruben Rosales recommends Davines Finishing Gum.
  2. Use the pointy end of a rat tail comb or a teasing brush to create a clean part – this is essential to making this style look neat and professional.
  3. Take a 3-inch section from the from the part of the hair line to right behind the ear. Draw your 3-inch section in the shape of a triangle to prevent looking like a children’s flat twist style.
  4.  Twist the section upwards towards the top of your head. To do a flat twist on yourself, bring your hands behind your head pulling the hair back, rather than trying to twist with your hands in front of your head.  It is much easier this way!
  5. Repeat the same process above the other ear - create a part on the opposite side and take a 3-inch section from the hairline to right behind the ear. Twist this section towards the top of the head and secure with bobby pins.

4. Side Bun

Amanda typically wears her hair in a ponytail or half up. Women with long hair often tend to pull their hair up in a ponytail, so we wanted to give you a few more options.

  1. Pull all hair from the right side over to the left and create a loose ponytail.
  2. Divide the ponytail into 2 sections and wrap them around each other, creating a large twist.
  3. Once you get to the bottom of the twist, wrap it around into an S-shape to give it a more interesting shape than your typical bun. Pin in place with bobby pins. The less intricate the better, just put the pins where it feels secure.

It’s important to keep the bun placed just behind the ear and lower towards the nape, rather than down at the hairline because that would look too much like a prom style. As a guideline, draw an imaginary line from the jaw line up and back to keep the bun in a position that’s flattering.  

5. Side Swept Curls

Anna says "aside from pulling my hair back I really only have one look because it’s so short. And I never straighten my hair, it’s curly 100% of the time." We loved Anna’s volume and didn’t want to pull her hair back or overly manipulate it, so Ruben improvised by using a headband to create “hair jewelry.”

  1. To keep definition with curl pattern like Anna’s, use a styling cream or a light gel like DevaCurl Ultra Defining Gel on soaking wet hair that has been combed with a wide tooth comb.
  2. Once the hair is fully dry, spray DevaCurl Mist-er Right to set the curl and prevent frizz. If you need volume, use fingers to lightly scrunch the curls.
  3. Create a side part and pull back hair on one side of the head. Pin your headband or hair jewelry into place above the ear.

This is a red carpet that can translate to daily wear because it’s not overdone or overly manipulated. Ruben points out that “a lot of what you’re seeing on the red carpet is very simple. When my business women clients come in they want something that looks effortless, it’s still done and still polished but they want it to be similar to what Julianne Hough is doing on the red carpet - so this is a curly version of that.”

6. Modern Mohawk

Tey typically wears wigs and braids her hair down when she goes to work. She was surprised by how easy this style was to do and left our shoot looking forward to trying this out herself for work. 

  1. Grab 2-inch sections of hair and pin them back, starting at the forehead and working your hair back.
  2. Repeat this action, clipping all of the hair back on both sides of the head to create a mohawk effect.
  3. Lightly coat the fingers with pomade to smooth the hair at the temples.
  4. Gently shape the hair that is left out with your fingers, using bobby pins to pin any hair that’s sticking out.

This style does not need to be precise, in fact a softer shape is more organic and feminine and avoids the rocker-style Mohawk we’re mostly familiar with. Again this style pulls hair away from the face, while still showcasing your natural texture.

7. Half-Updo

Cassandra typically pulls her hair back, so we wanted to give her a half up option that keeps her hair pulled back and out of her way. Cassandra has multi-textured hair, which Ruben loves working with because there are so many curl patterns to accentuate. 

  1. If starting on dry hair, re-mist the hair with DevaCurl Mist-er Right and rub a medium hold gum between your fingers fingers.
  2. Take a pencil or rat tail comb and hold it vertical at the arch of the brow to find your most flattering side part
  3. Backcomb slightly at the crown of the head to create some volume. If you have tightly coiled or fragile hair skip this step to avoid breakage.
  4. Mist the hair with spray and use the side of the hairspray can to slick the hair back behind the ear – the can is smooth and won’t disrupt your curls the way your fingers can.
  5. Pin the hair back behind the ear with 6 bobby pins, create a pattern with the pins, leaving the flat side facing out. Pull the ends of that section of hair across the back of your head and pin into place.
  6. Pull a section of hair behind the other ear and similarly pull it across the back of your head, pinning it into place.
  7. If you have bangs, leave them out.
  8. Finger twirl any curls that are out of shape to touch them up.

8. Easier Than It Looks Updo

Tiffany typically blow dries her hair and flat irons it straight to go to work as an accountant. When she does wear her hair curly she typically pineapples it and leaves the curls loose. With this style Tiffany can skip the straightening process while still maintaining an easy-to-manage style.

  1. Create a side part. Take a croc clip and clip a 3-4 inch section of hair at your side part to keep it out of the way.
  2. Take a 2-inch section behind the ear and twist it away from your face, towards the back of your head. Pin it leaving the ends out.
  3. Continue twisting sections back away from your face, pinning them and leaving the ends out until you have 2-3 twists above each ear.
  4. Take down the section in the croc clip, and use DevaCurl Pomade Set Up and Above to smooth down any flyways around the hairline. Then use Oribe Impermeable Hairspray to keep the hairline defined and prevent frizz from humidity. We don’t want it to look slick or straighten out the curls, you still want your curl definition to show. You can use the side of the hairspray can to smooth the hair down rather than brushing or disrupting the curls with your fingers.
  5. Take the remaining section framing the face and divide it into 2. Do a rope braid twisting them around each other and pin the twist behind the head.
  6. You can either leave the loose ends out for a half up look, or you can twist and tuck the remaining hair into a bun.
  7. If you have any flyways at the nape of the neck smooth them down with a comb and a little more pomade. If any curls or ends are stick out just tuck them in with a bobby pin.

This style will likely turn out slightly different every time you do it. The point is just to twist and pin the hair back away from your face until you’re happy with it, resulting in a finished look that looks much more advanced than it really is.

We hope you found a style to try this week at work, and that you take these suggestions and make them your own!

Do you wear your hair curly to work?

Yes, always!

I wear my hair curly, but pulled back (ie a bun, braid or ponytail)

I straighten my hair

I wear a wig

I'd like to wear it curly, but I haven't found a style that works for me

Sometimes I wear it straight, sometimes I wear it curly

create a quiz


Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2010, we have updated this article based on feedback from our readers.

A very special thank you to our curly community members who agreed to model these hairstyles, curly hair stylist Ruben Rosales of Orange Salon who styled the hair, and photographer Deleigh Hereme.


As the Managing Editor of NaturallyCurly, Cristina is passionate about using influence to empower the next generation of women. She also serves as a GENthusiast member of the Girls Empowerment Network and is the creator of the blog Fuji Files, where she explores the effects of positive thinking and conscious shopping.

I think whatever hairstyle you do, the important thing is to keep it frizz-free. that's why I recommend using the pro naturals argan oil =)

I resent coming to Naturally Curly in search of help styling my naturally curly hair, only to see photos of women with STRAIGHT HAIR. Not to mention the majority of these styles are NOT professional.

These are excellent tips on how to rock your natural hair in the workplace! I particularly like the bun and all down styles!

These look awful. "Kinky bun"??? In what world is that a professional style. She looks like a child playing at the park. "Curly braids"??? You've got to be kidding. You know what, for all of you looking for great professional styles, check out old photos of Jasmine Guy as Whitley Gilbert. She always wore really chic styles but they were almost always just natural curls.

Womp...Womp! These are the most boring styles ever, and nothing new. I have a looser curl, but I think this doesn't help people with kinkier hair one bit!

I came here looking for a couple of professional up-dos, but instead it seems like every style imaginable was listed. Not necessarily helpful, but I do agree that a huge part of looking professional is well-maintained, frizz-free hair.

going shorter does not necessarily make your hair curlier. I went shorter and lost the spring to my curl. My hair gets curlier as it gets LONGER

I'm a #4b hair type and I'm sad that there are only two real curly hair styles. I've been all natural for almost five years now and wear it the same way, please come with the real good, good!

Ok, Now I'm really offended. So you don't think CurlyGirls who may have short to medium length hair want style variety? you missed the mark on this article. (very one-sided) :-(

Okay a little disappointed seeing that these styles are more for ppl with long hair or mid length hair that can go up. I would have like to see some styles for short hair in this. Yes one of the other comments is right this is ppl with none curly natural hair.

These pictures suck. Sorry, NC. First problem, none of them have curly hair. It's all straight hair that has been curled. Second, a side braid is not professional. A ponytail is not professional. Third, not everyone knows how to do a french twist. Fourth, not everyone has the length. NC, this was very disappointing.

omg som of them dont have curly hair its ugh fake gosh i just try flat iron my bang an put my hair in a pony tail an call it a day

Wow... Now that I have a bit of length, I thought this would be the PERFECT article. I would get some ideas on what to do other than a puff, a wash n' go, or a twist out. Boy, did I get this one wrong. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE work some versatility into these types of articles. Seeing 10 options for long-haired, mostly looser-curl folks was disappointing to say the least.

Okay...I'm sorry but I have about 5in of 4a hair. None of these styles will work on me. Also do to the fact that I'm in the military, I couldn't wear any of these styles to work or prob wouldn't wear them in any other work environment. I was hoping for something a little better :(.

Most of these hairstyles are far from professional. I'm not sure if a side braid screams "Take me seriously, I'm a professional!"

I agree with the previous comments. Also these styles are for long hair. I didn't see many options for short curly hair...

So true Aruizbrown. :-(

Half of these styles are straight hair that was curled, not naturally curly hair =(