My life changed for the better the evening my friend Stephen told me ponytails on a woman were the equivalent of khakis on a man.
Hanging out with Stephen and our mutual friend, Jim, is like being on an unending loop of "What Not to Wear." You always get a look that's up, down and side-to-side. Sometimes I pass their test, many times I don't.
On this particular evening, I was wearing a fierce dress, killer heels, perfectly applied makeup and a ponytail. I had spent at least 30 minutes getting ready for them, which was a big deal for me because I rarely spend that much time on myself. I felt great and I excitedly asked for their approval since one was not forthcoming.
And that's when they both admitted they didn't care for my ponytail. I looked hot, they said, except for the ponytail. (That could be the title of my memoir, "She Looked Hot, Except for the Ponytail"). We began a heated debate over whether I looked hot, period (me) or whether I looked hot, except for the ponytail (them).
Stephen and Jim argued that a ponytail has its place, and it's usually at the gym. I argued that messy can be stylish, that a messy updo, a messy bun or an unkept ponytail can dress down a fabulous evening gown (see Claudia Schiffer, right). I made my point that super pulled-together hairstyles can come off as prissy, stuffy, Upper East Side Ladies Who Lunch.
For Stephen and Jim, a ponytail screams, "I don't care what I look like today." To me, the ponytail screams, "I'm not high-maintenance." I feel the outfit is what clues others in to a person's stylish nature. Jim and Stephen disagreed.
"A ponytail on a woman is like khakis on a man," said Stephen. It's boring. Common. Expected.
The topic turned to what my daily ponytail says to the following people:
- People who know I'm a beauty editor
- People who find out I'm a beauty editor while I'm sporting a ponytail
Jim and Stephen argued a beauty editor must always be presentable. I threw out my wild card that I am one of those beauty editors who spends the majority of her time behind a computer, not prancing about on the Today Show, so it didn't matter what I looked like. They argued men preferred hair long and down. I argued that the average man likes women no matter their hairstyle, but that they might not know this being gay men.
"Besides," I said. "If I walked around with perfect hair and makeup, it would be false advertising. I am not that kind of woman."
The debate ended at the table, but continued to rage in my head. These guys have immaculate taste. Could they be right? Should I be wearing my hair down? It is, after all, long and lush when I bother to maintain it. The color is exquisite, and should be considering how much the highlights cost me each year.
And then there was the question of men. I was newly single and I had worn my hair up for 10 years straight. Had I worn my hair down, would I be married by now?
To test their theory, I asked every straight guy at work if ponytails on women bothered them. Every single one of them shrugged, a few stared at me blankly, and when I explained, they all vehemently disagreed with Stephen and Jim.
Could it be subconscious -- do men prefer hair down, they just don't know it? Or could it be that some men are simply not as fussy as others?
By this time, I was several days into wearing my hair down and I noticed how much sexier I felt, even at work. It was swingy, made me feel better-kept and no fewer than half a dozen women complimented me on my hair.
"I didn't even know you had long hair," said one woman I had worked with for three years.
Even better, I noticed men noticing me on the streets. Long, blonde hair, it seems, draws attention.
Since my little experiment, I stopped wearing my hair up. I only do so on occasion and I don't wear my hair down for male attention. I do it because now I simply prefer it that way. It makes me feel better about myself. And that counts more than anyone's opinion, even my fashion critic friends, Stephen and Jim, who changed my life that night, though I'll never admit it to them.