I’ve been an attorney for almost 20 years, and for the first decade, I dressed how I thought a lawyer should look: conservative suits, always in navy and black, with natural makeup and hair. I looked like a traditional attorney, but my day-to-day job representing children in family court was anything but: some of my clients might be preschoolers who I’d get down on the floor to build blocks with, or teenagers who I’d try to gain rapport with, sometimes in vain.
Ten years into practicing law, I’d become a director, and I decided I could get away with a bolder look. It began with adding a few blue highlights to the underside of my hair. Then I started experimenting more, adding visible highlights in blue, purple and magenta.
It came in handy when I spoke to a parent who had been accidently pulled back into the office with his children for a second interview during the same week, which necessitated taking the ferry from Staten Island. When I apologized profusely, he laughed and said, “Don’t worry, it was totally worth it to meet an attorney with blue hair.”
Later that same year, I was supervising a case in which an 8 year old child was testifying against her mother in a domestic violence case. I played with her on the floor in the anteroom with her blue haired Bratz doll which she said looked like me. The judge allowed me to sit next to her on the witness stand. Every so often the child touched the blue of her doll’s hair and gave me a secret smile.
But then I got an interview with a child welfare law firm that brought federal cases, I thought I knew what that meant: no more blue highlights. I pictured federal court, with its wood paneling and staid judges, and I couldn’t see myself fitting in.
So on the day of my interview, I planned to change my hair back to black and gray. I made a 10:00 am appointment—plenty of time before the interview at 3:00. To take out the blue, I needed a base color treatment, to have my hair bleached with foils, then re-foiled with the black and greys, and toned. By 12:45 I start getting a little concerned about how long this was taking and asked if we could get it done by 2:00. My hairdresser responded, with a slow glance at her watch. I hope so, she said.
Finally, the foils come off, but in the rush, there was more black than grey and the colors had mixed giving it all a purple tint. Exactly what I was attempting to avoid.
I finally got released at 2:25. Threw half my salary at the hairdresser and sprinted home. Ran in my door at 2:35, threw on a skirt and shirt, grabbed make-up and tossed it in the bag, pulled out a jacket, and hit the pavement by 2:45. I grabbed a cab, with sweat was pouring off both me and my hair. The driver coached me into the middle of the seats to catch the air while I tried to put on makeup with shaking hands.
In my rush I failed to grab eyeshadow and mascara. I had four lipsticks, all red, in my bag, but adding a red lip to my dark hair gave me a vampirish look. I kept sopping off the sweat while the driver entertained me with stories about what makes a good passenger versus a bad passenger. The good passengers, he said, catch the luck of the green light Gods. He said I had it in me. We prayed together across the Brooklyn Bridge.
When we screeched into the city, my driver asked me to tell him the address again. I took out my phone to look it up and it promptly died.
Somehow, we arrived. My driver reminded me about the green light Gods before he unlocked the doors. I threw more of my salary away just so thankful to have arrived close to on time and leapt out of the car—and the zipper on my skirt broke. No chance of recovery or repair. I contemplated throwing myself into traffic but sucked it up and ran into the building.
While security checked my ID, I pulled on my jacket and discovered it was the wrong one. Are blue and black that different? I noticed razored hair from my hasty haircut on my shoulders as I cursed the turnstile, which jammed when I tried to shove through. I struggled with the zipper in the elevator, hoping I wasn’t being recorded. It was a lost cause.
I finally ducked into the interview. The interviewers didn’t seem to notice I was a little late and looked like a vampire with an edgy cut and color with an ill-matching suit. I hoped they wouldn’t ask me for a resume; all I had in my bag was lipstick and a dead phone.
I didn’t get that job. About a year later, I had a more successful interview, for the job I have now. I had learned some lessons: I didn’t schedule anything the day of. I walked in with my bright blue and purple highlights. I took the subway so I didn’t have to rely on the green light Gods.
But I still experiment with my hair, even though I now practice primarily in federal court. Today the highlights are in the sunset shades. ❏
Dawn J. Post is the Deputy Director of A Better Childhood, a non-profit law firm based in NYC that brings class action lawsuits on behalf of children in foster care.