©2007 National Law Journal Online
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Cleary Gottlieb has a bad hair day
Vivia Chen/The American Lawyer
August 27, 2007
It seemed like a nice frothy summer treat for some hardworking gals at a hard-driving law firm. Instead of hosting another earnest discussion about client cultivation and leadership, the women lawyers group at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton invited an editor from Glamour magazine. The topic: the dos and don’ts of corporate fashion.
First slide up: an African-American woman sporting an Afro. A real no-no, announced the Glamour editor to the 40 or so lawyers in the room. As for dreadlocks: How truly dreadful! The style maven said it was “shocking” that some people still think it “appropriate” to wear those hairstyles at the office. “No offense,” she sniffed, but those “political” hairstyles really have to go.
By the time the lights flicked back on, some Cleary lawyers — particularly the 10 or so African-American women in attendance — were in a state of disbelief. “It was like she was saying you shouldn’t go out with your natural hair, and if you do, you’re making a political statement,” says one African-American associate. “It showed a general cluelessness about black women and their hair.”
The episode also produced a “mixed reaction” along racial lines, says this associate. “Some [whites] didn’t understand what the big deal was … but all the black associates saw the controversy.”
Cleary Gottlieb’s managing partner, Mark Walker, who heard about the incident from some of the attendees, also saw trouble. Soon after the event, Walker issued an e-mail that denounced the hair commentary as “racially insensitive, inappropriate, and wrong.” Calling the beauty advice “appalling,” Walker says, “You don’t tell people that their physical appearance is unacceptable, when certain characteristics are associated with a racial group.” He asks, “What’s the alternative? Straighten or bleach your hair?”
As for the identity of the editor, neither Cleary Gottlieb nor Condé Nast Publications Inc. (publisher of Glamour) would say. Indeed, almost all of the half-dozen Glamour editors contacted for this story professed not to have ever set foot in a law firm. “Cleary what?” asked several.
And Walker says he has no idea whether the editor who sparked all this controversy is a well-known fashionista. Not that Walker would know, even if Anna Wintour herself crossed his path. “Who is she?” Walker asks. “I really don’t know people in the fashion industry.” (If you have to ask, she’s the editor of Vogue.)
So did the Glamour editor realize how many feathers she ruffled? Walker says that the speaker was “spoken to by one of the women partners” and that she sent an e-mail apology. “I assume she was oblivious; I doubt she’s racist,” says Walker. “She wasn’t thinking and said something hare-brained.”
Or is that hair-brained?
Glamour Magazine editor responds
I read your post about a Glamour editor’s comments on hairstyles for work, and I’d like to share with you our thoughts. First, we regret the comments were made. The employee — a junior staffer, not a beauty editor — spoke to a small group of lawyers at a private luncheon without her supervisor’s knowledge or approval, and her comment — that afros are not work appropriate — does not represent Glamour’s point of view.
Secondly, immediately upon learning of it, we sought to rectify the situation. The editor has been dealt with in a very serious manner, and the entire staff has been reminded of the magazine’s policies and procedures for making public appearances.
Glamour is proud of its diverse readership and celebrates the beauty of ALL women. We have responded directly and openly with readers to assure them of this fact. We have also apologized to the law firm, and we extend the same apology to you.
Editor-in-Chief of Glamour
Is there any wonder why black women have a fucked-up relationship with their hair? Let’s see if I can get this straight (pardon the pun). If I fry my hair or put lye-based chemicals in it in order to achieve a straightness inconsistent with my ethnic heritage, then I am doing the right thing. Yet if I enjoy my hair in its natural, kinky state, then I’m making a political statement…and that is so 1980s!
Well you know what? I’ve suffered way too much over the years trying to make my hair do something that it just isn’t meant to do. I’m nappy, I’m loc’ed and I’m proud. Deal with it! And fuck you, Glamour Magazine.
(Whoops, I guess I just went political again…)