+ Makeup, + Work Wednesdays

Makeup for the Workplace

Last week, I was participating in a panel discussion for a group of women bankers when one of the ladies asked about wearing makeup to the workplace.  She explained that at 38, she had only worn makeup to the office a dozen times in her twenty-year career.  She didn’t see anything wrong with skipping makeup, but she’d begun to wonder, if her career growth might benefit from looking more polished.

Whether you wear a little makeup or a moderate amount, I believe that wearing makeup is just as important as wearing the appropriate clothes or the right shoes.  I posted this article from The New York Times several months ago, but it’s such an important topic, that it deserves to be revisited.


Studies show that wearing an appropriate amount of makeup (the third photo from left) makes women appear more competent, capable and trustworthy.  While I wish this was a world where women (and men) were judged solely on their personalities, work ethic and skills, that is not the professional realm in which we live.  We judge people as much on their appearance–especially in the early phases–as we do on their performance.  Someone with an unkempt appearance may be thought of as lazy, while someone who is impeccably turned out may be seen as having it all together.

So how do you create a makeup look that is professional yes, dare I say it, pretty?

If you need tips on how to apply makeup, I thought this beginner beauty tutorial from Eman was a great resource for how to do a quick, professional makeup look.  And these tips from Real Simple on how to apply makeup well are great whether you’re a beginner or someone with serious skills.

As for products, I think you should keep the foundation light to avoid the look of too much makeup.  So unless you need full coverage, try a BB Cream or tinted moisturizer.  A bit of concealer never hurt anyone, especially under the eye, I like Maybelline Age Rewind Concealer.

For blush, I like sheer, buildable coverage.  Bobbi Brown pale pink is a great shade that works on nearly every skin tone.  Need a drugstore option? Physician’s Formula Matchmaker Blush is a good product.

If you’re a beginner, I recommend buying a neutral palette for the eyes.  Once you get the hang of it, you can branch out to other shades.  This Hyperreal palette has a great collection of matte shadows in brown and pink hues.  If you are looking for individual shades, Stila makes my favorite shadows.  Add some mascara and fill in your eyebrows a bit, and that should do, unless you want to wear eyeliner, but that’s up to you.

Lastly, lip color isn’t necessary, but a bit of sheer color finishes a look.  I like Fresh’s lip treatments or Lipstick Queen Hello, Sailor’s sheer berry hue.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a makeup person, the right makeup application can give you a more polished look.  And when you look the part, it allows you to project the confidence and competence that will help you succeed professionally.

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  1. JW says:

    These tutorials are my favorite – Lisa Eldridge is a gem.

    March 26, 2014/Reply
    • Violette says:

      I was going to recommend Lisa Eldridge too! I have to admit i love wasting time watching youtube make up tutorials but i want to look like an improved version of me. I don’t want to skip a step like mascara and look completely different than i did the day before. Lisa Eldridge is great for tips that aren’t over the top. Gossmakeupartist is great too!

      Too bad this matters for women and we’re still trying to get equal treatment.

      March 26, 2014/Reply
  2. Amanda says:

    I think it’s significant that the study this article cites was funded by a company that produces cosmetics, and included a mere 149 participants. Personally, I do tend to agree that wearing a moderate amount of makeup to work can have a positive influence on how your are professionally perceived, but I don’t think it’s scientific gospel. Many senior-level, well-respected women in my organization do not wear makeup like the third photo from the left, and have clearly had great success in their lives and careers.

    March 26, 2014/Reply
    • GoGoGo says:

      +1 to all of that.

      Study has questionable origin; still think it would be a worthwhile skill to improve at personally; counterexamples abound among the women I admire in my field.

      March 26, 2014/Reply
    • Giggling Gourmand says:

      Agree. I like to dress up and whatnot, but wearing makeup or looking anything other than neat and clean doesn’t seem to have much of an influence in my field. It’s about what kind of work you produce and how many hours you bill, not how you look doing it (unless you look unpresentable/bizarre)

      March 26, 2014/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I didn’t notice that, but I think it resonates anecdotally with my own experiences. I know a very capable staffer who wears no makeup and she has more trouble proving she’s serious about her job to people meeting her for the first time. About a year ago, she told me she was sick of “overcoming” this obstacle, so I brought her over and did her makeup for her.

      Also, I don’t think success can’t be achieved without makeup, we all know women who don’t care and are successful. But I do think it does present a little extra friction in some work environment, esp. those that require frequent interaction with strangers.

      March 26, 2014/Reply
    • Sofie M. says:

      I agree with all of this. I think it really does matter the field you work in – if I had to work with clients or politicians all day, I’d likely wear makeup. But I’m an academic, and I do university research. How I am perceived in my field has nothing to do with makeup application (or lack thereof).

      Also, I don’t think lack of makeup automatically makes you look “unkempt”. As long as you are clean and groomed, you’re fine.

      March 27, 2014/Reply
  3. DontBlameTheKids says:

    As I get older, I’m finding that it takes make up to make me look polished. When I was younger, I would maybe put on mascara. Now I need more eye makeup just to make it look like I slept. But it turns out that I actually like makeup and think it is fun to put on, so really I was just missing out in my twenties!

    March 26, 2014/Reply
  4. Allison says:

    The differences between the third and fourth picture seem subtle, but they’re there. What do you think the differences are? More eyeshadow? Bronzer?

    March 26, 2014/Reply
    • K Diane says:

      Eyebrows are filled in darker, deeper lipstick, winged eyeliner and more blush.

      March 26, 2014/Reply
    • Emily says:

      Everything’s stronger – stronger eyebrows, deeper lip color, more blush, addition of blue eyeliner, etc.

      March 26, 2014/Reply
    • Belle says:

      there’s some contouring with blush, fuller brows and slightly darker lip, also the eyeliner is a bit more noticeable.

      March 26, 2014/Reply
  5. Hillary says:

    Great post! I don’t like that it takes a little make up and fixing your hair to be considered polished but it is what it is for now.

    I keep a five min makeup routine. I wear almost all Bobbi Brown after I had Elizabeth at the Nieman’s in Friendship Heights give me a tutorial. Just corrector and concealer, peony blush, eyeliner, and mascara. A little goes a long way!

    March 26, 2014/Reply
  6. JG says:

    I bought the Maybelline concealer Belle recommends. Found it at Safeway, of all places, although not in every color. Love the spongy applicator. It’s helpful for putting on the right amount, not too much. I’ve become really lazy about hair and make-up (other than being clean) and need to step it up a bit. I feel a little more business-like when I look and dress the part — same as working out in the right clothes — just gives a little psychological boost.

    March 26, 2014/Reply
  7. Tiffany says:

    I wish I could wear less. I’ve always been jealous of those who could get away with wearing no eyeliner. If I don’t wear eyeliner on my lids above my eyes, I get asked if I’m sick or upset. One time I was makeup-less, someone asked me if I was born without eyelashes or eyebrows.

    March 26, 2014/Reply
  8. Sarah says:

    I love wearing make up. I actually feel lucky to be a woman sometimes because I get to play with make up and go from looking tired to looking vibrant with the help of cosmetics. Most men don’t get to use concealor, etc, and I think they are missing out! I see nothing wrong with educating yourself about products and making the extra effort. Total win. For me, make up isn’t a “have to” or “should,” it’s an. “I get to!”

    March 27, 2014/Reply
    • GoGoGo says:

      That’s a great way to think about it too.

      I heard a drag queen once being interviewed on the air who just gave the most emotional, loving tribute to the art of makeup ever, saying “Oh, ladies, the toys you get to play with! The fun you get to have! The art you get to put on your face every morning! And so many of you take it for granted!” That made me smile, and gave me a nudge, as a minimal makeup wearer, towards trying more things.

      March 27, 2014/Reply
      • Jen says:

        I actually had a friend tell me a long time ago (very fem) that if drag queens can look that good, then there is no excuse for an ugly woman. He was absolutely right. I think in a way while we do have to conform to society’s standards of how a woman should be perceived as feminine and beautiful just to get minutely ahead in the world, we should at least be able to have fun with makeup and do a marginally good job like the boys do. I love makeup. While I know it isn’t “kosher” by many standards to wear a full face at the office, there’s no reason not to. If someone doesn’t like it if you try a slight winged cat eye or a mint green liner on your lower lash line, it shouldn’t matter. Makeup is a representation of yourself. Even neutrals are a representation of you. So while a lot of people do reach for the Naked palette, you can still create a lot of different things to represent yourself with the colors that are in the pans. That’s just my rant and two cents lol lol.

        July 22, 2014/Reply
  9. Lindsay says:

    I’ve been adding things to my makeup routine slowly over the last few years. I just added lipstick/gloss this week, and I got compliments from my coworkers that I looked really put together. It’s part of the “dress for the job you want” strategy I’ve got going on.

    For lipstick, I have a berry color and nude color to start. I’m thinking to add deep red. Are there other colors I should consider?

    March 27, 2014/Reply
    • Helena says:

      Vibrant pink or coral for the summer. Start with a sheer gloss, if the brightness intimidates you.

      March 27, 2014/Reply
  10. Jennifer says:

    I think makeup is another tool in your arsenal that you can use to make you look professional and polished – just like clean and pressed clothes, and a well-kept hairstyle. Obviously too much can be a distraction, but going completely makeup-less can make you look like a high school or college student, like you are too busy to take the time, or you just don’t care. And for those of you who think it doesn’t matter because of you field, well, you may want to think twice about that . . . people do notice.

    March 27, 2014/Reply
  11. Jennifer says:

    P.S. Obviously the best foundation is great skin . . . for those with naturally beautiful complexions, rosy cheeks, and long eyelashes, take advantage of it!
    P.S.S. Sometimes I wish men would wear some makeup, or least take themselves to the nail salon. A manicure would do wonders for all their cuticles!

    March 27, 2014/Reply