Let’s Talk About Work-Appropriate Makeup

makeup for work

I love makeup and beauty products, but I’ve never been the kind of girl to wear a full face of foundation—especially to work.

My signature makeup look for going out centers around a bold red lip. I’ll occasionally wear a heavy cat-eye with black eyeliner in place of the red lip, but otherwise, I’m pretty much a red lip, some mascara, concealer, light blush, maybe a bit of eyeshadow. Relatively low-maintenance, I think, as I’m much more likely to show my personality through jewelry and fashion.

I don’t think I would wear my trusty Mac Ruby Woo or NARS Red Lizard to work, though. To me, red lips are a little more festive and a lot more nighttime. If I worked in a creative, fashion-y field, than I likely would, but not if I was hanging out in your run-of-the-mill office park, pushing papers.

When I did work in an office, I’d usually wear a bit of mascara, a bit of concealer, maybe a tiny bit of blush. That was before BB and CC creams, though; If I were working in an office now, I think a nice light CC cream would be the perfect thing to wear to work. These creams provide some coverage and some correction, but don’t overwhelm your face or look crappy if you sweat it off on your lunch break.

In my mind, a more conservative, “professional” makeup look feels appropriate for most work settings. But the definitions of conservative and professional can vary widely, especially among fields, positions, even employers. (Remember how Turkish Airlines banned their flight attendants from wearing red lipstick or nail polish?) There’s a big difference between the kind and amount of makeup you’d wear to work at Sephora contrasted with the makeup you might wear on an archaeological dig. And let’s not forget generational differences in ideals of beauty; The makeup your grandmother wore to her typing, teaching or secretarial job in the mid 20th-century might be very different than what you’d wear today.

I have an interest in beauty work, as well as “beauty” as a construct in our culture, so I’m  always fascinated by the different makeup looks women deem appropriate for different situations. At a hospital the other day, I noticed a nurse (on the night shift, no less!) wearing a super-dramatic makeup look. I’m talking full red lip, several different shades of eyeshadow, drawn-on brows, fake eyelashes, the whole deal. Honestly, it looked a little Divine-esque and I wondered how it felt, how it could possibly be comfortable or practical to wear all of that stuff on her face as she inserted IVs, changed catheters and cleaned up bodily fluids. I couldn’t help thinking that I would never wear any of her makeup to work, especially if I were in a physically-demanding job like working in a hospital.

And then I stopped myself from my silly judgmental thoughts. Honestly, my perception of this nurse’s makeup style as it relates to her job is just that: my perception. I don’t know actually know anything about the realities of her job or her life, so who am I to judge the amount of cosmetics she chooses to wear on her face at her workplace?

It’s important to feel confident and capable when you’re at work. I know that what I wear always affects my confidence level, so it makes sense that for some women, wearing a particular makeup look that they feel flatters them is important, especially when they’re at their job. Feeling attractive can have a huge affect on your mood, after all. Ultimately, the kind of makeup you wear to work (if any at all!) should be makeup that makes you feel good both inside and out, makeup that makes you feel attractive and able.

What are your feelings on work-appropriate makeup? Do you have a signature look? Does your workplace have guidelines on the kind of makeup you can wear? Do you judge people for wearing or not wearing makeup to work? Has your work makeup look evolved over time?

Photo: Shutterstock

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    • gracie

      Makeup is a personal choice. I think as long as it’s not hurting anyone else you’re okay. Who cares if you wear Ruby Woo red to work or Fushia Fever? So what if you line your eyes in green or pop on falsies… Besides if you look good, you’ll feel good and if you feel good you’ll do your best work.

    • allison

      For me, wearing makeup at work is about having control over how I look. I am fair-skinned and am prone to blushing, so I find it comforting to wear foundation (just mineral powder foundation). It provides coverage so that when I speak up in a meeting, I’m sure that my face is composed. Because the foundation washes me out, I add definition by wearing some blush, a sort of smokey eye shadow (shades of brown, mostly matte, nothing bright) and some mascara. It really helps me to feel confident that I know exactly how my face looks (not red or shiny). Also, I feel like it makes sense to “dress up my face,” as it were, just as I wear professional attire to work. But certainly, wearing makeup at work varies even in my own workplace and I think, as gracie says, it’s a personal choice.