The climb up the corporate ladder can be tricky for anyone; for women, it can be downright confusing. As women's roles in the workplace have changed, so have expectations regarding how they should look at the office, and the rules are often unspoken.
Certainly men are not immune to being judged on their looks, but whether on the board or on the sales floor, today's women face a type of scrutiny seldom experienced by their male colleagues -- the kind that judges their eyelids.
Fair? No. Unavoidable truth in our appearance-driven world? Probably. And in the spirit of joining them, women everywhere are (or should be) putting more thought into the type of makeup they wear during the work week. Should it be bold? Sexy? Natural? Nonexistent?
Quick hint: The answer is not "sexy." Other than that, though, what should be on your eyelids in the office?
Well, to start with some full-on facts, you may be surprised to learn that science has something to say about it.
A 2011 study conducted by Harvard and Procter & Gamble revealed in numbers what most of us already know: Makeup affects how a woman is viewed by those around her.
The surprise coming out of the study is that it doesn't seem to matter what kind of makeup a woman is wearing. Researchers gathered subjects of both genders and presented them with pictures of 25 women each made up in four different ways: "glamorous," "professional" and "natural" makeup as well as barefaced. The subjects were asked to rate the women on attractiveness, trustworthiness, competence and overall likability after a quick glance. Each makeup style beat out the barefaced look in every category.
Makeup changes the face a woman presents to the world, and it's not only a matter of appearance. Many women find that wearing makeup makes them feel more confident, which can in turn inspire positive responses in her interactions.
Few traits can apply across an entire gender, of course, and there are plenty of women who feel prettier and more confident going au natural. But the fact remains that wearing makeup can change the way your co-workers respond to you in the office, and it's worth trying on some lipstick and mascara just to see how it works out.
Now, while research shows that pretty much any makeup look is, in a general setting, more appealing than none at all, not every look will get you positive responses at work. When it comes to makeup in the office, some guidelines apply.
On television, it is (apparently) entirely appropriate to wear a black smoky eye to the office. And oh, how we love a black smoky eye.
But not at work.
In real life, glamorous makeup is out of place in the work world. It often looks overdone, and it can even come off as unprofessional (or at least a different kind of professional). Your office is not a night club.
Unless it is, in fact, a night club, and then, by all means, go smoky.
For the rest of us, the best approach is to minimize. The goal at work is the same as the goal for a night out -- to highlight your best features – but at work, the highlighting should be subtle. If you wear eyeliner, choose a pencil instead of a liquid to soften look, and go easy when filling in the eyebrows. Try a light application of shadow, one coat of mascara instead of three, a quick swipe of blusher or bronzer, and a quiet layer of lipstick or low-shine gloss.
Which brings us to an inarguable point: neither red, neon pink, nor sparkles on the lips are considered quiet.
Tone It Down
With a light touch, you can achieve an understated (and pretty) look that's entirely suited to the professional realm. It matters, though, what exactly you're applying with that light touch.
No matter how light the layer, red lipstick at work can say "I'll do anything for a raise." It's daytime, and you're looking for respect, not ogling. Sexy, experimental and ultra-trendy styles belong elsewhere.
The more professional look is a neutral, natural one, using shades of brown, taupe, nude, light pinks and soft peaches on the cheeks, lips and lids, and a mascara shade that matches your natural lashes.
Other colors can work, too, as long as the shades are light and complementary. Contrast should be low so that the entire face appears well-blended and balanced.
And since you probably work for more than an hour a day, you also want that blended, balanced face to have some staying power.
Make It Last
It's all well and good to arrive at work wearing a perfectly made-up, entirely appropriate face. It's less well and good to look like a streaky mess by lunch.
To make your professional look last longer, choose makeup designed to stick around. An eye primer can make your shadow last longer, and waterproof mascara is a must. You might also want to try dusting your finished face with transparent powder to "set" your makeup, finishing up with a long-wearing lip color.
Still, even the longest-lasting makeup will streak with sweat or wear off on a coffee mug, so carry a purse mirror and check your face at least mid-day, and preferably before any meetings or presentations. You'll most likely need to re-apply your lipstick or gloss, at the very least.
And finally, what may be the biggest concern affecting makeup-wearing professional women everywhere.
Be Quick About It
The funny thing about makeup is, it rarely takes less time to apply it lightly than it does to lay it on thick. Some women wake up hours before the workday starts so they can carefully put on their game face and still be right on time.
If your workday starts at noon, this is probably no hardship. But if, like most, you're supposed to be in by 8 or 9, extended prep time can be a hardship.
It doesn't have to be a 30-minute endeavor to look your professional best. Just because you wear two different types of foundation and three shades of shadow for a date doesn't mean you can't look fabulous wearing only one of each.
In fact, you can probably just skip a few steps of your full routine altogether. The drama of eye and lip liner is unnecessary for work. You can eliminate the all-over bronzer and heavy brow work and even trade the total-coverage foundation for some spot-treatments of trouble areas.
Forethought counts, too: If you keep up with your eyebrow tweezing in your off-time, you'll have a lot less work to do at 6 a.m.
In all, your weekday make-up routine can take you all of 5 minutes. Maybe 7 minutes if you forgot to pluck.
In the end, of course, every woman is free to toss "appropriate" out the window and wear whatever she wants, wherever she wants to wear it. Simply know that where cosmetics and career meet, overly bold, overly trendy or over-the-top sexy can end up costing you. You want your colleagues to notice your work, not your makeup.
When was the last time you cleaned out your cosmetics? HowStuffWorks talked to an LA-based makeup artist for advice on how often we need to toss it.
More Great Links
- Daytime Makeup Do's and Don'ts. LifeSpy. April 12, 2007. (May 1, 2012) http://www.lifespy.com/2007/daytime-makeup-dos-and-donts/
- Foster, Brooke Lea. "Do you have to wear makeup at work?" MSNBC: The Look on Today. July 6, 2011. (May 1, 2012) http://thelook.today.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/07/06/7028476-do-you-have-to-wear-makeup-at-work?lite
- Franzino, April. "Do You Wear Too Much Makeup To Work?" Fitness Magazine. Nov. 28, 2011. (May 1, 2012) http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/blogs/beauty/2011/11/28/do-you-wear-too-much-makeup-to-work/
- Franzino, April. "What Wearing Makeup Says About You." Fitness Magazine. Oct. 4, 2011. (May 3, 2012) http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/blogs/beauty/2011/10/04/what-wearing-makeup-says-about-you/
- Makeup Tips for Professional Women. Glamour Edited. (May 1, 2012) http://glamouredited.com/makeup/professional/makeup_tips_for_professional_women.html
- Saint Louis, Catherine. "Up the Career Ladder, Lipstick in Hand." The New York Time: Fashion & Style. Oct. 12, 2011. (May 1, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/13/fashion/makeup-makes-women-appear-more-competent-study.html
- Simple Daytime Makeup Look -- 8 Easy Steps. HHB Life. (May 1, 2012) http://www.hhblife.com/beauty/makeup-tips/simple-daytime-makeup-look-8-easy-steps.html#