Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

What’s the Deal with Makeup in the Workplace?

After weeks of hard work and late night rehearsals, the long-awaited day had finally come. Accompanied by four teammates, we were on our way to the car to drive to Boston to compete in the National Association of Black Accountants’ (NABA) Case Competition. With a well-pressed suit, flawless makeup, and bold heels, I was confident in my ability to slay the competition.

Just as we were all buckled up, and ready to pull off, I overheard one of my female teammates ask another female teammate, “Do you think it is okay if I put on some eyeliner?” And then without any hesitation, the other female teammate responded, “Absolutely NOT! Eyeliner is definitely NOT appropriate for any business event. That’s what my mother ALWAYS told me.” Meanwhile, I was in the front seat applying some mascara to further accentuate the eyeliner I already had on.

The use of makeup in the workplace has been a very complex issue for a very long time. Arguments range from whether makeup is required to what an “appropriate” amount of makeup looks like. Below, I address the employees’ and employers’ perceptions about this matter based on my personal plus gathered insights.

Employers, what your employees want you to know.

I don’t wear makeup to please you, I wear makeup to empower myself.

What gives someone added confidence? For some it’s cologne, for others it may be a positive affirmation, for me, it’s makeup. Makeup has the power to enhance one’s beauty. A touch of concealer and mascara to brighten and widen the eyes, a pat of highlighter for illumination, and defined, arched eyebrows to create an overall facelift, are just a few makeup techniques I use.

With just a stroke of a brush, I am able to create a polished and well-groomed look. A look that consequently creates an added level of confidence to lead a group presentation, to object at a team meeting, or to just get through the stress of a day. From discussion with friends, “poised”, “confident”, “well-groomed”, and “put together” were all words that came to mind when asked to describe the significance of makeup in their lives. In sum, makeup is an extension of one’s character.

Makeup attests to my sense of hard work and dedication.

  1. First, you prime.
  2. Next, you apply the foundation and concealer.
  3. Then you set the translucent powder and add a slight contour to define the face.
  4. Next comes the eyebrows: pluck, shade, and shape.
  5. Now add warmth to the face with an application of blush and highlighter.
  6. After, pat on some eyeshadow. Don’t forget to blend!
  7. Apply mascara and eyeliner to accentuate the eyes.
  8. Finish up with a nude lip, and a quick spritz of setting spray completes the look.

I’ve been doing makeup for three years now and I still average about 35 minutes to get through the entire process. Makeup is an art form that requires attention to detail, creativity, and control all traits that are transferable in the workplace. Such effort exemplifies one’s discipline and commitment to showing up polished and professional in all aspects of their life.

Your rules about makeup are outdated.

In the orientation packets of several internship positions I’ve held, I recall in almost all instances reading something that prohibited the use of some form of makeup. Whether it be to not wear eyeliner or not to wear a particular shade of lipstick, the profile of what “appropriate” makeup should look like has been defined to just one profile: the third image at the right. This standard ‘white woman profile’ fails to account for how different colors of makeup will appear on different skin tones.  While the presentation of makeup has evolved over the past few years, the workplace perception of makeup has remained stagnant. Companies continue to recycle the “rules and regulations” about makeup from past years without making any attempts to adopt any changes generated from social trends. Company workplace standards should not determine what makeup products are and aren’t allowed.

In the same breath, employers should not victimize employees who come in with very little to no makeup, such as the first two images. It was disturbing to read a Telegraph article which revealed from a survey that 61% of company executives admitted that female staff who chose not to wear makeup would have smaller chances of being promoted than those who do. Makeup is not a necessity, but rather one way to achieve a “poised appearance.” There are several aspects that contribute to one’s appearance, makeup just happens to be one option.

Employees, what your employers want you to know.

There is a time and place for everything.

When asked about their reservations against makeup, employers usually said it has to do with how a particular makeup “look” may be perceived. When I asked to elaborate, employers said that when a particular “look” is commonly seen in one setting, the connotations associated with that setting is then transferred to the workplace. For example, by duplicating a smokey-eye “look” that you wear to the club, for the office, the connotations associated with a club setting transfers to the workplace setting.

Therefore, makeup rules aren’t put in place to restrict one from fully expressing themselves, but instead, to uphold a particular workplace appearance that aligns with the company’s values. Something to note for client-facing employees is that a client’s perception of an employee shapes the company’s image in the client’s eyes. Thus, for employees who aren’t too well-versed on the appropriateness of makeup, outlining specific makeup guidelines are a preventative measure for the sake of upholding the company’s image.

So what’s the deal with makeup in the workplace?

The deal is that there is no need for a makeup policy in the workplace. However, there are a few points that employers and employees need to consider.

Employers:  Encourage self-empowerment, recognize its reflection of character, restrict judgment,  and adopt a growth mindset.

Employees: Filter your look based on the setting and uphold the company brand.

By adopting these considerations, makeup in the workplace won’t have to be dealt with.


Thank you for reading!

-Davele Zephyr