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I work at a small tech company in the accounting department. Our dress code is business casual, but most of the rank-and-file dress toward the casual end of that.

I am female, in my early twenties. I was raised in a very conservative family and never wore makeup growing up. I never bothered with it in college, and have no current interest in learning how to do makeup. My skin isn't perfect, but neither is it terrible (occasional slight acne).

Up until now I have been working on internal projects, but will soon be in a position to interact with some clients and representatives from other companies we do business with. I am worried about giving an unprofessional first impression (and thereby reflecting poorly on my company) if I do not wear makeup.

Is this a reasonable concern? Will not wearing makeup harm my professional career? Should I spend the time, money, and energy to learn how to do makeup?

Edit: I'm working in Atlanta, GA, USA. Clients I would be working with are primarily from around the US.

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    I appreciate all the responses given. My main takeaway is that yes, if I wish to be taken seriously, light, professional makeup will not hurt, and not wearing it could hurt. Thanks all! – Sigma Dec 30 '18 at 19:50
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    Late to the party, but I'm also a dev and I love makeup. I felt that, in some of my jobs, I was taken less seriously for having obvious makeup on (blue eyeshadow, for example). But light, 'nude' makeup seemed to have a positive impact always, perhaps because it makes you look less tired/more awake? Anyway, if you do feel the need to put makeup on but a full face makes you uncomfortable, I suggest only concealer, skintone eyeshadow and some mascara. Hope this helps! – Tuma Jan 2 at 11:11

12 Answers 12

129

The previous answers are very optimistic. However, the truth is the answer to your question depends a lot on:

  • the country you are in,
  • the state of your skin,
  • the industry and your role.

Normally, the safest option in terms of your career is for your look to correspond to other women's looks in the industry and country you work in. You can try not to adjust and become a trendsetter in this respect, but the result of this is normally uncertain and you need quite a lot of power to be successful.

I've worked in several countries and whereas in some of them I've seen plenty of women not wearing makeup in business situations, independently of acne/ bad skin, in others this was almost unheard of. When I didn't wear it once or twice, it got noticed and quite probably, commented on.

The industry plays a role too since e.g. in law or investment banking people are expected to follow a much more conservative style than in tech (at least in "my" countries). I've been rejected from one of those jobs with a justification "you don't look like [profession]" (yes, it was an asshole thing to do and even illegal, but: see the disclaimer). However, tech is quite good in this respect I would think.

All this plays a much lesser role if your skin is very good of course.


Disclaimer: In my answer, I addressed the question of whether women are expected to wear makeup and whether not wearing it can affect their careers. I didn't address the question about whether it's fair/ whether they should be expected to wear makeup, which is a completely different question.

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    FWIW this applies to men as well in terms of grooming. It's a lot less obvious but you do get noticed if you are out of norm – slebetman Dec 31 '18 at 4:02
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    The connection to grooming (I assume facial grooming specifically) is interesting. As a customer facing employee who is male, I would be expected to well groomed, and more importantly dressed for the situation. I suppose the best advice might be, take the necessary steps to look professional, whatever those steps might be. – Donald Dec 31 '18 at 6:18
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    @slebetman, Ramhound, What does grooming have to do with make-up? The topic of this thread is make-up. It's not the same as grooming precisely because it applies only to women. It's clear that both genders (not only men) are expected to do grooming but it's simply not the same as make-up. Not to mention that employers' requirements concerning grooming would be legal in most cultures as they don't differ according to gender. The situation with make-up is different. Only women are expected to put foundation on their faces for example. – BigMadAndy Dec 31 '18 at 7:32
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    Re: "When I didn't wear it once or twice, it got noticed and quite probably, commented on": I think that if you normally wear makeup, it will really stand out when you skip a day, much more so than if you never wear makeup to begin with. (In fact, depending on your makeup style, your male coworkers might not even realize that you normally wear makeup, until you skip a day. Even then, they may just think you look pale or ill or something.) – ruakh Dec 31 '18 at 7:47
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    @BigMadAndy Generally speaking, only men are expected to shave their faces. While in many ways a different thing from make-up, for the purpose of slebetman and Ramhound’s comments, it’s a reasonably similar thing. I used to work as a (non-customer-facing) student temp in a bank, and I was explicitly required to shave every day as part of the dress code; I’m quite sure that was not required of the female employees there. I don’t know whether there were any requirements for them regarding make-up, though. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 1 at 16:28
82

I'm a senior technical architect, female (and umm, not in my early twenties any more), and I really only wear makeup if I'm going into meetings with our larger clients where I need to be more formal. Day to day, I just don't wear it. It costs a bomb and looks crappy by the end of the day unless you spend significant amounts of time either preparing beforehand or repairing during the day.

There are plenty of other women I've worked with who wear makeup every day, and others who never do and it hasn't seemed to have any particular impact on their careers either way. It comes down to being an effective team member, not what shade of lipstick you wear.

My preference is just to wear makeup for the really formal stuff where I'm representing the company to outward facing clients (and then only really light), otherwise nope :) But that is simply my preference. The choice really is yours!

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    It could be useful for OP if you could give a tip on the "really light" aspect; what's a "minimalistic" setup that she could use to appease her worries without too much investment (both in skill, time and money)? – Matthieu M. Dec 30 '18 at 14:33
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    @MatthieuM. For me, it's a light foundation and powder to set it, lipstick, eyeliner, and mascara. The effect is to smooth and accentuate things, not look like I'm wearing heavy makeup. – Jane S Dec 30 '18 at 23:04
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    On the other hand, if OP has no experience with makeup whatsoever, using a full face of foundation might be a bit severe without a bit of practice (source: I am terrible at it). Depending on skin, spot treatments over some primer might be okay, if the colour is well matched. – la femme cosmique Dec 31 '18 at 16:02
  • I'm an older woman in tech, and other than occasionally using a skin colored concealer when I have a zit, I use no makeup. I don't think anyone notices now, because it's what they expect from me. – thursdaysgeek Dec 31 '18 at 16:36
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    @lafemmecosmique I said what I wear, not what I recommend :) I'm not a makeup artist, if she wants advice on what to wear, then she is far better speaking to someone who is. – Jane S Dec 31 '18 at 23:22
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I really want to tell you that makeup doesn't matter, but that would be bending the truth.

The shade of your lipstick and whether or not you wear mascara is inconsequential as long as you don't overdo it. You cannot "underdo" the nude look.

But in case of acne your skin makes you look younger to most people (because acne is attributed to teenagers). This may lead to people underestimating you and your professional experiences. I'm not saying you won't get the same amount of respect, but you'll have to convince them before being respected.

In your everyday office life, there is no need at all to wear makeup if you don't want to. On special occasions like meetings with customers or salary negotiations I advice you to at least slightly cover any skin problems. No one will openly discriminate you for your looks, but the subtle psychological preconception may make your life a tiny bit harder without anyone consciously deciding to make it so.

Be aware, though, that badly done makeup with obvious lines and edges is just as much attributed to teenagers as acne is. Watch some makeup tutorials online and get advice in a good makeup or drug store on how to look professional.

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I am a Senior Software Engineer, and I have not worn makeup for most of my career, and it has never held me back. Just as a fyi, in most cases requiring women to wear makeup can be a discrimination issue, especially if it is not relevant to your job. For example, it would be acceptable for a fashion model, though not as an accountant, where your deliverable is basically your math skills. There have been precedent-setting cases related to this issue, such as Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins. (Please note that I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.)

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    Hi @JanetPlanet, I don't think the OP is saying that she is being told that she is required to wear it, no employer on the planet is going to put that on paper as it's a lawsuit waiting to happen. It's more about the social expectation and pressure put on women that we need to wear makeup to appear "professional". The OP is wanting to know if by not doing so, will she be adversely impacted "off-the-record" if she doesn't wear it. – Jane S Dec 30 '18 at 7:01
  • The PWC case showed it is not legal to require female interns to wear high heel shoes in the UK, and it can get you slaughtered in the press and made a laughing stock as a company.. – gnasher729 Dec 30 '18 at 23:43
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    @JaneS "No employer on the planet" - there are plenty of employers not in North America or Europe. Pretty sure that for some of them it would not be a lawsuit waiting to happen. – Martin Bonner Dec 31 '18 at 13:26
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    @martinbonner I am in neither North America nor Europe. – Jane S Dec 31 '18 at 15:31
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    @JaneS I believe Martin is talking about businesses in countries without the workplace equality laws that we find standard. – bxk21 Dec 31 '18 at 16:49
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There are several good answers from women. As a male, I would point out that a man's reaction to a woman's personal appearance, and whether she wears makeup, can be sexist, subconscious, involuntary, illogical, unfair, and impossible to predict. For example, a certain style of glossy lipstick may have the effect of infantilizing a woman subconsciously in some men's eyes. I know plenty of women, including my wife and my mother, who have had successful careers without ever wearing any makeup to work.

So given that the effects are unknowable and may average out to zero, it might make more sense to continue being yourself, not wearing makeup, and focusing your efforts on the purely professional aspects of your work life that are what matter in the end. People in a professional setting are dealing with lots and lots of different human beings, and they know that they don't all come off an assembly line like Ken and Barbie dolls.

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    +1 for pointing out that it can do more harm than good. I have known many women who fret over their makeup, and yet on the occasions when I have seen them without it, I find that they look better, and not worse, without it. I've mentioned this and they react with surprised disbelief. Conclusion: I wish the stuff had never been invented. – EvilSnack Jan 2 at 3:11
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All the other answers seem to be guessing. But let's look at research. And research shows that - as much as one hates to admit that, and as depressing as the fact are regarding superficiality of humankind, looks matter greatly to your professional success.

This is true for both women and men, and is called "beauty premium".

As such, if people perceive you to be better looking based on makeup, it will - unfortunately - lead to better effect on your career.

Obviously, the impact will vary depending on your role, your culture, your other qualities, and other things, as many other answers noted.

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    This means nothing without going into the question of whether wearing makeup makes you look better. – hkBst Jan 1 at 13:16
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    @hkBst - if it didn't women wouldn't be spending billions of dollars a year buying it and millions of hours a year applying it, presumably. Although personally I'm not a fan of makeup :) – user13655 Jan 1 at 13:39
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    There are alternative explanations. Wishful thinking and commercials make a powerful combination... – hkBst Jan 1 at 13:44
  • There are 3 problems with your answer. The first was pointed out by hkBst. The second is that you just quote one or two flashy articles, without contextualizing them. There is, e.g., some research that suggests attractive women are discriminated against during recruitment process since most HR employees are female and prefer women less attractive than themselves. Thirdly, it's not sure if the studies that point to the existence of "beauty premium" controlled for the effect of class (people from richer backgrounds look better and have better careers), which would put the results in question. – BigMadAndy Jan 1 at 15:00
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    @BigMadAndy That's the whole point or maintaining your looks: if you look upclass, people will treat you bit more upclass, and that gives you an edge over your coworkers. – Agent_L Jan 2 at 10:17
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I rather agree with BigMadAndy regarding the optimism of the other answers. The thing this depends on not only the country (this is huge though things that will go unnoticed in the UK might be a big deal in the Czech republic and an end of sales problem in Asia and vice versa) but also very much on the role (Programmer, Architect, Project Manager, Manager, Sales etc.).

For mostly inward facing jobs that occasionally work with a customer it's usually the smallest issue. Even when you do work with the customer they know you are not "the face of the company". No one really usually expects a programmer be they male or female to do much more than put on clean clothes (I'm exaggerating a bit), but the further you move towards the customer facing jobs the worse it gets. As a male manager I'm not only expected to dress the part (this is the only place where men are more scrutinized than women, at least by men) but also do some (admittedly minimal) grooming. I can't afford to have a two day beard or have a non standard haircut.

When you get to sales proper (and that sometime includes project managers) it gets even worse. If you want to be really good, there you really want to know the customer and their preference. Some will prefer that you look unobtrusive and mousey (yes for men too not just women) some prefer someone flashy and glamorous. Knowing what to look and act like can be the difference between selling a product/project and leaving empty handed.

Note: While appearance is traditionally more important for women it's not exclusive and as there are many more women in management these days it is becoming more important for men too.

7

I have seen some very technically strong women and women who had great managerial skills who looked like plain Janes. But, everyone and anyone who worked with them admired them to the moon and back. It was all about their competency. Not to mention they had no makeup and not even a proper hair do. And yes, both of them had to meet clients day in and day out and they even represented their own respective companies. Nothing but their abilities mattered at the end of the day.

Will not wearing makeup harm my professional career?

No, it won't; Make up hides the imperfections and most importantly it boosts one's confidence. If one can exhibit their confidence without makeup, then why even bother about it?

Should I spend the time, money, and energy to learn how to do makeup?

Nah... just go with the basics. Grooming is more important than make up; chapped lips, unkempt hair, unclean nails etc are a put off. But, that is grooming not make up.

All said, I love to make up my face. I spend only ten minutes of my time in the morning; I attribute that to my understanding of my skin and practice. I do not spend much either.

  • Exactly. I've never once worn makeup to work. One of my female colleagues "does her face" if she has to meet customers, and the colleagues wonder if she's going out for dinner afterwards or something. – RedSonja Dec 31 '18 at 11:28
  • +1 for "self confidence". It's very subjective, but if you roll that way, it helps internally regardless of other people's views of makeup. – user13655 Dec 31 '18 at 18:32
  • Good points. No one else mentioned that learning to do makeup takes time and effort. If Sigma has never worn makeup before, my guess is that her first efforts are going to be a source of stress and discomfort for her (although I may be projecting here a bit). @Sigma, put the effort you would have spent learning to do makeup into any other sort of professional development, and it will serve you just as well. Whatever nebulous benefit you may have gained from makeup may not be outweighed by the added stress, time, effort, and expense of adding a makeup routine to your life. – Guildenstern Jan 2 at 17:56
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It's not about makeup.

People who see you for the first time will judge you by your looks. Whether that is the right thing to do or not, that's what they do. So if you go to a client who sees you for the first time, they will judge you by your looks.

Good makeup will make you look attractive. But your customer will not care much (professionally) whether their accountant is attractive, they want an accountant who is competent. The makeup doesn't make you look competent. Instead you might want to get help from a professional picking clothes, possibly a hairstyle, that make you look competent.

  • Good answer. You do not want to deflect attention from your skills. – RedSonja Dec 31 '18 at 11:25
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    "Good makeup will make you look attractive" - citation needed. It may make the OP look more professional, and hence be taken seriously. – Martin Bonner Dec 31 '18 at 13:28
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    While a woman should never try to deflect attention from skills to look, instinctively other people (men and women) will prefer, between two people with same skills, the greatest-looking one. That's just human psychology. – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Jan 2 at 15:41
0

I'm not one for putting a whole lot of time into my appearance. I stay clean, but that's about it. My idea of matching clothes is buying solid color shirts and khakis so I don't have to spend time color coding things in the mornings. My most significant hair care solution is cutting my hair very short (1" or less), so I don't have to comb it, ever.

That said, a woman who wears a little makeup can make men follow them and do whatever they want. I'm not advocating using a trowel to put on your makeup, just a little to enhance your skin.

Since you work in tech, I'm going to assume you don't get outdoors much. You might be as "pasty white" as the rest of us. (Yes, I've seen pasty skin that wasn't Caucasian.) Adding a little color to your cheeks and lips can make you appear to be more healthy, which makes both men and women want to be more like you. It works even better if it's not obviously makeup. Done "right", people might ask if you've been hitting the gym, got a new SO, or doing something different with your hair, instead of assuming you're getting the color from a jar.

If you naturally have shiny skin, you might want to tone it down a little, since that's often considered oily, sweaty, or something otherwise offensive, even if that's not the truth. On the other side of that coin, if you naturally have skin that looks "too dull", it can be perceived as super dry, as if you're constantly washing it, which can also make you look "too young".

Hiding acne, which you mention you have (I have it too, at 40), might not hurt either. Too many times, people focus on that sort of thing instead of you or what you're talking about.

You don't necessarily have to do this on your average day, where you are just interacting with co-workers who know you for more than just your face. However, you might consider doing this for meetings with outside customers, especially with people you haven't worked with before. If you do the makeup right, after they get to know you, you can drop the makeup and they won't probably even notice.

Full disclosure: I'm a man that grew up fairly "traditionally" in the Midwest, where women wearing modest makeup is considered normal. My personal preference on makeup varies wildly. I've seen women that look gorgeous with no makeup, and then I can swing to liking the looks of the professionally made up model. I can also like women who really go all out and completely transform their looks, like on the rare makeup tutorial I've accidentally stumbled onto on YouTube. I also respect women who don't care for makeup at all or only use it sparingly. My opinion on most everything is "Do what you like, as you are the one that has to live with it."

0

Coming late to the party and with >10 answers already, I still want to chip in because I did not see one aspect mentioned that I consider important.

What does make-up signal about you? Two things: Honesty and diligence.

Honesty first: Without make-up you show yourself as you are. Nothing is hidden, nothing is manipulated. This demonstrates that you are content with yourself and don't feel that you need to hide something. In a technical profession, you would be judged by your competence more than anything else, at least when more than a superficial first impression is concerned. Wearing make-up and showing gaps in your competence would make others judge you as shallow and fake.

This is different in professions where the first impression is very important. Sales and marketing would be obvious examples. In sales, your performance will be easy to measure, and if you are good you can get away without make-up. But it becomes worse in areas where the quality of your work is more subjective. Most people in marketing are not only good at selling a product but also at selling themselves. Here, make-up is more important if you want to look professional and will direct others to judge you more positively - looking like a wallflower will bias their judgement into a direction which will be hard to change later no matter how good your work is.

Now to diligence: If you put some effort into improving your looks, it reflects positively on your personality. Don't overdo it, though, and always be aware that your opinion and that of others has been heavily influenced by advertising. The massive amount of money spent on promoting essentially useless products does have consequences, at least subconsciously. The biggest make-up producers typically spend nearly 30% of revenues only on promoting their products. This will leave traces in peoples' minds - why else would so much money be spent each year?

But more important than your make-up will be your hairdo and your clothes. Messy hair and sloppy clothes will reflect poorly on your personality, more than not applying make-up will. If you wear clean and neat clothes, you don't need make-up to show that you take care in yourself and, by extension, in your work.

-1

First thing first, if you really want to make a good impression, have a couple of consultations with a good stylist, not a visagist(make up person) but an actual stylist. A couple of nice suits and a little change of posture can do wonders ;-)

Don't forget about accessories and hair style.

Take a leaf out of black women's book and find a lotion that fits your skin and use regularly, that should help to make your skin healthier, also making you look more professional.

One of the best advises I've been given was to use good quality virgin olive oil on my skin at leas once a day, as it is full of vitamins good for your skin, but also has a high natural SPF so good for summers as well :-)

Just remember that your target is to look professional and reliable not to spend money on make up you don't need when you can get away with just very little lipstick :-)

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