You should wear makeup to work

Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on how women can damage their careers by not putting on makeup.


While not all of us are experts at statement lips, contouring, smokey eyes and highlighting, most Irish women know how to apply a bit of slap to make themselves feel “presentable” for the workday. While men get away with a shower and (hopefully) a spritz of deodorant, many women feel obliged to do even a basic makeup look before heading into work. Another gender norm to thank society for - add to the list beside “have a perfect body” and “be a career woman but don’t seem ambitious” and “always put others ahead of yourself”.

Make-up is an expensive business. The average woman will spend more than €21,000 in her lifetime on make-up and skincare between the ages of 18 and 82 and a half, according to Superdrug. Of this, €11,320.88 will be spent on makeup, while €10,130.14 a lifetime will be spent on skincare products such as cleansers, toners, moisturisers, eye creams, face masks and wipes. Plus, it is so time-consuming. The average woman spends 29 minutes a day and ten products to achieve a “natural look”, Superdrug found.  

Many people believe that women are not “polished” or professionally turned out if they do not wear makeup. Some employers in Ireland even regulate make-up in their dress codes, which they are legally allowed to do. Although different requirements may be in place for male and female employees (for example, women might have to wear makeup, men might have to wear a tie), if there is a dress code for women there must be a dress code for men also.

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I’ve spent enough time and money on it over the years to know that makeup can be fun. Indeed, it is almost like an art form to some people. But it is a fact that women would save time and money not wearing makeup to work. So should you be slapping it on every morning? Unfortunately, science says you should.

A study carried out by Boston University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 2011 found that women who wore a “professional” amount of makeup at work were regarded as “capable, reliable, and amiable,” and ultimately, “more competent” than those women who did not wear any. Another study published in Scientific American Mind in 2016 found that women wearing makeup were seen by men (but not women) as more prestigious and seen by women (but not men) as more dominant than those who do not wear makeup.

As far back as 1997, a study published in the Gender and Society journal found that many women find pleasure in wearing makeup but they are limited in resisting to use it because of the institutional constraints imposed by the workplace.

If your workplace does not have a dress code that requires you to wear makeup, then it is technically your choice whether you do or not. But it is worth being aware that no makeup might negatively impact your employer’s and your colleagues’ perceptions of you. It’s not much of a choice, I know. To counteract the unfairness of it all, may I suggest doing your makeup on the bus or the train on the way to work - it’ll help you stand up to the patriarchy a little bit and will maximise your sleeping time.  

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