Reader Mail – Makeup Tips for the Summer

Because the usual author is on her honeymoon, today’s reader mail has graciously been answered by City Girl, who writes about a variety of topics pertaining to city living as a professional woman, including beauty and fashion for the workplace. City Girl is also an associate at a law firm in Washington, D.C.

I am wondering if you can do a post on what kind of make-up is appropriate for the office. Do you have to wear make-up at all? If so what should you wear? Are there particular brands you recommend? Any advice on this would be very helpful.

Office-appropriate makeup goes a long way towards adding polish to your image as a professional woman. It is not mandatory, nor need it be complicated or time-consuming, but it really adds to looking put-together – plus who doesn’t have a bad complexion day where you want to reach for concealer? I am personally of the school that if you wear makeup to feel put together when you interview, then you should wear makeup as a summer associate, because it will help you feel confident and put-together all summer. Either way, even if you don’t plan to wear much (or any) makeup, do consider some of the products below. If you had to pick just three products, I would recommend tinted moisturizer, mascara or eyeliner and some sort of lip a product.


Light coverage is best as it makes you look natural and polished and it’s easy to work with. I am a huge fan of tinted moisturizers and my top three picks for tinted moisturizer are Bobbi Brown, Laura Mercier (this comes in an oil-free version as well) and Smashbox. Bobbi Brown’s has the most range of colors, though all three have a fair number of shades. All three have good sun protection, and are very much fool-proof in that you can just apply with your fingertips and be done. If you are not used to wearing makeup often, this is a good way to add polish without fuss, foundation brushes and sponges or the risk of applying too much. It’s worth it to get matched at the department store though the beauty of tinted moisturizer is that it blends into your skintone because it is sheer. Another advantage to tinted moisturizer is that it survives summer heat much better than a medium or full coverage foundation.


If you are blessed with good skin, a tinted moisturizer will be enough. If not, you will want two kinds of concealer – a soft creamy one for under your eyes and a more pigmented one for any redness or blemishes. I love Laura Mercier’s Undercover Compact because it has both in a tidy little compact and some setting powder too. Perfect for touch-ups during the day. Incidentally, you don’t need to buy the taklon brush Laura Mercier recommends – just buy this Eco-Tools set. The concealer brush is very similar to the Laura Mercier brush, and the other brushes will take care of what you need for eyes and powder and blush


Again, you want light coverage – the best way to achieve that is with a finely milled powder. Some swear by loose powder for morning application and pressed powder for daytime touchups, but I think it’s fine to just invest in one pressed powder. That way you can use it in the morning and keep it in your purse for touch-ups. If you don’t get a transluscent powder, don’t try to mix and match colors across brands without testing the powders at the store. Generally, it’s just easier to buy the powder from the same place you bought the tinted moisturizer. The powder brush from the Eco-Tools set works great for both loose and pressed powder.


I love blush, but I don’t think your time as a summer associate is a good time to have lots of different blush looks. Use something very neutral and/or rosey and stick with it for the summer. I was a big fan of Laura Mercier’s Rose Petal when I was a summer, and her Wild Bouquet is lovely too. Nars has some good colors (just pick a color without chunky shimmer) that last and last and last, as does Bobbi Brown’s – just try blushes from their blush rather than their shimmer blush line. If you want to go the drugstore route, I like a lot of the blushes from Almay’s Pure Blends line — they are sheer and blend well.

-------Sponsored Links--------


Be very sparing with bronzer – you don’t want to look sunburnt – but it can give a nice glow. You could use it instead of blush, or with blush, as long as you use sparingly. I think Nars Casino and Laguna are great and don’t oxidize and go orange, and their slight shimmer is just the right amount to give a light glow without being too shimmery. I also really like Laura Mercier’s matte bronzers. If you get a drugstore bronzer, test it several times before using – the biggest downside of bronzer is that it can go orange, and that happens with many low-, medium- and high-end bronzers.

Eye makeup

The operative phrase here is a clean eye look – one base shadow (over some sort of a primer) that is close to your eyelid color, with just enough lightness to brighten up and open the eye, liner on the upper lids, and mascara. Crease shadow is not necessary but if you do want to do crease work, go for taupe. My absolutely foolproof combination for summer makeup that does not melt is Bobbi Brown’s Cream Eye Shadow as a base/primer followed by a dusting of either Bobbi Brown or Laura Mercier powder eye shadow (I prefer Sateen or Matte), and either Bobbi Brown gel liner or Clinique Cream Shaper Eyeliner and Organic Wear Mascara. If you have oily lids, Urban Decay’s Primer Potion is magic as primer, but otherwise the Bobbi cream shadow is great because it gives you the primer/base effect and some pigment. For mascara, pick something water-resistant and basic that doesn’t irritate your eyes. The only eye makeup item I really recommend not getting at the drugstore is a primer/cream base – everything else can easily be bought at the drugstore – Almay’s Pure Blends line is a good place to start. And avoid any liners that get too smudgey.


You will want something matte and understated, that enhances your lip color without being too flashy – also known as Your Lips But Better (YLBB). Besides avoiding anything too glossy, you have tons of choices. I often do just a basic tinted lip balm or lip stain as they are long-lasting, hydrating and give me just a bit of color, but a good basic lipstick works well too.

A note on makeovers at cosmetics counters…

…If you get one, go to Bobbi Brown or Laura Mercier. As someone who has had makeovers and owns makeup from pretty much every brand out there, I can assure you their makeup artists are really well-trained to put together an easy professional look suitable for all ages, including women in their 20s and 30s. In fact, that type of understated, low-shimmer but enhancing look is the cornerstone of these two brands. Bobbi and Laura makeup artists will understand what you mean if you ask for an understated professional look, with a clean eye, and will help you choose products and colors accordingly. Ask about how to line your upper lids if you don’t know how – I have received excellent tutorials that way. That said, as you can see from my recommendations above, the only things I really recommend buying high-end is tinted moisturizer/foundation, powder, concealer, and eyeshadow base. If cost is a concern, skip bronzer – it’s hard to find a good inexpensive one. Everything else (blush, shadows, mascara, even liner) you can easily get at the drugstore. I would say get the makeover before the drugstore shopping trip, because then you will have colors in mind when you shop.

Have a wonderful summer and feel free to ask questions here in the comments or over on my blog.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Pin on Pinterest


  1. Assuming one wears it every day, how long would the Laura Mercier tinted foundation last?

  2. For those who are makeup challenged, I totally recommend the bareminerals line from Barescentuals. It’s really easy to apply and hard to mess up and its easy to do just foundation/coverup/powder/mascara if you’re in a hurry or to add bronzer/blush/eye makeup if you’re got time. I totally made fun of my friend when she bought the starter kit because the sell it on tv shopping networks but I totally love it now and they have a store near me.

  3. I’ll add my two cents as well as I’m a makeup enthusiast and own a ton of it.

    Drugstore basics that I love:
    Maybelline Full and Soft Mascara – its very natural and doesn’t flake on me at all. $6
    Prestige Waterproof Eyeliners – tons of basic colors, easy to apply and smudgeproof. $3
    Carmindy for Sally Hansen – her blushes, eyeshadows, pressed powders and bronzers are all great choices. $10-12. I also love her lipstick but it can be very hard to see what color you are getting. Sparkling Berry is a creamy, matte, natural berry flush that I wear to the office quite often.

    Other comments:
    Don’t be afraid of MAC – the price points are lower for many things and you can get a makeover there for $40 – which you can put toward products. They have very experienced artists and if you tell them what you want, they can deliver. I don’t care for their foundations or concealers but I think their eyeliners, lipsticks and eyeshadows are some of the best you can buy. If you go to a free standing store, you can buy the eyeshadow in pans with a little palette – very convenient.

    MAC Sheertone Blushes are everyday staples for me when my Chanel and Nars blushes are just too much for work. I also use Painterly Paint Pot as my eyeshadow base when I’m in a hurry followed by a neutral taupe wash. BB Fawn is one of my favorite taupes.

    If lipstick isn’t your thing, definitely look at glosses. Not all of them have glitter or are juvenile. (See Laura Mercier’s Cinnamon as an example) I wear slightly shimmery sheer lipsticks all the time to the office from Dior and Armani. Very matte lipsticks can be too dense on me.

    But I agree totally with the poster – some makeup is necessary for a professional presentation. Tinted Moisurizer, Mascara and a lip product would be mine top choices as well (I’m a brunette) but if you are fair-haired or a redhead, I’d also wear an eyeliner to make sure your features have definition under harsh conference room lighting.

    My look today:
    Becca TM in Cashmere
    Paula’s Choice Matte sheer blush in Nude Pink
    Dior High Shine Lipstick in Beige-a-Porter (actually not beige, more of a natural lip color with a bit of light reflection)
    Chanel Ombre D’Eau Fluid eyeshadow in Beach (champagne wash)
    LM Cake Liner in Black (I never, ever leave the house without this but its more work than most people are willing to put into an eyeliner. That said, I’ve been through three Black Ebony’s because for me, this is the best there is.)
    Maybelline Full in Soft

    This took about 4 minutes this morning!

  4. I will second the Bobby Brown/Laura Mercier advice. My other piece of advice? Don’t just show up at the counter- call ahead & schedule an appointment on a slow night (Tuesdays & Wednesdays….) so you have the full, undivided attention of the make-up artist. Then, nicely by firmly explain you are a beginner & you are not looking for a “night-time” look. They can certainly show you how to transition your look from day to night for an evening out, but don’t let them push you into something you find heavy or too much for your day to day work. Oh and always start with a good moisturizer & good brushes- Sephora makes some brush kits at a nice price that will help you get the job done without over applying or making you look like a clown. Finally, it takes time. The first 10 times you start to do it yourselve you are not going to like it. It takes practice, and if you stick with it (and find a good face wash!) you’ll settle into a routine that works for you.

  5. totally agree on Bobbi Brown and Laura Mercier as reliable and worth it, especially for foundation and tinted moisturizer. If you don’t have time for a make-up lesson/make-over and feel you could use the instruction, take a look at Bobbi Brown Beauty – book with good solid general tutorials, can get it v cheaply used or at the library.

    On good skin days in hot summer when I still want a little polish, I mix a few drops of Bobbi Brown oil-free even finish foundation with my own moisturizer — feels less weighty than normal foundation, it’s my normal moisturizer so I am used to it, so it just evens things out rather than looking masklike. Dab of concealer here and there, bit of powder to set, brush off excess, do eyes and lips (MAC lipstick or maybe Nars, dahling), takes no time at all.

  6. i don’t wear much makeup–usually just mascara and more often lately, none at all–but this was very informative. thanks!

  7. Yes, you should wear makeup. This is not a law firm thing, it’s a life thing. If you don’t know how to apply it, go to Bare Escentuals and have someone show you.

  8. Great post! Citygirllife YOU ROCK! and I agree. you def. need office appropriate make up! :)

  9. I love mineral makeup too, but I stay away from Bare Minerals because they have some ingredient that makes me itch like crazy!

    I use – finding a color on the internet was a bit difficult but you can order yourself as many free sample kits as it takes to find your match

    I love it so much I threw out all my non-EveryDay Minerals makeup and use this exclusively now.

  10. My daily rundown:

    Smashbox concealer for under eyes/T-zone/any blemishes

    Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer (expensive but love it)

    Bare Escentuals loose powder and blush

    Bare Escentuals eye shadow, dry in creases and wet to line lids

    Sephora eye pencil in the corner of my eyes (sometimes)

    Sephora dark brown mascara

    Sephora lip gloss

    It SOUNDS like a lot, but it all comes out very natural-looking, and most of it does last all day. Using the Smashbox concealer and the loose powder keep my skin tone even all day long.

    When I’m in a rush, I use the tinted moisturizer, blush and mascara only. And put on the lip gloss when I’m sitting at a red light. :)

  11. I can’t believe anyone would go to work without a bit of makeup! Mascara/ Concealer is a must! I am a fan of great makeup. Much like the way we wear our hair and jewelry, it should project an image that is professional, stylish, and classy. A little makeup goes a long way in making someone look “put together”.

    My makeup changes with my clothing.

    My eyes are my assets, so I play them up the most. I like a light pink blush and a lipstick that matches my top (if my top is light, then light pink. . . if my top is a deep red, then a classy shade with a red hue). Makeup does not have to be expensive. Some of my favorites are Loreal mascara and lipliners. My favorite blush is Elizabeth Arden. When I wear my hair up, I tend to wear a bit darker makeup to show that I am “put together” and not “rolling out of bed”.

  12. Oh, by the way, look up before purchasing a product. People leave their comments, impressions, and rate products.

  13. I fought it for many years, but have come to agree that even just a little makeup will give you a more polished professional look–but too much is very unflattering. I am a minimalist with makeup and a bargain hunter by nature. I am lucky to have good skin so I can get away with just a tinted moisturizer and some eye and lip products.

    Please check out the Paula’s Choice line. She makes only “natural” looking shades of makeup (very few of her products have shimmer) and it’s department store quality for reasonable prices. You can get samples of all her products for a minimal price before you buy full size. Her website also contains a number of “how to” videos for help with application or with particular problems (rosacea, acne, etc). She got her start reviewing cosmetics and debunking all the hype, and a sampling of those reviews are on her website as well.

    • Makeup helps women enhance their dark/light contrast which will help them to hold attention longer in the workplace. Agreed Pam — too much makeup can be distracting. A lot of the club evening style makeup has found its way into the work environment. As fun as it is, there is a time and a place!

  14. For my lips I use plain vaseline from the pharmacy… All the talk about what dangerous chemicals there are in normal lipglosses just freaks me out. Vaseline works quite well as lipgloss, actually.

  15. Ashley, I LOVE that site!!!

  16. I would like to add that if you have acne-prone skin, consider NOT wearing foundation, or if you must, invest in a good powder-based foundation, like MAC Studiofix or a Bare Minerals-type powder compact.

    Also note that no matter what your makeup look, if you are sitting under an AC vent all day (as most office buildings are air conditioned), make sure to check your makeup at least a few times a day as it might “drip.”

    When I tended to work late hours, I would wash my face and reapply around 7pm if I was going to be in the office until midnight or so….just piling on more makeup makes things worse, after a certain point, and sometimes your skin likes to breathe!

  17. I agree that makeup is (unfortunately) required for today’s professional female look. However, wearing makeup isn’t a “life” thing at all! That kind of thinking leads to the full-face-of-makeup-at-the-gym look. Yuck!

  18. I’m glad you addressed this. I struggle with acne, and makeup (no matter what kind/brand – I’ve tried them all) just makes my skin worse, but I can’t go without makeup because my skin looks so bad. It’s very difficult to put together a polished, professional look in that situation and I appreciate the advice.

  19. Remember the sunscreen! (Neutrogena or Kiehl’s get my vote).

    Also, I really like Clinique’s superbalm with colors in it. Feels like lip balm, but with a hint of color to look like a light gloss. Also, carry blotting papers or keep them in your desk. I use Bare Escentuals for concealer, powder, and bronzer, Bobbi Brown for blush, and Mac for eye color.

    I skimp on mascara, which I wear everyday. Cover Girl’s Professional line works just fine.

    Carry blotting papers in your bag. I also keep disposable face wipes for late night work. It feels so good to have a clean face after 10pm!

  20. wow, i’m surprised by all the people insisting on makeup as a necessity (without even knowing what people look like without it)–sounds a bit like the male partner at a big law firm that recently said all female associates must wear makeup. some women have naturally great skin, or full lashes, or rosey lips, and i would argue, shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken. i find it a bit unsettling that so many women think it’s a must for absolutely every professional woman. why must a professional woman’s skin be unrealistically flawless but not a professional man’s?

    perhaps it’s just that the women who sometimes or always don’t wear makeup (b/c trust me, there are alot of us and we’re still stylish and well-groomed) just skipped this post.

    if you enjoy wearing makeup, great. but, if not . . . well, as long as you still look groomed & professional, then who cares?