Wear Makeup, Increase Your Salary?

Wear Makeup, Increase Your Salary?“How a Little Lipstick Could Add Thousands To Your Paycheck” — that’s the title of a recent Fortune article reporting on a new study. Anyone else feeling a little stabby? We thought we’d take a closer look at the research and discuss it here. Some questions to consider at the outset: Do you agree that “good grooming” affects your salary and career success? Do you think there are other correlations at play (e.g., women who make more have more money to spend on grooming, or successful women are more organized to remember to schedule things like regular haircuts and drycleaning)? 

So, the study: Last week, Fortune reported on some research about the effects of looking “put together” at work. Two sociologists found a new way of crunching data from a study that looked at how people’s ratings on attractiveness and grooming compared to their income levels. “Grooming” in this case meant how “put together” they looked, which included makeup for women. Their analysis revealed that for women, “grooming was actually more important than looks when it came to earnings.” Men’s grooming affected their salaries to a lesser extent, while men’s and women’s salaries got the same boost from being considered attractive. The sociologists found that “[A] well-groomed woman of average attractiveness makes about $6,000 more annually than an average-looking, averagely-groomed woman. She also makes about $4,000 more than her better-looking, but less put-together coworker.” Researchers saw this as a positive, concluding, “[t]he big takeaway here is that people can capture most of the attractiveness premium [through putting effort into their appearance]… It’s not just what you’re born with.”

A few years ago, we discussed the effects of makeup at work in an open thread that responded to a New York Times article about a similar study. That study found that when a woman chooses to wear makeup at work, it “increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, her competence and (provided she does not overdo it) her trustworthiness,” but the findings featured in Fortune seem to add a new angle to the issue.

This kind of article is ripe for satire — one example that touches on the issue is a McSweeney’s piece by Maura Quint called “How to Negotiate a Raise (If You’re a Woman),” which riffs on the double standards and other challenges women face at work. One part advises women on office makeup:

Do not wear too much makeup as this will make you look “cheap and unprofessional” nor should you avoid makeup as you will look “old and tired” and therefore more invisible than Wonder Woman’s plane. Question how Wonder Woman was able to afford that plane given the wage gap. Look into government grants.

Kat’s take: To me, grooming is much bigger than makeup — and it gets at a number of things we’ve talked about over the years here. A woman wearing a wrinkled suit with stains is not going to save that look with a swipe of lipstick and eyeliner, because the impression of a disorganized person is already there.

So, readers: What do you think about this new research (and accompanying headlines) — do you find it rage-inducing, or do you just feel resigned? Do studies like these affect your office-makeup habits at all? Do you ever wear makeup to look more professional, “likable,” or “competent,” or do you simply wear makeup because you like how it looks? Or, do you not wear it at all, no matter how it might affect you at work? 


  1. This is great, but I worried that I’m not the most put together, so what is the secret for being “put together”. Is there a cheat sheet or list like
    – well-tailored clothing that’s clean? Does being in fashion/pricey clothing matter? or is well fitting enough?

    – light makeup? Is makeup required?

    – shoes- polished, obviously, but I’m bad at walking in heels, so I wear flats. I think tripping is less professional that being taller

    – hair- do I need to blowdry it every day?

    – nails/other- eyebrows maintained? manicure regularly required or are clean/short nails fine?

    – anything else?

    • -Well fitting clothing is much more important than expensive clothing.
      -I think almost all women need mascara. It helps so much and it is really only about 60 seconds of effort. You look instantly awake. ( I also do concealer and eyebrows for a light look that takes 3 minutes)
      -Basic well kept shoes. Heels don’t really matter, but scuffs and wear look bad.
      -I don’t think there is a blanket statement for hair since it is so wildly different person to person.
      -Clean short nails are the bare minimum, manicures are nice. Nothing is worse than scraggly dirty nails.

      • Anonymous :

        disagree on mascara for all

        in a few hours, mascara gives me a full-on raccoon eye. I have a squinty smile and my eyelashes already hit my glasses, so it’s just a hot mess.

        sloppy =/= professional

        as a brunette, i don’t look bad sans mascara, but i look awful / concerning with it

        • Minnie Beebe :

          Try Blinc mascara. It’s the only mascara that doesn’t give me raccoon eyes (and I’ve tried a number of supposedly waterproof varieties over the years – I’m in my early 40’s)

      • Anonymama :

        Yeah, I mostly agree with you, but not on the mascara, especially for women with glasses or with naturally dark eyelashes (i.e., most women of color). And I think the manicure advice may vary with location… Where I am, short and clean seems more common with professional women.

    • – Well-tailored clothing is a must. It doesn’t HAVE to be pricey, but you’re doing yourself a disservice over the long-term if you’re not investing in quality pieces. You will spend just as much time and money tailoring the $10 ponte knit dress from Target as a similarly-fitting $200 ponte knit dress from Classiques. The difference is the Target dress will pill and generally show its wear much faster. So then you have to go through the hassle of finding a replacement, go to the tailor twice, pay for tailoring, etc.

      – Makeup isn’t required if you have perfect skin. If your skin is blotchy, has sun spots or acne scars, or you have under eye circles, you need to at least use concealer. Fwiw, I think this applies to men too. Blotchy-faced men with bags under their eyes do not inspire confidence any more than a woman who has the same skin issues. The difference is that men can cover some of it up with a well-maintained beard.

      – Flats are perfectly professional. Same rules apply as any other shoe – minimal scuffing should be tolerated.

      – Hair should be neat. That doesn’t mean you have to wash or blowdry it every day. Stick it in a bun or pull it back. Dry shampoo is your friend. But hair should never look greasy.

      – Eyebrows should be neat. No rogue hairs looking like they’re trying to escape your face. If you choose to pluck or wax, you need to maintain it. Having random black dots covering your brow area does not look tidy. No nail polish is required, but if you choose to have polish then it needs to be maintained strictly. Yes that includes clear, don’t think I can’t see that 2-week old clear polish peeling off your nails.

      • Quality pieces are nice in theory and in a vacuum. In my real life, I’m much more likely to irreparably stain, rip, or otherwise ruin a garment before I need to replace it. So, I’m not spending money on quality pieces that I will need to replace.

        And I hope I don’t have to work with you when I’m between eyebrow waxes. Sheesh.

        • The OP asked! And she is getting answers. This whole website is about looking put together so if you want Einstein eyebrows, that’s okay, but people are gonna notice.

      • Nancy Raygun :

        Well dang, m’am. I’ll keep my crazy-ass eyebrows over here. But on a serious note, this goes to show that everybody’s standards are totally different. Someone else is probably reading this and thinking “who cares about eyebrows, but scuffed shoes are a travesty!” Also, I really think a lot of people don’t care about “perfect” skin. This is just me, but I purposely avoid concealer. I know it looks better, but that’s right over the line of stuff I don’t want to feel bad about when I’m not wearing it. I don’t judge anybody for having scars, or acne, or under eye circles. But this is coming from someone who has spent crazy money on laser hair removal for my chin.

      • Anonymous :

        I’ve never touched my eyebrows and they are big. I don’t get the obsession with perfect brows. I wear concealer in the winter when my skin is red but zits and sunspots; who cares. Mascara most of the time, but not allergy season since I’ll end up looking like a not as adorable racoon. Nothing is required, just do you.

        • Pretty Primadonna :

          Because brows frame the face, keeping them shaped in a way suitable to accent your eyes, etc. is an easy way to look (more?) polished.

        • Anonymous :

          I don’t worry about my brows (naturally big and dark) being perfect at all times, but I do get them shaped professionally once a month and use tweezers in between if I notice strays. It’s the highest ROI grooming, in my opinion. I can be bare-faced bit still look reasonably put together if my brows look good.

      • Anonymama :

        But what do I do when you can see my thick dark eyebrow hairs coming in before they actually are far enough out to be pluck-able?! I do try to keep them groomed, but I secretly think thicker brows make me look slightly more authoritative. Although may also contribute to my RBF.

        • Totally keep your thick eyebrows. But there’s a difference between thick (but well-groomed) eyebrows, and thick eyebrows + a border of stray hairs, including hairs that almost verge into unibrow territory. Yes, this is what I have.

          For the “stubble” hairs that you can see but aren’t yet pluckable, I use concealer on top.

        • Anonymous :

          Zap ’em! Electrolysis. That’s what I did. Or laser but make sure you get someone who’s experienced. If you go, catch when they’re coming in and do NOT pluck in between sessions or you undo the process (but can shave or just go frequently).

    • Diana Barry :

      I think making sure your clothes fit well and are clean/neat is the most important. I feel much less put-together and groomed when I am wearing clothes that are too big or too small – either way they don’t look right and you have to keep adjusting them all day.

  2. RosslynAttorney :

    Count me as in the “I don’t wear it at all, no matter how it might affect me at work” group. I’ve just never gotten in the habit of putting on makeup and can’t seem to make myself care. I so rarely wear it that I feel very odd and fake when I do.

    • Me too. I have super sensitive skin that breaks out if I use soap on it. All the concealer over blemishes will never look better than my natural skin without make-up or skin products.

      Mascara irritates my eyes (contact lenses) and smudges on my glasses. No way am I wearing that stuff everyday.

      • Nancy Raygun :

        Glasses render a lot of eye makeup either impractical or invisible.

        • YES. If i wear mascara, it is both (a) more uncomfortable than normal when my eyelashes bump into my glasses, which is frequently, and (b) gets mascara all over my glasses unless I wait five minutes to put glasses on after application — but since I can’t see anything without glasses, you will not find me waiting 5 minutes.

        • Exactly. This is why I don’t bother with eye makeup.

    • I typically wear it only when I have to be in court (which for me is only a few times per year at appellate oral argument.) It helps me feel like I have my “lawyer uniform” on and helps me feel more confident. Outside of work, I sometimes wear make-up for date night or a girl’s night out.

    • I wear makeup once a year and it’s for a dance recital. Any other time? Not worth it to me, though I know I’m lucky to be in a profession that doesn’t require it of me. I am in the minority in not wearing any makeup to work, but I’m not the only one.

  3. Sydney Bristow :

    I really wonder how they were able to separate grooming and attractiveness and weight. I always assumed that women who are thinner or more attractive are likely to be seen as better groomed than overweight or less attractive. I know that weight and attractiveness aren’t the same thing, but again I always assumed that people tie those together when making subjective assessments. This might be my own self-doubt though. I’m overweight so I always feel like I need to do more than I did when I was thinner in order to be seen as put together. I try to make sure my clothing fits well, is clean and not wrinkled, but I just can’t be bothered to wear makeup daily.

    I should probably just look up the research they did.

    • I think the best groomed women I’ve know have been overweight- maybe some were doing it to compensate for perceived flaws, but they were on point with their tailoring and makup.

      The most ungroomed woman I know is also the thinnest. Most days I’m not sure that she’s run a brush through her hair, and I have never seen her without a run in her stockings.

      • Sydney Bristow :

        Oh I definitely know well and poorly groomed people all over the spectrum. I was speaking more of the general view of society.

    • Agreed, if you read as overweight you need to work harder to be perceived as equally put-together as a thinner woman. That’s why celebrities can throw on a white t-shirt and jeans and magazines report it as a Look.

      • In case it wasn’t clear, I’m not promoting this view, just agreeing that it exists. It sucks.

      • I agree with this sentiment, though I think the reason celebrities can throw on a t-shirt and jeans and look fabulous has more to do with quality/tailoring and less to do with their bodies. Celebrities get EVERYTHING tailored. And that white t-shirt probably costs more than the last suit I bought.

        • Aunt Jamesina :

          I’m sure their jeans and t-shirts are very expensive, but you only ever see the media fawning over THIN women wearing such an ensemble. It’s not just quality and tailoring– I feel like celebrities who aren’t thin generally only get media attention for their fashion choices when they’re dolled up for formal events.

        • And the fact that for plus sized women, finding jeans and a t-shirt that arent bedazzled, feathered or tie-dyed is insanely difficult (I’m not bitter at all!)

    • As a heavy-ish woman (size 12/14), I do feel like I need to be very neat, groomed, nicely dressed, and accessorized to “compensate” for my size. People do judge, and I know that my weight is front and center as a target, so my efforts are aimed at offsetting it. I hate that I feel this way and in a perfect world I wouldn’t, but it is what it is.

  4. Ugh. So my daily uniform of ripped jeans and an Old Navy vintage fit T with sneakers is not adequate for my job as a corporate lawyer? Honestly normal casual clothes look horrible on me. I look amazing in suits, sheath dresses, etc. but those would be completely out of place at my tech company and anything “less” than that just makes me look frumpy and old.

    And make-up: I cannot do make-up beyond some lipstick. I’ve even paid someone to give me lessons, I just have no aptitude in this area.

    • If you’re interested in learning I’d suggest going onto YouTube and entering a search for “make up tutorials”. There are so many DIY gurus who can teach you the basics to even more advanced make up tips.

  5. Maybe my personal bias is showing (I dress decently but wear no make-up, throw my hair in a messy bun most days and occasionally forget to shave my legs or tweeze my eyebrows), but when I worked in Big Law I felt like looking groomed and put together was actively harmful to your career. Whenever I took the time to make myself look marginally nicer than normal (e.g., blow-drying my hair and wearing it down) I got multiple comments about how I must have too much time on my hands and need more work. The partners I worked for were (at least outwardly) happiest when I came to work in schlubby clothes looking like I hadn’t slept in three days because then they knew I had enough work. The female partners in my group also weren’t particularly well-groomed (or especially attractive). So I wonder if this study was skewed toward professions that don’t expect you to work yourself to death.

    • This is one of the ways bias plays out in biglaw. If you don’t look put together, you’re incompetent at worst or “not someone we can put in front of the client” at best. If you do look put together, you have too much time on your hands.

    • Midwest Mom :

      That may hold true up until the point in your career path where you have to start making rain. Then you need to project a more professional, put together image. Unfortunately some Big Law associates don’t recognize when that transition start to happen and they miss it and end up having to grind away for the rainmakers.

      • Anonymous :

        Psh. I’m big law in a big city, and I look very put together every day (makeup, nice and tailored fashionable clothes, etc.), and it only helps my career. Nobody has said anything about me having too much time on my hands.

        • I agree.

          OP, couldn’t this be a result of your baseline being relatively ‘un-groomed’? That is, when you put in more ‘effort’ on occasion it’s particularly noticeable to others?

          I think a woman who regularly wears makeup to work, has styled hair, etc. would not necessarily get the reaction you get.

  6. Just got a jobs offer for an in house position in NOVA that I have pursued for the past 2 months!! I am the Corporette who a couple of months ago was bitterly complaining about being strung along about a perm position by a company that I worked for last year until I was unceremoniously axed from at the end of last year. I would like to thank all of you guys for the kind advice you gave me when I was b*[email protected]*ng about the situation on this post! Now I can really enjoy the long weekend!!

  7. puttingonlipstickrightnow :

    Here’s a link to the study:

    I haven’t read it yet, but my initial thought is that more grooming is a proxy for a focus on relationships (at work). Grooming is really about making better impression on other people so people who make grooming a priority may also putting a greater effort into networking, etc.

    • Nancy Raygun :

      I get that. I work in a law firm library though, so nobody cares what I look like. Compared to everybody else I feel glamorous in my Melissa recyclable plastic flats. (They are pointy and fancy-looking!) But If I came in with my hair all out of place and an unwashed face, people would notice and probably think “Oh, she has terrible judgement and doesn’t notice important things, like hygiene.”

    • I did NOT read the study, but beleive that for us to suceed in busness and law, we MUST be abel to exploit all of our benefit’s, which include wearing the nicest clotheing we can afford, and also to apply JUST THE RIGHT amount of makeup to make us alluring to men (who unfortunateley still control the legal profesion and the court’s). I do NOT think there is anything wrong with that. After all, tall men play basketball b/c that is their advantage, we women need to take all of our assets and invest them properly in order to suceed in this male dominated society. DO I agree with everything I do and wish I may not have to do that? NO, but I do what I can to be a sucessful lawyer to remain in good standing not onley with the NY Bar, but also with my coworkers and colegue’s on the bar and BENCH who decide cases my way. YAY!!!!!

    • Sydney Bristow :

      Thanks for the link.

  8. Spirograph :

    I’m curious about how this finding holds up in different industries. I can see it being true in aggregate, especially at higher levels of any organization once the roles transition in to more public-, exec-, or investor-facing, but I (stereotypically) imagine that in tech and a lot of other hard sciences, and maybe academia, it is a lot weaker.

    Definitely skeptical of correlation vs causation, too. People who put more effort into grooming may just be the “in group” in business who believe that it’s necessary to get ahead, and who are also similarly more savvy about negotiating salary, more ambitious, better at networking, etc.

    • MarieCurie :

      In physics we like to pretend that we’re above such things, but I think we’re just hypocritical about it.

    • In the visual arts (museum and academia) women have to look the part–creative, stylish, and appearance conscious–or be a hands down genius. But I have always assumed that is because we are a hyper-visual tribe paid to think critically about what we see. Kind of like fashion.

  9. One thing that gets completely left out here: queer women who do not gender-conform. What does “put together” mean for me, for instance? I am a butch woman; I wear pants all the time, have short hair and don’t wear make-up. I don’t wear heels*. I have perfectly nice work clothes and am often complimented on my taste. I get my hair cut at the barbershop regularly. I am very, very into accessories!

    But someone could easily look at me and see me as unprofessional. I know that hiring managers often look at gender non-conforming women as categorically unprofessional and a bad culture fit – not because we’re inappropriately dressed or messy, but because “looking feminine” is rolled into “looking professional”, and because women who do not look feminine are assumed to be trouble-makers and discipline cases.

    I feel that if I’m wearing a simple, contemporary wool suit and a simple, contemporary shirt with flat but formally styled shoes. then I am dressed professionally and appropriately, and ought not to lose out because the expectation is that all women find it natural to perform gender in a feminine way.

    *And before you start thinking that I should just dress in drag for work and get used to it, please imagine that you are suddenly dropped into a job where you have to wear something very, very atypical for you that contravenes some important aspect of your identity – perhaps you are required to approach the bar in a swimsuit, or perhaps you are required to wear men’s clothes, or perhaps you are required to have a punk hairstyle. Imagine how deeply discomfiting this would be. Sure, you could just decide that this is the price of the ticket, but you might also wonder why – since there’s no practical reason that you should litigate in a swimsuit – it is required for you to put up with it. If I wanted to work as a chorus girl or modeling evening gowns, I’d wear those things; it’s the fact that wearing make-up and heels both make me feel viscerally uncomfortable and serve no real purpose that bothers me.

    • This seems to me an excellent point, and “groomed” often tends to mean traditionally femme things like lipstick. (I once represented a very butch lesbian who told me when she was in the military in maybe the late 70s or early 80s a specific color of lipstick was a required part of the dress uniform. Oy.)

      But I like to think that’s changing. We had an associate in our tiny firm who dressed very much like you – although we’re on the casual side for a law firm so on a daily basis it was more like a turtleneck and dress pants or khakis – and no one found her unprofessional. (Another associate at the time had an elaborate makeup ritual that involved three different mascaras, I thought that was much more weird.) She was more or less fully out to our mostly male and blue-collar clients after she had been here a few years, they trusted her competence and it was NBD. She is now at a much larger firm and as far as I know has not changed her style one bit.

    • Wildkitten :

      It’s probably a mixed bag. You probably get dinged for being gender non-conforming, but some less-conforming women I know wear amazingly put together well (but differently) tailored outfits and I wish my straight cis self was as on to of my game as they are.

    • I worked with a queer woman who wore nice pants suits with oxford shoes pretty much every day except summer Fridays in a decidedly business casual firm where most of us only wore full suits for client meetings or court appearances. She probably had a rotation of about 8 suits. She came off great and has done very well.

    • Anonymous :

      This all sounds fine. I think that among some of the senior female attorneys I know, your look is not just popular among the non-gender-conforming part of the sisterhood (esp. the sisterhood that values happy feet).

    • Fine, I’ll bite:

      I would guess that if you are wearing professional clothes (eg, nice slacks and not ill-fitting, old jeans), have clean hair that is styled (even if the style is not “feminine”), and respectable footwear, it’s a non-issue.

      You may even look more competent than your feminine counterparts. I think it’s easy for some people to look at me and see me as a woman first, and a professional second, but a stylish, strong woman may just look confident and competent.

    • I live in a large city that is perhaps more accepting of the LGBTQ community than other places, but some of the most successful and best-dressed/best-groomed women I come across in the legal community are gender non-conforming women. I don’t think you have to wear traditionally “feminine” outfits to be considered attractive & well-groomed here.

    • Anonymous :

      Seconding the comments. I have some questions, if it’s not too much trouble or too nosy:

      When you say “contemporary shirt” do you mean a male-style button-up? If so, How in the heck do you find a button-up that fits correctly and doesn’t gap? What kind of magic alterations should I know about?

      What shoes do you wear? Do you wear socks too? If so, what kind of sock?

      How do you find slacks that fit and go with your shoes (I am assuming you aren’t wearing ballet flats)? All the pants I see are tapered, boot-cut, or wide leg and I just don’t know how to style those with loafers or brogues or other masculine shoes.

      Thank you! I hope I’m not being too intrusive. I just honestly wonder about these things when I see a butch woman and I’m afraid to ask.

      • Nancy Raygun :

        I have some very dapper, though not-totally clothes obsessed butch friends/family. Their success comes from tailoring things very well and making sure fit is perfect. This can be especially hard to find off the rack for menswear-inspired clothes for women. A lot of times the stuff on the rack at mid-range and lower end stores ends up looking like a sexy office worker costume. As a lazy-tomboy-femme, I couldn’t keep up with tailoring less feminine work clothes to look neat and I gave up.

      • pugsnbourbon :

        I wear my oxfords with slim-fitting pants that hit right at the ankle. Little bit of skin showing, no socks.

        I’m cis myself and love menswear looks. There are a growing number of companies that make “men’s” clothes cut for women’s bodies. Look up “dapper” on Pinterest and you’ll find some.

      • Let me tell you all about it!

        Honestly, I’m lucky because I have unusually wide shoulders and relatively flat hips for my size, so I actually can wear some men’s shirts, sometimes – the trick is to find ones that are cut generously but not too generously.

        But when I wear women’s shirts, I basically play around with sizes – I look for shirts that are in a soft enough material that I can wear them one size up without looking like a giant block. Silk button-fronts are good for this, and so (oddly enough) are some of the voile/summer-weight shirts from Old Navy. My expectation is that the fit will be a little slouchier rather than truly fitted.

        Similarly, I buy classic pants that are just a little large – the trick is to buy a classic or loose style, so that it doesn’t just look like they are too big on you.

        With jackets, I just try on jacket after jacket after jacket, and sometimes I wear soft unlined ones from Eileen Fisher – again, trying them on for the right fit is key so that they are a little drapey but not oversized. I don’t actually get too many things altered.

        I have perfectly enormous feet, so I usually buy men’s shoes – I either get old-fashioned, close-fitting oxfords, the kind of loafers that have braided leather bits or broguing or tassels so that they really don’t look especially different from women’s loafers, men’s albert/smoking slippers (basically a minimalist loafer) or dressy chelsea boots for winter. Because these are all very close-fitting and small-profile shoes, they work well with anything that isn’t extremely feminine and light in style. If you wear a women’s 9 or above, you can usually find this type of men’s shoe if you look around a little.

        And I buy men’s socks! Men have great socks, you guys! Pantherella and Falke make very nice (and expensive) thin cotton and wool dress socks – I get mine when Sierra Trading Post has a shipment so that they are more affordable. Men’s sock sizing is a little misleading – it looks as though you must wear at least a women’s 10/11 to be able to fit into the smaller sizes, but I have found that you can wear socks that are sized a couple of sizes up with no problem.

        It seems like there are two styles of butch dress clothes – the contemporary/dapper/trim-fit and a more classic Kathryn-Hepburn-except-butch style. The trimmer fits require a lot more tailoring and honestly don’t do that much for me, although I think they look great. The classic fits require a willingness not to dress to look smaller than you are – I avoid clothes that make me look like a great big block, but I am willing to wear clothes that make me look my actual size rather than slim me.

        Today I am wearing casual clothes because nearly everyone is gone and it’s the end of the fiscal year, though, so I’m wearing some sort-of-men’s-style old Eileen Fisher twill trousers, a summery floral men’s button-down and men’s leather minimalist sneakers.

      • anonymous :

        I wear mens-style button down blouses and I’m a 32DD. I usually sew shut the front between the two buttons where gaping happens and then put the shirt on over my head. They always lay well, I don’t worry about exposure, and they’re actually fairly easy to get on and off.

    • Put together butch clothes=well fitting suits especially if they are mens, fresh hair cut if you keep it short, mens dress shoes, a watch. My girlfriend is a butch lawyer and she wears the same outfit as the men in her office, she has even worn a tie to work. Pulled together means neat trimmed and maybe buffednails, neat hair, a pressed suit, real dress socks!

    • Take this with a grain of salt, because I am no one’s idea of a well-dressed person, but the people I look at and think, “Dear God, I wish I could be as polished and together as she is” are more often than not butch women wearing really put-together menswear looks. The haircut is a key point, I think: on-point hair signals the same grooming attention as makeup, in my opinion, without the performance-of-femininity issue.

    • Well, over here in academe studies show there is a statistically-significant reduction in numerical student evaluations of female faculty whose appearance is perceived as deviating from feminine gender norms (short hair, more masculine dress etc) compared to those whose appearance is seen as normatively feminine. Numerical student evaluations are also significantly lower for female faculty than for male faculty. Based on that my guess is that there is some professional disadvantage to dressing in a less feminine way. BUT that doesn’t mean you should change, because the effect may be quite small and it’s more important to be comfortable in your skin.

    • This is very late to the thread but I just read it earlier today and came across this article this evening: https://www.fastcompany.com/videos/list/mPuU1BDa/video/nnmQsSIh/meet-the-brooklynbased-company-making-womens-wear-more-dapper

      Hope that’s useful to above poster!

  10. Reposting as my original post is stuck in moderation. After gettng laid off at the end of last year from a job with a company that was stringing me along about being converted from a contractor to a full time employee, I finally a job offer that I accpeted (in-house counsel in the NOVA area) Now I can finally celebrate my weekend!!!!!

  11. Anonymous :

    Could this be a regional difference? In my fortune 500 office in NJ all the women wear makeup. People who don’t are not considered well groomed. I was in Rapid City South Dakota recently on business and not one women wore makeup.

    Personally I feel anyone who doesn’t wear makeup to work is either too lazy or oblivious.

    • Hmm, I work for a huge corporation in NJ and some women wear makeup, some don’t. I have noticed that some of the highest-level women I interact with wear the least amount of makeup.

    • Anonymous :

      Are yo u actively discussion the state of people’s grooming and affect on professionalism with other people, or is “no makeup = not well groomed” your personal opinion?

      Either way, you can count this northern Midwest women into your lazy category since I don’t wear makeup (to work or otherwise) on a regular basis.

    • anon confession: I think I am above-average pretty with no makeup, and don’t want to look any more attractive at work, so don’t generally wear makeup. But I can see how that would stand out in a place with New Jersey style makeup. I actually sometimes personally think very made up women would look nicer with less makeup, but I understand that people have different stylistic preferences, and different regions or industries have different customs.

      • What is “New Jersey style makeup”?

        • Clearly she means “overdone” but to your point…

          Anon, have you ever worked in NJ? Not everyone is straight out of Jersey Shore. I highly doubt that most offices there, especially of large companies, contain many women wearing garish makeup.

  12. Anonymous :

    “Personally I feel anyone who doesn’t wear makeup to work is either too lazy or oblivious.”

    Judgmental much? Why should I have to slather my face in artificial gook to go to work when men don’t have to do the same? Make-up was traditionally a way for women to enhance their beauty and attractiveness to their preferred sex. I’m not a big make-up user in general but will occasionally put some on for a date night or when I know I will be photographed, because I want to look pretty and attractive. I have no interest in making myself desirable at work, and so I never wear make-up to work.

    • puttingonlipstickrightnow :

      I get where you’re coming from on one traditional use of makeup. As a counterpoint, there was a study in 2011 that found that women who wore makeup were judged more competent.


      • Anonymous :

        I don’t wear make-up on a daily basis. But I do wear make-up for interviews, networking events where I don’t already know half the people there, meeting clients for at least the first time, and other first impressions. I wore make-up for a full week when I started my job.

        It’s unfortunate but, sigh, necessary.

        I last bought new make-up about 5 years ago. It’s probably all gone bad by now but I haven’t used it up. *I do wash my brushes after every use.* I’m not spending $400 again for a make-up routine I rarely use.

  13. Wildkitten :

    I live in DC and in politics you can see a very stark difference (this is a generalization) between democrats and republicans. There is clearly an expectation or reward for republican women to have long blonde hair that is always perfectly coiffed with dresses and heels and full face of make-up. Democratic women seem to get away with a loss less. I’m referring to folks employed in politics, not to female politicians themselves, who are held to impossible standards no matter the party.

    I don’t want to open a political can of worms here, but it’s interesting.

    • One of the reasons I love Veep is how awesomely put-together JLD’s character is. I believe that her character is a D, not an R.

      • Anonymous :

        Looooove VEEP. And yes Selina is pretty clearly a Democrat.

      • Wildkitten :

        I’m not talking about politicians. They’re all held to a higher standard, and especially if they are characters on a TV show with wardrobe and makeup departments…

    • Anonymous Poser :

      Thank you! This is interesting and has been my impression but I was not certain whether it was my imagination (I’m not located in DC).

      • Wildkitten :

        It might also be me seeing differences that are regional and just seems political. (More folks from Mississippi move to DC to work for republicans, but getting done up is a thing in Mississippi, more folks from Chicago come to DC to work for democrats, and getting done up is less of a thing in Chicago.)

        • Yes, wildkitten, I agree. I’m from MS and work for a republican. There’s a wide-ranging dress code on the hill, which seems to highlight regional styles. I feel most comfortable in my office in a feminine getup – a little hairspray, one accessory, some slightly colorful clothing.. My friend from South Dakota wears cowboy boots and a denim jacket in her office and it’s completely normal. My outfit would look strange in her office and vice versa. But with repubs vs dems, I think clothing comes down to regional norms. The US coasts are blue, the middle is red.

  14. Midwest Mom :

    I teach professional skills to college students. My rule of thumb, especially for interviews is: I want to know that you put effort into your appearance. If that’s fixing your hair or adding make-up. It symbolizes you care about how you are perceived. First impressions matter. I worked with CPAs for years… I said to the younger hires, look at yourself in the mirror, are you presentable to go to a client’s office at the drop of a hat? Appearance always matters. Be clean, be neat, be pressed, don’t be too sexy.

  15. TO Lawyer :

    Could part of it be confidence that comes through when you’re groomed and put together? I’m not saying this is the case for everyone (really don’t want to open a can of worms here) but I feel better and more on my game when I’m in tailored, fashionable clothes, heels and have my hair and makeup down. When I feel better, I think I project more confidence and do a better job.

    When (like today), I’m in a ponte A-line dress because it feels like pjs, and a cardigan and flats and no makeup, I don’t feel like a [email protected] lawyer.

    • Right or wrong, I feel this way too. If I am wearing well fitting, stylish clothes, my hair is blown out and styled, killer heels, and I at least have eyeliner, mascara, and a bit of blush, I get all ROAAAAAAAR and definitely feel more confident than if I am wearing ill-fitting clothes and rushed through my morning routine and don’t feel put together. YMMV.

    • Agreed. I used to put on makeup and dress in my nicer clothes for exams in high schools. Totally felt more confident going in!

  16. I wear makeup. There are moments when I look in the mirror and I think “I am literally painting my face” and find it weird but I still do it. I just think I look better with it on, which is kind of the point.

    Because I have those thoughts on the regular, I often look around meetings and compare myself to the other women in the meeting (which is often very few as my field is male dominated).

    I find that sometimes I’m the only woman wearing makeup. Sometimes I’m the least made up woman. Women in tech, in my experience, tend not to wear makeup. Women in business facing/presenting roles do. Since I’m in the latter category but have a tech background, I guess this might explain my unease.

    I started wearing makeup young due to acne and I’ve just never stopped.

  17. Pretty Primadonna :

    I don’t wear makeup to work unless I have a hearing or an important meeting or I am attending a networking event afterwards, and only then to look older. Even without it, I look put together, probably more so than many others in my office. I care more about grooming my hair than face.

  18. BeenThatGuy :

    God bless you non-makeup wearing ladies because I lack that confidence. But I have a legit question…When you say you don’t wear makeup, do you literally mean ZERO make-up? Nothing to even out your skin tone?!?

    • I don’t wear makeup. I’ve given up on buying it because it goes bad before I get though 10% of it. My daily routine is to wash my face, put on lotion with SPF, tinted moisturizer with a quick swipe of blush. I keep my eyebrows groomed with regular threading and don’t need much help shaping/filling because I am Indian and have more than enough hair. I can get away without mascara as well. I attempted to wear lipstick but can’t quite get a good technique down. It doesn’t look very neat so I stick with tinted lip balms.

      • So you do wear makeup (tinted moisturizer, blush, and tinted lip balm). You just don’t wear a LOT of makeup.

      • Tinted moisturizer and blush are makeup. It would definitely be accurate to say you don’t wear a lot of makeup or that you have a minimalist makeup routine, but that is still makeup. The tinted moisturizer evens out skin tone and blush gives a pop of color to your face. That’s makeup. My apologies if I am coming off as sarcastic. It’s just that those two items are makeup and it defeats the purpose of a discussion on makeup norms if they aren’t identified as such.

    • anonymous :

      I put on sunscreen and then just dab concealer on a couple of spots. Sometimes I go over my face with a powder brush (which may or may not have powder on it) because I find that make it look less shiny. I also do regular threading for eyebrows, but that’s about it. Occasionally I wear a tinted lip balm or something. If you asked me, I’d say I wear makeup every day because of the concealer and occasional powder.

    • Pretty Primadonna :

      I mean literally zero, bare-faced, not the “no makeup look” celebrities are peddling, lol. I do put on lip gloss, but that’s about it. Like Jimmy K, I can get away without mascara becuase I have thick, long lashes.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      Zip. Zero. Nada. Chapstick is as close as I get on a regular day and that isn’t even tinted.

      I actually like makeup and own a bunch but only wear it on the odd night out or big event.

      • Yup, ditto. A couple times a month I will put on tinted moisturizer, but otherwise just use regular spf moisturizer. I find that if I even out my skin too much, my face looks weirdly flat if I don’t then add say blush and eyeshadow and highlighter. But I have a lot of natural color in my face, and also large-ish features and freckles and dark eyebrows, so there’s a lot going on.

    • Bailey270 :

      I wear no make up to work 90% of the time. My skin is fine, though I doubt anyone would say it is great. I have, however, successfully treated the acne that I had in my 20s (I’m in my mid-30s now). I don’t feel like my skin tone needs evening. I have very dark hair, so even though my eyelashes are on the shorter side, I don’t think I need mascara regularly. I also have strong eyebrows. I wear chapstick not infrequently, and sometimes its tinted, sometimes its not, depends which one I have in my bag when my lips are feeling dry.

      The only makeup I actually own, or have ever owned as an adult, is mascara, concealer, lip stick or gloss, and a tube of tinted moisturizer that I literally bought 4 years ago and still is more than half full. To go out with friends I sometimes put on mascara and something on my lips, though not always. If I do have a pimple, I might cover it up.

      I was a tomboy when I was growing up and never learned about/cared about make up. And my mother never wore make up except for very special occasions either. I’ve done fairly well professionally, but obviously I can’t tell if I would have done better if I had been better made up.

      I will say that my person and my hair is neat and clean always, and that I think I dress appropriately, so I hope I’m considering well-groomed, even without make up.

    • Anonymous :

      Yep, nothing- I’m blessed with pretty good skin (my tone is even, my skin is usually pretty clear with the exception of one or two spots at certain times of the month), might as well save myself some time in the morning.

      Don’t worry though, my hair is so unruly, I spend much more of my time on that.

    • If I have a terrifically bad zit (thanks universe, for zits and grey hair at the same time), I’ll put a dab of concealer on it. My concealer is actually Ben Nye stage makeup, so a little dab will more than take care of the problem!

      And when I had dinner with my very traditional and lovely Southern American Aunt a while ago, I did wear tinted chapstick because otherwise she’d mention it to me.

      That’s it.

    • Yep, nothing, just face cream with SPF 30

    • Absolutely nothing. Zero. Nada. I moisturize in the morning and put on untinted lip balm because I live in the arid Southwest. I’m pushing 40 and my skin is nothing to write home about. But I work in an aggressively unfeminine environment, in which a polished look is out of the ordinary for both middle management and senior management. (I can think of one example in each category.)

      Of course, I went to a funeral a year or so ago and was the only person wearing a dress who was not actually related to the deceased. Nice jeans are totally funeral-wear here.

  19. I wonder what the balance is between being groomed with makeup and being groomed with clothing in terms of career success. For example, I’m thinking of my mother, who made partner in Biglaw in the 80s, who despises makeup and almost never wears it–but she is always very well put together (though not terribly expensively so) in terms of clothing and accessories. If you’re on your A-game in one category, does it balance out another?

    • The study seems to slip between grooming and makeup, which makes me think it’s more about looking like you’re making an effort. We all know the people who shlub into the office wearing the same black slacks and ponytail day after day. They might wear makeup, but they’re not impressing anyone, right?

      • Oh my god – I wear black slacks and a ponytail every day. I just don’t want to think about the variables – am I ungroomed??

  20. You’re looking closely enough to tell they are wearing the same black pants? Does that matter if the pants are clean, pressed, and fit well? Some of us non-lawyers do not earn enough to wear a completely different outfit with completely different accessories every single work day.

  21. “Old and tired” if not wearing makeup? Total opposite here. I look young and inexperienced without makeup. So I do wear makeup, but I always go for a natural look.

  22. Honestly, I think it all boils down to the image created in the media as to what “professional” looks like. 40 years ago, white men in suits was the image that came to mind when you thought “professional”. That image has changed over the decades. Now I think people can perceive all genders, races and orientations as professional as long as you look the part portrayed by the media. For me, as a tax attorney, I try to look like either the people in the Robert Half ads or the people on the front page of Westlaw. Some people might not need any make up to look like those people. I’m pale, with thin blonde hair, blonde eyebrows and lashes. I need some blush and mascara to make my face look “normal” (as portrayed by the media) and I need a shorter haircut so that it looks “professional” and not stringy. It’s all about people’s expectations. They think “professional” and they have an image in mind. I just try to match that image as closely as I can.

  23. I associate grooming with “clean and organized” looking. It is funny because a woman who just washed her face can look more greasy than a woman who is wearing makeup but has terrible hygiene. I think a well groomed professional look include:

    – Clothing that fits well, is not stained, is not wrinkled (A steam cleaner is cheap and saves lives!!)
    – Nice looking shoes – black or tan or normally a safe bet, that also match your purse for the day (heels look nicer with skirts and dresses, flats with these can look frumpy)
    – Eyebrows done
    – Natural looking makeup – I usually use a light foundation, bronzer, eyebrow pencil and mascara and it is clean looking
    – Short, clean nails (and toes if wearing peep toe)
    – Hair – either done if down (straightened/curled/blown out) OR pulled back into a bun or tasteful ponytail

  24. BetterandBetter :

    Definitely overweight, definitely not excellently groomed (PCOS Chin Hair- I just throw up my hands its too hard), not particularly well dressed except for Court (paralegal-public sector) and I know I should care but I really don’t, but I want to. I honestly just never had the habit of it. I grew up in a family of stunning exotic women who put a ton of effort into looking nice and I am decidedly not so I never tried to compete on those grounds. Now, I am over that bs and know that I should. I just don’t know how to start.

    • Anonymous :

      Start with electrolysis! Zap those chin hairs. Go weekly if there’s a lot bc no tweezing in between sessions. If size 10+ can try Gwynnie Bee for clothes rental to vary wardrobe. Check out their blog, other blogs, you can be totally put-together whatever size. You don’t have to wear a ton of make-up, just start. http://goo.gl/QSt6Gh

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