Ask the Image Expert

Sherry Maysonave is the founder and president of Empowerment Enterprises, one of America's leading communication-image firms. Sherry conducts corporate seminars and coaches executives, professionals, and politicians in achieving excellence in communication and image. She is also the author of Casual Power: How to Power Up your Nonverbal Communication and Dress Down for Success

Wearing makeup in the office

Question: I work in an office that is business casual, but I never wear make up to work. In fact, I hardly ever wear make up since it always looks so fake on me. Do you think I should and if so where could I go to get someone to teach me how to apply make up without looking fake? Thanks for your help.
Joan G

Answer: Dear Joan,

Excellent question! Many women buy into the myth that a business casual dress code is a license to not wear makeup to work. But the bottom line is this: Women who wear makeup earn 20 to 30 per cent higher incomes. This startling statistic comes from the Hamermesh-Biddle* study revealing that attractive people have higher incomes, in general. In our society, makeup is regarded as adding that finishing touch to a woman's image. If tastefully applied, the appropriate cosmetics make any woman more attractive.

As I discuss in Casual Power, your nonverbal communication is essential to getting ahead in today's competitive business environment. It's important to project a nonverbal image of competence, before you speak a word. Tastefully applied makeup conveys that you have confidence, that you pay attention to detail, that you care about your professionalism, and that you take time to put your best foot forward. On the nonverbal, this often translates into others perceiving you as bringing those same qualities to your work. Ironically, women who wear no makeup and women who wear too much makeup both communicate low self-esteem.

If makeup looks fake on you, you may be trying products that are too heavy or just not well suited for your coloring and skin type. Wearing a foundation is not essential to being perceived as wearing makeup. If you have clear skin, some simple powder, blush, mascara, and lipstick can add that professional polish that is desirable in a business setting. Also, make certain that your eyebrows are well groomed.

In my experience, Prescriptives is one of the best cosmetic lines for women serious about their careers. (I am not associated with Prescriptives!) However, all cosmetic consultants will at times push their newest products and often those are not right for you -- especially the colored eyeshadows. In chapter five of Casual Power, I outline some basic application techniques for a daytime business look. In short, stick with neutral shades of eyeshadow, a blush that compliments your skin tone with a slight rosy glow rather than one that dominates. Always work to bring out your eyes; they are the windows to the your soul and they are extremely important in communication.

Good luck, Sherry Maysonave

* The Hamermesh-Biddle project was formally conducted by two Economists, Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas at Austin and Jeffrey Biddle of Michigan State University.

Also see:

  • I recently accepted a position in the office of the University President. This summer I have worn skirts and tops - but sometimes I feel underdressed without a suit jacket. Are suits required in an office like this?
  • The law firm I work for just adopted business casual dress policy. What should I wear?
  • Ask your image questions
  • Personal Power: A case study from 'Casual Power'