Office beauty // Style Counsel

Emma gives advice on how to look good (and possibly more competent) at work

By Emma Williamson

On Wednesday March 27th, 2013


Maybe it’s because I can’t fit into any normal clothing, or because my dark circles are extra dark, but lately I’ve been thinking about beauty at the workplace. Like it or not, your makeup — or lack thereof — can impact how you’re perceived at work. According to studies by Harvard University and others — which were debated in The Globe and Mail and promoted in Marie Claire — women who wear makeup are judged by colleagues to be more competent. Fair? No way. Paid for by the beauty industry? Perhaps. The studies attracted tons of negative comments from men and women alike. But ultimately, it’s a no-brainer that one’s level of “polish” can affect one’s career trajectory by building subconscious capital in the eyes of superiors. Culturally, for women, that includes wearing makeup. So all feminist arguments aside: how can a young female lawyer use this to her advantage? Read on for my tips on a foolproof beauty routine that’ll make you feel comfortable and confident at the office.

First, your morning routine should be quick and low-maintenance; no more than 15 minutes, tops. There’s one basic rule: play up your best feature while creating a refined, clean look; one that won’t distract colleagues or clients (“Are those sparkles on her face?”). Keep it minimal and basic; no need to get complicated.

The first step is preparing your canvas. Depending on your complexion, create a flawless finish with concealer and foundation. Minimize dark circles first; you’ll be amazed at how rested you look, even under those fluorescent lights. Tinted moisturizers are great (try Laura Mercier’s), especially if you’re like me, and the dry office air sucks the life out of your skin. Concealers and foundations from MAC work magic (you practically look like a brand new woman after applying those babies). Finally, the details: try a swoop of blush on the apples of your cheeks to create a rosy glow (I like Nars; they have an incredible selection of shades for all skin tones). Alternatively, a tiny bit of highlighter in the right places can hide last night’s all-nighter and make you feel fresh-faced and poised.


Next, prepare the windows to your soul. Start with a bit of eyeliner — I recommend warm brown or grey — to frame your eyes. For eye shadow, neutral colours are best: try coppers, beiges, taupes, bronzes and lilacs (I go for Lancôme when I feel like a treat, but CoverGirl is cheaper and lasts all day). Avoid smoky eyes or anything too glittery — it’s work, not the Brant House. And mascara is absolutely key. Try a waterproof formula for all your late-night yawning, not to mention eye rubbing while staring at a computer screen all day.


When it comes to lipstick, I am of the view that colour is good. I used to be paranoid about wearing any lip colour at all — even nude gloss made me nervous — but I’ve come to realize that visible lipstick can look tasteful and sophisticated. Best of all, it can anchor your entire look — even in the absence of other makeup, you look pulled together and professional. Put down the bright pink gloss and sparkles; choose a classy pink, muted red or fig. Go for a creamy, long-lasting formula that will stay put through numerous coffees and conference calls. I love Nars and Revlon; both brands make luxurious-feeling lip colour in a ton of great shades.


Finally, I love nail polish, and I’ve always felt that done properly, it is workplace appropriate. It jazzes up the plainest black suit and button down combo, and it’s a fun way to experiment with your look. Try slate grey, lilac, true red or traditional pale pink (or the best colour ever invented — OPI’s Lincoln Park After Dark — a deep, inky purple). Ultimately, as long as your manicure is chip-free and your nails on the short side, I say go for it — play with any colour of the rainbow, other than white or neons (which scream teenager). A word of advice: wearing nail polish requires work, especially if it’s a darker colour. So if you’re a polish fan but you don’t have the time to maintain it, just go with a classic nude or pale pink, which lasts longer and doesn’t show chips as quickly. No need to make your life difficult!

Readers, there’s no need to go bare-faced at the office merely in order to convey “seriousness.” In fact, if the studies discussed above are right, then you may be taken more seriously with makeup on — and a little can go a long way. Keep it polished, neutral (other than the lippie) and professional, and you’ll be partner before you know it. Okay, well, that’s assuming you’re also intelligent, hard-working and business-minded. But which of my readers isn’t? See you in the beauty aisle!!

Emma Williamson is a fashion-obsessed corporate commercial lawyer at Dentons. Her mission is to inspire Precedent’s female readers to break out of a style rut while obeying obvious and not-so-obvious workplace dress codes. Follow her on Twitter: @EmmaWorkStyle. Have questions or a column idea for Emma? Send them to

Image: pogrebkov via iStockphoto