Ever wondered how your every day makeup look impacts your career? Combining the knowledge from my master’s degree in economics, and my obsession with makeup – I’ve evaluated the research to find out!
Does wearing makeup impact your earnings? Can it influence your promotion hopes? Do colleagues perceive you differently when you wear makeup?
I answer all of these questions (and much more), plus I reveal how improving your appearance in other ways can help in the workplace!
Recent History | Using Makeup As A Screening Device In The Workplace
Makeup products were completely outlawed at various stages in history (at some stages wearing makeup in certain situations was even punishable as witchcraft)!
Within the past century, makeup has been used as a screening device to keep people in and out of the workforce.1
During WW2, cosmetics represented the importance of staying classically feminine while doing what was considered men’s work.
Even the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, prominent during this war period, had their ballplayers receive makeup lessons from famous makeup artist Helena Rubinstein to look more ladylike as they played!1
Due to rationing and shortages, makeup was banned for a short period during the war but reinstated just four months later as makeup became culturally important – seen as essential in the war effort in terms of boosting morale and improving women’s mental health.1 2
In some sense, wearing makeup was an assurance to both men and women that although women were playing a more prominent role in the workplace, gender roles would continue.
Rosie The Riveter’s masculine pose, yet feminine makeup look, captures this balance that makeup provided as a method to distinguish between men and women.1
As more and more women have entered the workforce, the debate around workplace dress and grooming standards has accelerated. A number of legal battles followed.
US Legal Cases | Can Your Employer Force You To Wear Makeup?
In Price Waterhouse vs Hopkins (1989), The US Supreme Court ruled that employers are not allowed to force employees to conform to a gender stereotype as a condition of employment. In this case, male partners at the firm commented that the plaintiff should act in a more feminine way, wear more makeup, and behaved too aggressively for a woman. Price Waterhouse’s refusal to promote Hopkins on the grounds that she didn’t conform with a traditional feminine stereotype was deemed discriminatory by the court.3
However, this ruling does not mean that employers cannot require their female employees to wear makeup. The fact that Price Waterhouse stereotyped the plaintiff has proven to be significant in more recent cases.
In 2006, the Ninth US. Circuit Court of Appeals held that a casino could lawfully implement a separate dress and grooming policy for men and women, including the requirement for female bartenders to wear makeup.4
More recently, gender identity has further complicated the legality of enforcing employee dress and grooming codes.
In Creed vs Family Express Corporation (2009), Creed (born male and an employee of Family Express Corporation) underwent a sexual reassignment surgery and assumed a traditionally feminine style of dress and appearance after she was hired by her employer. Creed began to wear her hair long and started to wear makeup and nail polish.5
She was later fired after refusing to follow the male grooming code. Male employees were forbidden from wearing jewelry or makeup at work. The US district court ruled that punishing Creed for not embodying certain stereotypes would be illegal, however, it ruled that punishing her for not following their grooming policy is lawful.5
How Wearing Makeup Impacts Your Professional Career
The way we present ourselves can influence the way we are perceived. As explored in our post on the power of the color red, even just switching the color of the shirt you’re wearing can change a person’s perception of you!
Research shows that makeup, in particular, is an effective tool to influence other people’s perceptions of you.
Many Studies Find A Positive Impact Of Wearing Makeup On Others’ Perceptions Of You At Work
Fieldman et al. (2006) found that wearing makeup can make others perceive you as more confident and more competent.6
In this study, when a woman wore makeup she was deemed healthier and a more confident person than when she went bare-faced. When it came to the workplace, a woman wearing makeup was assumed to work a more prestigious job and have a greater earning potential than when she had no makeup on.6
Graham and Jouhar (1981) is one example.7 Both men and women rated photographs of four different women (of average attractiveness) on different personality and appearance traits. The women were rated cleaner, more feminine, more tidy, and more physically attractive with makeup on than without. They were also considered more interesting, secure, sociable, confident, poised, organized, and more popular.7
Klatt et al. (2015) conducted a study where 354 people looked at photographs of women and rated each woman’s competence level in a series of different outfit and makeup scenarios. The participants rated women with makeup on (compared to no makeup), wearing pants (compared to a skirt), and jewelry (compared to no jewelry) as more competent.8
Wearing makeup in the workplace is also associated with people assuming you are healthier and more credible (Dellinger and Williams, 1997).9
Wearing Makeup & Business Attire Can Influence How Competent And Confident You Personally Feel
85% of participants in a study by Ogilvie and Ryan (2011) described their feelings when wearing makeup as ‘very confident’, 82% said that lipstick made them feel “really good about themselves” and only 28% said it made them feel “attractive to the opposite sex”.2
Karl et al. (2013) asked city employees how they themselves feel influenced by their own dress. Employees said they personally feel more authoritative and more competent when wearing formal business or business casual attire compared to casual clothing.10
Related: Check out our full post on the way people perceive us before and after makeup!
Wearing Makeup = Better Performance?
There is no research to date measuring the impact of wearing makeup on a person’s actual objective performance in the workplace. However, there is some evidence that wearing makeup can improve a woman’s academic performance at college.
Building on previous research that linked greater self-esteem with better academic performance, Palumbo et al. (2017) asked 186 female undergraduate students to take a simulated examination under three different treatments.11
Some of the students wore makeup, others listened to uplifting music, while the control group colored in a face on a piece of paper.
Results showed that the students who wore makeup performed better on the test than those who did not wear makeup, and better than those who listened to music or colored the face.
The researchers asked the students about their mood throughout the experiment. Wearing makeup seemed to enhance the positive mood of the students. The authors note that previous research has linked a positive mood with better academic performance. Additionally, those that wore makeup self-reported feeling more beautiful than the other participants.11
It’s possible that wearing cosmetics increases self-perceived beauty, which enhances self-esteem, and this self-esteem boost improves cognitive performance.11
More Attractive In The Workplace | A Help Or A Hindrance For Getting A Promotion?
When Being More Attractive Helps
It’s not just the makeup or clothes you wear that can influence others’ perceptions of you. Just being a physically more attractive person can sometimes give you a helping hand in the workplace.
In a study conducted by Chung & Leung (1987), 61 firm executives in Hong Kong considered six different candidates for a promotion. These candidates produced mediocre or high work performances and were rated high, medium, or low on the attractiveness scale.12
Although performance was the overwhelming criterion used to decide who should be promoted, the candidates’ physical attractiveness did come into play in certain circumstances.
When a candidate’s performance was rated mediocre, their physical attractiveness level increased their likelihood of promotion.12
The candidates’ physical attractiveness also significantly influenced their perceived competence and likeability, however, again this was only the case when their performance level was mediocre.
When Being More Attractive Hurts
In other situations, being physically more attractive appears to be detrimental in the workplace! Results from Johnson et al. (2008) suggest that being attractive is detrimental for women when applying for certain traditionally masculine roles, where appearance is deemed unimportant.13
At other times, attractiveness appears to be a benefit or a hindrance depending on your position in the company.
Heilman and Stopeck (1985) examined the impact of appearance on performance evaluations. They found a beauty premium for women in non-managerial positions and a beauty penalty for women in managerial positions. Appearance had no effect at all on the performance evaluation of men.14
Do More Attractive Employees Earn More?
There’s so much research on how attractiveness impacts earnings that economics have coined the terms ‘beauty premium’ and ‘beauty penalty’ to describe the situations when more attractive people earn more or less because of their looks. The term ‘ugliness penalty’ is used when unattractive (or very unattractive people) earn less because of the way they look.15
However, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s difficult to attribute greater or fewer earnings to appearance with much certainty. Especially because so many different individual factors influence a person’s performance at work and their subsequent earnings. Many other unknown factors could drive the gap in earnings between attractive and less attractive people.
For example, results from Kanazawa and Still (2017) completely contradict previous findings of an ugliness penalty, with very unattractive workers earning more than unattractive employees (and sometimes more than average or attractive looking workers).15 They found that the beauty premium disappeared when the researchers controlled for important omitted factors like intelligence, health, and personality traits.15
Wong et al. (2016) found that more attractive men and women earn about 20% more than those of average attractiveness, but this effect is almost entirely mediated for women when you control for good grooming. Surprisingly, the effect only halved when they controlled for grooming when it comes to male workers.16
Wilson and Eckel (2006) and Andreoni and Petrie (2008) explored the puzzle of the seemingly disappearing beauty premium via laboratory experiments.17 18 Their results suggest that society places greater expectation levels on attractive people, and beautiful people do not always meet these expectations. The attractive people then seem stuck up or selfish for not meeting the unrealistic expectations and are therefore punished at a higher rate than less attractive people.
A lot of academic research into this topic finds a significant beauty premium, while other studies find a beauty penalty. Besides the strong possibility of some dodgy econometrics, it’s possible that good looks can sometimes hinder and sometimes help in the workplace!
Does Being Attractive Or Wearing Makeup Impact Tips?
While it’s difficult to estimate the impact of attractiveness on salary earnings with accuracy, it’s easy to set up an experiment to explore whether or not wearing makeup or being more attractive influences tipping.
Lynn and Simons (2000) found more attractive waitresses earned greater (sales-adjusted) tips than less attractive waitresses, while attractiveness had no apparent impact on the tips of waiters.19
Jacob et al. (2010) conducted an experimental study to determine whether or not waitresses’ makeup impacts customer tipping behavior. Wearing makeup was associated with a significant increase in tipping behavior from male customers relative to when the same woman did not wear any makeup.20
It’s not just physical attractiveness or wearing makeup that can influence your tip earnings. Jacob et al.’s (2012) results showed that when waitresses wore an ornament in their hair (a floral barrette, a little bird, or a black currant sprig), they received greater tips from both male and female customers than without the ornament.21
Can Makeup Protect You From Ageism In The Workplace?
If you’re an older (or maybe a very young) employee, you may be concerned about ageism in the workplace.
There’s some evidence to suggest that you’re right to be concerned.
Avolio and Barrett (1987) found that older job applicants are rated in a less positive way than their younger counterparts, even when both age groups have similar qualifications.22
If you’re worried about being treated unfairly because of your age in the workplace, you may want to consider wearing makeup!
Russell et al. (2018) investigated whether or not wearing makeup influences our perception of a woman’s age. They found that 40 and 50-year-old women looked much younger when wearing makeup, those at 30 years old looked no older or younger with makeup on than without, and 20-year-old women looked older when they wore makeup.23
Tips For Maximizing Your Appearance At Work
What Makeup Look Is Best At Work?
Overall, you want to look competent, but don’t overdo the look so you look unprofessional. Adjust your makeup to suit the occasion. Research reveals that the heaviness of your makeup look can influence how others perceive you at work.
Etcoff et al. (2011) conducted a study in which 25 White, African American, and Hispanic women (aged 20-50) were each photographed without any makeup and with 3 different makeup looks (natural, professional, and glamorous).24
149 adults viewed the photographs for 250 milliseconds (enough time to make a snap judgment). A further set of 119 adults received unlimited time to view the same photographs.
All of the participants overall deemed the women wearing makeup as more competent than the women without any makeup, no matter the time spent looking at the photograph. However, the longer they looked at the photographs, the more they deemed women with the glamorous makeup look as ‘untrustworthy’.24
Speaking to the New York Times, one of the co-authors of this study (and P&G scientist) Sarah Vickery recommends adjusting your makeup look to the particular occasion.25
“There are times when you want to give a powerful ‘I’m in charge here’ kind of impression, and women shouldn’t be afraid to do that.”25
Here, she advises choosing a darker lip color, potentially a shinier color.25
“Other times you want to give off a more balanced, more collaborative appeal.”25
She recommends choosing a light-to-medium colored lip stain in this case (providing some contrast with your skin, but not too glossy).25
Adjusting Your Makeup Look To Suit Job Role & The Gender Dynamics
Our perception of women when they wear makeup differs between the sexes. Men view women who wear makeup as more prestigious, whereas women perceive ladies who wear makeup as more dominant (Mileva et al. 2016).26
The authors found some evidence that the perception of dominance was influenced by jealousy – women experience more jealousy towards women wearing cosmetics.26
The authors later elaborated that the results of this study are important for the labor market. Wearing more or less makeup can influence the outcome of your job interview. If you have an interview for a subordinate position with a mostly female staff, perhaps consider toning down your makeup look. However, if you’re going for a job promotion, try a more powerful look (a darker shade of lipstick, more eyeliner), especially when the hirer is a straight man.27
Other Ways To Look More Attractive At Work (Beside Wearing Makeup)
Change Your Diet
Perhaps one of the most unusual ways you can increase your attractiveness is by…. eating carrots (or at least a beta-carotene-rich diet)!
As explored in our tanning research post, multiple studies have found that when a person switches to a beta-carotene rich diet, they are rated as more attractive after the diet than before.
The carotenoid pigmentation in your skin influences how healthy (and therefore how attractive) people perceive you to be. Carotenoid pigments help your skin appear slightly more yellow, and it’s possible this yellow pigment is related to our perception of tanned skin as more attractive!
Get A Good Night’s Sleep
Axelsson et al. (2010) investigated the impact of sleep on rated attractiveness. Photographs of people after a good night’s sleep and a period of sleep deprivation were evaluated by the participants. The sleep-deprived were rated significantly less attractive and less healthy than those who slept for longer.28
Otta et al. (1996) have found smiling faces are more attractive than neutral ones.29
Whiten Your Teeth
Kershaw et al. (2008) found that people rate faces with discolored teeth lower on a number of different traits, including; intellectual ability, popularity levels, friendliness, trustworthiness, introversion, and self-confidence! 30
Many of these traits, particularly intellectual ability and trustworthiness, are vital for landing that dream job. Consider a teeth whitening kit or try the baking soda teeth whitening method to boost your confidence and give an air of intelligence and self-confidence.
1. Makeup and Women at Work by Carbado et al. (2006)
2. Lipstick: More than a Fashion Trend by Ogilvie and Ryan (2011)
4. Reasonable Dress and Grooming Requirements Survive Court Scrutiny by Hicks et al. (2006)
5. Creed vs Family Express Corporation (2009) [Case Text]
6. Cosmetics: They Influence More Than Caucasian Female Facial Attractiveness by Fieldman et al. (2006)
7. The effects of cosmetics on person perception by Graham and Jouhar (1981)
8. Makeup your mind: The impact of styling on perceived competence and warmth of female leaders by Klatt et al. (2015)
9. Makeup at Work: Negotiating Appearance Rules in the Workplace by Dellinger and Williams (1997)
10. City Employee Perceptions of the Impact of Dress and Appearance: You Are What You Wear by Karl et al. (2013)
11. Does make-up make you feel smarter? The “lipstick effect” extended to academic achievement by Palumbo et al. (2017)
12. Effects of Performance Information and Physical Attractiveness on Managerial Decisions about Promotion by Chung & Leung (1987)
13. Physical Attractiveness Biases in Ratings of Employment Suitability: Tracking Down the “Beauty is Beastly” Effect by Johnson et al. (2008)
15. Is There Really a Beauty Premium or an Ugliness Penalty on Earnings? by Kanazawa and Still (2017)
16. Gender and the returns to attractiveness by Wong et al. (2016)
17. Judging a Book by its Cover: Beauty and Expectations in the Trust Game by Wilson and Eckel (2006)
18. Beauty, gender and stereotypes: Evidence from laboratory experiments by Andreoni and Petrie (2008)
19. Predictors of male and female servers’ average tip earnings by Lynn and Simons (2000)
20. Waitresses’ facial cosmetics and tipping: A field experiment by Jacob et al. (2010)
21. She Wore Something in Her Hair: The Effect of Ornamentation on Tipping by Jacob et al. (2012)
22. Effects of age stereotyping in a simulated interview by Avolio and Barrett (1987)
23. Differential effects of makeup on perceived age. British Journal of Psychology by Russell et al. (2018)
25. Up the Career Ladder, Lipstick In Hand NYT article, 2011
26. Sex Differences in the Perceived Dominance and Prestige of Women With and Without Cosmetics by Mileva et al. 2016
27. How make-up makes men admire but other women jealous [Press Release, 2016]
28. Beauty sleep: experimental study on the perceived health and attractiveness of sleep deprived people by Axelsson et al. (2010)
29. Reading a smiling face: messages conveyed by various forms of smiling by Otta et al. (1996)