A recent study indicates that a woman who wears makeup may be considered more competent and trustworthy in the workplace than one who dons a natural face- just as long as it isn’t too much.

The New York Times reports that the Proctor and Gamble-sponsored research suggests that makeup “increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, her competence and (provided she does not overdo it) her trustworthiness”.

Though the funding came from a company that sells CoverGirl, the research was conducted by professionals from Harvard, Boston University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  A racially diverse group of twenty five women, between the ages of 20 and 50, were photographed first without makeup and then in three looks (“natural”, “professional” and “glamorous”). They were unable to see themselves, so that their feelings about their looks couldn’t influence the observers. Researchers recorded the snap judgement of a group of 149 adults, who viewed each picture for 250 milliseconds each. Then a second group of 119 adults were given unlimited time to study the same images.

Overwhelmingly, the participants deemed the women  to be more “competent” with more makeup.

At least one researcher was taken aback by the results. “I’m a little surprised that the relationship held for even the glamour look,” said Richard Russell, an assistant professor of psychology at Gettysburg College. “If I call to mind a heavily competent woman like, say, Hillary Clinton, I don’t think of a lot of makeup. Then again, she’s often onstage so for all I know she is wearing a lot.”

Study author Sarah Vickery advised women to mix up their makeup look depending on the professional setting. “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,” by, say, using a deeper lip color that could look shiny, increasing luminosity. Other times you want to give off a more balanced, more collaborative appeal.” She adds that light to moderate colored lipsticks that provide contrast with one’s skin tone are a better choice than glossy looks.

Deborah Rhode, a law professor at Stanford University, resents the study’s results despite finding them unsurprising. “I don’t wear makeup, nor do I wish to spend 20 minutes applying it,” she tells the Times. “The quality of my teaching shouldn’t depend on the color of my lipstick or whether I’ve got mascara on…I’m against our preoccupation, and how judgments about attractiveness spill over into judgments about competence and job performance. We like individuals in the job market to be judged on the basis of competence, not cosmetics.”

Nancy Etcoff, the study’s lead author and an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard University, states that there have been some major cultural shifts in the US as it relates to appearance that make the study’s results less daunting. “Twenty or 30 years ago, if you got dressed up, it was simply to please men, or it was something you were doing because society demands it,” she said. “Women and feminists today see this is their own choice, and it may be an effective tool.”

What are your feelings on makeup in the workplace? A must have? No dice? Speak!  


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  • dvine

    i wear eyeliner on top lid and mascara.. that’s the most i’ve ever worn here.. i have no skills.. but i love shopping for make-up.. maybe nxt yr i’ll start using some blush n lipstick too..

  • ruggie

    This study has major credibility issues, aside from being as biased as health study on the benefits of red meat sponsored by that Beef Council. 1) The fact that it’s university-affiliated means nothing, since colleges are concerned with their bottom line and endowments. 2) That the author of the study gives women makeup tips and says what different looks “say” smacks of imposed values by those doing the study. 3) Who knows what expressions the makeup artists had on their faces as they were doing the different makeup looks (pleased, clinical, disinterested)? Even if the subjects didn’t see their own faces, they may have have been fed different perceptions about themselves from the experience. 4) Nancy Etcoff, the study’s lead author, concludes that women in the past wore makeup to please men or for social demands, but she doesn’t give space for the idea that women today are doing the same thing for the same, or worse, reasons. To get a job, get ahead, feed self esteem, gain approval from other women – – these are all possible motives for wearing makeup. If the study were unbiased, at least some of these possibilities would have been suggested.