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making faces :: the workplace conundrum

one of the easiest topics on which to find a plethora of advice online [at least on the subject of beauty] is what kind of look is best suited to a job interview, or to the workplace in general. and there is an overwhelming consensus on the subject, which is that makeup should always be minimal and unobtrusive. wear a very natural lip colour! stick with matte eye shadows! always wear mascara! definitely put on blush! don't put on too much blush! never wear bold colours!

i'm sure all that advice is well-intentioned, but it starts from a ridiculous presupposition, which is that every person wears every colour in more or less the same way. if you've followed any of my adventures in diy colour analysis, you'll know that that simply isn't the case. if i'm being generous, i could say that what's being implied is that women should stick to the colours that are natural for them, but even then, i think that there's a difference between what's sold as natural [nude lips, soft, neutral eyeshadows, etc.] and what appears natural on an individual. some people [particular "light season" people] wear the "no makeup makeup" look exceptionally well. some people ["soft season" people] wear muted, earthy tones like they were born to do so. but that's far from everyone.

this is partly driven, of course, by the fact that, as a "bright season" person, i fall outside the groups that do best in very delicate or understated colours. in fact, i'm the exact opposite. the best shades on me are very saturated [my personal favourite is an ultra-intense cobalt blue] and significantly brighter than what's usually recommended in workplace situations. but that doesn't make them wrong for those situations. it makes them wrong for other people. and this is why i think that at least some toying around with colour analysis can be good for everyone. [yes, gentlemen, i mean you as well.]

when we're talking about what colours "work" for us, it's a significantly more in depth matter than what we think looks good on us, or something that seems to complement something else that we're wearing. the idea behind colour analysis is that there are certain shades, be they in clothing or in makeup, that can make each individual look better or worse. those can be grouped according to general criteria [although, of course, everyone is different] and the closer you are to the criteria that matches your underlying colours, the better.

but you don't have to take my word for it, or the word of any colour analysis gurus, because we have a magical thing called photography. to whit:


au not-quite-naturel
let's leave aside questions of whether or not what i'm wearing is workplace or interview-appropriate. pretend that it is. there i am in an understated but dark-ish [because nothing conveys seriousness like dark colours!] olive green and black. my makeup [details about that here] is what one would consider appropriate for an interview or workplace. but is it showing me to all my potential?

is that a woman who looks at her best? or does she look a little washed out and weakened? although i actually like the look, i'd argue it's the latter. although these are generally the sorts of colours that are recommended in the workplace or for an interview, i think i can do better.

for instance, let's use the same sweater [still a muted colour- not ideal for a bright season], but amp up the makeup a little:

let's turn up the saturation
is that too much for an office? maybe. or maybe not. to me, the face looks more balanced here. the eyes don't have that overly intense, slightly scary look that they do when there's very little colour anywhere around them. [i should add that the light is much lower in this photo than in the first, which makes everything look darker.]

alternately, this is what happens when we stick with the softer makeup colours, but use a more bright season-appropriate top, something like the blue i described as being particularly good on me:

true blue

i think that, right away, you can see a clarifying, calming effect on my skin. this is why i say that this information works for men too. makeup aside, just having the proper colour next to my face and neck improves things. this is the sort of colour that people are generally discouraged from wearing in the workplace, lest it draw attention away from them. but i'd argue that it's doing the opposite here. this looks more natural on me than the ostensibly more natural colour i'm wearing in the two shots above.

the cardinal sin in the workplace, especially in an interview or presentation, where you're trying to highlight yourself and don't want anything to distract from how awesome you are, is wearing red lipstick. so how awful would that be?

fire this woman

she's clearly insane
again, maybe it's just my opinion, but i think that if you were asked to listen to a presentation from this group of [eerily similar looking] women, the one at the bottom would command your attention more than the one at the very top. and, contrary to popular belief, i don't think you'd be distracted by her makeup or the colours she's wearing. you'd notice them, but i think that the reaction upon seeing that first face would be an underlying thought that what you were about to see would be boring. fast forward to the lady wearing that ill-advised tomato red with a blue necklace and i think the impression that's given would be one of authority.

again, that's not going to work for everyone. put a person who wears lighter or more muted colours better in that red and they'd look like a kid playing dress up- not a great impression to leave. hence the importance of knowing what works for your particular complexion. on a bright season, bold, saturated colours and high contrast seem balanced, because they are balanced with what's already there. the softer colours normally recommended for office wear are fighting nature, not enhancing it.

of course, if you're a bright season person [or, really, anyone in the spectrum from dark winter to true spring], you may not be comfortable with going all out on colour and you may want to appear just a little bit softer. that can easily be done.

the kinder, gentler kate
the green, black and warm pink would still be gaudy on someone whose colouring doesn't support saturation, but i find that they have a nice balancing effect on me. my skin looks even both in colour and in texture, my eyes don't seem to be bugging out, but i'm not quite the powerhouse you see in red. i'd probably wear this sort of thing while pleading my innocence in court.

if you're curious, the lipstick shades used here are, from the top, nars "bilbao" [full look details here], tom ford "something wild" [full look details and review here], guerlain kiss kiss lipstick "rouge insolence", guerlain rouge g "garconne", nars satin lip pencil "golshan" [review here] and guerlain rouge g "gracy". i don't have a review of gracy, but you can see her swatched alongside "grenade" rouge g and rouge dior "times square", both of which are excellent, slightly toned down alternatives that still work for people who wear saturated colours well.

if you're looking specifically for lipstick suggestions, you should have a look at my recommendations by seasonal type for spring, summerfall, and winter.

now, the bad news is that none of this will help you if what you're saying is absolute bullshit. but assuming that you do have things you want to say, that need and deserve to be said, and keeping in mind that humans are primarily visual creatures, it helps to put the best version of you on display to ensure that your message is heard the way that you intend.

and, while the advice might be well intended, it's always a good idea to view rules that are supposed to apply equally to everyone with a little bit of skepticism. [well, maybe rules like "don't kill people randomly" should work for everyone, but even then, there's no reason why murder-you can look their best either.] now go out and knock 'em dead.

Comments

You've put your finger on what has always bothered me about the concept of "work-appropriate" makeup. I own about 60 lip colors but have never found my perfect MLBB shade, because the perfect pinky-brown just doesn't exist for my coloring. Since I'm a dark winter (at least, that's my working assumption right now), a dark berry or plum lip just isn't going to look as dramatic on me as it will on someone with low-contrast coloring. I do err on the muted side for professional makeup, but I never go too soft--I don't want to drain the color out of my face and make myself look weaker. That's not the reason I wear makeup, you know?
Kate MacDonald said…
I'd agree that your colouring looks dark winter-ish. And yes, you're exactly right that a regular nude shade is going to make you look tired or bland. I think a berry shade would be perfect on you and wouldn't look shocking at all. Screw the rules!!

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