how much grooming do I really need to do?

A reader writes;

I am a 30-year-old feminist raised by hippies. I’m in a reasonably mainstream field that is fairly male-dominated. With lots of work over many years, I am now competent at basic hygiene and professional dress, mostly. I can do business clothes of any level. I shave my pits and any leg anyone might see.

But I am about to graduate grad school and started to read your awesome blog and now realize I am so lost on some of the finer details when it comes to necessary grooming for an office job or interview. Specifically, I don’t do any makeup. I mean none. No chapstick, no eyeliner, nothing. I’m reasonably confident about that decision. But I’m lost at eyebrows. Do I really need to “manage” them in order to have a reasonable chance of landing a job? If I do, why don’t my male peers? More relevantly, if I do what is the minimum I can get away with? This is not something I want to spend a lot of time or money on, but I will feel ridiculous if I lose a professional opportunity over my eyebrows. Similarly with pimples. I get maybe one a month — am I expected to do something about it? Or fingernails — aside from being clean, what are the requirements?

I do have female friends, but most of them are programmers and don’t have to worry about these things so much. Many of them don’t own blazers. Help me?

There are some fields where grooming matters more than others. For example, if you’re going into some types of PR or sales, there would be more pressure on you to conform to a certain standard of “polish.” On the other hand, if you’re an engineer, there’s going to be way less of it and possibly none.

What people mean by polish varies, but these are usually the basics:

* some amount of makeup, but it can be fairly minimal (often the goal is to look like a slightly more awake version of yourself, not for people to notice the makeup itself … and god help you if you go slightly over the arbitrary line of what people consider “too much”)

* groomed eyebrows (which can just mean trimming them if they’re unruly, although some people will take it further and pluck/wax/shape them)

* clean hair that’s neatly styled and if it’s long, is pulled back and out of your face not in your face (updated after pushback from commenters)

* clean, well shaped fingernails (which really just means they aren’t overly long and don’t have ragged edges or chipped nail polish)

That doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed in “polish”-oriented fields without makeup or with slightly bushy eyebrows! You can, and people do. But there’s often more pressure within those fields to conform to a particular image, especially when you’re either just starting out or trying to move up. People have biases, and it can be easier to be seen as “the sort of person who will do well here” when you match a certain image they have of who those people are. Sometimes that’s because their clients really do respond better to a particular image (real estate, for example, is notorious for this) and sometimes it’s not based on much of anything at all. (If you’re thinking this sounds primed for unconscious racial and other forms of bias, you are correct.)

It is very, very unlikely that someone is going to reject you for a job because you have unruly eyebrows. But all of these details do go into painting an overall picture of you, and we do all have unconscious biases in how we respond to other people. In general, a professional standard of grooming will help you come across as more polished, and in general that will help employers in many fields respond to you better. But it’s not like choosing not to bother with your eyebrows will doom you to a lifetime of unemployment either. It’s just one detail. If you’re not in a particularly appearance-focused field, as long as you’re paying attention to the rest of your physical presentation — like wearing professional, well-fitting clothes and unscuffed shoes and not walking in with a purple and green macrame backpack with a big hole in it, etc. — you’re probably going to be fine. (I might lean a little more into those other details if you’re not doing makeup, but either way you should be fine.)

{ 909 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    When commenting, please note that the letter writer is not asking for makeup advice. She doesn’t wear makeup and is happy with that decision. (It’s fine to discuss your own professional grooming habits, but please don’t push makeup on the OP.)

    1. Grendel*

      Thank you for this! And I will probably never get to the bottom of the comments, so I just wanted to add how much I am enjoying and appreciating everyone’s contributions. These are the things I never learned growing up either (daughter of an ex-hippie/feminist who refused to teach me to wear makeup even though she wore it every day) so even now I often stumble across little tidbits that are apparently common knowledge to everyone but me. Thank you all for sharing!

      1. Jeanine*

        I never wear makeup either, haven’t for many many many years. I applaud you for not wearing it either! I wear my hair back in a bun or ponytail too. I’m clean with clean clothes and no holes or anything offensive on them, good enough. I refuse to fuss with my hair and face, it just bugs me.

  2. Mike*

    And for what it’s worth, some males out there do work to manage our eyebrows. But the toxicity you’re struggling with manifests in male appearance where discussing or looking like you groom in certain ways is avoided because some people perceive it as effeminate.

      1. pleaset*

        I was about to say this.

        Guys, be sure to look into this (and hair in ears and noses), especially as you get older.

        If you don’t want to do anything, that’s your call. But be aware of it.

        1. Teapot Tester*

          I have a coworker whose eyebrows can be quite fantastic. He must have his barber cut them when he gets his haircut because I always notice they’ve been groomed when his hair has been cut. But when he’s due for a visit to the barber, his eyebrows are something to behold.

    1. The Original K.*

      One of my best friends has an ex who has a standing appointment at the waxer. He had really gorgeous lush black hair (think Hasan Minhaj) and apparently if he did not groom his brows, it was a Bert from Sesame Street situation.

      1. Boo Hoo*

        I have to keep my husbands crazies at bay. Those ones that grow curly and way longer. It is hard to not focus on those when someone has them sticking up. It wouldn’t affect hiring but I’d notice them for sure.

        1. Nellie*

          My FIL has long nose hair and I honestly find it distracting when looking at him sometimes. To some extent I feel sorry for men not being clued into things more. To me this isn’t about image or the more superficial elements of appearance, it’s about something out of the norm that attracts more attention than anything else. That’s the important part of managing one’s appearance in the workplace, at least as a baseline, in my opinion.

          1. AKchic*

            My husband gets the nose hairs too. That man cannot grow body hair to save his life and laments No-Shave November because at 37 he still cannot grow a full beard and still looks like a teenager with patchy fuzz coming in, but boy, those nose hairs.
            My kids, on the other hand… two of them have had to have eyebrow grooming regimens otherwise they would get up in the middle of the night on their own to shave their blonde unibrows (stubborn children that they are, I have no idea where they get it from… *snicker*). My family is a hairy mess. I wish I had my husband’s problem. I’d rather have the occasional nose hair than deal with everything else.

            1. fnom*

              I’m both laughing and commiserating with your husband, AKchic, because I’m an adult trans guy currently going through Puberty 2: Electric Acnebooooo and cannot for the life of me grow a beard, just sad patchy chin bits, and yet the nose hairs have started to be utterly ridiculous in the last few weeks. Such a pain.

              1. Kitrona*

                My girlfriend is going through the same Puberty 2, but in the other direction, so your comment made me laugh because it sounds very familiar!

        2. Elfie*

          Yup, I have to trim hubby’s eyebrow hairs too (not for any reason of polish; he’s retired), but more that they drive him crazy when they get too unruly.

        3. Kat in VA*

          Me too. I pluck the “wild old man hairs” and yes, I will pluck those wild old man ear hairs. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult as my eyes get worse (age and all that) but I’m game.

          I finally blurted ALL THE MYSTERY IS GONE when he asked me to trim a rogue nose hair. He’s getting age-related closeup vision issues and I was like DUDE SO AM I. Then followed a spirited argument of I WOULD TRIM YOUR NOSE HAIR IF YOU ASKED ME TOO, BABE and finally I buckled…but the scissors were dull and I plucked it by mistake.

          He’s back to trimming his own nose hairs.

          1. Melissa D.*

            My husband has “bat wings” of back hair that he’s super self conscious of. Not much hair anywhere else on his body, and even his arms are less hairy than the average man’s. But that back hair is like a plush carpet of ginger hair creeping from his neck to his shoulders. The second time I waxed it I had the thought- “It’s official. The mystery is gone”.

            But considering he had to buy a auger (and be the one to use it) to unclog the toilet post c-section baby #2 for me when I didn’t anticipate having to use quadruple the max dosage of stool softener in order to have semi-working bowels, I’m pretty sure we’re even.

          2. Ellex*

            As a woman who occasionally needs to trim her nose hairs…there is such a thing as an electric nose hair trimmer that neatly and painlessly lops them off.

      2. PhyllisB*

        My daughter used to be a stylist, and my other daughter’s husband had a serious unibrow. She talked him into letting her groom his brows and wax the middle, and it made an amazing difference. She had a lot of male clients who would come to her for this service.

    2. MechanicalPencil*

      My best friend trims his eyebrows back. No shaping. Just they get a little scraggly if they go wild. He’s done it as long as I’ve known him, pre-over the hill.

    3. always in email jail*

      I was going to say this, to be fair, most men I know do some sort of eyebrow maintenance for professional purposes, even the harley-riding “tough guy” ones. Usually ears and nose too.

    4. animaniactoo*

      and fwiw, as much as people go on about female facial grooming (makeup, eyebrows, stray hairs growing out of moles…, etc.), it’s also true that a male walking in with an unkempt beard or rough stubble is going to have just as much of an issue as someone with the female target issues. And may need to spend even MORE time than a woman does to keep that under control.

      Not presenting a super-groomed appearance isn’t likely to hurt you much on either gender. Not presenting an appearance that appears neat enough that it’s clear that you at least took enough time to look neat and like your hygiene is reasonably in the range of “unlikely to squick other people out and make them question whether food coming out of your kitchen might be safe to eat” is the issue that will hurt.

      1. Liet-Kinda*

        When one has a beard, one definitely has to invest some time on a routine – trim, edge, shave neck, beard oil, etc – unless they want it to be all scraggy and neckbeardy and backwoods.

        1. leighanneg*

          When my bf switched from retail management to corporate work he was finally allowed to grow a beard. The first thing he did was find a barber that does his hair, beard, ears, nose, eyebrows – basically EVERYTHING above the collarbone.

          I tell him that if he ever left her I’d leave him, she is the best investment in his career he ever made. He’s a hippie, and if he didn’t go to her once a month, he’d look like a stereotypical Wookie, regardless of his suit and tie.

          1. PhyllisB*

            Oh, and let’s not forget comb-overs!! My husband started going bald at 25, and he grew this enormously long section of hair to comb over the top, and it… just wasn’t a good look. He started patronizing a female barber and she talked him into getting rid of the comb-over, and he looked SO MUCH BETTER!!! I wanted to send her a dozen roses.

            1. Allornone*

              I’m so happy my boyfriend just excepted his baldness and worked with it. He keeps the hair he does have closely trimmed to his head and just rocks the bald look for all its worth. I have to say, despite my lifelong love of long hair, he looks sexy as heck.

                1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  Third vote, motion passed.

                  All who object to a bald spot please go full-on shaved… the world needs more like Dwayne The Rock Johnson, Patrick Stewart, Telly Savalis, etc.

                2. TardyTardis*

                  Our senior senator from Oregon is finally just giving up on his combover, and most everyone is happy about that.

          2. A Girl Has No Name*

            Yeah my husband goes to a barber who takes care of everything too. It’s such difference when he comes back and everything looks so nice and shaped up, including the eyebrows. It’s a very stereotypical “manly” barbershop, but eyebrow and nose hair and other facial grooming is a standard part of a visit for all the clientele there. Such a great find.

            1. Liet-Kinda*

              At the barbershop I went to in another city, a beer was included in the price. So was a hot face towel. I got pretty good at sipping the cold beer with the hot, steamy, eucalyptusy face towel on, and LET ME TELL YOU HOW GOOD IT WAS.

            2. TardyTardis*

              I wish we had one like that on our town–my son, who is growing bald, nevertheless has a Beard that needs a weekwhacker every few weeks. I keep it trimmed, but I know I don’t do that good a job.

      2. AKchic*

        100% this.

        Men do have regimens. It’s just not discussed. It’s considered “bathroom ablutions” or “personal hygiene” and therefore a quiet, manly issue so no discussion required. For women, it’s something that is “girly” and therefore something to be mocked as much as it is socially necessary.
        For men, it’s more for office or face-to-face jobs that the personal grooming is seen as a necessity, whereas for women, all women are expected to do it even if they are chided/derided for such “frivolous”, “vain”, or “petty” things. A man doing the same grooming will be either considered “effeminate” or “smart” depending on his paycheck because the only thing that matters is the results. If he does it and there is no financial gain (or personal gain, if he is doing it to attract a partner), then it is foolish. If he achieves his goal, then he was smart.
        For women, it’s always a vanity.

        Yeah, I’m bitter about this subject this morning.

      3. Not Rebee*

        I have very curly hair and my mom has straight hair that’s also very fine, so when I was growing up I had a lot of issues taming my hair because she was not equipped to teach me to manage my curly hair. As a result, I had Hermione Granger hair for a decent amount of time. But also during that time, my mom got into the habit of referring to it as “on purpose hair” instead of just telling me it had to look a certain way or be combed or brushed, and I think that’s really helpful (especially because anyone with curly hair will tell you brushing it is a bad idea, but of course that’s what my mom would have been otherwise telling me to do). Because it doesn’t need to look a specific way as much as it just needs to look like you didn’t get out of bed that way. That your appearance is purposeful. That’s why your eyebrows need to look not unruly but don’t need to be shaped, for example. You just gotta look “on-purpose”.

        1. Mananana*

          Oh, I like this phrasing. “On-purpose” hair is definitely different than my “Saturday-morning-walking-the-dogs-ponytail.”

        2. Jess*

          I too, have curly hair and grew up with a mother who didn’t know what to do with it!

          Oh….the brushing! The “pyramid” hair! The frizziness!

          My daughter has inherited my curls – thankfully right now she’s only three and it’s still fine and prone to ringlets (I can actually brush it with the aid of conditioning spray, and it looks good), but as she grows older I’ll be able to explain now We Do Not Brush etc.

          I love that description of “on purpose” hair – all I do is scrunch in some leave in conditioner and mousse but there’s a definite difference in how it looks on a work day vs. lazy weekend days.

        3. Hellola*

          I know this is very tangential to the original question, but I’m a straight-hair mom with a curly girl…if you don’t brush it, how do you keep it from forming a terrible matted nest?!?! Kiddo is 12 now and wears her hair very long…our usual procedure is she washes it, conditions the heck out of it, then brushes it while wet. Sometimes she does a better job brushing than others, and if it’s one of the not-so-great times it tangles and mats up within a day or so (and I end up having to brush it out for her). I would love any tips you can pass along so she can have successful, happy hair days.

          1. Elizabeth*

            I detangle mine (with my fingers, and I used to use a wide-toothed, round-tipped comb, but *never* a brush) with conditioner in the shower. I do not attempt to detangle it dry.

            Brushing it while wet seems likely to break the hair and create split ends that will make it more prone to tangles.

          2. Jess (a different one...)*

            A good place to start would be the “Curly Girl Method” – it has good practical guidelines for how to wash/style etc. curly hair. I also like the youtube channel Waterlily716.

            I use a wide-toothed comb to detangle my hair in the shower while conditioning it. (I’ve done the whole “no-poo” method before, where you use conditioner to scrub your scalp instead of using a shampoo and it was okay, but I have decided I prefer to use a non-sodium laureth sulfate shampoo and that works well.)

            After my shower, I’ll scrunch or finger comb through some silicone-free leave-in conditioner. (Psst…leave in conditioner and the conditioner you use in the shower are usually exactly the same ingredients – I’ll just dilute it with a bit more water and it’s EXACTLY THE SAME.) Then some kind of styling/curl defining product – currently I’m using mousse, but there are a lot of options out there, and it depends on what suits your daughter’s hair type, what your budget is etc.

            To dry it, I do *own* a hair dryer with a diffuser, but I never actually use it. I have a microfibre towl and use the “plopping” method. *Never* use a towel to roughly dry your hair – that just unsettles the curls and leads to frizziness. You can use an old cotton t-shirt for “plopping” as well – you can google to see how :-)

            Once you’ve put in your product and taken the hair out of the “plop”, then try to touch it as little as possible while it dries.

            I usually sleep with my hair tied back, then on day two I’ll refresh the curls and reduce frizziness with a little water and diluted conditioner pulled over my hair, and tie it up or do a bun. I know some women have great luck going days with defined curls with different products, sleeping with a silk pillowcase etc. You can use some leave-in conditioner or diluted hair gel to help re-define curls by twisting them etc.

            Then the next day I wash/condition again.

            My hair takes FOREVER to grow, but if your daughter’s long hair tends to matting, it might just need a trim. It’s frustrating when you want long hair and every two inches of growth only gives you 1/2 inch of curl, but I know that where my hair tends to pull against my shoulders/clothing etc. it becomes a bit rough and prone to knots. A good trim does wonders for the overall look and healthiness of the hair.

            I can see I’ve written a bit of an essay – I think it’s a topic that I feel passionately about and obviously it’s taken a lot of years to accumulate the tips and tricks that work for me! Disclaimer: I’m white, and this is what works for my hair; curly hair of different ethnicities/types may need different handling.

            TL;DR: if you’re not using a leave-in conditioner, try that first. Use conditioner EVERY time a brush or comb goes near the hair.

          3. Long-haired curly*

            Brushing encourages the matted nest with curls! Combing only, potentially finger-combing depending on the texture of the hair, while it has conditioner in it in the show. I also have long curls and I sleep in braids, which cuts way down on the amount of tangles, and also braid or bun whenever I’m going to do something that might cause tangles (exercise, hike in windy weather, etc). An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to tangling.

            Silicone is a tough decision for curls, as it can encourage dryness which encourages tangles, but in itself is very helpful at preventing tangles in the moment. If she shampoos then she might as well use silicone sprays, that’ll help with detangling, but many curlies only use conditioner in order to avoid dryness (it gets your hair pretty clean on its own) and in that case silicone will only make things worse. You kind of have to pick an approach.

    5. ThatGirl*

      My husband has naturally bushy eyebrows; he has them trimmed down when he gets his hair cut and often shaves the top of his nose to avoid unibrow.

      OP, if I were you I’d just take a long semi-critical look in the mirror – do you have bushy eyebrows? Are you prone to a unibrow look? Do you have a lot of dark stray hairs? Those are all things that can be managed fairly quickly and easily and will help you look a bit more polished. But it’s not something you HAVE to do. And yes, societal norms for women kind of suck. But I do think there’s some expectation of grooming for men, too. It’s just different.

      1. TootsNYC*

        OP, if I were you I’d just take a long semi-critical look in the mirror

        I agree; I think that most people will see the things that they should deal with, grooming-wise, if they just give themselves a little time to check out grooming in the mirror.

        Of course, sometimes people need to be reminded what grooming is–the shape of your nose is fine, ditto your eyes, lips, etc.

        Skin should be healthy, and if it’s not, talk to a doctor, just for the sake of your skin’s health, to discover what, if anything, you should do to help it.

        Then, it’s just a matter of being a little tidy.
        Also, it’s not that unreasonable to expect a little grooming–grass gets mowed, hedges get trimmed (sometimes for their own health, actually), vines get pruned and tied to stakes.

        But I think you’ll be able to see the parts that are kind of un-tidy.

        And given that you seem to feel you haven’t accumulated some of these techniques and standards by the osmosis of growing up around them, you could also consult with an aesthetist / esthetist.
        Check out the yellow pages, and make some phone calls to interview and see if you can find someone who will understand and honor your own aesthetic preferences, to coach you through figuring out whether you want to bother with brows, need to trim nose hair, etc.
        Based on some of these comments, you might find quicker agreement if you phrase it as, “Probably just the stuff a guy would worry about,” since that seems to be an easy way to draw some lines around it.

        I’ve never had my brows done; since I wear glasses, I have only plucked stray hairs now and then when they bother me. I seldom wear makeup.

        I’ve gotten nearly every job I’ve ever wanted. (Though, I’m not in sales)

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          “And given that you seem to feel you haven’t accumulated some of these techniques and standards by the osmosis of growing up around them, you could also consult with an aesthetist / esthetist.”

          Great advice. I’m not sure if they still do it (No affiliation just a regular guest) but Aveda Salons used to have what they called a ‘Teen Consultation” appointment. It was aimed at teens (as the name would suggest) and it focused on skin care, grooming, and makeup basics. I thought it was a great idea.

          As for brow grooming… I have always had ambitious brows :) Generally speaking when I was younger I didn’t pluck or wax (except for where they shook hands in the middle), but I did brush them into place daily and use a little teeennnyy tiiinnnnyyy dab of hair gel to keep them in place. I started plucking in my 20’s and by the time I was in my 30’s they had a pretty good shape that I haven’t had to touch for years now. I still use a clear mascara daily to keep them all going in the same direction, but nothing else needed.

            1. PhyllisB*

              Elizabeth West, glad to see your comment. I’ve always enjoyed your insights, and missed seeing you here.

          1. a girl named Bob*

            My former hair stylist (he retired) was cutting my son’s hair years ago, and my son had brought along his best friend to show Don what he wanted his hair to look like. I love this kid to death but his father is notoriously hirsute — he has a 5:00 shadow at 10:00 am. — and the kids have taken after him. After looking at his hair he asked if he could give the kid some advice, and said:
            1) Hold a comb straight up and down next to your nose/between the corner of your eye and your nose and anything on the wrong side of the comb gets plucked.
            2) Comb your eye brows downward and where the hair is long enough to clear the bottom of the brow clip it off, then comb it back up.
            That’s all it takes to keep them tidy. If you want to make your eyes look more open you can pluck the strays below the arch, but not strictly necessary.

        2. Ellen Sui Generous*

          I have rosacea, don’t groom my brows, don’t wear any makeup. I’ve never had any trouble finding a job, and the only time I think it was held against me was when I applied for job in another department and didn’t get it, instead a lesser qualified person did who was better groomed, and also thinner. Coincidentally, about that time someone noticed that all that manger’s hires were between the ages of 25-27, had long brown hair and were all slim-built, after which the hiring for that dept were changed to a different manager.

      2. TRex*

        Yea, the unibrow look doesn’t look professional for either men or women. If you tend to get one just take a pair of tweezers and pluck a few of the strays. I think that’s pretty basic. Shaping really isn’t necessary unless you wanted to take it a step further.

        1. Close Bracket*

          > the unibrow look doesn’t look professional for either men or women.

          I have a bit of a problem with saying that a natural pattern of hair growth is unprofessional. Unibrows aren’t inherently unkempt; they aren’t in the same category as split ends or a beard that isn’t groomed. Unibrows that are wild and have long hairs sticking out should be trimmed, but that’s true for all brows, not just unibrows.

          1. MM*

            Yeah, and who has a unibrow not infrequently correlates with race. Women of color in particular put up with a lot of bullshit about body hair.

          2. Jasnah*

            OK, I mean… nothing short of having actual twigs and dirt in your hair is “inherently unkempt.” However most societies in the world have determined that having a unibrow, or very long eyebrow hair that doesn’t lay flat with the rest of the eyebrow, or hair coming out of your nose and ears–these are “unkempt” and “wild” and need to be “groomed.” All of these are a natural pattern of growth, and arguing that unibrows are OK but split ends and long hairs sticking out are not is literally and figuratively splitting hairs.

            1. TardyTardis*

              Although in Roman times, a unibrow was considered sexy. Mine, I just very gently shaved in between.

        2. Mookie*

          I mean, this is culturally bound and even then, highly subjective. Unibrows are awesome and not inherently unprofessional at all. There is literally nothing objectionable or unhygienic about lacking that (or any) gap.

      3. jclaar*

        I’m so glad my boyfriend is basically hairless except for what is on his head, and that has long thick brown hair. Good grooming habits too.

    6. Bee*

      I was just watching an interview with Dan Levy, son of Eugene Levy, where he talked about inheriting his father’s eyebrows and how he definitely has to trim them. It was very entertaining, but also, yeah: he could talk about it mostly because his father’s eyebrows are so famously bushy.

      1. IvyGirl*

        Disagree. Pointing out that there are some grooming norms regardless of gender is absolutely germane to the discussion.

        1. Artemesia*

          This. Ultimately grooming is about looking clean and cared for. Unruly edges whether ragged fingernails, bushy eyebrows, nose hairs, untrimmed or messy greasy hair etc projects as unclean.

          I was lucky to work in a field where make up was not the norm and my routine involved lip gloss or lipstick, moisturizer and just a tad of natural looking eye shadow. Very few women in my workplace wore foundation or masacara or obvious eye make up and many wore no lipstick or just chapstick. Now in retirement my routine is just moisturizer and lip stick.

          In some fields though that would be in stark contrast to the norms. So take that into consideration and consider whether very slight attention to make up like perhaps a tinted lip gloss would work better, but mostly focus grooming on looking neat, clean and put together — not on the painting you don’t want to do.

      2. Roscoe*

        It definitely is worth nothing since OP makes a point of saying “men don’t have to do this, but women do”. Its saying EVERYONE has to have a neat look to be considered professional.

        1. Anna*

          The OP also equates being a feminist with not doing these things, which is patently not true, either. OP may have some outdated assumptions about some things.

      3. Mike*

        I’m sorry. I was hoping it might help OP by making her feel less isolated among her male colleagues in needing to do that kind of grooming, but could be wrong about that.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Please don’t apologize. Your comment was helpful, and “Ugh.”‘s response was extremely rude.

      4. Bee*

        I dunno, I think pointing out that this is something EVERYONE has to do might make the OP feel a little more comfortable with it and less like she’s enforcing sexist practices.

        1. Artemesia*

          This. Look at any C suite of men in traditional firms and corporations and you will usually find people well trimmed and polished and clean with attention to detail in clothing. It isn’t just the women. Men do find it easier to deviate from that of course.

          1. the_scientist*

            This, x100. We aren’t talking about makeup and hairstyling here, we are talking about basic professional grooming which is something that BOTH men and women participate in. I know plenty of professional men who get regular mani/pedis and either pay someone to do their brows or maintain them on their own.

            I am someone with hiring authority and I would judge either a man or women who came to an interview with dirty, ragged nails and greasy, unkempt hair. I don’t think this is sexist.

      5. Sylvan*

        OP’s trying to learn how to navigate appearance-related standards and double standards. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think knowing the details of them might help. It’s been useful to me in navigating the same things as the OP, anyway.

    7. many bells down*

      My daughter and her boyfriend both get their brows professionally done. Me, I still don’t really understand what it is you’re even supposed to do to them, other than trimming any really long weird hairs. My daughter says my brows have a naturally good shape so I’m lucky, I guess.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Luck has a lot to do with “what you can get away with,” I have to say. I never wore makeup until well into my 30s, and even still I don’t wear much. But I have dark eyes and lashes and good skin tone, etc. I’ve heard Christiane Amanpour say something similar — she didn’t “need” makeup to show up on camera, which was a benefit to her early in her career.

        Similarly, some people don’t touch their brows and no one would notice. People with straight hair have to worry less about looking “unkempt,” etc.

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        You are lucky! Some people need a little help with their unruly or odd shaped brows. I personally have a weird issue where one brow is naturally more arched than the other is, resulting in a permanent skeptical and mocking expression.

      3. Snargulfuss*

        As someone who was repeatedly asked if I had shaved my eyebrows off (because they are light and fine), I’ve never really had to think about trimming bushy eyebrows, so this is enlightening. I now pluck stray hairs and darken my eyebrows with a pencil, so I’m more aware of my brows than I was when I was a teenager. I didn’t realize how much some people have to be aware of their brows.

    8. Stuff*

      My husband completely ignores his eyebrows. However when he gets his hair cut the stylist always does a bit of a trim with the clippers or his would be truly bushy :)

    9. KR*

      Yes to this! My husband went to get his eye brows done to find his best arch and now I just maintain it for him every month or so. He keeps them bushy but without some maintenance he would have a cave man brow.

    10. TrainerGirl*

      I appreciate men in Australia (at least in the cities) for their lack of concern about grooming. I saw more guys with well-styled hair, clothes that fit perfectly and just overall great grooming. Even in a flannel shirt and jeans, they had style. And none seemed concerned that anyone would see it as effeminate.

  3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Your male peers probably do groom their eyebrows – at least after they turn 40 or so. And their ear hair. And their nose hair.

    1. Zip Silver*

      I can attest. I don’t go out and wax or anything over the top, but do pluck the occasional lonely eyebrow hair.

      I also buzz cut my arm hair to 1/4″, otherwise I’d look like a hairy mess in short sleeves.

      1. Bulbasaur*

        My eyebrows are very short and unobtrusive, but I have a single eyebrow hair that will grow without limit if it’s allowed to, so it needs to be plucked on occasion.

    2. Moonlight Elantra*

      My husband and my male college friends were lamenting this weekend (all mid-30s) about how they all need to start trimming their eyebrows/nose/ears now….

    3. Amber T*

      I’m convinced my (mid-20’s) boyfriend is secretly a werewolf – he has his barber groom his eyebrows for him (it’s definitely needed), and he trims his nose/ear hair regularly.

      1. JokeyJules*

        maybe our SOs are related. Mine is mid 20s but has to really stay on top of plucking and trimming his ears, nose, eyebrows, even his earlobes grow these weirdly long dark hairs. so weird.

        and yet he complains that MY hair is everywhere at home.

        1. Amber T*

          LOL he had gone too long between trips to the barber a couple of weeks ago… we were sitting on the couch watching tv and he was fiddling with his face. During a commercial break, he turned to me and asked “can you pluck this for me?” and he was holding an eyebrow hair that was three inches. WTF.

          1. media monkey*

            how do they get that long without us noticing? like those weird hairs that you think have fallen off your head and you go to pick them off and they are attached but 4″ long!

      2. Lora*

        Ha! You reminded me of one of my favorite movies from the ’80s, The Company of Wolves. It’s a re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood with Angela Lansbury, and she very earnestly tells her granddaughter, “Never stray from the path! Never eat a windfall apple! And never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle!”

          1. aa*

            Yep. And it’s a Neil Jordan film. It’s an interesting film (and I don’t mean this as faint praise, on the contrary).

      3. Lexi Kate*

        When my husband started loosing his hairon his head in his late 20’s his eyebrow, eyelash, ear and nose hair started in overdrive.

    4. Bostonian*

      Hahahaha good point! My husband does all kinds of hair maintenance that I don’t have to deal with! (particularly nose, face, and neck)

    5. Scott*

      A guy here. I had to start grooming my eyebrows at 17. Sorry — eyebrow. Separate, narrow, clean up the under area.

      Still do.

  4. Zip Silver*

    Hair is a super conspicuous thing, if it’s not managed well. I work with a woman (two levels below me, under a different manage) who, for whatever reason, just doesn’t wash her hair, and it’s stringy, oily, and leads to her face being oily. She dresses well, and is a very outgoing people person, but honestly looks sloppy because she doesn’t keep her hair groomed. I know that’s it’s affected her career, because I’ve been involved in conversations with other managers where she’s been dismissed as somebody to promote or move into certain roles because she doesn’t present herself well.

    1. laughingrachel*

      Yeah, I work in finance and for my office, I think if your hair and nails are clean and well maintained, you don’t really need makeup or “groomed eyebrows” or whatever. Although I work at a fintech startup now, so mileage may vary for sure. But I’ve also worked in a big corporate bank (the one with the horses) and even there, if you were behind the scenes and not talking to customers or higher ups, the same minimum upkeep applied.

      I might be biased and just oblivious though. I’ve never worn makeup, not even for interviews. I have really sensitive skin and have allergic reactions to most makeups so they got phased out of my routines years ago and I’ve never really given it a second thought. I don’t know, maybe I’m hurting my promote-ability, but having never gotten into a “makeup routine” habit, I find a lot of it arbitrary and a waste of time.

      1. Kes*

        I have to agree with this (and I do wear minimal makeup, though I don’t groom eyebrows beyond avoiding a unibrow). Makeup and eyebrow grooming aren’t generally required in most fields, especially male-dominated ones, but your hair and nails must be clean and well-kept. That’s the baseline to me. (Of course, if you had particularly bad skin issues or wacky eyebrows, you might still be better off doing something about it.)

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Completely agree. I go without makeup most of the time, and I look perfectly fine so long as my hair looks washed/neat (and pulled back). There’s of course racialized dimensions to this, but generally speaking, you can minimize how “dirty” your hair looks by getting creative with your hairstyle, regardless of your racial/ethnic background.

      1. TrainerGirl*

        Indeed…I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that my natural curly hair (I’m African American) is unprofessional and I should straighten it.

      2. designbot*

        I’m deciding to resist this ‘pulled back’ thing. Maybe it’s an LA thing, but here it can actually be conspicuous if you do wear your hair back every day, and most women style their hair down or half-down.

    3. LegalBeagle*

      That seems pretty unnecessary! Why can’t someone’s gently and privately tell her that this is an issue (not that I agree it should be)? Really, this feels sexist and rather cruel, if people are openly discussing her behind her back, while allowing it to impede her career.

      1. Susie Q*

        I doubt this is sexist. I bet the same comments would be made about a man whose hair was consistently oily and unwashed.

      2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        I’m going to have to disagree here. She’s an adult, she really shouldn’t have to be told that her hair is greasy and gross. I think this differs from being a smelly person in that a person can be smelly and legitimately not be aware. Unlike someone with greasy enough hair that it’s commented on which is visually and texturally (yes I’m making up words now) apparent.

        1. Persephone Mulberry*

          Actually, I would argue that it’s totally possible to lose awareness of how your hair presents to other people, or that that favorite cardigan is getting too raggedy for the office, the same way you can develop nose blindness to the odors of your household.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            Especially when you’re depressed. *raises hand* I can’t even tell you when I had highlights last done and don’t really care at the moment – but it does make me look sloppy because I naturally have ash (read dirty dishwater) blond hair at the roots which looks like I haven’t showered (every morning, thanks). It also makes an impact on my own self worth, looking sloppy. Something to consider.

      3. sunny-dee*

        Not necessarily sexist — I know men that have been similarly limited because of their presentation.

      4. Julia*

        Why is it sexist?

        On a related note, this reminds me of a girl I went to high school with, who always had greasy hair with huge dandruff stuck in it. It may have been a medical condition, but she was also the type to look down on us girls who tried to look “nice” (i.e. teenage self-expression attempts) and I think she just didn’t feel like bothering with “superficial” stuff.

    4. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Has anyone mentioned this to her? If something like that were holding me back from a job I wanted, I’d sure want to know about it, even if it involved an awkward conversation.

      1. Zip Silver*

        I’m certainly not going to have the conversation with her. She’s in her 30’s, and if she hasn’t figured out shampoo then it’s not a can of worms I want to open.

        1. Hair Scientist*

          Most shampoos contain a harsh sulfate which strips hair of oils. That’s why you need to use conditioner, most of which contain moisture-repelling, plastic hair-wrapping silicones which can only be stripped by harsh sulfate shampoos… so not having ‘figured out’ shampoo is fine, really, because it’s quite tricky to recognise, know this, understand it, and then fix it. There’s an entire ‘no-poo’ movement.

            1. Julia*

              Yeah, this isn’t rocket science. I’m a language person and definitely not a chemist, but even I can google “how to deal with oily hair/fine hair/wavy hair” or whatever plagues me at the moment, read some articles/reddit posts and figure it out.

            2. Lara*

              And co-washing with just conditioner can still leave your hair looking clean if you commit to that (usually as part of the curly hair lifestyle).

          1. Lawgurl06*

            My hair went through a pretty gross phase when I was switching to natural products because of the sulfate, sillicones and other cemicals that are found in traditional shampoos. I had to detox all of that out of hair. I was washing it regularly and for probably a month it was still kind of stringy and oily looking as my hair detoxed. I kept my hair pulled back at work due to this. I didn’t like it but I felt it was best for me to remove all of those chemicals so I dealt with for the short time that it came up. So, yes, you can be in your 30s and not figure out shampoo, especially if you are changing to a completely different kind of products. Your hair will react to that and maybe not nicely.

          2. Jennifer Juniper*

            DreadHead shampoo is wonderful! No conditioner needed, and it’s the only shampoo that also detangles my extremely thick hair, which is past mid-back.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I have to jump in on this…partly I am wondering how long this has gone on.

          First, in her powerful memoir “Coming Clean”, Kimberly Rae Miller talks about growing up with hoarder parents. Their home was virtually unusable – and when plumbing broke, her parents wouldn’t let anyone inside so she survived with less and less access to water. Someone whose family member has a hoarding problem may be in a real bind and would benefit from an EAP. How to communicate that to someone you don’t know personally and don’t manage? That’s well beyond me.

          Second, my story. TLDR: Hard well water sucks.
          A year ago we moved to a new house. The well water is so hard that at age 50 I had to figure out shampoo all over again–and first I had to realize it wasn’t just my shoulder injury preventing me from washing well enough. I tested a dozen new shampoos (and a LOT of lemon juice) before finding a shampoo that can cut through the minerals. All last winter including the deep-freeze, I went to the high school’s “adult swim” session at least once a week just so I could feel clean — and I’m lucky my job allows flex time because it made me a half hour late for work. (*To address the elephant in the room: a whole-house water softener is on the to-do list, but with a fixer-upper, we are focused on higher priorities first — electrical, roof, redirecting rainwater away from foundations, etc.)

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            PS to anyone in the hard-water bind : Look for “clarifying shampoo”…oddly for me the expensive ones didn’t work as well as plain old Suave. In the meantime, if your hair is long enough try a bun or French braids — the tight styling is good camouflage. And skip the conditioner. (I have ultra-straight hair and can get away with that, I know that curls will vary.)

    5. aebhel*

      That’s a big thing, tbh. I know there are some fields where ‘polish’ matters a lot and women are expected to perform a certain level of femininity, but honestly in a lot of fields as long as you look neat and clean, you’re good. Wash your hair, keep it neat, keep your nails very short and very clean, etc. If your lips are inclined to get really chapped in the winter (mine do), I’d recommend wearing chapstick, but otherwise there’s no need for it.

      FWIW, I work in a female dominated professional field (librarian). I don’t wear makeup, don’t get manicures, and usually don’t bother shaving my body hair. I spend maybe five minutes a week plucking stray eyebrow hairs, but that’s only because I have dark, thick brows that quickly makes me look like Groucho Marx if I don’t manage them; if you have light-colored or reasonably-shaped eyebrows, you probably don’t have to bother.

      As long as you’re clean, neat, and professionally dressed, you should be fine in most fields.

      1. Grad Now Lawyer Later*

        I have some female colleagues who don’t wear makeup in 50% male 50% female office environment. And no one bats an eye! Like everyone here is saying, the key is cleanliness and neatness. One colleague who doesn’t wear makeup is around 30, wears her hair very short in an always very crisp-looking cut, and wears nice (mostly men’s clothes) like basic sweaters. Her eyebrows are groomed and her skin looks great. And this is an office where other women sometimes wear heels, makeup, etc and my non-makeup wearing colleague is not judged one bit–not by other women or the men!

        1. AnnaBananna*

          She sounds like someone who used to work on my team. She sounds just like her – no major grooming but her male-centered wardrobe was impeccable, and she ended up being the most popular one in the office (for good reason: she’s good people).

    6. Tupac Coachella*

      This makes me sad because there are so many products to resolve every tiny issue, but you would only know about them if you actually like this kind of stuff. Dry shampoo is a thing, and it’s a lifesaver for people whose hair starts looking oily 30 seconds after they get out of the shower, but I’d never heard about it before I started getting into makeup as a hobby (seriously-there’s a whole community of people, male and female, who like to play with, talk about, and learn about it). Likewise, if OP has one or two things that would probably make her look more polished, there’s more than likely a quick, easy, and maybe even inexpensive way to address it, but it may take some research and learning the language of beauty products to find it. For someone with no interest in makeup or grooming beyond cleanliness, that is not fun.

      To get around all that research for basic polish, I’d recommend asking a beauty minded friend for recommendations on a specific goal (a makeup counter rep is going to try to sell you a bunch of stuff you don’t want or need). It can be a great shortcut to just ask someone who enjoys that world, “hey, if I just want to spot cover the occasional blemish on the cheap, what should I do?” (For the interested- dot with a medium coverage concealer like Wet ‘n Wild Photofinish in as close to your skin tone as you can get and gently pat with a slightly damp makeup sponge or your ring finger until it you can’t see the concealer anymore. Takes about 30 seconds and $4, no other makeup needed.)

      1. Jasnah*

        +1 There are so many tricks to looking polished that don’t require makeup but are only known and discussed in the beauty/skin care community. Things like lip scrub so your lips aren’t chapped and peeling all winter, or face scrub and moisturizer which literally fix my skin after the beach or a dry winter day. Or learning how to take care of your cuticles (and what cuticles are) so your hands look nice and clean. Or eating healthy and drinking water so your skin looks good! There is a lot that people of all gender presentations can do to achieve polish without putting on makeup or spending a lot of time on it.

  5. Lilo*

    Gotta keep nails neat. Not saying manicure, but over long or dirty nails can be a huge turnoff. Hair definitely out of your face.

        1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

          I don’t think anyone would disagree that bitten nails look somewhat unprofessional, though?

          1. Oxford Comma*

            I’m a nail biter. I try not to do it in public, but it’s a habit. I’ve taken to making sure I have an emery board in my purse and I try and make sure it’s not obvious.

            1. AnnaBananna*

              I wouldn’t judge you if I was hiring. I used to bite my nails until I hit college, and understand that its a super hard habit to break. I also don’t think they ‘look gross’. When I get manicures I always get them super short and neat. *shrug*

      1. Admin of Sys*

        I always find this fascinating. I have never, in the history of my life, noticed someones nails unless they were interesting colors or so long that I was afraid to shake their hand. Do other folks watch people’s fingers more than me or something? I don’t even know if I could tell what nibbled nails looked like unless someone pointed them out.

        1. Kes*

          Eh, I think it can be noticeable if they’re shaking hands/writing/typing/gesturing/etc, which are common things in a lot of jobs, and their nails stand out as jagged/uneven/dirty. Bitten nails tend to be very short and uneven (and I say this as someone who used to bite her nails sometimes).

        2. Hmmmer Simpson*

          Right? Mine are uneven, although always clean, and I’m now super self-conscious! But I can’t think of a time I’ve ever noticed somebody’s nails other than if they’re a fun color…

        3. Autumnheart*

          The only time I ever noticed someone’s nails was at a doctor’s appointment. The nurse’s nails were horrific. Some were long and had visible crud under them, some were broken off at uneven lengths, and she had long ragged hangnails with scabs on multiple fingers. A NURSE.

          I get icky hangnails now and then, and I had never considered it before then, but now I make sure to keep my cuticles maintained. I’ve never had a manicure in my life, but moisturizer and a nail file aren’t too much to ask.

        4. Elle*

          OMG, some of the men I work with have the most disgusting nails. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t notice nails if they’re anywhere between “impractical false talons” and “acceptable to basic hygiene standards”. But some of the men I work with have scraggly, dirty, cracked, scaly, yellow, actively bleeding cuticles, giant blisters, etc nails. And when they’re in meetings talking with their hands I can’t help but stare and be horrified that they’re touching a communal mouse or I’m going to have to shake them.

        5. Blue*

          I have a coworker who is totally grossed out by our (male) colleague’s nails, I think because they’re longer than what is generally considered socially acceptable for men? I don’t know, but I literally never noticed they were on the long side until she pointed it out, and she was mystified that I was unfazed by it (as was I at her reaction, tbh).

          1. General Ginger*

            One of my friends usually keeps his nails very long, significantly longer than what’s generally considered socially acceptable for men. But they’re generally even, and clean, so I don’t notice them much. However, one of my coworkers also has long nails, and I notice them all the time, because he talks with his hands, and his nails are dirty.

          2. Not Rebee*

            I had an interview once where the guy I was interviewing just mentioned his nails up front (basically right after we shook hands). He’s a classical guitarist, and keeps his nails long because he doesn’t play with a guitar pick (which matches up with classical guitar). But it’s unusual to see men with long nails (or lesbians, but that’s different) so I assume he felt it was out of the ordinary enough that it might bother people and he should kind of claim it up front. I’ll admit, once he mentioned it I did find them weirdly long, but I didn’t hold it against him (especially with such a reasonable explanation) and it gave us a good segue into talking about his hobbies.

      1. Goya de la Mancha*

        Ok, maybe I’m all alone on this, but how do people keep their nails so clean!?!

        I swear, I wash my hands a million times a day, but if I have any length to my nails at all, they become a magnet for dirt! Short of keeping a nail brush in the employee bathroom, I don’t know how to fix this :(

          1. Goya de la Mancha*

            Hmmm, I have an emery board, but I’ll have to see if I can get my hands on a pointed one! I just wondered if there was a way to prevent it?

            1. Slartibartfast*

              It depends on what you do. If you’re handling money or typing all day, you’re probably going to pick up a lot of crud. I use the nail on my index finger to scrape under the nails on the opposite hand when I’m hand washing at work.

            2. PizzaDog*

              I know it’s gross, but I use the tip of a mechanical pencil (without the lead showing, obviously).

              I find that any extra dirt comes out when I wash my hair or do the dishes.

            3. Raine*

              I use that little thing that’s in the middle of a nail clippers with the little cat claw curved bit that goes under nails perfectly. I tend to do this while I’m rinsing with mouth wash in the morning and at night, it take maybe a minute.

            4. Ellex*

              Use tweezers, or look for a metal nail file. They usually have a pointed end which is good for cleaning under your nails.

              You might consider looking into a nail-strengthening polish. My mother’s nails pick up a lot of dirt and actually get discolored just from garden soil, but she has her hands in water and often bleach regularly, which can really weaken your nails.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’m like JokeyJules, and I keep my nails short (but I also play guitar, so shorter nails are helpful). You can keep a nail file at your desk, but I find that if my nails are a dirt magnet, it’s easier for me to just keep them short and neat.

        2. Blue Anne*

          I’m totally with you. I wash my hands multiple times a day and try to get under my nails when I do. And I have a few unbent paperclips at my desk so that I can scrape dirt out from under my nails when no one else is in the room. End up doing it multiple times a day. I’m a freaking accountant! I’m not out in the garden or whatever. No idea where it comes from.

        3. Kristobel*

          I just use a napkin and something pointy (letter opener, pen, another nail, whatever) to do a quick swipe, then wash my hands.

        4. I Love Thrawn*

          I have a nail brush I use at home when I wash my hands. Add soap, it cleans underneath them very nicely.

        5. aebhel*

          I just keep mine really, really short. I’ve never understood how people can keep long nails looking nice and neat, either, and I suspect it takes a lot more effort than I want to put into it.

        6. Elemeno P.*

          When you wash your hair, do you scratch your scalp while you lather? I occasionally clean under my nails with the little point thing in the nail clippers, but my nails mostly get clean while I’m washing my hair.

          1. Goya de la Mancha*

            I do, and my nails are always clean after a shower. Throughout the day they just seem to pick it up from everywhere and anywhere.

        7. General Ginger*

          I keep mine ruthlessly super short. They are some kind of horrible grime magnet, otherwise.

        8. Not Rebee*

          No idea what your gender is, but I find the number one cause of crud under my nails (short or long doesn’t matter) is that I tend to touch my face a decent amount (which my dermatologist wishes I wouldn’t) and I pick up all the world’s makeup under my nails. It doesn’t matter how often I wash my hands, because once I scratch my face the makeup is just right back under there. Luckily it’s all skin tone (since I don’t rub my eyes, so it’s all face colored stuff not eyeshadow or eyeliner or something) so it doesn’t show, I hope, but it’s definitely a frequent issue for me.

        9. AnnaBananna*

          Honestly? I’m kind of neurotic about picking under my nails so they’re clean. So that’s my suggestion: each time you take a mental break throughout the day, look down, clean your nails. Boom! :)

        10. PersonalJeebus*

          Super late to the discussion, but maybe this will help: After you trim your nails short, try exfoliating or (carefully!) trimming away the built-up skin on your fingertips, particularly the part that gets covered up by your fingernail as it grows out. If the skin there is rough and uneven, it may trap more dirt, especially once it’s pressed up against the barrier of a growing-out fingernail.

          Also, excessive hand washing can exacerbate the dryness and roughness of your skin, which in turn causes it to grab more dirt. So don’t overdo it! Too much soap or too hot water = more dryness. And moisturize after washing–like, rub the moisturizer onto and under your nails.

    1. Allison*

      Right, it’s actually better to have neat, unpolished fingernails than nails with super chipped polish.

      1. Susan Calvin*

        Seriously, that’s why I never wear polish anymore – I just can’t keep it un-chipped for more than 24h and having to take it off again so quickly makes it just not worth the hassle. My inner teenage goth pines for the black and burgundy our office manager usually wears (she can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong either).

          1. BF50*

            I’ve totally chipped Gel polish. Usually it takes me a couple of days, but I have managed to do it within 24 hours. The first time, the salon re-did the manicure for free since it was supposed to last a week.

            But when that one immediately chipped, too. I decided it had more to do with how I use my hands. It did last longer than regular polish, but it still chips.

            1. Just Employed Here*

              I have super soft nails (as opposed to all the other women in my family), and nail polish always chips. So I’ve given up on that many years ago.

              My nails also break, so I can’t have neat, evenly cut nails, because there’s always one or two that are uneven and even shorter than the neatly cut other ones.

              Oh well, I have to try to amaze people with my wits and charm instead of my grooming.

              1. AnnaBananna*

                Yup! Our nails are more bendy so the foundation of the lacquer has nowhere to hold onto. That said, Revlon makes a KILLER basecoat that I swear will make your manicure last two weeks – as long as you’re not doing anything too strenuous.

                1. PersonalJeebus*

                  Thanks for the tip! I love Revlon polish in general. That and OPI are the only brands I’ve found that stay on long enough to be worth the trouble.

            2. Raine*

              There’s dip powder nails now which are halfway between acrylic and gel, those tend to last for 3-4 weeks if you can tolerate the grow out. I haven’t had mine chip yet and I am very rough on my nails. I’m coming up on 4.5 weeks and they are a bit too grown out now but still look like the day I got them otherwise.

          2. Moonlight Elantra*

            YES. I invested in the LED lamp and some gel polishes and I’ve never been happier with my painted nails. Rocking black right now for Halloween.

            1. GingerHR*

              Unfortunately, it wrecks your nails. I had it done a few times (on and off, not one after the other) when a friend who’s a nail tech started doing it. Nails had to grow out fully to recover

              1. SS Express*

                I’ve had one gel polish application after another for 3 years now. I’ve only had bare nails twice in this time, for surgeries where polished nails weren’t allowed, and both times I noticed that my natural nails were still completely fine – and I have thin nails that used to grow out of shape and break all the time.

        1. justsomeone*

          It’s your body chemistry. **IF** it’s something that interests you, I’d play with different base and topcoat combos. I’d start with an Orly bonder basecoat and seche vite top coat and then see.

        2. JR*

          Gel manicure!! I tried to go back to regular because I don’t like being committed to go back to the salon to get it off (you can do it yourself, but it’s more effort). And it smooshed within an hour and I swore never to do regular again. Actually, the most recent time I went, I did some sort of powder dip, and 10 days in it’s still flawless. Supposed to last 3-4 weeks.

    2. GhostWriter*

      I’ve noticed that some older men (in their 50’s or 60’s) have very long, uneven, and sometimes yellowing fingernails. Really grosses me out.

      Otherwise I don’t notice nails unless someone has a super bright nail polish on them.

    3. daisy*

      I really struggle with this – I rock climb and my hands are pretty beat up as a result. My nail tips are always short and smooth, but my nails are frequently bruised, I have hangnails and flappers that have torn (obviously I bandage anything that’s gruesome) and I have callouses in weird places. Are people really looking at my hands that much?

      1. Zillah*

        Biting my hangnails is a nervous tic of mine, and my hands also tend to get really chapped in the winter. I hope no one is looking that closely at my hands.

      2. Kitrona*

        I got this great little set from Ulta, by Tweezerman, that has a little cuticle nipper in it. It’s helped immensely! But probably any type of cuticle nipper would help. When I get hangnails, they bother me so much I end up bleeding if I don’t use the nipper.

    4. Lisa*

      The challenge with this one is that the amount of required effort depends so much on the person’s genetics and health. Looking at all the examples in this thread about our own fingernail challenges. Some people need to do nothing but wash their hands and occasionally clip or file for length and they will have beautiful-looking hands. Others have a more high-maintenance situation.

      For a long time I just thought I would have unpleasant looking hands, because I have so many issues. Nails that repel polish, cuticles that overgrow, hangnails galore, easy breakage, inverted curve, and a weird problem where my nails tend to separate from the nail bed and make me look like I got a french manicure from a drunk. But now I’ve discovered that I can use liquid cuticle remover, professional-grade tools, clear strengthening polish, and diamond-textured metal files to make my nails look decent. It’s a lot of work for me, to just look like someone else might look who hardly did a thing.

      I still try to keep it up because my work often involves typing or writing in clear view of a colleague or client. And the breakage and hangnails can be painful or distracting.

      When I’ve been doing a lot of gardening, or cooking in ways that stain my nails – like processing fruit from my trees – I try to cut myself a little slack but I still do my best. Cuticle remover under the nails can reduce stains. I use Blue Cross from Sally Beauty.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        A recommendation for “intensive care deep moisture vaseline jelly cream” to keep down hangnails.

        Re: nailbiting… I had never quite broken a childhood nailbiting habit until I worked with someone who bit hers so badly that they were scabbed and noticeably shorter than her fingers. I never wanted to let it get that bad so I started working on it hard at that time. For me it helps to keep my nails polished. If it starts to chip or wear off, I slap on a quick top layer at lunchtime (in the car not in the office LOL!). Not perfect, but keeps me from reverting to childhood until I’m back home to re-do them from scratch.

      2. PersonalJeebus*

        I too put a lot of effort into my nails just to keep them looking neat and groomed, and to avoid hangnails, which to me are extremely uncomfortable.

        I’ve recently started wearing gloves for a lot of chores that would otherwise lead to dried-out hands and nails from all the chemicals and hand-washing that ensues. So when washing dishes, the big yellow gloves with the soft insides go on! I use disposable, close-fitting rubber gloves to do things like handle raw meat or sticky fruit (hello, dearest jackfruit), scrub the bathroom, or clean the cat boxes (so that I don’t have to scour my hands so intensely after).

  6. Cese*

    I work in academia, in administration. I don’t wear any makeup and wear running shoes (due to prescribed orthotics). My hair though is always pulled back or worn long, but in a neutral way. I also always wear appropriate business-casual clothing for my environment (today is dress slacks, a shirt, a cardigan, and a colourful scarf). I have done well in my roles and have always continuously been promoted – I’m not management, but have worked in management previously. It really depends on the context of the office. For all of my interviews, I wear dress shoes and dressier clothing, but still normally no makeup or anything different with hair.

    My recommendation: Do you have any friends you can speak to in the jobs you’re applying to? If you’re looking for work in a very professional environment, such as finance, business, or law, you will definitely be required to dress more professionally/conservatively. More creative outlets allow more flexibility.

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      Your outfit sounds exactly like my friend’s “uniform” and she works in a business school. Black dress slacks, nice blouse, scarf, and a cardigan. While it’s academia, there’s definitely a dress code and everyone is supposed to look like they’d fit right in at most offices. She also does not wear an ounce of make up. Nobody has ever seemed to notice or care and to me at least, she looks incredibly polished.

    2. FD*

      My recommendation: Do you have any friends you can speak to in the jobs you’re applying to?

      Strongly agree. It’s often hard to tell what the real norms are in your field when you’re just starting out, and asking someone in it for advice can be really helpful.

    3. Phoenix Programmer*

      I work in finance/healthcare. I’m a cis woman. I am also obese >300lbs. I’ve never worn makeup and get pimples occasionally and wear blouses with pant suit bottoms from dress Barn/Ross & Ally. For interviews I toss on a blazer. I don’t wear jewelry. Never pluck or “manage” my thick eyebrows. Although I would not call them unruly. They lay flat. I wash my hair a few times a week – but I have the type of hair that folks compliment after skipping a wash so kyh. I clip nails and clean underneath and that is all. Never had a manicure in my life. I wash my face each morning using facial soap and brush my hair. I never use hair product.

      My performance reviews are stellar. Professional appearance is always highly rated. Oh and the longest I have gone without a promotion is 1.5 years barring my current job. But I am so senior now there is not a lot of up left outside of managing departments.

      Frankly I find polish is overrated in all but politics, law, and sales. Focus on a wardrobe that fits you well made of nice materials and you will look professional.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        And since it has been brought up below. I am white – very fair skin tone with dark brown almost jet balck hair. My eyebrows are jet black. I’m tallish – 5’9″ so have been called intimidating more thana few times bit again no issues with polish ever across a variety of bosses. Frankly I even had a bully boss who nitpicked the type of shoes I wore, my feet are 10 in men’s so dress shoes are a challenge. She didn’t care they were flats (which is all I ever wear) but that they were felt.

      2. ologist*

        Pheonix Programmer, can you elaborate on how professional appearance rating factors in to your performance reviews? I’m genuinely curious, I have not heard of this before.

        1. Phoenix Programmer*

          We are rated on a scale of 1-5 on “spheres” of performance and one of then is professionalism which includes wardrobe as well as behaviors/soft skills. My bosses have always said – “your wardrobe and appearnece is professional no issues there” or similar. This was across both companies I’ve worked for.

      3. Minimally Groomed Longhair*

        My experience is very similar to Phoenix Programmer’s. I work in Customer Support/Operations as a Manager, am a white, cisgender, fat woman (I dislike the word obese but you may apply that to me if it’s helpful), and have managed to get stellar reviews and promotions throughout my career (I’m late 30s) despite not really doing much with my appearance. I’m in an office where it’s appropriate to wear (clean) jeans and sneakers, and non-tee-shirt tops, and I do this unless I need to speak to a client or attend a business conference that requires more formal business wear (slacks, blazer, blouse, flats.)

        I shower daily, but my grooming routine is very minimal – I have very long hair that I keep brushed and pulled in a ponytail in cold weather, a bun in hot weather. I put on small amount of foundation each morning to even out my skin tone. I keep my eyebrows plucked and shaped. That’s it.

        Very happy never to have been formally rated on my “professional appearance” but I’ve also never received any feedback on it whatsoever, so I think I’m “passing” as “good enough” despite my clear disinterest in makeup or fashionable hair.

        1. Old Biddy*

          It does vary a lot by field. I am a fat, female, middle-aged scientist. I wear the basic uniform of jeans/ shirt-cardigan combo/comfy shoes most days, as do most of my female colleagues (with slight variations in the type of clothing chosen rather than the level of formality). It hasn’t hurt me, although I did once overhear a receptionist complain about how casually the scientists dress.

    4. Arya Parya*

      I’m a cis, straight woman and I don’t wear make-up. Never cared for it. Nor do I west jewerly.

      It has never held me back. I do work in IT, so that probably helps a bit. I adhere to the dress code where ever I work. I have a wardrobe of thing that fit me well and I find comfortable. I also take care my hair looks good and of basic hygiene of course. I’m lucky enough that my eyebrows look groomed, even though I don’t groom them. No one has ever commented on my appearance.

      I do think it differs per industry. In IT everything tends to be pretty laid back. So try to get a feel for that if you can. But I do think it is possible, in some industries at least, to go without make-up.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        I am in Admin and have never worn make up.

        I have to do something about my eyebrows or I get a bit of unabrow thing. I do wear minimal jewellery, because I like the pretty necklace my husband bought me, and I wear a wedding ring. I have a set wardrobe that does not include any skirts or dresses because they just don’t suit my shape.

        So yeah, make up is not mandatory. For that matter, neither are skirts, but YMMV depending on industry.

      2. HR Bee*

        I could have written exactly this comment, but replace “I work in IT” with “I work in HR.” But it’s a manufacturing company with a pretty casual dress code.

        For me, the difference between everyday going-out wear (as opposed to sloppy around-the-house wear) and my work wardrobe is the earrings. I don’t wear any other jewelry but I have a large selection of nice, pretty dangly earrings and I match them to my outfits. If your blouse and your earrings match, people think you look pretty put together even if you aren’t wearing makeup and/or your hair isn’t meticulously styled.

    5. princess paperwork*

      This. I work in academic medicine in administration and dress similarly to Cese. My uniform is basic dark slacks (black, brown, burgundy, blue, green, gray), Gap pullovers and flats. For interviews I upgrade to my dark pant suit, blouse and pumps I usually don’t wear makeup. I wash and moisturize my face including lips every morning which gives me the “slightly more awake version”. I smooth my eyebrows down when I moisturize my face. Nails are kept short and clean. Hair is very short and worn in natural curls. I think my bare minimum has been accepted at all of my employers.

      My advice: Dress up for the interview but don’t worry about makeup or pimples. We all get pimples and more women than you think do not wear makeup.

      1. AnnaBananna*


        I think appearance should follow the old fashion adage of ‘balance is everything’. In fashion, they mean that if you’re going to wear a huge statement piece (bright scarf, sweaters, etc), then tone down everything else so there’s a balance. Same with overall appearance. If you’re not supergroomed but your attire is great: you can totally get away with not being a primped barbie doll. I’ve found that I ‘get away’ with more (makeup/hair-wise) if I’m wearing heels and a dress. I’m lazy, so I choose to waer dresses most days. LOL But if I wanted to get a way with cargo pants, I’d have to pump up other areas: jewelry, makeup/hair or shoes. It’s all about balance.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          I can’t wear heels because of balance issues. I’ve actually had more than one boyfriend tell me I shouldn’t wear them – and one of them liked women in heels. I’m also 5’5, so height wasn’t the issue.

    6. Argh!*

      This kind of thing also varies geographically. I have lived in extremes of cold and extremes of hot, and I find that those in cold climates are more forgiving of informal clothes. Likewise, the East Coast standards are a bit dressier than the Midwest.

  7. Mommy MD*

    Clean face, clean manageable hair, clear lip balm, get your brows done once a month and a touch of mascara. You should be able to get away with that. And that’s easy and fast. Why do women need to do it and not men? It’s just one of those standards. You can go in clean and unkempt but in the end it will cost you jobs. Employers do look at the package.

    1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I wouldn’t say you need to get your brows ‘done’ once a month. I would say (if you decide this is a thing you want to keep up on) get them done once, just to get yourself started with clean lines (and let who ever does it know you are looking for a professional but natural look – not super thin or shaped) and then pluck anything that pops up after that. Priority starts with anything that would form a uni-brow. It’s not super fair, but the darker your hair is the more eyebrow stuff with stand out – if you have lighter hair you can be less vigilant.

      1. Lucille2*

        Agree with this. I’ve only had my brows done professionally once. It’s been at home upkeep ever since. But I don’t have super bushy brows, so I’m not sure this advice applies to everyone.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          Same. My brows are very fine and light-colored so they are literally zero maintenance. I don’t even have to pluck, and never have. But I am the exception to the rule of most of my peers.

        2. Amber T*

          It gets to the point too where your brow hair doesn’t grow back. I had suuuuuper bushy eyebrows as a teenager and totally went for the sperm brow phase. While I don’t go for the super thick (or thicc, as the kids say these days) brows that are fashionable, I do spend time actually penciling/painting them in in the mornings now.

          Of course, I’ll get the random brow hair growing halfway up my forehead too, so, you know, bodies are just weird.

          1. Confused Again*

            OK now I’m even more confused. Please tell me “sperm brow” is a typo. Because… wtf could it be?

            1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

              It sounds like having your eyebrows super thick on the inside and thin on the outsides, maybe.

            2. Not a Badmin anymore*

              lol I think it’s those super thin eyebrows – bigger/normal size towards the beginning and really thin as you get to the outer corner of the eye

            3. Goya de la Mancha*

              I think it’s when the part by your nose is sort of rounded and the rest of your eyebrow trails off to a very thin line?

            4. Amber T*

              It wasn’t. It was a thing in the 90’s/00’s and was exactly how Ex-Accountant – Future Accountant described. It was THE WAY TO LOOK in middle school, when we all started getting our eyebrows waxed. And it’s why I paint them on every morning now… :/

              1. Confused Again*

                Thanks for the explanation; I must have missed that part of the 90s. I am even happier now to be a non-makeup wearing or eyebrow plucking person because I don’t know if I could deal with something the shape of sperm on my face.

          2. Adereterial*

            Ha! I wish… definitely not the case for me or for anyone else I know. Monthly trips to the Benefit counter are part of my life.

          3. Old Biddy*

            Sadly, that happens with age too. I had nice thick brows most of my life, and only got them waxed twice. After 40, they started thinning, and that got worse when I developed thyroid issues. Now I have to use Rogaine on them to keep them at the level I want. I need to get them waxed but am scared of overzealous beauticians.

            TL/DR – men’s full strenth Rogaine applied once a day works wonders on brows. Apply it with a q-tip.

        3. GhostWriter*

          I had my brows done professionally for the first time a few weeks ago (by the lady who cuts my hair) since I really don’t know how to do it. I told her I felt like my brows were “bushy” and I wanted them to be less bushy so they’d look neat and processional, but I also wanted them to look round and “natural” and not super thin with an angry arch. She trimmed them and seemed to pluck a lot. I don’t think the difference is huge, but they do look neater. I think I can maintain them myself and may have her shape them every couple months.

          I don’t wear make-up at all and have been able to get jobs, though I always assume that I will be at a slight disadvantage compared to women who do wear make-up.

          1. Just Employed Here*

            “I don’t think the difference is huge, but they do look neater.”

            That’s always a great eyebrow look! You, only very slightly better :-)

      2. Bee*

        That, and every few weeks or so, just brush the hairs up & out and trim anything that’s grown over the line of your brow. Current trends are for somewhat grown-in eyebrows anyway (see: Glossier ads); you can get away with less plucking as long as you keep them trimmed.

      3. Bostonian*

        Same. I’m pretty low maintenance; plucking the strays for 5 minutes once/week keeps things in order.

      4. Allison*

        I agree, that’s what I recommend for eyebrows. I haven’t had mine done in years, I just maintain the shape I was given. I probably should get them done once a year or so, to better maintain a good shape, but I’m cheap and lazy.

      5. SKA*

        Absolutely. Just pluck ’em yourself after you’ve got your basic eyebrow shape figured out. I apparently have “great” eyebrows (my hair stylist told me so, I swear!), and they’ve never been touched by a professional. I just pluck strays regularly. And sometimes use an “eyebrow pomade” to keep them in line/hide a slight bald spot in one of my brows.

      6. Artemesia*

        Totally depends on the brows you have. I have never had to do much brow grooming because they are naturally pretty much okay. I have a friend who has to get them shaped once a month because she has a unibrow if she doesn’t keep on top of it. My lips on the other hand would be a disgusting chapped mess if I didn’t put vaseline on them at night and always use either a moisturizing lip gloss or lipstick. She uses chapstick at most and they look fine.

        1. Mystery Bookworm*

          Yeah, there’s a genes component here. I never touch my brows (or really, much of any hair) and it’s so fine and light people can hardly tell (I got my brows done – twice! – when I was in weddings) I did some before/after photos and literally none of my family could tell the difference. Sigh.

          On the other hand, my husband does need to do his brows, because he has very thick hair that look unruly.

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          Yes, totally depends. My eyebrows are relatively thick and dark but not unruly. I never get them “done” because every single time I’ve gone to someone they turn out freakishly thin, despite my patient explanations of what I want. So I do them myself with tweezers if they go crazy.

      7. aebhel*

        Yeah, I’ve never gotten my brows ‘done’ professionally in my life. I pluck the random stray hairs that pop up just above my lids and on the bridge of my nose, but that’s it. I don’t think it looks unkempt, and I have thick dark hair.

        Mascara is totally unnecessary, as is lip balm unless your lips are actually chapped.

      8. DaniCalifornia*

        I hate getting my eyebrows done. I stopped getting them done because it irritates my skin so badly. Yes I’ve tried different methods and salons and lotions but it’s no use. I am also starting to get skin tags underneath the hair and let me tell you that is a painful thing when someone is waxing and plucking away. So I stopped. And I honestly have never had anyone notice. If they did I would hope it wouldn’t affect my opportunities because I am awesome at my job. No one at previous jobs cared. No one at current job cares. Heck several of the guys didn’t even notice when one of my coworkers got a black eye. I think in general it’s fine to put on as little or as much makeup as you want, but we care way too much about tiny details as a society.

    2. Brittle Soup*

      I can second that. I personally go with a light layer of foundation and mascara as my day to day. It’s 3 minutes of my morning and it does make me look more awake.

      For hair, I get a little more creative, but my five minute pretty look is a loose French braid that I twist into a bun or tuck under. (Its tough to learn, but so worth it). There are so many quick up-dos on YouTube and pinterest, but that’s my favorite.

    3. KHB*

      I find it really disheartening that after the LW specifically said she’s confident in the “no makeup” part of the equation, we’re getting all these recommendations for makeup.

      1. Katniss*

        Right? It really is okay for women to not wear any makeup at all. We don’t have to recommend it as if it’s a basic part of being a human.

        1. Bostonian*

          Yeah, I work in a pretty standard office job, and there are plenty of coworkers who don’t wear any makeup, or it’s very minimal. I do just fine without- if I think I’m looking particularly tired, I might put on mascara to open up my eyes, but that’s it!

      2. Rosemary*

        I agree. Mommy MD in particular has her rules for how women should present themselves in society (including makeup) and feels obligated to act as enforcer of these rules whenever she gets the opportunity.

        1. Sam I Am*

          I don’t think you have to follow Mommy to every thread to jump up and down on her though, just state your opinion instead of referring back to her more than the one time. I say this as someone who disagrees with her take on it.

        1. JSPA*

          And frankly, a lot of the other things are stuff that people with darker / thicker hair have to do more of, for the same effect.” Which frankly has a discriminatory tinge.

          That is, people with very fine hair (or very light hair, even if it’s thick); or naturally red lips and rosy cheeks get seen as “well groomed” with far less grooming time and expensive grooming products, than other people. And paler people need to have super dry skin before they look “ashy” (yet darker people sometimes get side-eye if they use a strong enough skin oil to prevent that ashy look on their darker skin, and certainly get dinged for looking ashy). People whose hair grows in straight also have far fewer problems with ingrown hairs and resulting infections than people whose hair grows in naturally kinky, too (and that’s been documented to the point where a lot of public sector workers whose dress code used to specify “clean shaven” for men, now allows short beards). If I remember right, not because agencies decided to be kind to their employees for the heck of it, but because a case was brought to trial and they successfully argued it was a racial barrier (I could be wrong, it was a while back).

          So yeah, grooming is not the same for everyone. Cost, time, carcinogen burden, infection risk, ecological issues–it’s a long list. It’s basically money subtracted–unequally!– from one’s paycheck. Enough to warrant gentle push-back against the idea that women in general (or people in general) need to be shaped, trimmed, painted and primped to “look competent” or “look like leaders.” Unless, that is, you want to insist that neither Mahatma Ghandi nor Golda Meir were “leadership material.”

          Besides, all of the details go in and out of style. Unibrows were (and maybe still are) “in,” in fashion shoots and urban centers, from late 2017 through at least mid 2018. People who don’t have them were going as far as getting fake unibrow jobs.

          You know what product makes people look their best? Self confidence.

          1. Close Bracket*

            > Which frankly has a discriminatory tinge.

            And the unibrow hate. People of hairier ethnicities are more likely to have unibrows and more likely to have visible facial hair if they are women (and if they are men, but men typically shave their faces). The idea that this is inherently unprofessional and has to be changed is based on a Northern European aesthetic.

            1. Ja'am*

              Yes, thank you! This is what I was imagining when reading the letter. The idea that different people’s natural states are seen as unkempt/ungroomed and unclean is a huge probelm.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Unless, that is, you want to insist that neither Mahatma Ghandi nor Golda Meir were “leadership material.”

            How did I miss this yesterday? I love it!

      3. Roscoe*

        So, we can look at what is and what should be. Unfortunately, what it IS currently is that in some workplaces women probably would be looked at funny for not wearing makeup. Hell, Alison even suggested a bit of makeup in her response. If OP wants to know some standards, there is nothing wrong with giving advice.

        1. wheeeee*

          The truth is, in some workplaces it would make a difference. Is that fair or right? No. Does makeup have anything to do with competence at one’s job? No. But still it is true, in some places and circumstances, it matters.

          1. KHB*

            And in some places and circumstances, it doesn’t. And even in a lot of the places where it matters, it’s perfectly possible to succeed (as Alison said) if you’re good enough at your job to balance out your slightly unconventional appearance.

            1. Argh!*

              Why put yourself at a disadvantage, especially in a job interview? Up-styling for one day won’t kill LW.

              1. KHB*

                No, it wouldn’t kill her to wear makeup for one day. But she says she doesn’t want to do it. And that’s a valid choice that’s perfectly compatible with success in most cases.

                Also, wearing makeup for one day can be disorienting if you’re not used to it. You have to get up that much earlier and take the time to apply it (which isn’t easy if you don’t do it regularly). Then you have to deal with unfamiliar sensations on your face all day, you have to worry about it getting smudged, and you have to remember not to touch your face or rub your eyes in ways that you might be used to. Why add all that stress to an already stressful day?

                1. Perse's Mom*

                  On top of all of that (as if that’s not enough!), it’s also expensive! So she would either have to research and buy a bunch of stuff she plans to never use again, or find a friend or friends with the appropriate items and what, go over to their place before her interview to get made up, have them come over to her place and help her?

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I wore it to work every day, then stopped wearing it about ten years ago except for the evenings when I go out, nothing changed. (Other than my makeup now lasts longer.) I really cannot say whether other women in any of my workplaces wear makeup or not. I never pay attention.

        3. Jasnah*

          This. Yes it is harder for some people to achieve a western/white beauty standard due to their genetics/ethnicity/financial situation/etc. Unfortunately that is how the world is though. So it’s up to OP to figure out how much is required so they don’t get penalized for it. I can’t in good faith encourage OP to grow a unibrow because “beauty standards are racist and arbitrary!”–they are but that’s going to hurt OP more than it will change beauty standards.

          1. JSPA*

            My suggestion was more to the people doing the judging–either literally, in the case of making the hiring and promotion decisions, or in the sense of “passing judgement”–than to the OP. Norms shift all the time. The speed of the shift has a lot to do with awareness, and people bothering to think, “Hm, not doing this particular grooming and self presentation ritual may not be an indicator that the candidate is less self-aware; less norm-aware; less accommodating; less clean or less tidy; less of a team player; less skillful with time and resources; too focused on personal comfort or sensuality; a “bad cultural fit”; a devotee of some more extreme sect or practice or philosophy; or less cool under pressure than a person who does do that particular grooming and self-presentation ritual.”

            Because too often, we use some particular aspect(s) of grooming as a stand in for some or all of those things. Many of which should also not be barriers in their own right, I suppose! But while we can argue whether “messy desk” people should be sought out or warded off, it’s really unhelpful to assume that unshaved legs is a tip off about desk tidiness. Or that a woman with a hint of mustache is probably slothful, or a firebrand, or shy, or likely to leave dishes in the sink, or whatever (I’m sure the details vary based on what long-burried stereotypes the judgers were exposed to in their formative years!)

            Basically, I’m suggesting that people examine their own reactions (including questioning the “I had to so why shouldn’t they” thinking that perpetuates norms way past their natural “sell by” date).

        1. motherofdragons*

          Yep. My boss is our program director, well-known and well-respected in the field (locally and nationally), does lots of presentations and video conference calls, etc. I have never known her to wear makeup of any kind. She gets her hair done, and she wears nice-but-pretty-casual outfits and shoes, so she looks pulled together, but not a stitch of makeup.

      4. Cucumberzucchini*

        You can definitely get away without wearing makeup as a woman. I very rarely wear makeup and it has never been an issue for me, and I work in a field where even though I don’t routinely meet clients face to face appearance in the office with coworkers does matter. You can maintain a high level of polish and hygiene without makeup. Of course, I don’t know what’s running around in the minds of others so maybe it has been an issue and I just wasn’t aware, but I’ve been very successful in my field. I am traditionally attractive (but not gorgeous) and have good skin which I’m sure helps. I have almost no eyebrows though and I don’t bother to fill them in. If I have an important meeting I will throw on some tinted moisturizer, eye liner and mascara but that’s about the limit of how much time I want to invest in makeup for work.

      5. Amtelope*

        Yep. I think it’s not cool to suggest mascara to someone who doesn’t want to wear makeup. I am on the fence about suggesting clear lip balm, because as another person who doesn’t wear makeup, I don’t consider colorless lip balm to be “makeup” — it helps keep my lips from being chapped and dry, which I think of as a neutral and relatively non-gendered grooming/hygiene thing.

        But mascara is definitely makeup, and non-makeup-wearing people generally don’t want to wear it.

        1. Alton*

          Maybe it’s just me, but I’m always a little baffled that mascara is treated like a very basic, minimal thing. I kind of get it–it emphasizes your eyes–but as someone who hates makeup, I find mascara to be the absolute worst. It takes skill to apply, it’s easy to forget you’re wearing it and rub your eyes, and it’s hard to remove. My idea of low-maintenance makeup is dabbing a little concealer on a pimple.

          1. Delphine*

            I can’t wear eyeliner or mascara–my eyes would be watering all day. What a ridiculous expectation for women…

            1. I Love Thrawn*

              I can do eyeliner but my eyes tear up (allergies) so mascara is just not possible for me. I kind of wish I could wear it.

              1. Kitkat*

                I’ve had this problem with certain brands but other brands work for me. My eyes are very sensitive.

                Price doesn’t really impact how irritating a certain brand is

          2. Teapot project manager*

            I do wear makeup, foundation and lipstick pretty much always but very rarely wear mascara. Pretty much only when going out dressed up and not always then

            So yeah, mascara is not minimal in my book. And if she doesn’t want to wear makeup no need to wear any at all

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I’m the opposite–if I do the bare minimum, it’s concealer (I have very dark circles), a touch of lipstick, a little powder to take away the shine, and DEFINITELY mascara. Otherwise my eyes disappear.

              For daily work wear, I add eyeshadow and liner but in neutral colors. I certainly don’t care if other people wear makeup or not.

          3. aebhel*

            Yeah–I don’t wear makeup now, but when I was younger I had really bad acne that I usually covered up. Anything else is way too much work. And mascara takes skill to apply correctly; clumpy, uneven mascara looks way less professional than none at all.

          4. Oxford Comma*

            It’s like people telling you to wear heels to an interview when you’ve never worn heels before. If you want to wear heels or start using mascara, that’s fine. But you probably shouldn’t choose the interview to start.

            And note, I don’t think you have to do either of those things.

          5. Jules the 3rd*

            My experience with mascara doesn’t match yours. I rarely wear makeup beyond moisturizer, but on those 3 days / year where I do, it’s lipstick and mascara. Mascara has always been easier for me to get right than eye liner or foundation. I only get ‘smudge free’ varieties, though, so rubbing my eyes hasn’t ever caused a problem. I don’t remove it, just let it wear off.

            To keep this relevant to OP, I’m cis white woman 20+ years into a reasonably good career, generally clean, clean and tidy clothes, have never worn makeup regularly. I do usually put it on for in-person interviews, but my perception is that expectation has faded a lot over the last decade. I’ll probably wear it for interviews because it’s familiar, but clean and tidy is much more important.

            1. Holly*

              I don’t want to derail on this, but it is really really really unhealthy to not remove your mascara. There are particles that can get under your eyelids and some horror stories related to that, not to mention potential bacteria. It doesn’t wear off naturally. I can’t stress enough how easy it is to pick up a drugstore makeup remover and swipe it over your eyes before you go to bed – it’s worth the health risks.

            2. Kitkat*

              You can use oil to remove your mascara. I’m serious, olive oil or even vegetable oil works wonders. I exclusively use olive oil for removing makeup and it’s so much cheaper and easier.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                You can also put a coat of regular mascara under a coat of waterproof. Then it won’t run or rub off, and it’s easy to remove. I can’t remember where I found this tip (probably Buzzfeed) but it was life-changing.

              2. wheeeee*

                Coconut oil works too. And you can make your own, very gentle, with 2 parts water, 1 part baby oil and 1 part baby shampoo (shake first before using)

          6. Holly*

            No one should feel like they have to wear any makeup at all, including mascara. But I am baffled at your description of mascara! It takes no skill to apply (you touch the wand to your lashes once) – what takes effort is finding one that you like because while there are some that are very difficult to remove or others that come off easily (ie rubbing) once you’ve found your “holy grail” mascara, you don’t have any of those problems.

            I offer the above only to reassure anyone who would like to add mascara to their routine – I am NOT recommending it to those who do not prefer it.

              1. Holly*

                Potentially yes – I’d still recommend (if someone wants to use mascara) trial and error but it might not work for everyone.

          7. Kitkat*

            I wear makeup daily and I never leave the house without makeup but I don’t wear mascara because my eyelashes are very, very straight and it’s a pain to curl them correctly. I only wear mascara for special occasions when I have time to deal with my lashes.

            1. Julia*

              Japanese mascara! Many women here have lashes so straight they point down, and the waterproof mascaras here hold a curl splendidly.

              1. Kitkat*

                I use Japanese makeup a lot but that’s not the point. I didn’t mean that the mascara wasn’t holding the curl – just that getting that curl right and having all hairs point in the same direction, is too much work on most days.

          8. Observer*

            It’s also the thing that is most likely to cause trouble. If you get anything in the tube it’s going to wind up meaning an eye infection more often than not.

          9. Excitable Sim*

            As someone who does wear a lot of makeup, I tend to recommend mascara as “minimal” makeup. The reasoning behind this is that it’s easy to get good, cheap mascara at the drugstore, you don’t need additional equipment to apply it (no brushes, beauty blenders, etc), and it’s hard to mess up be using too much or not blending correctly. I find it also makes a pretty noticeable to one’s face, especially if they’re fair. The drawbacks you list wouldn’t even occur to me, because I’m used to not rubbing my eyes, I consider the application to be pretty simple (probably through habit), and I have a really over the top skincare routine that takes everything off easily.

            (By all means do not wear it if you don’t want to! No one should have to wear makeup)

          10. LizB*

            I’ve always been baffled by that too! For me, low-maintenance makeup is concealer and maybe a neutral lipstick/lip stain. Eyeliner + foundation are the next step up. Mascara, eyeshadow, and fun lip colors are the “I’m going to a ~fancy shindig~” level of makeup for me. My eyes are already dry and mascara seems to make that 10x worse.

          11. Cassie the First*

            Forgetting I was wearing mascara and rubbing my eyes was definitely something I did too often. Plus, my lashes are pretty sparse to begin with so I can’t avoid the spider legs look. The only mascara that worked for me was this super light one by Neutrogena, that was supposed to be okay for contact lens wearers, but I think it’s been discontinued.

            I just use a bit of eyeliner on my lash line to darken my lashes a bit, otherwise my eyes tend to disappear behind glasses. I also use BB cream with SPF to even out my face tone and minimize pores, but that’s about all I do for makeup. I went a couple of months without eyeliner because I had a sty in my eye. I doubt anyone noticed (that is – not wearing eyeliner; they probably noticed the sty).

        2. Erin W*

          Yeah, lip balm is basically medicinal. The gas heat has started up in my office so it’s dry as a bone in here. I have to go back to lip balm and hand lotion for the season.

          Mascara is in no way necessary for anybody. Some people can’t even wear it because their lashes are naturally long and it smears on their cheeks or on the lenses of their glasses.

        3. Former Producer*

          I personally wear a full face of makeup to work everyday, for various reasons. Mostly that I look really young and makeup helps me look closer to my age so I’m taken more seriously, but also I just enjoy wearing it. But I absolutely don’t think women NEED to wear makeup in the workplace. In the jobs I’ve had, I usually am one of the few women wearing (noticeable) makeup and I don’t think my co-workers’ lack of makeup makes them look any less professional.

        4. Socks*

          Yeah I agree that chapstick/lip balm is a bit different, if you’re not one of those lucky people whose lips stay naturally well-behaved. But, like, my boyfriend uses lip balm religiously because his lips chap easily, and his dad… doesn’t, although he REALLY should, and it makes him look extremely unhygienic. It’s distracting when he talks. I’d classify this one in the same realm as washing your hair or cleaning your nails, rather than a female-exclusive expectation.

          I mean, men are still penalized less, socially, for being visually unappealing, but that’s its own issue.

          1. PersonalJeebus*

            It’s not just a bit different, it’s a totally different category in my opinion! I am baffled by any suggestion that lip balm, or any type of moisturizer, counts as makeup. It’s skin care. It’s for the health and comfort of your skin. Body lotion is not makeup, so why is chapstick? Moisturizer applied to one’s face does not become “makeup” just because it’s going onto your face.

            Lip balm is the one thing I’d want on a desert island, and not just because of the climate; I would be in constant discomfort without it. I keep a tube in every room of my house so I can always reach it easily.

        5. JD*

          Personally I wear lip balm on an as-needed basis: if I notice my lips are getting dried/chapped, I put some on. If I’m in a cold and dry climate I might put some on daily as a preventative thing. Advice to put on lip balm without considering whether your lips would actually get dry without them seems weird and arbitrary to me, especially since too much chapstick use can actually make your lips more dry.

      6. ER...*

        Thank you for saying this. I’ve never worn makeup to work in my life so hard disagree on anything suggesting you have to in most fields. Obviously there’s exceptions like Alison noted in her answer but cleanliness and a polished look does not require clear lip balm or mascara.

        1. Artemesia*

          Chapped lips are gross. If your lips are not chapped and peeling without using a chapstick or lipgloss then lucky you, but if they do look dry and chapped then using some sort of product to prevent that is part of looking clean and cared for.

          1. TootsNYC*

            but that’s mostly health, not so much grooming. And chapped and peeling lips are uncomfortable–I could be wrong, but I think most people would use a lip balm in that situation, as a medical treatment.

            I never understood the “wear lip balm as makeup” thing. In certain seasons I apply lip balm somewhat regularly, because it helps with lip health. And I can see people who want a lower level of pigmentation who choose a tinted lip balm as a way to get that.

            But lip balm is an ointment, to me. Not makeup.
            (and greeting cards are stationery to me, not a gift)

          2. AnotherAlison*

            Just an FYI – I have a medical condition (not herpes) that causes my lips to peel, and no chapstick or prescription medicine helps it. Sorry for being gross.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I think Artemesia means people who don’t have an ongoing condition that causes their lips to chap. For people who do not have a medical condition that affects their lips (other than exposure to the elements, etc.), chapped lips can translate similarly to unkempt fingernails.

              But I don’t think of lip balm as makeup—it’s basically chapstick. I don’t think it’s bad advice to suggest that for most folks with chapped lips, ensuring you have something on hand that helps keep your lips from chapping can help the “neatness” of your overall appearance.

              1. AnotherAlison*

                I think the comment is pretty rude, and considering all the things that people have jumped all over here already, I don’t appreciate being characterized as “gross.” Artemesia may not be aware that there are people who have chapped lips who can’t do anything about it, similar to many skin conditions. I’m not saying it’s NOT “gross” but it falls into one of those things I think you should politely ignore. If someone came in for an interview with a big acne flare up or eczema, I would hope someone understands you can’t immediately fix that type of thing. Unless the person was sloppy or otherwise ungroomed, I’d assume they’re doing what they can to address it.

                1. StarHen*

                  Thanks for this. I very frequently read comments here that amount to such-and-such thing is gross/wrong/unprofessional unless you have a “medical condition” or some kind of “excuse”. It’s a prevalent trend, so I’m not just singling this comment out. But it honestly makes me a little depressed and paranoid that it is apparently okay to judge people for minor “infractions” unless they, I don’t know, give you a doctor’s note? Can we just assume that people are… fine and reasonably competent if that’s what their work reflects? Just assume people have a reason for things that is anything other than they’re gross or lazy or whatever.

                2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

                  StarHen you are not alone. I get that people like to vent and to exaggerate for comic effect, but sometimes this comment section triggers huge amounts of paranoia. Do people really “totally want to barf” because I have a hangnail? If I clear my throat in an open office, will I be dismembered by an angry mob?

                3. JSPA*

                  Exactly. Ditto sunburn, or a cat scratch on their arm, or seasonal allergies. If you can’t look past a skin flare–unless you’re hiring same-day for a close-up face modeling job–I really question your selection criteria.

              2. Anon for this*

                On board with Another Alison too. I have a medical condition that results with badly cracked lips. Yeah, I do use medications, but they’re not magic, so I do go to work with peeling, dry cracked lips. Oh, and guess what, it’s also pretty painful for me. I don’t think I should have to wear a sign or constantly explain my medical condition. Fortunately I work with grownups who politely ignore it.

          3. Phoenix Programmer*

            Chapstick and clear lip balm are pretty different…. I don’t think folks would complain if she said clear lip balm or chapstick if chapping is an issue. But she stated you have to have balm to be polished and that I’d not true.

            Do you need lips that are smooth and unchapped? Yes. Clear and glossy lip balm? No.

            1. ER...*

              Looking at my Blistex now and seeing that it that actually says “lip balm”, I always thought of the stick medicated for health related reasons as the brand name Chapstick instead. Whereas lip balm calls to mind the glossier types as noted by Phoenix above.

              I have a “chapstick” in my desk drawer next to my motrin and etc. for as needed. But I don’t consider that part of my morning cleanliness routine the way mascara would be for a lot of people.

            2. Holly*

              I think you’re thinking of “lip gloss.” Balms/chapstick pretty much overlap, it’s just a branding difference.

          4. KHB*

            Judgmental attitudes about people’s appearance are also gross. So since you’re now one-and-one, why should LW have to be the one to change?

            (Disclaimer: I use lip balm when necessary, but that’s because chapped lips are also uncomfortable. For me. LW’s mileage may vary.)

      7. Toastedcheese*

        Indeed! Nor is there any such thing as one-size-fits-all grooming recommendations. I myself have unruly eyebrows (which I trim at home when I think of it), but I also have long, thick eyelashes and if I put on mascara it might look a bit comical.

        1. Toastedcheese*

          Oh, and as another data point in favor of grooming diversity, I’m horribly allergic to the fragrances in most drugstore makeups. I can’t even wear some chapsticks, let alone lip balm / gloss.

      8. sfigato*

        Yeah, I have several coworkers who don’t wear make up and it is NBD. It’s a bigger deal in my field (somewhat crunchy, social-justice-ey nonprofits) to wear kim kardashian levels of makeup. That would look really out of place. Although neither choice is any of my business.

    4. Cat Fan*

      Mascara is not necessary if the letter writer does not want to wear it. A clean face with maybe some lip balm just so her lips are not too dry is all she needs.

      1. SKA*

        Yeah. I have worked in offices my entire adult life, and the only time I’ve worn mascara out of the house was when I acted in high school plays.

        Every few years I find myself with a “free sample” of a mascara and give it a try, but it just looks SO ridiculous on me that I immediately take it off. Not sure if it’s my face in particular or just my preference, but I think it makes me look like I have spider legs growing out of my eyelids. (For the record, I don’t think it looks that way on other women; I don’t have opinions on whether or not other women are wearing mascara at all.)

    5. catsaway*

      I agree with you on the clean face/hair and even the eyebrows (because commenters above note that men also need to trim eyebrows/other sorts of facial hair) but I strongly disagree that lip balm and mascara is a basic part of grooming. Mascara is make-up, full stop. Outside of TV, the vast majority of men will not be wearing mascara so it doesn’t need to be part of a woman’s daily routine.
      For me, it doesn’t matter how quick it is to ‘just’ put on mascara, I object to the idea that I have to paint my face to be considered presentable for my job. If you want to and like wearing makeup, go for it of course, but I always feel the need to push back against the ‘just wear this one thing’ manta.

      1. Marissa*

        Yes! Mascara is not a tiny thing. It’s a tiny thing to put on, but it is a huge PITA to take off! It never comes off completely for me, and so I’m left with little flecks that turn into dark smudges under my (dry, irritated) eyes the next day.

    6. Dwight*

      Literally every one of those except the mascara most men need to do too to present a professional look. So it’s not really a gendered standard, but a professional one.

        1. SS Express*

          I couldn’t confidently name a single man I know who doesn’t do *something* to his eyebrows. Obviously I know men who have never told me one way or another, but every man with whom this has come up in discussion has told me that he plucks or trims them at home, gets them waxed at a salon or has them trimmed at the barber. (These aren’t necessarily men who are particularly fashionable or “metrosexual” either.)

    7. SemiRetired*

      I could probably google this, but, what is “getting your brows done?” What exactly do they do to them? I admit I have never noticed brows on anyone other than the occasional older man whose brows appear to be an extra sensory organ… antennae of some kind. I am pretty sure my brows don’t need “doing” but since I’m unclear on the concept, I wonder.

      1. Eeyore's missing tail*

        I think it refers to getting your eyebrows waxed, threaded, or plucked professionally.

      2. Temperance*

        I’ll answer. I get mine waxed/shaped every 6 weeks. Waxing is for those annoying little blonde hairs that you can’t pluck well, and I like having a pro deal with it. For ~$20, it’s a few minutes of my time and will look better than if I do it. She occasionally trims the hairs, too, so they aren’t long/wild.

        My husband will get his trimmed when he gets a haircut. They just run a trimmer over them.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It’s like getting your “hair done.” It’s having a beauty professional shape your brows (and possibly thin them out or trim them if they’re particularly long) for you.

    8. Eeyore's missing tail*

      You had me until getting your brows done monthly. I absolutely hate waxing and plucking my eyebrows. I make sure they’re everyone is in line and no one’s trying to make a run for it, but after that, it’s fine. And mascara is still make-up.

      1. Lexi Kate*

        Some of us would have a second hair line if our brows were not done weekly. So it really just depends on what level of hair you have going on above your eyes. My sister has perfect brows that never needs grooming, and If I miss a weekly appointment they are grown together and heading for my ears, and my hairline.

    9. MLB*

      Lip balm is not necessary and neither is mascara. As far as eyebrows, as long as they’re not all over the place like Andy Rooney, you should be good. I only wear makeup for special occasions, which means I NEVER wear it to work or have worn it for an interview. Unless you’re working for a fashion magazine, it’s definitely not a standard that all women need to follow.

      1. Monogram it all*

        For most people chapstick is a necessity especially in the winter months, both men and women. I wouldn’t consider chapstick make-up I keep it in the same category as deodorant and washing your face.

        1. Stardust*

          I agree. Lip balm (aka chapstick) is a necessary item in the colder months and not really makeup on my opinion. I mean I put it in a category more with hand cream and hand soap. If your hands are dry you put something on your skin to help with moisture… Maybe a scented cream, maybe an aloe after sun cream or maybe coconut oil.

          My husband applies chapstick, trims his eyebrows at home occasionally, uses a little trimmer to keep nose hairs and ear hairs short and he occasionally applies a skin colored medicine on acne. He wears a neatly trimmed beard… He won’t leave the house unless he has washed his hair (daily) and combed his hair. He doesn’t necessarily shower every day but he doesn’t want to dry his skin out and he does at minimum wash his hair. I think his routine for grooming takes longer than mine.

          I wear very minimal makeup if at all. For me that is just an eyebrow pencil to make me look like I have brows. And mascara because I have blonde eyelashes and I like to see the way my eyes look when I wear mascara it brings out my eye color better. Other than that I do put some lotion for my face so my skin doesn’t flake and I don’t consider lip balm or chapstick makeup but I apply it as needed throughout the day.

    10. Mike C.*

      I believe in taking care of myself, and a balanced diet and a rigorous exercise routine. In the morning, if my face is a little puffy, I’ll put on an ice pack while doing my stomach crunches. I can do a thousand now. After I remove the ice pack, I use a deep pore cleanser lotion. In the shower, I use a water activated gel cleanser. Then a honey almond body scrub. And on the face, an exfoliating gel scrub. Then apply an herb mint facial mask, which I leave on for 10 minutes while I prepare the rest of my routine. I always use an aftershave lotion with little or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older. Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm followed by a final moisturizing protective lotion.

      1. General Ginger*

        I once read a post (on I think Reddit?) comparing Patrick Bateman’s movie grooming routine to the novel’s (which was significantly more exhaustive), asking if anyone had tried either, and if so, how it worked out.

    11. Mookie*

      Nobody needs mascara for any reason other than they want to wear it (and the LW doesn’t) and lip balm is optional, of course.

    12. Jess*

      I consider myself reasonably well groomed and I put some “traditionally feminine” effort into my appearance – I wear makeup to work (tinted moisturiser, mascara, lip gloss or stick etc.), wear heels or cute flats, jewellery etc. and….I have never, ever in my life got my brows done!

      (I do get a monthly spa pedi, so I’m obviously happy to pay for appearance upkeep – it’s my treat!)

      Anyway, just chiming in to say that I think this is one of those things that really, really depends on what your natural appearance is and if you *want* to include it. I’m fair, my brows seem reasonably well shaped on their own, and it’s just never been on my radar as something I “ought” to do.

    13. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I can’t say I’ve ever noticed another woman’s eyebrows except for the over-plucked ones drawn back on. And I am agnostic about makeup.

      What catches *my* eye is when a woman doesn’t pluck dark hairs on her upper lip. I’m in the age range to get them myself so I’ve started carrying tweezers. Because they seem to spring fully formed like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. Usually right before a company meeting, too.

  8. JokeyJules*

    eyebrows, specifically, have such a broad definition of “ruly” vs “unruly”. Personally, I just shave the little “unibrow” ones and leave it at that. It truly depends on the office environment you’re seeing in interviews. When in doubt, a low ponytail, maybe a little mascara, and a pink-tinted chapstick will be just fine. Burts bees has a great pomegranite chapstick that has some tint to it thats nice.
    I’m not sure where you are from, but Big Lots has these face razors that are like $1 for 3 of them and they are made for eyebrows and lip hair, you can’t cut yourself with them by accident, and you can just get rid of the “extra” stuff that you think might be holding you back.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Eyebrows are so dependent on the person, too– and they change! I used to get mine threaded once a month or so, but once I hit about 38 or so, they started to thin out to the point where I just pluck the strays in the middle once in a while and get threaded about twice a year. My rule of thumb is that I want my eyebrows to look neat and not scraggly, and I don’t want a unibrow. That’s about it. Also, if you wear glasses regularly, your eyebrows are either more or less prominent depending on the frames.

      I used to get these crazy “Andy Rooney”-esque gray eyebrow hairs that seemed to pop up overnight. Those got plucked immediately. They didn’t grow back, which is great on one hand but no so great on the other (see above re: thinning eyebrows). So in addition to a face razor, a regular old set of tweezers is a great thing to have in your personal grooming toolkit.

      1. irritable vowel*

        Like a lot of women, I have permanently thin 90s eyebrows because I plucked them for so long that the follicles stopped producing hairs. I still tweeze a stray hair every now and then, but it’s like a once a month thing. So, it’s entirely possible that once you establish a routine of keeping your eyebrows in a shape you like, they’ll become more or less self-maintaining.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Mine aren’t as thin as I wanted them to be in the 90s. They’re actually just normal, but I’m pretty aggravated that I spent so much time plucking my very thick eyebrows into pencil brows in the 90s (like a 75% reduction of eyebrow), and now that thicker eyebrows are back, mine are no longer thick. At least wavy hair is kind of coming back?

          1. JokeyJules*

            it is! i used to straighten and thin my long thick wavy hair incessantly to be like the other girls in school.

            now i wear my hair long and naturally, and all the other girls from high school have to buy curling wands and extensions and all kinds of other crap to get theirs to look like mine.

            i wont pretend i dont get a little (lot) of satisfaction from that.

          2. many bells down*

            I spent most of elementary school being called “Brooke Shields” because of my eyebrows. It was not meant as a compliment. So at least my brows are finally fashionable.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              This is how I feel. I have super thick eyebrows, and they’re shaped quite nicely, now. I got all sorts of awful comments when I was growing up, and I never aspired to the thin brow of the late 90s/early 00s. It feels fantastic to have my eyebrows considered “on fleek” because they’re a “strong brow” :)

              1. media monkey*

                shout out to the other thick eyebrowed who are finally fashionable! i love it and hope the skinny 90s brow never comes back (given that the rest of 90s fashion seems to have)

          3. Kaboobie*

            I really wish I hadn’t plucked my eyebrows into near oblivion in my late teens/early 20s. Eyebrow enhancement is the one thing I never leave the house without, because my brows are so sparse. I’m finally having a little bit of luck with brow regrowth serum, but I had to spring for the expensive stuff.

        2. Kelly L.*

          And 90s brows just go to show how arbitrary eyebrow fashions are–back in the 90s, people thought we were unkempt if we didn’t keep them that thin! But now people don’t have to go that far to be considered “neat,” and it’s not like actual hygiene recommendations changed or anything. It’s just fashion.

        3. designbot*

          Yes! Or if you naturally have light or thin hair, eyebrows may just not be a thing you ever have to worry about. Mine are blond and thin, and my eyebrow ‘maintanence’ is actually drawing them in. But if I didn’t, it would be totally acceptable too. I just think I happen to look better if I do.

      2. JokeyJules*

        absolutely agree. i don’t care about shaping or “refining” my eyebrows too much. So long as they are neat, that’s all that matters, and “neat” isn’t a hard thing for most to attain. just grab the little outliers

      3. fposte*

        It’s also dependent on trends–since strong eyebrows have gotten fashionable again, I think the intervention levels have lowered.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yep. Just make sure you two of them. Heavier eyebrows are fashionable. Unibrows are still not.

          1. Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins*

            I agree with this. I’m a lady who grows facial hair like a certain Italian plumber with a penchant for hijinks, and even when I’m at my worst as far as life maintenance goes, I make sure I have 2 eye brows. Are there 2? Good to go. I try for more shaped and maintained, but sometimes, just doing the little bit to remove the middle is all I can handle.

      4. Solidus Pilcrow*

        Yep. Very dependent on the person. I’m below average on the female attractiveness scale, but one thing I have going for me is nice eyebrows – clear arch shape, full without being bushy, not a unibrow. I just have to pluck the few hairs outside the lines and the occasional one that starts sticking straight up.

        For hair, try to find a neat style that’s easy for you to maintain. My hair is naturally flat and fine, so I invest on getting a perm quarterly and it’s pretty much wash and wear without a lot of time or hair care products between perms.

      5. Tiny Orchid*

        Glasses with thick frames are a vital part of my eyebrow management strategy. If I ever went back to wire/clear plastic frames, I’d definitely need to revisit.

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Just because the OP says she doesn’t have a lot of experience with this I would like to advise her to pluck and not shave. Shaving can make the problem worse over time, tiny hairs that weren’t viable before grow back thicker – plucking can over time reduce hair that grows back there.

      1. MissingArizona*

        The hair doesn’t grow back “thicker”, the blunt edge from shaving gives the appearance of being more thick, but it’s the same hair. But your point is still good, plucking is way better.

        1. JokeyJules*

          thank you for pointing that out.
          When i say shave, I only mean the super-fine hairs that grow around the eyebrows, “face hair” not the actual eyebrow. you’d be surprised the difference you’ll see when those are gone.

      2. Boo Hoo*

        I’d say no one should ever shave their eyebrows. They look obvious a day later and it is way too easy to slip. She mentioned the expense of maintaining her eyebrows but I pay $10 every few months at a very good place. If she really felt this was something to be handled (up to her) perhaps she isn’t aware this of all things is a rather minimal expense.

      3. Holly*

        It is so easy to mess up shaving eyebrows – a razor just isn’t a good tool for getting in those precise areas – I wouldn’t recommend doing that. If you don’t know what you’re doing, I’d also recommend going to a threading salon rather than plucking yourself – threading girls in my experience, as opposed to waxing girls, respect a simple “clean up” and do not do anything drastic.

        1. SS Express*

          The aforementioned face razors are great for getting in those precise areas, that’s specifically what they’re designed for – they’re completely different to a traditional razor.

    3. Murphy*

      I think there are different gender standards with eyebrows, unfortunately. The same eyebrows that are considered “ruly” on a man, could be considered “unruly” on a woman.

    4. Cat Fan*

      Tinted chapstick is really unnecessary. But I can’t imagine using nothing because my lips would get so dry! I think regular lip balm would serve the purpose if the letter writer really is opposed to wearing makeup.

      1. Ophelia*

        Actually, this is a good point – if OP isn’t used to working in an office, she may find that lip balm and moisturizer become necessary due to the climate control! I tend not to need them much at home, but when I’m in the office, I definitely do.

  9. Roscoe*

    So I get what you are saying, but I don’t think its quite as cut and dried for men either. I wouldn’t go into an interview with a mountain man beard, or any beard that isn’t somewhat neatly trimmed. If I had a unibrow like Bert from Sesame Street, I’d definitely try to do something about that as well. The thing is, for interviews, EVERYONE tries to look their best. Its why for most professional jobs many people wear a suit to an interview even if they would be wearing polos and khakis day in and day out. Its why, even in a pretty relaxed enviornment, I’m probably not wearing a beer shirt to the office (Even if its clean). You want to show the best version of yourself at work.

    1. ItsAllFunAndGames...*

      The ol’ “You may think you look like Don Johnson in Miami Vice, but you actually look like a hobo from down at the rail yard” issue as far as unkempt facial hair goes.

      1. Liet-Kinda*

        Scruff is actually pretty high-maintenance, ironically enough. Most guys’ whiskers grow in at different rates over the face, and it’s super easy to let a nice 2-3mm of shadow turn into weird scraggy patches in random spots.

        1. Solidus Pilcrow*

          Reminds me of something Hugh Laurie said when he was doing the TV show House that having perma-stubble was harder for continuity than being clean-shaven. They need special clippers with height settings to keep the stubble at an even-ish length when an episode that takes place in hours is being filmed over a week or more.

  10. Loopy*

    I’m just one example but I’ve gone to interviews without any makeup at all and still felt very polished. I tend to wear my best sheath dress, clean black flats or very modest heels, and maybe one accessory and feel very appropriate and professional without any makeup. I find wearing glasses (if you do) helps the lack of eye makeup less noticable.

    It stinks you even have to consider all this but I find putting effort into a polished appearance gives me confidence in it’s one less thing to worry about and I can focus on my skills. Meaning that I’m not distracted worrying about what my interviewer things of my appearance. I’d much rather compromise a bit on upping my style than have it take away from my hard earned skills and preparation. It’s a worthwhile trade off for a few hours for me because I don’t do a drastic makeover and I know it’s just for this one situation.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      This is excellent advice. You can usually have one thing about your work appearance, maybe two, that are more free and funky – but the rest has to be polished to balance it out.

    2. Bostonian*

      Oh, good point about the glasses! I do find that people wearing glasses do seem more “put together” though I’m not sure why!

      1. many bells down*

        Since I got glasses my eye makeup has become way more dramatic. It’s just less noticeable behind the glasses. I think the frames kind of do the work that eyeliner does; they kind of draw attention your eyes, albeit the “outline” is further away.

    3. Arya Parya*

      I’ve done this too. I take care I look polished and professional, just without any make-up. I dress shoes with a very modest heel, dress pants, a good blouse and a blazer. They all fit me well, so I’m comfortable in them. All this makes me feel confident and that probably shows too.

    4. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

      I very rarely wear makeup, and when I do, I feel like a cat wearing clothes. It feels wrong, I’m hyper aware of weird stuff on my face and it makes me fidgety because I want to rub at it, but then I remember not to rub at it in case it smears- it goes on and on- I’m much better served by foregoing the makeup because I feel so much better without it! I think you’ll be fine, OP!

  11. Dr. Pepper*

    If you choose to not wear makeup (which is totally fine), pay more attention to your clothes and hair. This means making sure your clothes fit you well and aren’t dirty or wrinkled. A well chosen accessory or two (like a necklace, watch, or earrings) also goes a long way to making an outfit look put together. You hair should look well groomed and deliberately styled in whatever style you prefer. And by that I mean like you purposefully did it in a certain manner, not like you rolled out of bed like that or just left it to straggle in the breeze (and into your face). It’s not so much about the exact clothes or any certain type of hairstyle, just that it’s a clean look that you thought about, rather than something you threw together haphazard from whatever clothes were the least dirty.

    I don’t wear make up at all. Ever. It’s never once been commented on, even when I’ve been in jobs where most women would be wearing it.

    1. Parenthetically*

      Yes! Neat, well-fitting, intentionally-put-together clothing is going to take you far — I’d add, clothing in flattering colors.

      And I will put in a pitch for a decent skincare routine. I almost never wear makeup, just can’t be bothered anymore, but when I take 5 minutes morning and night to swipe on some toner and moisturize, my skin looks 100% better and I look more rested and pulled together.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        This is excellent advice. Taking good care of your skin is not something to do because you are vain or care about your appearance or anything like that, but because it’s good for your skin. It doesn’t have to be elaborate – a nice, light, unscented lotion would suffice.

        1. Bee*

          Your skin is an organ! Sure, taking care of it makes you look better, but it’s not solely frivolous. (As I learned when psoriasis hit me hard.)

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I coasted through my twenties and early thirties without ever wearing makeup to work, but finally mid thirties hit a slightly more professional job and now swipe some eye makeup on in the morning. Still not thrilled about wearing it, but I have finally gotten better at applying it at least.

    3. Tardigrade*

      I think these are great suggestions! Just look deliberately put-together and clean, and dazzle them with your awesome skills.

    4. Mystery Bookworm*

      Yes! I even worked in a pretty-image concious field and a lot of women didn’t wear make-up.

      Clean hair and well-fitted clothes are really the two must haves.

    5. Maeve*

      Well damn, my hair has definitely never looked like I intentionally styled at any point during my 31 years of life. (I mean, I used to try, but it still didn’t look that way.)

    6. Kay*

      I agree with this, it really is about balancing out and leaning on at least a few professional details. I like to dress a bit more casually (so a button up w/ a collar + a giant sweater) so I’ll keep heels at the office to dress it up. I also prefer to let my hair do its natural curl if I don’t have any big meetings, so I always wear makeup and have somewhat fancy glasses. You can’t be lax in all departments, but you can get away with some here and there as long as you make sure the total package hits a certain level of “professional” points!

      1. Queen of the File*

        I agree that dressing up one or two aspects goes a long way to balancing out something you can’t control–for me it’s my cotton-candy-texture extra fine, extra thin, mediumly curly hair that floofs around my head doing what it likes all day. In 40 years I haven’t found any product or style that can adequately control it without making it look oily (or damaging it and making the fuzz worse).

        HOWEVER, I have found some killer lipstics that suddenly make my hair look like a style I made on purpose. As long as the rest of my look is clean/in good repair/fits then I’m golden. Alternatively, if I don’t feel like lipstic, I will wear something a little more polished or ‘cool’ (depending on the situation) to serve the purpose of making my look intentional.

  12. C in the Hood*

    Just making sure you and your clothes are clean and neat is 90% of the battle. (And for the record, in 30+ years of working, I’ve never touched my eyebrows.)

    1. Nikki T*

      I very rarely even think about my eyebrows! My left eyebrow can have a mind of its own, but I think I’m the only one that notices…once a year I’ll get on a kick of slicking them down with a bit of Vaseline. Then I forget again.

      I’m clean, dressed well enough and I’m friendly.

  13. Lisa*

    FWIW my boyfriend (a man, if not evident from that title, hah) *does* have to manage his eyebrows. Usually when he goes for a haircut the barber will trim them up a little bit, otherwise they stick out in every which direction. I don’t think he’d lose a job opportunity over his brows, but trimming them does contribute to him looking “groomed.”

    I’d say that unless your brows are truly unruly like his, you can leave them alone.

    1. tink*

      Mine get unruly like this, so I also try to do a light wax and a trim twice a year. The rest of the year (and when I was too broke to afford a wax), I used a eyebrow brush to at least try and get them all sticking up in the same direction. I also rarely wear makeup, but I do suggest a basic skincare routine that includes a light moisturizer (it’ll make your face look more “awake”) and keeping a lip balm/chapstick on hand so you’re not licking your lips when/if they get dry.

    2. Someone Else*

      Yes, I was just thinking something along those lines, that basically “unruly” brows to me means they go in several different directions and cannot be made to not do so by a simple swipe of a finger (or one of those tiny eyebrow combs but even those are kind of overkill). If the ones over each eye can and do point all the same direction, they’re pretty much fine. If they’re long enough that they can’t easily be made to go in the same direction, that’s when some minor trimming or plucking may be in order, but even then, that needed entail a time consuming or expensive regimen, and it wouldn’t need to be done super frequently. Otherwise, I would not worry about eyebrows at all.

  14. Katniss*

    If there’s anything about work culture I’d change (aside from more pressing things like fair wages and expectations of hours) it’d be the idiotic idea that women must wear ANY makeup at all to be “polished” and “professional”.

    For all I know I may have missed out on advancement opportunities because I don’t and will never wear makeup or heels. It’s just not worth it to me to do so anyway. But it shouldn’t have to be a consideration for anyone.

    1. Bostonian*

      Same! Heels just don’t fit my feet. I have tried to make them work and I can’t. Luckily, I have found many nice-looking boots with a small, thick heel that are both comfortable and presentable!

      1. Katniss*

        I am ALL ABOUT boots because they so often look polished without needing heels. I’m wearing some very comfy ones right now!

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        When I was a child/preteen (Eastern Europe in the 70s), I was seeing two things around me: one, every woman wore heels all day, every day; and two, every woman over age 40 periodically checked into a hospital to have foot surgeries. I used to think as a kid that deformed, painful feet and foot surgeries were a normal part of aging, like gray hair and wrinkles. Fortunately I grew up to be freakishly tall by the 80s standards (5’9″) so I hardly ever wore heels, and oh my god am I thankful for that now.

      3. Kitkat*

        Heels don’t actually work for anyone, they’re really bad for your health, especially if you wear them daily.

    2. All Hail Queen Sally*

      Same here! I have made it to retirement without ever wearing makeup at all. Maybe I didn’t go as far as could have gone in my career either but I don’t care. I tried putting makeup on a few times but always felt that I was wearing a mask and scrubbed it off immediately. It just wasn’t for me. Also, I stopped wearing heels on my 30th birthday. My feet always hurt so much.

    3. Dr. Mouse*

      For what it’s worth, remember that what is considered “professional” really varies by industry and even companies within an industry. I think how you present yourself is really about reassuring your “group” that you’ll fit in and that you’re attuned to the organization’s culture. When I was in graduate school, wearing makeup and anything other than jeans and sneakers would have made me seem out-of-touch. When I went into biotech and had to meet with physicians every day, makeup and dressier clothing was how I signaled I was part of that group. It actually created some conflict between me and my husband, because I was used to seeing men in shirts and ties all day. He’s a filmmaker, and he explained that if he showed up on a set in something dressier than black jeans and dark shirts or even a hoodie, people would find it strange. I thought he was just putting no effort into his professional appearance! I had unconsciously assumed my office’s norms for attire and started to believe they were a universal truth. I now work at a much, much more casual biotech company, and the tides have changed once again. I find myself wondering if wearing a dress now and then is overdoing it, or whether the fact that I enjoy wearing some amount of makeup will be noticed. I guess my point is that the whole world isn’t out there with the expectation that you manage your eyebrows or wear makeup or clown shoes or whatever they’ve decided indicates that a person “gets it”. In the wrong office culture for you, yeah-not performing certain grooming rituals can stand out. We can choose to ignore the norms and accept any lumps that may come, or we can seek out office cultures where our authentic selves happen to be closer to the cultural norm. You’ll find chameleons in all of these settings, and there’s nothing wrong with being a chameleon if it doesn’t compromise what matters to you. I feel for your sense of wanting to be taken seriously irrespective of what you do for grooming; among a group of hippies, I’ll be the feminist worrying that because I have mascara on you won’t take me seriously :-)

    4. A-No*

      Every time I hear that heels are required to be professional I think of this lady I used to work with. Very nice lady but believed (and told everyone it was required) that women should always wear skirts, nylons, and heels (among other ridiculous things, like hair should be straightened then curled daily). When she wasn’t moving she looked very professional and polished but she always tottered around like a baby giraffe as she could not walk in heels (and no, not a medical condition, just couldn’t balance). It honestly undid everything else she did to look professional.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        What is up with the “hair should be straightened then curled daily”? That doesn’t make any sense.

  15. Murphy*

    You sound like you have it together. Just look presentable! Unless you’re in a more appearance focused position like Alison mentioned, I don’t think you need to do anything more than you already are.

    1. CurrentlyLooking*

      I agree! No makeup is fine and you don’t need to do much or anything with eyebrows (unless you have a unibrow). I will say that as I have gotten older my brow hairs don’t want to always lay nice and neat (yay age) so a little brush through helps.

      1. PhyllisB*

        Tell me about brows and aging!! As I’ve aged, mine have thinned out, gone gray and growing to astronomical lengths. I have to trim the long ones every couple of weeks or so, and I have a wild one ever so often that has to be plucked, because it WILL NOT be tamed. Even if I don’t put on any other make-up, I use a tinted pencil with a bit of wax in it, or I look like I don’t have any brows at all.

  16. Amber Rose*

    The basics: your hair isn’t a mess, your clothes are clean and neat and unwrinkled, you yourself are clean and smell nice, or at least like nothing. Honestly, although there’s not the same pressure or expectations, dudes do have to trim and maintain and groom too. Though for them, it’s usually more maintaining neat facial hair and plucking nose hairs and less about eyebrows and makeup. It’s still a double standard, but a weird one.

    It takes a few minutes to clip your eyebrows down a bit, and a little bit of coverup for pimples costs a couple bucks* and takes seconds to apply. You don’t HAVE to, and don’t if you don’t want to, but it’s not really a high level of cost or effort. As for me, I invested in a heat brush because I couldn’t get my frizzy hair to stop frizzing, and although there was a fairly high cost, it’s less than five minutes out of my morning to use and makes me feel better about how I present myself.

    *Unless you have allergies. Dermatologist approved makeup costs a fortune and is not worth it, imo.

    1. Cardamom*

      Smelling like nothing is better than smelling nice!
      I really don’t want to deal with a colleague who imposes any kind of fragrance on me (due to allergies/sinus headache). And honestly that would make a difference in my hiring decision when there are multiple good candidates to choose from.

  17. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

    I know a few people here have already suggested mascara, but if you’re like me and hate the feeling of mascara weighing down your eyelids, you could probably do a little bit of eyeliner and just curl your eyelashes. You can’t feel eyeliner on your face so it feels more natural!

    1. ThatGirl*

      I am fascinated by the idea that mascara weighs down your eyelids. I mean, I understand that it does add a tiny bit of weight, but I guess I’m just so used to it that I honestly can’t tell a difference between wearing it or not.

      Even just curling your lashes can definitely help you look more awake; I’d say if OP is not comfortable with mascara, eyeliner might require too much skill.

      1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

        My eyelashes are natural super-straight (to the point that I can see them in my field of vision if uncurled) and when I put mascara on it undoes the whole curl and then my top and bottom lashes get stuck together….so normally I just don’t bother. If I have to, I go waterproof, but that’s its own nightmare to remove. YMMV tho

      2. Amber T*

        Totally depends on the type/brand of mascara. I was anti-mascara for a looong time because the ones that I would be would be thick and clumpy, and therefore uncomfortable. I got a sample of some fancy, expensive mascara that went on like a breeze and I couldn’t feel a thing, but it looked great. Ultimately it’s not worth it for me, especially if I’m wearing glasses (my lashes are long naturally), but could be if you’re willing to look for brands that work for you.

        1. Holly*

          There are definitely drugstore brands that are just as good (Maybelline Full n Soft is the most natural one I’ve tried) – the key is like you said looking for what works for you. Some mascara is blech, others are light as a feather.

          1. Juliecatharine*

            Yessss! Full ‘n Soft is awesome. I’ve upgraded my makeup lately but I’m not switching mascaras, that stuff rocks.

    2. Parenthetically*

      You can also dye your lashes (with specific lash/brow dye, NOT HAIR DYE), which I am contemplating because I hate putting mascara on but really prefer the way my eyes look with it!

      1. Bleh*

        I sometimes get my eyebrows dyed. It lasts a month and looks like you took times to do your eyebrows every morning. I do find that eyebrow threading, although a painful experience lasts much longer on me then plucking or waxing.

        1. the_scientist*

          I’m a brow threading devotee (my natural brow shape is just fine, and my brows aren’t unruly, but I’m bad at maintaining them myself) and I do occasionally get them tinted as well. It’s really, really amazing how much a well-shaped, nicely groomed brow can make you look instantly 100x more put-together!

      2. Harper the Other One*

        Seconding the lash tinting idea if the OP decides she wants to try it. I am very VERY nearsighted and never had the patience to teach myself to do eye makeup by feel. I don’t do it often, but getting my lashes tinted is one of my favourite little luxuries.

        Also, keep in mind that lash tinting can be set to be just a couple of shades darker than your normal hair colour; it doesn’t have to be black. I much prefer a dark brown lash tint on myself.

    3. irritable vowel*

      Yeah, I hate wearing mascara – it makes me way too aware of my eyelashes and I want to rub my eyes constantly. I just use a little eyeliner for every day. It’s not hard to apply in pencil format (stay away from liquid eyeliner if you haven’t tried it before, unless you have an extremely steady hand).

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Why are people giving make up tips to someone who clearly stated they don’t want to wear make up?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Because it has broadened into a wider discussion of professional grooming in general, which is fine. (But yes, please avoid suggesting the OP wear makeup when she’s already said she doesn’t.)

    5. Trig*

      As a person who hasn’t worn makeup to work in six years, (though I am fine throwing on some mascara and eyeliner for occasions like weddings or interviews), curling my eyelashes would not be a “just”! I don’t own an eyelash curler. Last time I tried to use one, I pinched my eyelid. I have this intrusive thought that I’m going to yank all my eyelashes out, and it freaks me out. So my feeling is that that particular tool miiiiight be more daunting to the LW than one-time interview mascara.

      1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

        This is a good point, eyelash curlers might require some practice, and I could see why LW might not want to use one. FWIW (and to address Amy’s comment above), I’ve only started doing eyeliner + curled lashes in the last year because of some found time in my mornings. That’s literally all I wear and prior to this year I wore absolutely nothing and got a job just fine. I think part of the beauty of this comment section is to learn about others’ experiences in professionalism. So sure, you might not need makeup at all, and that doesn’t stop you from being professional. But, here are some other options for you to consider, though just because some stranger told you on the internet doesn’t mean you have to do it.

    6. JD*

      I can’t speak for the LW but I can’t do eyeliner at all. It’s the application that’s the problem.

  18. Brett*

    ‘But I’m lost at eyebrows. Do I really need to “manage” them in order to have a reasonable chance of landing a job? If I do, why don’t my male peers?’

    Your male peers do manage their eyebrows (trim, pluck, even wax). You just are not aware that they do (but probably really notice the ones who don’t manage them).

    Here is some quick advice I learned as a male with runaway eyebrows:
    Pluck the crazy hairs (especially the white ones) when you notice them.
    Get a good trimmer with an eyebrow attachment. Test carefully so you don’t shave off half an eyebrow :) Run that over your eyebrows once or more a week. If you tend to unibrow, you can use the same trimmer without the eyebrow attachment to clean up the middle and keep your eyebrows apart. (Optional: pluck the middle hairs, but I survive just shaving with the trimmer.)
    Splurge every few months and get a wax. This will help reshape your eyebrows for a little while.

    That will be enough to keep your eyebrows as managed as your male peers without extra hours of plucking.

    1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

      Plus there are tons of eyebrow tutorials “for beginners” on Youtube! Lots of them are a bit extra compared to what you’re probably looking for but I’ve learned to trim my own brows from basics that I’ve pulled from a few different videos.

    2. Free Meerkats*

      Or, you could just be happy with yourself as you are. The only eyebrow hairs I cut are the ones that grow down and poke me in the eye. I have a full, natural beard that I might trim once a year or so.

      While I know it’s tilting at windmills, the world would be so much better and happier if we got over our obsession with looks.

    3. Delphine*

      There is no social pressure for men to groom their eyebrows. You may do it, but there is a difference between what is expected of men and what is expected of women in this regard.

      1. Goya de la Mancha*

        Maybe not as much social pressure, but definitely industry pressure. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a bank exec who dresses/grooms the same way as a video game programmer.

        1. aebhel*

          Sure, but there’s a MUCH broader range of ‘acceptable’ eyebrow grooming for men; in an environment where men probably can’t get away with inch-long wires sprouting from their brows, women are expected to have immaculately plucked, shaped, and penciled-in brows. The amount of effort and time it takes to achieve an acceptable look is way different.

      2. Socks*

        Nah; I dated a guy with a natural unibrow, and people were MEAN to him about it when he didn’t get them waxed regularly. Men might have a broader range of what eyebrows are considered unremarkable, but there’s still social pressure on the dudes who fall outside that range.

        I suspect there’s some kind of racial component to it. My ex was actually white, but extremely tan with thick dark hair, and for some reason read as, like, middle eastern to a lot of people. He got randomly selected at the airport a lot. I suspect that could have been why his eyebrows looked so outrageous to people- they made him look BROWN, god forbid.

      3. Brett*

        We are talking more about workplace pressure than professional pressure though. The workplace pressure on eyebrows gets pretty strong for men once you hit your early-30s. It is not an appearance issue, it is an age issue. Bushy greying eyebrows are associated with old men, and carry all the baggage of being perceived as “old” in the workplace. This, of course, depends on the workplace. When I worked public safety, professional staff could get away with this somewhat. Commissioned officers could not, and their supervisors would even tell them to make sure to trim their eyebrows, ear hair, nose hair, neck hair, etc because they were all associated with appearing old. (When I had a commissioned officer as a supervisor, he was very strict on these sorts of issue even for non-commissioned. My neck hair appeared on a performance review.)

    4. Holly*

      Just want to throw this in – I really really really advise against a woman using trimmer rather than just plucking stray hairs (or going to a professional waxer/threader), and once or more a week is a LOT to trim.

      1. Brett*

        Thanks for that!
        Why is there the difference? Is is just different aesthetics?
        (I actually trim my eyebrows almost exactly the same way all my barbers have ever done it since I was a teenager.)

        1. Holly*

          First, I think that men maybe are more used to trimmers on facial hair – while there are women that could have extremely bushy brows, I worry that even a trimmer is too severe, and there’s a risk of overdoing it for women who don’t have as much hair on their brows as a man might. Also, creating “feminine” eyebrow shape (like the arch) requires tools that can really get into a specific area. Usually when my brows are trimmed it’s professionally done and by using threading techniques or a very very tiny scissor.

          1. Brett*

            Makes sense.
            That’s why I mentioned the trimmers that come with eyebrow specific attachments. The barber might be able to zip through with a comb and clippers, but the average person will screw that up at some point (I think a lot of men have given themselves 1.5 eyebrows before).
            The attachments are amazing for protecting yourself from overdoing it, with no depth settings to mess up. The biggest risk there is that the attachment might not be helpful (and definitely would not be helpful for more complex eyebrow shaping).

    5. TechWorker*

      It’s definitely not true that *all* men ‘manage’ their eyebrow hair, any more than it is that all women do. Whether you can get away with doing nothing does probably depend on how thick they are etc, but you can definitely look professional without having them plucked into a particular shape.

  19. Non-profiteer*

    If it helps, you can worry about these things a little more when you’re interviewing. Once you’ve got the job, cue in to your peers and figure out what is normal and necessary from there. Not saying you should do a full face of clown make up for an interview and then come in on your first day looking super different – but everyone expect you to look more polished during the interview than your every-day look.

    I guess my point is, if you wear a suit to your interview, people don’t expect you to wear one every day unless that is the office dress code. Same with grooming. If your eyebrows are waxed for the interview, that doesn’t mean you’re committing to doing that forever.

    1. Not a Blossom*

      I agree with this. And if you want to do a little something for an interview but aren’t sure what, I’d suggest a tinted moisturizer or BB cream (the shades are much more forgiving and formulas much lighter than foundation), a light coat of mascara, and some tinted lip balm. To be clear, you don’t HAVE to wear any make up, but if you are worried, those 3 products, which can be purchased cheaply, are easy to apply and won’t feel heavy.

    2. Amber T*

      This – the interview is the time to “impress” them, which might include doing a bit more than you’re used to. But day to day, in my office, we have women who wear no make up, who wear a little bit, and who wear “a lot,” and nobody cares as long as your job is getting done well. (I work in a business casual office.)

  20. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Another no make up over here. And I have a bunch of sisters and grew up in the suburbs. Never got into it when I was young and it mattered, now that I’m older I never learned how to do it and I can’t be bothered trying to learn.* Putting on even a few touches for an interview I’m sure would look more out of place than none at all.
    I’m well into my career, college, grad school. A nice suit, a simple hair cut and you’re really good to go.
    *I’ve let my nieces make me up for family weddings and stuff, for fun, but I wouldn’t add that level of stress to an interview.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      This is what I was thinking. Nothing new on race day! I wear makeup, but it’s pretty neutral and my mom says I don’t wear makeup, so I guess it isn’t noticeable. When I was a much younger adult, I’d try to be fancy for a date or something and make a mess of a smokey eye (I have big eyelids–it’s never worked). You don’t want to end up with a mess for an interview. Not that the OP was going to try makeup anyway, but I would leave my brows and nails as I am comfortable with them. You don’t want to go from 80s Brooke Shields to 90s Drew Barrymore and be thinking about your eyebrows.

    2. No imagination*

      Me too. Could be this is location dependent as well; I’m a middle manager in a very corporate office located in a suburban/rural part of New England. No one has ever commented to me on my lack of makeup, then again, people have admitted they are intimidated / scared of me, so there’s that.

      Specifically: I have never in my life worn make up outside of Halloween costumes and formal events (weddings, prom). I do use a moisturizer with SPF to prevent sun damage. Good old Oil of Olay. I do wear chap stick to avoid sun damage and chapped lips, but didn’t even know tinted chap stick was a thing.
      My hair is clean and neat. If it’s in style, that’s a coincidence, not intentional.
      I’ve never had my eyebrows professionally done. I have dark hair, so I do pluck those hairs that are outside their basic shape, but don’t do anything to change the shape from what occurs naturally.
      My clothes are also neat and clean. My goal is to look not unprofessional, and for my clothes to not be noticed.

      1. gmg22*

        Another rural New Englander here, same deal. It is not expected around these parts. (And I think this is definitely regional: I recall a fairly tense discussion once with a Southern friend kicked off by her asking me in an almost confrontational tone, “Um, why don’t you wear any makeup?”) For work, I only wear any on occasions when I expect to interact extensively with people I don’t already know well — and in my job that amounts to only a few times a year at conferences. A little BB cream, eyeliner, mascara and tinted lip balm. No lipstick because I know it will just end up on my teeth. In fact, that’s pretty much the story of me and makeup: a saga of finding stuff that would actually stay where I put it, and wondering why that works so well for the women who do a full face every day. (I couldn’t wear mascara for years because I couldn’t find any that wouldn’t just end up as smudges under my eyes. Tube mascara opened exciting new doors for me!)

    3. starsaphire*

      Same here. Don’t wear makeup, never have (except when I was doing community theatre, and at my own wedding). I’m also a Big Person, so if they’re going to judge me on appearance, well, I’ve already lost the battle, so…

      But — nice interview outfit, clean and pressed; clean tidy hair and just enough moisturizer/chapstick to not have dry scaly skin visible; neither BO nor cloying perfume; good resume and pleasant manners — all of these seem to have done the trick over the years, and I’ve had pretty good luck with job hunting overall.

      That said, it does also depend on your field. I suspect it’s a good thing I’m not interested in customer-facing work. ;)

      1. Asenath*

        And me too – never wore makeup, never got into it at a young age, and never bothered as I grew older . It hasn’t been a problem at all, but I suspect this depends a lot on job, region, and industry. I work in a rather laid-back setting, and also am in a role that does not require me to represent my employer to the public or anything like that. I wear plain but clean and tidy clothing (I have a “go to interview” outfit which is a dress and also more formal than my regular wear, but haven’t needed it lately), keep my hair trimmed in an easy to care for style, and now that I’m getting older, very occasionally get my brows trimmed or waxed by the hairdresser. The brow thing is new – I swear my brows are getting bushier as I age, so once in a long time I decide Something Needs to be Done. My “makeup” consists of lotion for dry skin – and I don’t use that every day.

    4. Tardigrade*

      Yes, if you’ve never worn makeup before, an interview isn’t the time to add it in if you don’t want to. I wouldn’t risk putting more energy into makeup (and it potentially look unskillfully done) than the interview itself.

    5. Hannah*

      Same here, no make up, no eyebrow grooming. Always clean and neat, though. I do wear moisturizer and chapstick. I spent 15 years in sales (in a “polished” field), and then went into management, and I am now part of the senior management team of a large company in New York.

      People have occasionally commented on it (sometimes in a flattering way, and sometimes not so much) and I’m sure it has hurt my career, at least a little. I’m also sure that it’s worth it, though. I figure that a company that requires that I wear makeup to be successful is just not a place that I should work.

  21. Another 30-something feminist*

    OP, I was you a few years ago, and I’ll add to the commentariat here – tinted moisturizer is your friend. Doesn’t look like you are wearing face makeup, just a slightly smoother version of your face, takes about 30 seconds to apply, and most kinds CONTAIN SUNSCREEN, which we should all be wearing anyway.

    1. Katniss*

      Be careful with this, though. I find that most brands of tinted moisturizer cause more breakouts for me, and feel heavy.

    2. NYCRedhead*

      I came here to endorse moisturizer (tinted or not) and Chapstick simply because they can prevent dryness & flakes that will crop up.

      1. Shades of Blue*

        Same! Non-makeup wearing, lip balm forgetting, wears Uniqlo legging-pants most days lady here!

        Endorsing moisturizer at the very least. I do non-tinted moisturizer, but dabble in tinted or BB/CC cream occasionally. I still manage to not do this every day.

        Eyebrows – I happen to thread them (I request clean up only that leave my natural shape!) and even though my eyebrow lady recommends coming back every 4 weeks, I usually do it every 6-8 weeks. Meh.

    3. Alton*

      Maybe I just need to try a better brand (I tried Maybelline or something), but I was disappointed when I tried tinted moisturizer. I was hoping it’d be a good alternative to wearing sunscreen daily, but it’s not heavy enough to actually hide my acne, and my skin is naturally oily and breakout prone, so I don’t use facial moisturizers.

      1. General Ginger*

        FWIW, Clinique Men’s Oil Control Mattifying Moisturizer was a game-changer for me. I have really oily, breakout prone skin, and it’s the only moisturizer that lasts, yet doesn’t feel like I’m wearing a bunch of gloop on my face. No dice on anything tinted, though.

      2. But Trust Me on the Sunscreen*

        for Alton – ignore this if you have tried already, but Bare Minerals has been a complexion lifesaver! (I might wear a little more makeup than you prefer, but they are pretty lightweight in general, that’s their shtick)

        1. media monkey*

          LOVE bare Minerals. Their complexion rescue is a tinted moisturiser and it is really light and lovely. I put the mineral veil powder over for more long lasting results but you definitely don’t need to.

    4. Kitkat*

      I just wear sunscreen during the day, with a good skin care regimen, my skin looks good. Tinted moisturizer might not be needed at all.

      I wear eye makeup though.

    5. Cardamom*

      Neutrogena makes a good tinted moisturizer. (Plugging it here so people will buy it, and they will continue making it forever.)

    6. JulieCanCan*



      Men and women – everyone should be wearing sunscreen, at least on your face (I also put it on the backs of my hands). Always. There are many brands that don’t feel sticky or look greasy or wet. Just find something that you don’t mind the feel of and put in on your face before you leave for work.

      CeraVe Ultra-light moisturizing lotion for Normal to oily skin spf 30 is good for women with oily skin who like to wear makeup. I mix it with a little tinted Bb cream (which is also spf 30).

      I wish I had started doing this 30 years ago but back then there weren’t options like we have today.

      Please wear sunscreen – your skin will thank you.

    1. Earthwalker*

      Yes! You can get endless “how to apply makeup” tips but *whether* you have to apply makeup is a whole different question. I love this discussion. I’ve always struggled as a woman with finding the right happy medium between being a painted/shaved/coutured office mannequin and coming in sweats and bedhead. But I side with OP: no makeup.

      1. Goya de la Mancha*

        “I’ve always struggled as a woman with finding the right happy medium between being a painted/shaved/coutured office mannequin and coming in sweats and bedhead.”

        The beauty of it is that there is middle ground!

  22. The Original K.*

    I think the two things that say “unprofessional” the most to me are dirty hair (like, if I can tell it’s dirty, it’s dirty) and clothes that are wrinkled, dirty, have holes, and/or ill-fitting. (This weekend, I threw on a pair of old jeans that are too big and went to run errands, and I startled myself by catching my reflection in a store window – I was really surprised by how sloppy I looked. I retired the jeans that day.) Those are the things I tend to notice.

    1. Auntie_Anarchy*

      Gosh, K, I did that after a funeral once.
      I wore a black dress which had once been neat, stylish, and a favourite but hadn’t really looked at properly in ages (I was post-divorce couch surfing, living out of a suitcase, and going through a “no mirrors” phase).
      I caught sight of myself in a reflection on the way out of the church: the black had faded, the hemline was hanging strangely, and it didn’t fit even a bit. It looked like I’d slept in it after a night at the pub. Not good. Definitely retired that one – and it had previously been a favourite!
      Lesson learned: check a full-length mirror or even a window reflection before leaving the house, if only to check that an old faithful hasn’t let you down.

  23. Jess*

    Hey, Alison, I know you’re a straight cisgender woman who doesn’t have to worry about getting chased out of the ladies’ room, and it sure sounds like a lot of your commenters are, too – but can you maybe look at these comments and your own answer and try to be a little more aware of how cissexist and heterosexist they are? “Wear some mascara and some light lipstain and pull your (long, natch) hair back into a demure ponytail if you want to be promoted or hired, that’s just the way it is!” is a very effectively homophobic standard to promote. You shouldn’t be uncritically recommending these standards as “grooming” or “polish” or “a clean look.” They’re actually very conservative and gendered, and they underline a lot of social biases against people who seem visibly gender nonconforming. And they have real legal and social consequences.

      1. Spooky*

        +1 I’ve been out in the work force for years now and I only pull my hair up if I’m sick. Out of our team of 20+ women, only one regularly wears her hair up. It is in no way the standard to do so.

        1. female peter gibbons*

          I only pull my hair up if I’m eating! It’s really long. I’ve never been called out for being unprofessional in my 20+ years working. I was also a manager for several years and a team lead for double those amount of years. Never considered it, to be honest. Some women’s hair (talking about me) is so thick or heavy that if we tie it up, it weighs on our scalp and is very painful. That’s why I only do it if I’m eating or washing my face. Also I think it causes hair breakage… or at least that’s the horror story stylists try to tell me.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        This. I wear my long hair down at work and when I go anywhere and put it up at home or when I’m sleeping. But it’s usually styled, or at least as smooth as I can get it (it tends to frizz). No one has ever said it was unprofessional. The only time I was required to put it up was in food service and factory work.

    1. Murphy*

      I’m also a straight cis woman, but I also agree that female presenting folks don’t have to do any of this. Just don’t look unkempt.

    2. ThatGirl*

      I can certainly appreciate that you’re calling out potentially cissexist standards – truly. It’s something to think about.

      I’m a little baffled as to how they’re homophobic, though – as many commenters have pointed out, there are grooming standards in place for men/male-presenting folks as well, though they are different, and butch lesbians or femme gay men can still trim their eyebrows. (note: I am a queer woman, though certainly a cisgender and fairly femme one.)

      Also, I do not think Alison is saying that any particular way is Right or Good, just that it’s … how it is.

      1. Professional Butch*

        While I agree that Alison is in no way saying that the one (cisnormative, heteronormative, femme if you present as a woman) way is the Only Right Good way, I can kind of see how the implicit assumption feels a bit homophobic.

        The way I present myself (… see my username) is really important to me as part of my identity. If I go looking for advice on professional dress and all I can find is makeup recs, discussions on heel height and skirt length, etc which assume that as a woman I’m starting from a feminine baseline, it feels like implicitly being told that I’m doing it wrong: being a woman and/or being a professional.

        Presenting masculine as a woman is something very closely linked to gay culture, so yes, that unpleasant sense of erasure and judgement feels homophobic. Even in forums such as this where that feeling is clearly unintentional, it’s something to be aware of just like the point about cisnormativity upthread.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If I go looking for advice on professional dress and all I can find is makeup recs, discussions on heel height and skirt length, etc

          Sure, but that’s not at all what my answer did.

          Maybe I didn’t strongly enough emphasize that the makeup bullet point in my response was referring to fields that place a strong emphasis on a particular type of look. (Per the lead-in to those bullet points: “For example, if you’re going into some types of PR or sales, there would be more pressure on you to conform to a certain standard of ‘polish.'”)

          I tried to emphasize that throughout my response, including in the conclusion: “If you’re not in a particularly appearance-focused field, as long as you’re paying attention to the rest of your physical presentation … you’re probably going to be fine.”

          1. Professional Butch*

            I appreciate that’s not what your advice was, and did not mean to imply that. I was referring to professional dress advice for women generally, as well as the general trend in this comment section to recommend makeup despite OP not wanting to wear it.

            1. Arielle*

              I don’t know if this is at all helpful to you, but Autostraddle has an advice column called “Find Your Fit” which is a really good source of professional style tips for queer women.

              1. KatieKate*

                I didn’t know about this series before and now I’m going to spend the rest of the day there, thank you!

        2. anon today and tomorrow*

          Presenting masculine as a woman is closely linked to gay culture, but being ridiculed for a more femme appearance is so often gay culture too. I’m a femme queer women and I personally don’t like the way gay culture tries to tell me I’m wrong for wanting to be stereotypically feminine and accuse me of trying to be heteronormative, and trying to push me into a more masculine or neutral appearance as if if there’s only one queer appearance.

          It’s a multifaceted issue, and I think people need to be aware of all sides of it.

          1. ArtsNerd*

            I allot WAY too much brainspace trying to figure out how feminine I want to present, how to accomplish that, and what signals I’m sending in the ways I perform femininity. It doesn’t come entirely from queer culture but it’s also not entirely separate from it. Ugh.

            I definitely interpreted Alison’s response as one that assumes a specific kind of feminine presentation. I also think she was speaking to what kinds of presentation are *expected* of women in the workplace, vs her own personal preferences (as she always does.) I do think there is a “default” expectation that women have long hair, or wear makeup, or all kinds of other things that are total BS, but are still expected.

            I would have loved for her to address more masculine-presenting guidelines as well, but the last sentence of the second paragraph is key in my reading of her advice. “This sucks, and is also where things currently are.”

            (I struggle pretty hard with the “clean, neat and unwrinkled” clothes part outside of interviews or other special occasions, fwiw. “Polish” is not something I excel at in my day-to-day comings and goings. Good thing my employers don’t care about it!)

        3. Yourethicsconfuseme*

          Good lord. Alison did NOT create the norm, she’s very blatantly not in support of the norm, she is just EXPLAINING the norm as she does on her blog consistently and in FACT is what the OP asked about. You can do whatever the heck you want with the information!!! If she tells you so and so is a conservative field and you disregard that because you dislike it, just know it could be a reason you don’t get a job! Or maybe you do get it! One way or another it has nothing to do with this column!

          Further, you can’t silence commenters. It’s unfair to silence them for your own benefit! They are allowed to speak on their own experiences and what they know just as you are. No one is forcing their own standards for themselves upon you, they are trying to help the OP if she decides to take a different route (just because you aren’t doesn’t mean OP can’t decide to based on this knowledge!) and also it’s a means of facilitating discussion between strangers which is healthy! If it doesn’t apply to you no one is forcing you to read it. I’ve seen no evidence thus far of sexism, just people give anecdotes on what works for them! You cannot
          and should not tell people to shut up because the information is not relevant to you and you think you know what is best for OP. Maybe OP doesn’t want this help and they can skim past but maybe they do, and you have no standing to tell others to stop sharing! But making people keep quiet because it doesn’t apply to YOU is projecting everything you don’t like unto others.

        4. JulieCanCan*

          While I believe that what you took from Alison’s answer feels to you as you described, I beg to differ if you feel it reads as homophobic or biased. It’s a general, short-ish answer to a question that could have 500 different answers and could branch off in 3,000 directions if Alison took into consideration every single type of person out there and every type of sexuality or gender or preference and every other aspect of their lives. It would need to become a novel-sized advice column for this one question/comment section alone. Before you start accusing people of certain beliefs and turning that corner, maybe take a moment to consider the fact that this is a general piece of advice that applies “most of the time” and “usually” and “more often than not.” Alison is certainly not stating that this is the only way to do things, and the only way people need to be, period. And we need to remember that different industries have different standards and expectations that they consider “polished.” No one on this site created these standards, it’s just how it is. No one is saying it’s right or wrong.

          I’m sorry you’re upset but Alison and the commenters on this site are some of the most non-judgemental, highly intelligent and kind people on the internet. Any lack of consideration you felt present in the response or comments are unintentional and due most likely to the fact that we’re all talking about the “typical” standard of “polish” and while trying to cover a broad subject, the answer is only going to be a few paragraphs long.

    3. Boo Hoo*

      People gave their opinions on minimal and polished. No one said everyone has to agree. That is why they are opinions and not facts.

    4. Rosemary*

      Yes. It’s infuriating that OP has said that she’s comfortable not wearing makeup and everyone is responding to say “just wear makeup!1!!one!”

      1. Tessa Ryan*

        THIS! ^^^ Don’t wear makeup if you don’t want to. Just keep your clothes tidy and wear deodorant and I think you are good to go. Eyebrows? Who cares. Jewelry if you don’t wear makeup? Nope, no way. Getting your eyebrows done professionally? Psssh.

        I also don’t get the obsession with nails. I honestly never notice my coworkers nails, and could care less if they aren’t perfectly groomed.

          1. Tessa Ryan*

            I would only wear what you want to wear. I’m just saying it’s not required to wear jewelry if you don’t want to wear makeup.

      2. Bleh*

        Unfortunately, we live in a world where people do judge you based on looks and first appearances. So one can choose to play along or break the rules. Both have consequences.
        Alison is just stating what a person will face, deal with, see, what is social norms, or is a accepted generally. There are always expectations. I appreciate that she has the candor to say it. After all this is just advice, you have a choice to follow or ignore it.

      3. Quackeen*

        “Just a swipe of mascara!” It’s still makeup! (And I wear makeup every day, so I’m not anti-makeup…just anti-making suggestions that people have indicated that they don’t want!)

      4. Pollygrammer*

        I think people are mostly commenting about their professional norms as part of a larger discussion on the topics, which happens in this forum all the time. Not making direct suggestions.

    5. Amber Rose*

      But all Alison said was wear clean clothes that aren’t full of holes and look professional? I get that some of the comments are what you’re saying here, but there’s none of that in what Alison said.

    6. Liet-Kinda*

      I really, really don’t want to devalue how you’re feeling about this, but you’re not being fair here. You need to separate Alison’s answer – which you are characterizing inaccurately and unfairly – from the comments you find objectionable. Some of these comments are bullshit and needed to get thrown against the wall, but the answer wasn’t what you’re representing it as.

      1. Arielle*

        I agree that the advice really did not assume any particular style of gender presentation. As a queer woman literally sitting at my desk wearing a men’s tweed vest, a plaid shirt, and an undercut, I am fully in compliance with all four bullet points in Alison’s response. “Some amount of makeup, groomed eyebrows, clean hair that’s neatly styled, and clean, well-shaped fingernails” is not particularly gendered other than the makeup, which in my case is tinted moisturizer (paired with a slightly overkill skincare routine.)

    7. animaniactoo*

      clean hair that’s neatly styled and, if it’s long, is pulled back and out of your face

      Emphasis mine – I agree with you about (some of) the makeup comments in the comments, but I think you have read Alison’s words through a filter that is giving them a meaning that simply isn’t there.

    8. Genny*

      What exactly is sexist about this advice? Allison didn’t say you have to wear mascara or lipstain, nor did she say you have to have long hair. She said if you have long hair, it should be pulled back so that it’s not in your face. That’s not a value statement on long versus short hair. It’s an acknowledgement that hair in your face can be distracting and that long hair can veer into “I just rolled out of bed” territory quickly.

      Allison noted that general definitions of “polished” are 1) fairly minimal makeup (interpretation of what constitutes makeup and what constitutes minimal left up to the individual), 2) groomed eye brows (whether that means trimmed or waxed is up to individual preference), neatly styled hair, and 4) clean, well-shaped nails. She also noted that none of these things by themselves will land you a job or prevent you from getting a job and that some jobs are going to be more flexible about appearance than others.

    9. You're doing too much*

      You’re really projecting. 1) there is nothing to indicate that OP is a butch anything and she may find all sorts of comments useful, not all advice has to be tailored to non-gender conforming and X orientation – some people keep different standards of grooming from you and you’re being intolerant, and 2) your fault is with certain commenters who just set forth what they do to feel groomed – target the right people.

      The vast majority of commenters have basically agreed groomed = kempt hair and clothes. If you feel comfortable grooming to a lesser standard or degree that’s fine. But OP wanted an opinion of what is considered professional and people are giving it, it doesn’t matter if you agree or not.

      1. Alin*

        There’s a huge difference between casually erasing non-cishet people in a discussion about general office norms and tailoring a discussion about a cishet woman to the standards faced by cishet women. We are not talking general grooming in advice to the OP. OP is a cishet woman asking about how to fit in that world as a cishet woman (or at least a cis woman who is feminine).

        What Jess is doing is past the line of “don’t erase non cishet people” and into projecting and centering their issues into a discussion expressly about cishet women.

        I understand the frustration. My gender queer sister deals with it daily. When she needs to talk about the issues she faces, we do so.

        What she doesn’t do is come into a space where I’m discussing issues being a cishet woman and coopg the discussion and make it about her issues.

        I’m sorry, Jess, but you are truly over a line here.

        Call out individual posters as need be, but don’t make this entire post all about you. The LWs issues are different from yours.

        Yes, talking about makeup and hair can be done in an erasing way. But AAM is not saying that all persons must do X. She’s giving advice to a woman of a certain identity. Not all women.

        1. Alin*

          pS you also do not speak for all non cishet women. Stop pretending you do.

          You have trampled on some posters here I know to be gender queer, non-binary, or trans. Their opinions matter too.

          You ask for people to grow and learn, but all you are doing now is a scattershot at everyone, including others who are not cishet.

          1. JamieS*

            She doesn’t say it directly but there’s several context clues that she’s cisgender or at least is asking about grooming expectation norms for women.

            First, she mentions makeup which tells me she’s in the frame of thinking about common women grooming habits even though she doesn’t wear it herself (yes I know me sometimes wear it too but it’s not a norm). Second, she mentioned her female friends and not her male friends but said they don’t have this issue because they work in tech which I interpreted as her saying they don’t have to worry about expectations people often have about women’s grooming. Finally, she acknowledged that there are differences in expectations between men and women and that awareness leads me to think she also realizes there may be different norms for masculine presenting women, obviously transgender women, etc. so I think she would’ve mentioned if that was applicable to her.

    10. Last_codon*

      Could you elaborate on which specific phrases you found to be problematic? The passages you have in quotes are not part of Alison’s reply, which makes it hard to understand your point.

    11. Lissa*

      I am wondering, what advice would you have given the LW, or do you think Alison should have? Basically, “screw ’em, do what you want?” I’m not straight, I never wear makeup, don’t have long hair, and never wear dresses. Nothing in Alison’s answer made me think she was saying anything more than “these are some potential issues that could come up.” She acknowledges that said standards can be racially based. I found everything she said to be pretty damn true TBH, and I do make the calculation pretty regularly that it’s not worth it to me to change how i present. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t downsides. Do you think they should’ve been acknowledged differently?

      I do absolutely see some of what you’re talking about in the comments (as well as some denial that it’s worse for women), but Alison didn’t seem to assume she’d have long hair, or should wear makeup, etc.

      1. tired anon*

        I agree with this, but was simultaneously disheartened by Alison’s advice/comments. Not because I think she was wrong, but because I find the standards that exist to be awful. I’m not pretending they don’t exist, I just also can’t pretend that they don’t make me feel marginalized and othered. I hate that the conversation is “how to get by with these standards” and not “how to change these standards to be more inclusive.” I don’t think Alison’s advice was wrong, and it was in response to the question that was actually asked, and I would never say that people shouldn’t ask it, because hey, we all have to earn a living.

        But the fact that these standards exist, and that we have to live under them to vary extents, is still painful. And it’s going to be a lot more painful for people who are more marginalized.

        (I come to this as a woman with an undercut that reads — intentionally and correctly! — as queer, and with big ol’ bushy eyebrows that read — again, correctly! — as Jewish. And I’m not growing my hair out, I’m not plucking my eyebrows, and I don’t wear makeup. I also live in an area and work in an industry where where that’s not likely to cause a problem or get much push back. But I also know that if I lived or worked elsewhere, this whole thing would be a lot more fraught for me, as it is for many, many marginalized people.)

        1. Lissa*

          Yup. I have realized that it’s a dang good thing I ended up where I did, because any industry where my appearance would be held too much against me wouldn’t have worked out very well anyway. The standards are horrible, and I do what I can not to unintentionally enforce them but I’m sure that even I have subconscious standards that infect my thinking. I think that undoing this is going to be far more work than just people not being sexist anymore, though a good start is getting away from unfairly applied dress codes. We’re now so used to seeing women with at least “basic” makeup that it reads as normal/baseline and women are constantly saying they “have to” wear makeup because otherwise their face is unacceptable. It makes me sad.

      2. Queen of the File*

        I know you were asking someone else, but to me, I balked a little at the idea that minimal makeup was considered a must-do. That felt a little off to me, sort of indirectly saying that if you don’t look feminine you’re not meeting the minimum standard of looking nice at work. I found myself wishing Alison had included more context/acknowledgement about the biases in what we consider clean/polished/professional–rather than just a half sentence. I also feel like Alison does a good job of this when it comes to other workplace norms that are outdated/illogical/rooted in bias, and I think it would have been a good opportunity to present a little more counterpoint in this response. However, I don’t think I would really change the core of the advice you can responsibly give to this specific letter writer, today.

        *–it wasn’t until afterward that I gave in a little that, sure, tinted moisturizer is makeup, but that’s not the impression I got of what was being suggested. Maybe it’s me! I am a straight white lady older lady so I have my own biases too.

    12. Tea Fish*

      As a queer woman, I am really struggling and failing to see where you’re getting this reading of Alison’s response. Do female beauty standards often force women into femme-presenting (not to mention white-focused) looks in a society where womens’ appearances were valued more than their actual… value? Yes, and it sucks. However, this is a workplace advice blog, not a smash the patriarchy blog, and Alison is in the business of giving actionable advice, which the OP asked for.
      Also, she didn’t make any mention of required makeup, let alone mascara or lip balm, and tying back long hair is a perfectly normal “professional appearance” recommendation tip to women queer or straight, as well as transgender women (and hell, nonbinary folks who have long hair too.)

      1. Belle8bete*

        Actually often this blog totally goes into “smash the patriarchy” sometimes! I am so taken aback at the criticism here. This blog has always tried (in my opinion sometimes to a distracting extent) to consider issues like privledge, sexism, racism, etc while giving realistic work advice.

        I wouldn’t blame Alison for getting rid of all comments at this point lol.

  24. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP, Chapstick is more of a maintenance item to me – cracked and bleeding lips are not just unsightly, they HURT!

    Also, I can think of many colleagues – male and female – who would be well advised to groom their eyebrows. They sport truly distracting brows, I can’t help but look at them instead of the person. Maybe that’s a good rule of thumb for work: Whenever possible, minimize distractions. Maybe a pimple can’t be eliminated, but bedhead and eye gummies can.

    1. The Original K.*

      I have like 10 lip balms all over the place – different bags, on my nightstand, just everywhere. When OP said she doesn’t use it, I thought “Oh, she’s so lucky that her lips don’t get chapped!”

      1. Boo Hoo*

        One in the car, one next to my bed, one in my purse, one in my living room drawer, one in my bathroom. hahaha

          1. Boo Hoo*

            I finished one once and was amazed. I seriously went and showed it off to my husband I was so proud.

        1. Elise*

          Haha, I keep them everywhere also, mostly because when I kept them in my pocket I washed and dried them more than once and ruined a few of my favorite clothes. :( So now I leave a stick in ALL THE PLACES.

        2. nym*

          And one in the desk drawer at work. I’m so glad I’m not the only person that does this.

          OP, I’m another no-makeup person, moving into senior professional roles. I keep my hair long and usually tied back, my nails trimmed but not manicured or painted, and survive just fine in a business-casual environment. You, too, can do the same! Don’t feel pressured to wear makeup, groom eyebrows, or get your nails done unless you want to.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I stash lip balms everywhere, too. I live in the midwest, with subzero windy winters and super-hot summers. My lips would always be chapped and bleeding without Burt’s Bees balm.

        1. Boo Hoo*

          I have a ridiculous routine to stay hydrated in the midwest. Heat to toe body lotion after ever shower or bath, tons of lip balm, cuticle oil and my favorite and life changing…..overnight deep hydration sleep mask. I cannot say enough about this. Has changed my skin in amazing ways. Also tons of water.Some days I seriously feel like I spend hours moisturizing around here.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Same here! In my case, it’s not just the weather causing dry skin. I’m post-menopausal and have thyroid problems, and my skin is always extremely dry and itchy – even on my face. My bedtime routine includes a hydrating sleep mask, too. I never needed it before but now I can’t live without it. If it works, I’m all for it!

            1. Boo Hoo*

              I was still having breakouts in my 30s and they vanished once I started truly, deeply hydrating my skin, mostly with the night mask. I am obsessed with it. Sadly the Givency one I was using is now discontinued so I am using a new one. Skin often overproduces oil when dry, hence breakouts. I cannot recommend enough that people try one. I just am head over heels for it.

    2. DogTrainer*

      Why is everyone so distracted by eyebrows? Are we all surprised that they exist and look different across people? This is boggling that it’s apparently so easy for something natural like eyebrows to distract people.

      1. Anon From Here*

        I gotta say, I never, ever get close enough to my co-workers to see the groomed or un-groomed state of their eyebrows.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Some you can’t miss – I go back and forth between fighting the battle and forgetting to fight the battle with my devil’s lift peak that appears on one eyebrow and not the other. You can easily see it from 10 feet away.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I work with a fellow whose thick eyebrows are truly distracting. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you his brow hairs are at least an inch long – many are longer – and no two of them lie in the same direction. They are thick, dark, and a focal point…which brows tend to be, anyway. If you saw them you would be boggled, too. He is a sweetheart, great at what he does, and I would never tell him what I posted here. And don’t get me started on the lady at my local 7 Eleven with chola brows.

        I don’t look for reasons to be distracted, DogTrainer, and I don’t comment on things I find casually distracging. But we look people in the eye when we interact with them in person, and eyebrows are gonna get noticed.

      3. Torch*

        There’s looking different and then there’s looking “HOLY COW THOSE EYEBROWS”. My husband gets these long, wiry, dark eyebrow hairs that stick out and curl and I have to get the tweezers to deal with them because he won’t, even though they are INCREDIBLY noticeable and distracting. Maybe if your whole “look” was big, bushy eyebrows, it could be accepted as a quirk, but having three really long eyebrow hairs just looks out of place, much like a long loose thread coming out of a shirt.

      4. DogTrainer*

        But then why are so many people recommending this person (who, to my knowledge, sounds like she has normal eyebrows) wax/trim/pluck/whatever her eyebrows? If she had crazy eyebrows, fine, but I don’t understand why so many average eyebrow owners mess with their eyebrows.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          ‘…I don’t understand why so many average eyebrow owners mess with their eyebrows.’

          They mess with their eyebrows because they want to. The OP *did* ask about grooming, and many people consider tweezing, penciling in bare spots, brushing, etc., to be grooming. If the OP doesn’t want to do anything to her brows, that’s fine too.

        2. Boo Hoo*

          Because SHE mentioned it. And she did not mention if they were fine or not. We have no idea. She brought it up so we are discussing it.

        3. Labradoodle Daddy*

          Because threads like these make them think there’s something wrong with them/unprofessional about them if they don’t.

      5. Dragoning*

        I used to have one eyelash–one single eyelash–that was literally twice the length of all the others, and white. My eyelashes are black.

        Yeah, people noticed. I had to take to cutting it, and it still didn’t look right. (Cutting your eyelashes is terrifying, by the way).

        Fortunately it seems to have…I don’t know, fallen out and not grown back? It’s not there anymore.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I had one of those, and I would normally pull it because cutting it didn’t make it go away. I probably killed the hair follicle.

          1. Dragoning*

            I tried pulling it out, but it was stuck in there pretty firm and wouldn’t come out. It kept growing back for a while.

          2. Boo Hoo*

            I had one for a while, it seems to have run away but if it comes back you have made me decide to pull it. I seriously was terrified of the pain….even though I have ripped every other hair off my own body at some point. The eyes just terrified me I guess. I am going to suck it up next time. I usually wear mascara so it was covered but I always thought I should pull it but was chicken….which is weird…I’ve given myself stitches, I’ve been run over….but that one eyelash ahaha.

        2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          haha… I have one of those, except mine is curly unlike the rest of the long ones. It looks truly odd.

        3. many bells down*

          I have one very long white hair that will grow out right in the center between my brows. I only know it gets really long because it’s nearly invisible until suddenly it’s 2 inches and very obvious.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I get those IN my brows. My stylist yanks them when I get my brows done because they’re not grey enough yet for them to blend in. They’re really obvious. I hope they die off at some point, sheesh.

            It’s not like I care what people think, but they just look weird and I don’t want them there.

    3. Juli G.*

      This was my takeaway. Does OP drink 4 gallons of water a day? I use Aquafor on my lips and it’s the first thing I put on after I get out of the shower. I’m so jealous of anyone who’s never spent an hour in agony because their lips are so chapped but everything’s back at their desk.

  25. New here*

    Just a heads- up, if someone doesn’t like strong odors, that pomegranate one is a no-no. Especially because lips are right under our nose. I had to wipe it off immediately (gave it to my sister, with the strong suggestion to not wear it near me).

  26. Lurker most of the time*

    I have horrible skin. I had horrible acne as a child and luckily its died down as an adult but for some reason that redness has yet to go away. My entire face always looks like a tomato even when I have no acne. Makeup does not cover it, not even the expensive green corrections can help it. Also my skin varies between dry in morning and oily in afternoon. So I dont wear make up because 1) it will either look cakey in the morning bc of my dry skin or 2) if it happens to look good it will slide off in the afternoon due to my skin turning oily.

    I’ve never been denied jobs and I work primarily front facing office jobs. I have been promoted, been in management. I think the takeaway though is I have noticed I have to put forward better work than other employees for the same recognition. It’s like I have to work PAST my skin. But over time its built me good references that I’ve leveraged to get better jobs.

    1. MissingArizona*

      You’ve probably gotten a ton of suggestions about your skin, so you can ignore me (I’ve also got problem skin and the unsolicited advice is aggravating), but I found a gel moisturizer by Clinique, and I f’ing love it. It has helped with my problem/oily skin, and it feels like nothing. Again, totally ignore this comment if you want to, but I’ve had such great results with it that I just need to tell everyone.

      1. Tuesday is the Worst Day of the Week, Fight Me.*

        Definitely second this, it is one of my absolute favorites when it comes to moisturizers.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      You can also ignore my comment if it’s unhelpful :-)

      Have you asked your doctor whether you might have rosacea? I had a very red nose and cheeks for years but just assume that was, you know, my face. It wasn’t until about five years ago that I had a flare-up with painful bumps that it was diagnosed. In my case, a particular medication worked really well on both the bumps and the redness, although not everyone is lucky enough to find something they respond to well.

      1. biobotb*

        My mother, who’s over 70, just found out that she has rosacea after a lifetime of just thinking it was her curse to have a constantly red nose/cheeks. I have rosacea as well, which is mostly under control, but I sympathize with the dry in the morning/oil in the afternoon plight of Lurker. Also, on bad days the redness makes me look like I secretly spend the afternoon swigging wine at my desk.

      2. Juliecatharine*

        Oh my god you totally just made me realize what’s going on with my skin. My dermatologist has mentioned it before but truthfully I never paid much attention because I thought rosacea was just about redness and I’m not really bothered by my red cheeks at all. Thank you so much.

    3. Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins*

      I feel you. I have incredibly bad skin, a mix of genetics and hormonal issues, and I can’t cover my breakouts/scarring/redness because it either makes it worse, or the skin is too uneven/scarred for it to look nice. I don’t feel like it’s held me back, but I do always feel a bit self-conscious. I try to make sure my work stands on it’s own, and that has helped.

  27. Collarbone High*

    If you decide you want to clean up your eyebrows, I highly recommend going to a professional. It’s difficult to get symmetry right when you’re plucking your own brows, and uneven brows are going to be more eye-catching and distracting than ungroomed ones.

    For your first time, go to a place that specializes in brow shaping, not a strip mall nail salon. A good place will work with you to determine the look you want, so you don’t end up with overgroomed brows that you hate.

    1. (another) b*

      Also be weary of mall stores. I had the worst eyebrow session at Ulta. Luckily it was only pencil and not wax or microblading.

  28. CTT*

    I had to laugh (kindly!) at “I’m lost at eyebrows” because I was having this discussion with my sister yesterday – there is an overwhelming amount of info about beauty out there now, and how much you’re supposed to be doing on a daily basis. It’s become such a thing over the past few years that it can be easy to be at a loss (and I say this as someone who was in a panic at the drugstore yesterday wondering if I should be buying micellar water).

    This is all to say that Alison’s advice is solid, and also this is maybe the only makeup/face-care advice on the internet you should be seeking out because there is way too much out there. You mentioned you’re about to graduate from grad school; is there a professor or someone else in the department who’s familiar with your industry you could ask about how to look going into interviews? That could be helpful as well if you want an industry-specific opinion.

  29. DiscoTechie*

    Female civil engineer here: I do not wear makeup beyond lip balm for chapped lips. My standard interview dress has been a black suit with a complementary color shell underneath. Even when I lived in the south and the idea of a woman putting on her face was a standard there, I was sans makeup.
    While I loathe the idea that a woman must “tone” down feminine characteristics to fit into a male dominated workplace; no makeup means there is never a thought by a coworker about something that is distinctly feminine and whatever biases that can dredge up.
    It’s amazing what parts of a woman’s appearance can be up for discussion in professional settings. I grew out my hair from a short cut to shoulder length. It took a while for us to update our corporate photos on our resumes, so many of my new clients who had just seen my resume and old photo were surprised. I had this conversation more times that I care, “Wow, you grew your hair long. That must have taken forever….blah blah blah.” Me: “Yup, now let’s talk about your road.”

    TLDR: Do what you feel comfortable in and feel “put together in”. For me that’s no makeup, dressy top and black dress pants as a standard work uniform. Find what works for you that is well fitting, doesn’t encumber your work (think dresses on construction sites), and that you like.

    1. Bostonian*

      “Do what you feel comfortable in and feel ‘put together’ in.”

      This is solid advice. If I try to “dress up”, I actually am way more self conscious because it’s such a deviation from the norm.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I’m going to push back on this, based on my own career. Alison is wrong in saying there is “possibly none” when it comes to appearance bias in engineering.
      It’s unfair, but women engineers absolutely are judged by their appearance. It’s not something we want to acknowledge. We want a meritocracy based on our engineering skill sets.
      The harsh reality is that a well groomed good looking woman will get more opportunities handed to her than a “plain Jane”. It’s also true that the standards for women engineers are way higher than male engineers. That means you’ll need to work harder to compensate. Will you get the job? Yes. Promotion? Yes, but it may take longer. It’s just part of the sexism that is part of the industry.
      It stinks but it must be acknowledged.
      Do what you want, but know it comes with a cost. Eyes wide open.
      A bunch of us women engineers took a “style” class at from community education. Only 2 sessions were based on makeup and nails. The other 8 sessions were things like best styles for your body type, using accessories to subtly show your personality, etc. it was actually kind of fun. So those classes are out there if you want them. They were kind of fun.

    3. Elle*

      I agree. I’m an engineer. I have never worn makeup. I seriously doubt anyone has noticed or that it affects my career in any way. In fact, it might be the opposite- I’ve heard snarky remarks about women who wear too much makeup or too bright a lip color, but never anything about lack there of. And a few times I’ve worn it and had someone comment on it which just makes me feel icky. So either wear it, or don’t wear it, but be aware that if you change it up that will be most noticeable.

      That said, I used to wear frumpy bargain clothes. I finally switched to a ‘grown up’ wardrobe of higher end tailored clothes. Realistically, its no harder to wear dress pants / shell / blazer than it is to wear ‘least dressy pants possible’ / almost dressy T shirt / cardigan. But people react to me so much differently now, and honestly I carry myself with more confidence.
      So, while I may not wear makeup, I make up (ha, ha) for it in an overall polished look. Kind of like how jeans with a blazer looks much more professional than the same jeans with a t-shirt on casual Friday.

      As far as eyebrows go- I can’t wax them. I break out like crazy, its bad. I use a little eyebrow razor for about 30 seconds every few weeks to keep them in check but don’t have anything obviously styled. Again, probably more important to keep them in check if you’re not making up for it with make up etc.
      It really comes down to – do you want to be known as the woman with the good presenting skills, or the woman with the bushy eyebrows? Because people basically remember the MOST obvious thing about you and its up to you what you want that obvious thing to be. Its not fair, for sure, but that’s the way our brains work.

  30. Wendy City*

    One thing I try to keep in mind when preparing for an interview is that, should I be hired for this position, they’ll see me in my everyday state of Office Dress — which sometimes means no makeup, hair pulled back in a ponytail, etc. If it’s going to be an issue that I don’t wear a full face every day or never wear heels, I’d rather be eliminated in the interview phase than have to deal with it once I have the job. The interview grooming goal for me is that none of it be a distraction — neither too unkempt nor too “done up.” I joke that for interviews, I aim for a makeup look that would cause a man to say “wow, see, you look so much better without any makeup on” ;)

    1. J.*

      “If it’s going to be an issue that I don’t wear a full face every day or never wear heels, I’d rather be eliminated in the interview phase than have to deal with it once I have the job.”

      AGREED. Like Alison has said many times, at interviews we’re evaluating the fit of an organization as much as they are us. And if they’re going to be the kind of place that requires me to be more made up, then I want to know that early on so I’m not wasting anybody’s time!

  31. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I haven’t worn makeup in at least a decade (save for my sister’s wedding, when I paid to have it professionally done). I never get my nails done.

    I have never had an issue getting a job.

  32. purpleparrots*

    First, I should note that I love makeup, and putting it on is a personal hobby. But, I realize not everyone is like that, and there is a wide spectrum adjustable based on time, comfort, and personal preference. I think you may have some options that add the polish you’re looking for, without actually putting anything on your face.

    For example, you can get a “spoolie” for about $2 which is a little brush that looks like the end of a mascara brush, and sort of comb down your eyebrows — start an the inner corner closes to your nose, and follow the natural curve of your browbone out towards your temple. You could even use a clean toothbrush for this in a pinch. If any hairs really obviously poke the wrong direction and won’t lay flat, maybe consider plucking them out with a tweezer.

    Second, maybe consider an eyelash curler. While they look like torture devices, you can use them to gently squeeze your eyelashes up and away from your eyes, giving the illusion that you did something, even if there’s no product that follows the curl. Again, this is a pretty inexpensive option, and you can reuse it for years — it never runs out or goes bad.

    If you are comfortable with putting stuff on your face, please, please consider a facial SPF – I’m not talking about like Coppertone here, there are some you can find in a drugstore that are a bit gentler and less scented for your face. These have a dual benefit of protecting your skin, which will keep it looking better in the long run, and many have a mattifying quality that sort of evens you out and makes your skin look a little nicer. Second tier suggestions if you want to get more complicated : Brow gel (tinted or clear), Mascara (top lashes only, soooo much easier), tinted chapstick.

    But please, for me, DO NOT go to a makeup store and ask for a makeover because while those women are well-intentioned, they are also there to sell you stuff you don’t need. Maybe ask a friend whose look you would feel comfortable emulating for some advice!

    1. purpleparrots*

      Amending to add that I agree with every single commenter who says DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO! Just wanted to shed some light on some affordable grooming options out there that men OR women can use to feel a little more tidy.

    2. Tuesday is the Worst Day of the Week, Fight Me.*

      100% agree! I am definitely a fellow makeup enthusiast. If you are looking for a more natural looking cosmetics company, I really enjoy Bare Minerals and It Cosmetics. However, neither company really has the best shade range in case you are a POC. In addition, a lot of Korean-based cosmetic companies tend to be on the more natural side of things (again, not great for POC). Totally agree, the makeup counter workers, while incredibly helpful, will try to over sell you on several items because they get paid on commission. I would be more than happy to recommend a few products if OP sees this!

    3. TootsNYC*

      I read a lot of beauty-magazine copy for one reason or another, and one underlying trend I am seeing is that the point is health.

      I would like to suggest that you always put on lotion with SPF before you go outside.
      Put it on your face and the backs of your hands and on your forearms.
      (I emphasizes backs of hands, because most of us talk about hand lotion for the palm side, where the contact-based wear and tear is.)
      Also: tops of ears if you have short hair.

      Also–whatever your sex/gender or sexuality.

      These areas are exposed to the damaging rays of the sun far more than almost any other area. Every day. Every SINGLE day.

      At age 55, I started to get “age spots,” which are just sun damage. And I began to look much older because my skin is more wrinkled. When I was younger, I thought I wouldn’t mind–but now that I truly am older, I DO mind this evidence of aging.

      But way more than that–I’m at a much greater risk for skin cancer there than I would be if I’d used sunscreen daily.
      The suspicious or precancerous things I’ve had removed are all on my forearms.

    4. Sorceress17*

      As a former retail-based makeup artist and skincare consultant, I have to object to your statement that makeup store employees are only out to sell products a customer doesn’t need. This kind of statement keeps women from trying to find the help they want/need with their products. I realize there are many product specialists who are in it for the sales, but a majority of them love cosmetic products and really do want to help.

      It is still your responsibility as a customer to speak up if they are using a product you don’t like, or are using colors you aren’t happy with. Say NO! Most of them won’t be offended by it. If they are, find a new person to help you.

      Please stop painting makeup store employees with the same makeup brush. Most of us really care about helping our customers and do our best to find the right products.

      1. Long time reader, first time commenter*

        Same! I would try to talk customers out of purchases if they were unsure. I’d rather someone think about it and come back, than buy it, use it once then return. I’d be stuck with unsaleable product and sometimes didn’t have stock on hand to sell to another customer.

        Echoing the other commenters, do what you feel comfortable in.

      2. purpleparrots*

        You’re right, I ungenerously painted with a broad brush based on some bad personal experiences, which is unfair. Thank you for speaking up for your industry and serving your customers with integrity.

        1. Sorceress17*

          I’m sorry you had some bad experiences. It’s happened to me and it is terrible!

          I got out of retail, but I am a personal shopper for skincare and makeup and give artistry lessons as a side hustle. It’s all the fun without the pressure!

      3. Tuesday is the Worst Day of the Week, Fight Me.*

        I too apologize. Like purple parrots, I had some unfortunate experiences and was judging everyone based on that (i.e. I believe that the person doing my makeup used a different company’s foundation because when I went back to receive a new bottle foundation the scent was completely different as was the application and there was no reformulation). I truly appreciate the work that you do, it was makeup counters that got me into makeup in the first place and really helped me skin-wise.

  33. Temperance*

    LW, if you’re open to this, go to a salon and make an appointment with the aesthetician (skin care and waxing). He/she can wax your brows and set up a shape that you can maintain on your own, with minimal upkeep.

    I wax mine every 6 weeks and pluck strays in between. Don’t try to shape your own brows. You can just pluck the strays obviously outside of the arch.

  34. Observer*

    The key in most fields is wearing well fitting, decent quality clothes. Also, match the level of formality- eg if everyone is wearing suits, don’t show up in a tee shirt.

    1. F.M.*

      Or vice versa! At a very casual company I worked at previously, a number of candidates for a job were invited to come to one of the weekly company pizza-and-games nights to see how they’d mesh with everyone else. One person showed up in a suit, and the company president pointed this out afterward as someone not paying attention to context. That person did not get the job; someone who’d shown up in a polo shirt and jeans, and thus looked tidy while not standing out among people in jeans or slacks and t-shirts, did get it.

  35. Anon From Here*

    Lawyer here. The only makeup I keep on hand is a compact of pressed powder. And I use that only for interviews and photos to obscure a random pimple, make my nose less red, and reduce the darkness under my eyes. I’ve just never been a makeup person, even when as a teen in the 1980s. Has it blocked me from opportunities? Maybe? Too bad for the people who passed me over.

    I haven’t “groomed” my eyebrows, other than smoothing them down with my finger, since I was about 13. Granted, I don’t have Brooke Shields eyebrows. But they’re not invisible, either.

    1. BeezLouise*

      Yep – I’m an attorney but work in academia. I actually will wear makeup for external meetings, especially with donors, but not much. And otherwise I’m bare-faced with just sunscreen. I find there are a lot of women in law who don’t wear make-up though.

      I do “groom” my eyebrows by getting them waxed . . . every few years or so.

  36. No Name Yet*

    I hear you: 97% of why I shave my legs is so I can wear skirts to work (which I enjoy) without having A Discussion about my leg hair with colleagues or patients. I generally agree with Allison’s statements, particularly that it can depend on your profession and role.

    That being said, my wife and I are both white-collar professionals in client-facing roles, I’m a health care provider, and neither of us wear any make-up. Or pay attention to our eyebrows. And honestly, I don’t think it’s had a negative impact on either of us. (Could it have in ways we’re not aware of? Sure. My mother was worried my wife would have problems getting professional jobs because her hair is so short/signals queerness, but she got a great fellowship and her dream job with that haircut, so…).

    That being said, I do wear some makeup when I have job interviews (or give formal conference presentations), because I think I look like the ‘slightly more alert/polished’ version of myself. And, honestly, because I don’t want my not wearing makeup to be A Thing – not how I want to be remembered when interviews are being discussed. But my wife doesn’t – she’s not interested at all. And that works for her. So I’d think about what works for you, and also realize that any decision doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, if you don’t want it to be.

    1. KatieKate*

      I wear dark tights with skirts/dresses because 1) I’m always cold and 2) so I don’t have to shave! :)

      1. No Name Yet*

        Absolutely! That is me 60% of the year, and when the leg hair grows back. :D But not in the summer when I’m broiling in my overwarm office, and a primary motivation for wearing a skirt is that it’s cooler than pants.

        1. Ermintrude*

          There was one time though when I tried to remove what I thought was pet hair from my stockings to find it was attached to my leg…
          And that’s why I shave before wearing them now. :)

      2. Just Employed Here*

        I wear dark tights over dark tights with dresses. :-) That way, if one pair gets a snag, my white, hairy leg doesn’t show through.

  37. beanie beans*

    I think of interviews as not wanting to have anything that stands out so that they focus on me and my brain rather than my crazy shoes or wacky unkempt hair.

    Others used “clean look” and I like that. Neat and professional goes a long way and it absolutely doesn’t have to include makeup.

    I’ve never worn makeup to my job or an interview, but I do live on the west coast where things are more laid back and informal.

  38. Alfonzo Mango*

    If you have clean clothes that fit right, and you shower regularly (hair and body), you’re fine. Once you get a job you’ll feel more secure, and then you can take cues from how the other women at your office dress.

    1. Nellie*

      Honestly, yes. At a bare minimum it is hard for me to picture someone who looks like this actually having trouble getting a job. If your eyebrows or some other feature really are so out of the norm that it’s noticeable you may want to finesse slightly, but only so it’s not attracting more attention than anything else.

  39. Dust Bunny*

    This varies a whole lot. I work in an academic library that serves a lot of students that come from countries where standards of modesty are a lot higher than those of the US, so I have to be clean, neat, and non-intimidating (no controversial-ish slogans or graphic tees, or anything really edgy, tight, or revealing). It’s also chilly in here so I basically live in skirts and sweaters (pants would be fine but I find them uncomfortable). I work with rare books and old papers, though, so I’m not allowed to wear anything that might leave a residue. It’s never come up because nobody in my department wears makeup, anyway. A few people in other departments do but it’s definitely not required/strongly expected. I have hip-length hair that is always either in a braid or a bun.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I have Brooke Shields eyebrows, too, and never do anything with them. Unless they’re, I don’t know, casting shadows in your eyes or something, you’re probably OK. The level of grooming you described sounds fine.

  40. RandomM*

    I work in the legal field in a large Canadian city. We have a “business casual” dress code with the expectation that if you’re meeting with clients you’ll wear a blazer. I’ve never worn makeup (nor will I) and I’ve never had any issues.

  41. Alfonzo Mango*

    Also – if you don’t want to wash your hair every day, dry shampoo is a lifesaver. I use the Not Your Mother’s purple can and it’s only like $4 and it lasts forever.

    1. Katniss*

      It is very useful to have around! I only wash my hair twice a week and dry shampoo is sometimes useful for that last day before I get to shower, which is the only time it ever really gets oily.

    2. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

      It’s also useful to bouffe up fine hair (like mine!) and give it some volume so it’s not flatty mcflatterson on my head. I’m in the UK, and find Batisste the best one.

      1. Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins*

        Batiste is so good! I like the dark tinted one, because it doesn’t leave a weird grey cast to my dark brown hair. Definitely a life saver!

    3. shep*

      Dry shampoo is AMAZING. I’ve had oily hair since I was about 9 or 10. I’m 30 now and the natural oils in my hair are still going at full pace.

      I only discovered dry shampoo in my mid-twenties, which makes me weep for tiny shep, because I was SO self-conscious of my oily hair and took SO MANY showers for the express purpose of washing it, when really I could’ve just stuck a shower cap on and been done with it for a few days.

      FWIW, I use Dove dry shampoo, which is pretty inexpensive as well and works the best (at least in conjunction with my hair) out of all the brands I’ve tried.

    4. Emi.*

      I used to wash my hair every day, and then I started using dry shampoo to push that to every other day, and every third day, and … now it’s once a week, and no dry shampoo needed. Huge time saver (and my hair is extra shiny)!

    5. Sylvan*

      Yeah, that’s handy. By the way, some brands make dry shampoo in shades of black and brown that blend into dark hair more easily.

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Huh. We got a dry shampoo for our middle-schooler to try when drama club’s “hell week” synched up with some big class projects — and her head broke out. I’ll have to check the brand…

  42. Lourissa*

    I am a lady with very thick eyebrows – I do pluck and shape them a little, but they are still thick enough that when I wake up or if I rub a hand over my face, they get mussed up. Bed-head for eyebrows, it’s a thing! All you need is a cheap eyebrow brush – sometimes called a spoolie brush, or you can buy a double sided eyebrow brush + lash comb – and brush them neatly every morning just as you’d comb your hair. Takes two seconds and makes a world of difference. You can also buy clear brow gel just to keep them neat all day long if you tend to touch your face a lot.

    If you feel self-conscious about blemishes, a dot of concealer will cover them and any under-eye shadows or redness. Or, as a commenter above mentioned it, a tinted moisturiser or BB cream with sunscream does three jobs in one and will just even out your complexion and blur any redness, dark shadows or blemishes. But frankly, blemishes happen to everyone and I’ve never looked at a man with a few spots and thought he looked unkempt.

  43. Dragoning*

    I always suspect the answer to this lies in how attractive you are. If you’re a naturally conventionally attractive woman, you can get away with less maintenance, no makeup, etc (I don’t wear makeup, don’t worry about my occasional acne, don’t groom my eyebrows, don’t shave, do minimal hair-styling in the morning, etc…but I look nice anyway, so no one really cares.

    If you’re not, then people generally want to see that you’re making an effort to “manage” your appearance to make it more appealing.

    1. Aurion*

      Sadly, I think this is the case. For example, some people’s “acne breakout” is like, two pimples a month, and that’s a lot less noticeable (or lot less work to manage) than fifteen. Someone who is the latter will probably put more effort in managing it/covering it up.

      I think we have a generally accepted idea of what’s business appropriate and polished, and while everyone can have a few deviations from this idea (I don’t wear makeup at all, myself), we’re only allowed one or two. Any more than that and we’re hitting that line of unkemptneess.

    2. Delphine*

      I think this is key. Women of color, gender non-conforming women, women who aren’t considered conventionally attractive will be required to do more and to bend to more standards than other women. I don’t like makeup, but I do cover my dark circles (hyperpigmentation), and I remove darker hair from my face (upper lip, sideburn area), and I sometimes worry about the dark hair on my arms. My goal is to do as little “extra” work as possible (I don’t wear heavy foundation, no eyeliner or mascara)…but for women of color that sometimes means quite a bit more than a white woman would do, because what’s considered professional is based on a specific ideal.

      I don’t think it’s fair, it’s just an aspect of our sexist, racist society and what it considers appropriate presentation for women…

      1. Elle*

        I do agree that covering dark circles is really important – just because, however falsely, people associate that with not being well rested which can impact people’s perception of how equipped you are to do your job.
        But I don’t really agree that makeup is for ‘less attractive’ people. I think its more about how put together you are otherwise. Someone who wears dresses and blazers can likely get away with less makeup than someone who wears frumpy bargain pants and t-shirts. In fact, someone with heavy makeup and a dress and statement heels and curled/fashionable hair might stand out in their own negative way. Its all about the whole picture.

    3. aebhel*

      This is sadly true. It’s why the expectations of ‘performing femininity’ are so much more stringent for trans women, fat women, women of color, etc. I don’t know if any of that applies to the OP, but regardless it’s something to keep in mind.

  44. New here*

    On topic: sometimes I wear bright red lipstick, sometimes nothing, sometimes purple eyeliner and mascara, it depends on the mood (I’m in my 30s and have worked in office environments, but a not too strict ones; also as I grow older I take less **** about how I should look at work as a woman).

    My advice is to have clean hair and not looking like a bird’s nest (whatever that means for your type of hair), clean skin (regular showers and also washing our face, it shows), nails that won’t scratch and clothes that are simple and comfortable, wear nothing that looks like it came from a dumbster (even if it’s “fashion”) and have a big smile (yes, it makes a difference). You don’t have to have perfect teeth, but smoker teeth and bad stains can be a turn-off. Brows are the frame of our face, so if you can put in the time keep them nice (depending on your style, I don’t mean wax them to death, amybe just a trim) will certainly make a difference.

    If you don’t like make-up, you can wear only blush in a natural color that compliments you (cream ones are nice and more safe if you are wary of the application), it livens up the face and brightens the eyes. So, nothing on your eyes or lips if you don’t feel like it.

    (I live in a different continent, but as I read the part about “neat hair”, I remembered all the posts I’ve come across about black women’s hair in the US and how much of a pain it is to have their actual hairstyles accepted).

  45. Lucille2*

    I used to go without makeup all through college and my early working years. I work in tech where expectations have always been super casual. Now that I’m nearing 40, and have late onset of hormonal acne, I now always wear makeup to work. But I keep it pretty subdued. I prefer not to look like I’m wearing makeup, but I feel like as Alison suggests, I just look healthier and more awake when I do.

    I think you’re fine to go without makeup as long as you feel good and confident in your appearance. Wear clean, well-fitting clothes and you’ll be fine. When I was fresh out of college, I was broke and a bit clueless about my appearance. I didn’t always dress well or look my best, but I don’t feel it held me back in my career at all. But I work in an industry that might be more forgiving than others.

  46. drpuma*

    It might be helpful to reframe “I don’t want to spend money on X” as “I’m willing to spend up to Y so that I don’t have to think about X any more.” Getting my eyebrows threaded costs me $15 (incl tip), but then that means I don’t have to think about them for the next few months. Other “personal grooming” stuff could be similar – how much do you feel okay about spending for a haircut if it means you don’t need to think about your hair for a few months?
    Also, I bet there are some women in your (or other) graduate program who would be happy to do some clothes shopping with you. Just don’t ask your career services; their viewpoint is likely to be much less nuanced than a peer or mentor.
    For the time being, you just need to get yourself through job interviews and the first week or two of a new position. After that you can take some cues from coworkers, whether or not they are fellow engineers. Good luck!

  47. spcepickle*

    So I am a mid professional female civil engineer. I wear no makeup, ever. This has never been a problem for me, but I do work in New Mexico and Washington State in offices where jeans are the norm. When I lived and worked in Virginia I had a much more tailored wardrobe (but still no makeup).
    Hair should be out of your face, and ask a couple people you trust to make sure it doesn’t smell, I found that when I switch to non chemical shampoos some of them left me with a musty order I couldn’t always detect, but others could.
    Eyebrows depend greatly on your face, and in some ways your comfort level. I have a friend with light blond hair who has great looking eyebrow she has never touched. I am blessed with thick dark hair and get my eyebrows, mustache, and chin waxed regularly but I can grow some pretty impressive stubble. If you are cool with bushy eyebrows and you make it look intentional and the rest of you is polished I wouldn’t worry.
    I have found in hiring that I look for confidence, excitement, and politeness over anything else.
    Good luck.

  48. KatieKate*

    I’m a cis lady who sometimes plays around with gender presentation, and one suggestion I would have is watch Queer Eye on Netflix! They get the grooming basics down–correctly fitting clothing (which it sounds like you nailed already,) a good haircut (whatever style you want, just keep it clean) and good nails and skin. The one makeup suggestion the show gave for two different guys was green stick (to hide redness the client was uncomfortable) and a little concealer (for a transguy who got a lot of acne from the hormones.) I think you’re totally fine not doing any at all! :)

  49. Goya de la Mancha*

    Eyebrows, this applies for all genders – using an clean old toothbrush (or clean spoolie if you have one) to literally brush and “tame” your eyebrows can go along way toward looking more polished. Whether you pluck/wax is the personal preference – but I would eliminate the obviously stray hairs and leave the rest be if natural is more your style. I went in for a wax once to get the shape down and now just pluck to maintain the obvious ones at home.

    Personally I’m in the “wear makeup, even if it’s minimal” camp. It’s not necessarily a popular camp, but I feel most everyone will benefit in the “polished” department from SOME sort of makeup. Whether that’s a swipe of lipstick/gloss, a hint of blush, or a coat of mascara. You don’t have to do a full face to see some sort of benefit. I’m deathly pale and my lashes are practically see-through – so blush and mascara are mandatory for me, not optional. There are plenty of brands to choose from if no chemicals/animal testing/etc. are your deal. Even homemade options if that’s your deal (beets and berries can make a great lip product!).

    Clothing – as long as it fits your industry standard, just make sure it’s clean, pressed (if needed) and fits properly.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        She didn’t recommend it to her. She’s sharing her own practices. It’s fine for this discussion to broaden into a discussion of how people handle this themselves.

          1. Goya de la Mancha*

            And OP states in her letter (though I might have missed something in the comments) that she doesn’t “do” make up and is reasonably confident with that decision – not that she doesn’t want to or is dead set against it. My comment was stating how I handle my own make-up and possible options for the OP in case she hadn’t come across them. If OP is set on not wearing make-up, she is free to ignore that part of my comment.

            1. You Can Call Me Al*

              I definitely approached this from a “This is what I do” point of view. In my experience, many people don’t realize that there are so many options out there from full coverage foundation to a lightly tinted SPF. I apologize if that came across as being presumptive. I just know that it took me a long time to learn about makeup and that sometimes the task can be incredibly daunting when there are aisles upon aisles staring you down.

    1. Torch*

      My eyebrows and lashes are also white-blond against pale skin- if I don’t use eyebrow powder and mascara, I look like I lost them in a chem lab explosion.

    2. Lissa*

      When you say everyone would benefit from some makeup do you mean guys too? Honest question! I know there are some industries where guys do wear a bit, especially anything where they’re going to be on camera. But it is so much less and less widespread than for women.

      1. Goya de la Mancha*

        Maybe not so much “makeup” for guys – but I think a clear nail polish, chapstick, or facial moisturizer would not be amiss for almost all of them!

        Whether we like it or not, appearances/first impressions do matter and I think that there are very few humans that would not benefit in some way from a little additional help in the way of product/extra time. It’s up to each individual to decide what that help is of course, and some may decide to them it’s not important.

      2. Jasnah*

        I think most makeup products have been developed with the goal of making the wearer look more feminine (dark lashes, rosy cheeks, red lips). If we could branch off a bit I think guys would benefit a lot too (I’m thinking beard pencil/powder to fill in spots like women do with eyebrows, subtle contour for a strong jawbone or brow, etc). Even now I think many many dudes would benefit from some undereye concealer and skintone-evening foundation.

  50. Llellayena*

    I am also a female in a male dominated field who does not wear any makeup or hair product and does not do anything with my eyebrows except trim the couple of hairs that like to grow opposite the rest. My nails get trimmed when they start getting in the way of things like typing. I have a lot of client contact and no one has ever commented that I need to be more “polished.” I think polish is more in the attitude, confidence and poise, than in the appearance. If you want to add makeup or other beauty treatments, do it because they make you feel better about yourself and help you reflect that poise, not because you think you need to match the industry standards of beauty.

  51. tcro*

    If your eyebrows are bordering on unibrow and that’s not a look you’re comfortable rocking, then just pluck the hairs from the middle with tweezers. If your brows are otherwise “bushy” or “unruly” you can use a toothbrush (an old or separate one from your teeth) and brush them a little bit to get them back in line. If they are particularly stubborn, you could spray the toothbrush with a little hairspray first, and it would help them keep their tidied shape. Good luck!

    1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      Or get one of those little eyebrow brushes. They are not expensive and are a bit easier to use than a toothbrush.

  52. Candy*

    All you need is some chapstick, a tinted moisturizer with spf (it’ll give you a little glow plus you should be wearing spf every day anyway!), and an eyebrow kit (it has a pigmented wax that defines your brows a bit but mostly keeps them neat if they’re bushy). Go to Ulta & buy elf brand and these will all cost you about $4/ea.

    1. Candy*

      All that to say… I worked with the daughter of hippies (her parents were travelling circus performers — a magician and bearded lady) and as far as I could tell she never wore make-up of any sort, didn’t colour her hair, didn’t pluck her moustache, basically cared 0% about her appearance. And she was the nicest person and greatest coworker I’ve ever worked with and no manager ever hassled her about her appearance. She was quirky and that was fine. It was just who she was. This was in a library though where we’re used to oddballs :)

    2. aebhel*

      Pass on the tinted moisturizer–if you have sensitive skin, it can make you break out. A little sunscreen is usually a good idea though (for men, too).

  53. You Can Call Me Al*

    I use a BB cream most days at work. It is primarily just for SPF (fair skin that will burn even in winter), but the slight tint definitely helps me look a bit more together, evens out my complexion, and provides me with a small confidence boost. I usually use the Algenist Repairing Tint & Radiance Moisturizer SPF 30. It provides the perfect amount of barely there makeup while having some good skincare-based qualities too. I don’t have too many suggestions about brows (been getting mine waxed since the second grade so they don’t grow much anymore), maybe just trim them with scissors every once in a while?

    1. You Can Call Me Al*

      Plus it is a confidence boost when I don’t get the inevitable “are you feeling sick today?” comments when I don’t wear anything. But in the end, it is about how you carry yourself in the workplace. If you prefer the all-bare face, then own your beautiful natural self.

      1. Dragoning*

        You know, I’ve never worn makeup except for things like…prom in high school.

        No one has ever asked me if I’m sick.

        I wonder if that comment is because you look different than “usual”–not even necessarily ill, but tired because you didn’t have time for your usual routine in the morning.

        1. You Can Call Me Al*

          I think it usually stems from my dark circles under my eyes. I use a little Maybelline Age Rewind concealer and Essence eye brightening powder under my eyes (which are both miracle workers if anyone else has dark circles) so when I don’t wear makeup those dark circles are quite prominent making me look tired or ill.

        2. aebhel*

          I suspect that’s a lot of it; when you’re used to seeing someone with a full face of makeup, it looks a lot different when they leave it off. I never wear makeup, so that’s just what my face looks like.

  54. Delta Delta*

    I’m a lawyer of the high-visibility courtroom variety. I am also sort of lazy when it comes to groomingd. I have been successful with the following workarounds (everyone will be different, of course):

    1. Tinted matte lotion with spf protection. It doubles as foundation, doesn’t feel greasy, moisturizes, and acts as sunscreen.

    2. Short nails. Sometimes I polish, sometimes I don’t. But I try to keep them reasonably short so they don’t snag or break or look out of control. It’s important to keep them clean.

    3. I have really straight, long hair. I generally tie it back somehow. Sometimes it looks dressed up by changing where I do my part, and putting it into a bun or similar. Easy fix that requires a comb and about 4 seconds of doing. I am NOT good about getting regular haircuts because I don’t really care about them and my hair is basically zero-maintenance. But I should, because the ends get a little frayed and broken, and I recognize this doesn’t look good. Thus, the bun helps.

    4. My clothes fit. I do take care to wear things that look good and fit my body. I happen to like wearing colorful clothes, because that’s what I like. Wear what fits and looks good on you.

  55. J.*

    I only wear makeup on rare occasions (basically interviews or if I’m going to be speaking in front of a room full of people outside my regular department team), and I don’t do anything with my eyebrows. Also I’m a habitual nail-biter, which I have not been able to kick despite my best efforts.

    But I do make an effort to wear clean clothes that fit and make sure my hair is as under control as I can make it, and the lack of all the other stuff hasn’t held me back. Basically, I try to mirror the group I’m going to be with on any given day. Out in the field it’s jeans, a meeting with vice presidents will have a nicer dress, etc. I think it depends on not just the job you want, but the types of places you work. Office culture really matters a lot in that context. I’m in one of the more casual departments of an organization with a mostly laid-back attitude toward dress, under a direct supervisor who doesn’t care that much as long as our work is professional and we don’t look sloppy. A similar position in the same field for an org that actually has a dress code might be different.

    1. You Can Call Me Al*

      I am a habitual nail picker. I started getting manicures once a month with gel polish because it makes it virtually impossible to successfully pick at my nails, my usual nervous or stressed habit. I am only planning on doing it for a few months until I fully break the habit. Don’t know if that would help you at all, but it has definitely worked for me!

      1. J.*

        I’ve tried all the tricks – nail polish, something bitter flavored on my nails, etc, but it hasn’t stuck.

      2. Torch*

        I was religious about getting my nails done every few weeks for several months and had really lovely nails. Then one week I waited a few days after the first chipping started, and I gnawed them all right off. I cannot break the nail biting habit.

      3. Alton*

        I sometimes paint my nails when I can tell I’m particularly prone to biting or picking at them, but its turned into a habit of compulsively picking off my polish, so now I’m having to take a break from painting my nails in hopes of breaking that habit before it sticks.

      4. Erin W*

        I’m also a nail biter/picker. I have also tried everything (polish, gloves, cognitive behavioral therapy and also its cheaper cousin, a rubber band around the wrist (snap it when you get the urge to engage in the unwanted behavior)). Once time it actually “took” and I left my nails alone for something like two months. As a result, I started unconsciously and compulsively twisting my hair and ultimately pulled out a big hunk of it. So, I choose bad nails.

  56. Nay*

    Uh…am I the only one who has to draw my eyebrows in? haha, I have such fine hair you can’t hardly see them, kids in middle school thought I shaved them! I will not go anywhere without my brows drawn on…

    1. The Original K.*

      My best friend has been drawing hers on since high school. She over-plucked them, damaged the follicles, and they never grew back.

      1. Kaboobie*

        Mine are overplucked and thinning with age. I’ve used either pencil or brow gel for over half my life. Tarte has a gel with a very fine brush that matches my hair color perfectly (most browns are too dark) and this has become my go-to product.

    2. GRA*

      Fellow light-browed person here. The woman who waxes my brows now also dyes them … such a game changer!

  57. Owlette*

    Hi OP! You asked “what is the minimum I can get away with?” I truly believe you can get away with absolutely no makeup or eyebrow grooming. None. Zero. You’re fine. As long as you’re dressing professionally, in clean unwrinkled clothes, and brushing your hair in the morning, you are just fine. Heck, I don’t even brush my hair in the morning and everyone ends up complimenting me, so you might not even have to do that.

    If you’re concerned about the way you look, pick out one nice, fun accessory or makeup item to make you feel more like YOU. I started wearing red lipstick and it makes me feel super confident and professional. You might try wearing a poofy scarf, or a chunky bracelet, or a long necklace, or shiny earrings. Something that adds a little fun to your normal professional uniform and makes you feel more like yourself.

    Don’t get caught up with all these other comments telling you what products or equipment to buy. I literally own deodorant and a hair brush (and some red lipstick) and that’s literally it. Be confident, own your look, and you’ll be just fine.

    1. Workerbee*

      +1 mil.

      I’ve been seeing a fair number of “you don’t have to do anything, as long as your isn’t doing THIS” advice. I’m wondering how unconscious our own biases are. Hopefully the OP will see that and sift/decipher the advice accordingly.

      1. Owlette*

        I genuinely believe that if you’re comfortable, confident, and a strong employee, no one’s going to care what you look like. Confidence looks so good on people!

    2. aebhel*

      Yeah. The minimum: clean, neat hair, clean skin and nails, clothes that fit correctly and don’t have holes/wrinkles/stains and conform to the general level of formality in your office. You don’t need to shave your legs or pits either, for that matter, IMO.

    3. Lucy*

      Agreed. You don’t need tinted moisturiser. Your eyebrows are probably totally unremarkable. We all benefit from wearing sunscreen but you don’t need a skincare routine apart from that.

    4. LabGirl*

      Brush your teeth! I say this because no one has mentioned it as a bare minimum (not because I think OP or most people have problems).

      The only time I’ve ever been in an interview roundup where appearance was discussed was for the guy who had orange teeth and breath so bad it made the interview room smell.

  58. Oxford Comma*

    I think as long as you keep everything clean and you’re not unkempt, you’re probably fine. Clean, not jagged nails are a must. Hair should be brushed and tidy. Your clothes should always be clean, unstained, and no rips or missing buttons.

    If you want to go with very light makeup, some sort of light foundation and powder so you’re not super shiny, is probably sufficient. I like moisturizer and some kind of chapstick, but that’s mainly because my skin and lips tend to be dry. If you don’t have those issues, I don’t think it matters.

    The exception to this is if you’re going into some sort of entertainment or fashion field. There those people seem to care a lot about personal appearance.

    1. Oxford Comma*

      OP: I just want to make it clear, that I don’t think you have to wear makeup, I’m just saying that if you do want to go down that road, you could keep it very very minimal.

  59. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    It was only about a decade ago when the norm in career counseling was to tell women to wear a skirt suit to stand out in an interview, that pants were an interview no-no. This has definitely shifted, thank GOD. (Even the person who told us this agreed it was BS even then.)

    I think the question I would ask is, do you think your eyebrows NEED to be groomed? Are they actually unruly? I mentioned upthread that nearly all of my (female) peers have standing waxing appointments for their brows, and it has never been something I’ve done. Not once. I’ve never even plucked. Neither has my mother. We both have light brows that, if anything, the “trend” would encourage brow pencil! Fortunately for us, the unspoken workplace rule only goes for tending to truly unkempt, not for fine and light!

    And, by the way, I am someone who loves makeup and flat irons her hair on most days.

    So, you might not even NEED to do anything with your brows.

    As for no makeup? I don’t think it really matters. The big thing that some have noted is eye makeup can make your face appear brighter and cover up under eye circles, but a good skincare routine (which is as good for your health as for your appearance) and a balanced diet with lots of water will accomplish that.

    Forget the brows and invest in a good iron and some staples (cardigan, blouse, scarf, and dress pants are a great base), and you’ll be fine.

  60. Formerly Arlington*

    The hair suggestion didn’t ring true to me–and I am in marketing (very polished colleagues). Most women I know wear their hair down, not tied back. It looks presentable (no bed head) but it can be long, short, curly, frizzy etc. and there’s no necessary hair tie or barrette or anything.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      How long are we talking about? I’m thinking long = longer than bra strap length. But this could be a regional difference too. (I’m in D.C. = pretty conservative.)

      1. Dragoning*

        My hair goes down past my bra strap and my stylist frequently comments on how long it is, and I have never, ever worn it tied back at work. No one has ever asked me to. I wouldn’t do it if asked. Not even when I worked retail. If I want my hair pulled back, I do that and sometimes take it out during the same day.

        I’m in the Chicago area if that makes a difference.

        1. anon for this*

          Commenters were just discussing the other day about how the fact that no one comments on something doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an effect on how it is being perceived. I’m not saying your hair is seen as unprofessional, I obviously could have no idea, but ‘I do this and no one comments’ isn’t necessarily strong evidence that something is generally seen as perfectly professional. In some fields I’ve worked in you would definitely be seen as more polished if you pulled it back. But it’s OK to decide you don’t want to.

          1. Dragoning*

            This is fair enough, although I suspect my highly-panicky mother would’ve complained by now if it looked unprofessional. Or some of my bosses who commented on…well literally everything else. I’ve gotten talked to at my current job about wearing logos (I work in an office and don’t see clients!); I suspect someone would’ve said something about my hair besides “oh it’s so pretty!”

            Still, everywhere I’ve worked it seemed option for people with long hair to wear it how they liked it. I’ve seen plenty of coworkers with long hair wear it down or wear it up depending on their mood.

            Before today, I’d never even heard the idea that not pulling long hair back was unprofessional.

            1. Delphine*

              FWIW, I have a number of women colleagues with long hair–they keep it down and it looks fine and professional.

          2. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

            Genuine question: what if you have heavy hair that turns into a soccer-ponytail after an hour anyway? To me a sloppy updo seems worse than having hair down with the caveat that it’s not in the way.

            1. KR*

              If you have curly or wavy hair, try not combing or brushing if you don’t need to. For me that prevents my hair from turning into a soccor ponytail (I’m assuming you mean frizz). Also I’ve heard of a quick hairspray to hold the shape of your updo in place.

              1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

                No, mine is straight, heavy Asian hair. After an hour of being up (and even with hairspray or extra-grip holders) my ponytail has sunk to almost my neck and has a sagging look, as if I’ve been running around or playing soccer. Having it up gives me headaches anyway, even in a braid, so I guess the point is moot.

        2. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

          I’m with Dragoning on this one. Having my hair pulled back, regardless of length, gives me terrible headaches and is a hard no. But it’s usually at armpit length, and nobody ever asks me to do that, and I’ve seen plenty of people wearing their long hair down looking just fine. I’m also in the Midwest though so maybe East Coast is different.

          1. Her*

            This isn’t an east coast thing either, I live in New York City which trends very FASHION and put together. Hair wore down would be commonplace even in the most conservative and formal fields like bankers and real estate brokers.

      2. Katniss*

        Huh, really? It’s gotta be regional. I’m in Chicago, my hair is boob-length (I hope this doesn’t get me stuck in moderation) and I wear it down 90% of the time. I definitely wouldn’t change that if asked: it’s not in my face, it’s clean, it’s neat, so I really couldn’t understand why wearing it back would somehow be more professional than wearing it down.

        1. GRA*

          HA! That’s my hair length, too, and I was trying to find a way to describe the length. The only time I wear my hair up is when I’m exercising … I definitely feel more professional with it worn (neatly, clean) down.

        2. Cobol*

          I’m glad I scrolled down before commenting. I think the hair (and even makeup) is very regionally dependent.
          (Before we go further it’s worth noting I’m a bro-ey dude, so obviously my experiences are highly influenced by that)

          I’ve worked for high visibility PR agencies, and even then, as long as your way of dressing conformed to the definition Alison provided, hair and makeup could be whatever you were comfortable with. Other than people wearing things that were too clubby, I never heard a single mention of changing how peope looked. How they were at their job always took precedence.

          Also something to consider, would you be happy in a place where you had to conform to a certain standard? People may be making decisions based on how you present yourself, but in the end it may be better for you to lose out on that job.

    2. Squeeble*

      My interpretation was that people’s hair shouldn’t be unkempt, hanging in their face, etc. But I could be wrong since that could go for anyone, not just those with long hair.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        I think it’s more about kempt-ness, so to speak. I usually wear my hair up because it does not stay looking nice when it is down. I don’t know why (maybe because it is fine and wavy?) but without a lot of styling it seems to go everywhere and tangle really easily. But if you have hair that stays neat while down (or you can keep it tidy by, say, brushing it at lunch time) then I’m sure that’s fine.

  61. LLLLLL*

    I wear makeup to interviews (a light coating of eyeshadow, some eyeliner, and mascara) and never wear it otherwise. You don’t need to wear makeup to be professional. I would do the chapstick since no one likes chapped lips, but otherwise I think groomed/styled hair/brows is sufficient. Keep your nails short if you’re low maintenance and you’re good.

  62. bookartist*

    One of the biggest gender-conforming-related shocks I ever had happened a couple of months ago at a Sephora ‘how to do your eyebrows’ lesson. I’m 50, and have never had time or patience or free cash to form a makeup habit, and I certainly internalized the idea that my full unibrow was ugly. So here I am taking this class (now that I’m in a field that actually pays a living wage) with these women with pencil-thin to no eyebrows, and the class leader (a gentleman, by the way) used me as the model because my eyebrows are now apparently close to ideal.

    The lessons here is 1) fashions change. Damn, do they change. 2) Only the fastidious will care about your eyebrows, maybe in a positive way, and 3) you might just be held up as a model too.

    1. You Can Call Me Al*

      I started waxing my eyebrows in the second grade due to incessant bullying over my thick eyebrows (thin eyebrows shaped like little sperms were all the rage back in the day). Of course, kids being kids mean they just started picking on me for something different. I now am stuck with these thin little eyebrows since I have permanently destroyed the hair follicle over years of waxing.

  63. Opal*

    I’m in my 40s and have never been a big makeup person. On a day-to-day basis, I don’t wear makeup at all and don’t do much with my hair, either. I’ve never done anything to my eyebrows and don’t wear nail polish. This was largely true in my early go-to-an-office career and is definitely true now, when I work primarily from home.

    What I do: I make sure that I have a hairstyle that looks good on me as a baseline– which in my case, means no bangs, just longer hair. When I need to turn things up one notch, I blow-dry my hair and put on eye makeup. Blow-drying makes a huge difference in how I look. If it weren’t such a noisy, time-consuming thing, I would do it daily.

    I do wear full makeup for first impressions and important events. If I’m meeting a client, giving live presentations, attending a business conference, or will be visible on a videoconference, I do the hair and then I do everything– foundation, highlight, powder, eye shadow, eye pencil, mascara, blush, and lip gloss. This is mainly because it makes me look a lot more professional, and I want people who don’t know me to start off thinking well of me, even before I speak. It took me a long time to come to the makeup that I wear– I had to get a makeup lesson to find out what looked right on me and to learn how to do it. Before the lesson, I had a real knack for picking things that looked just enough wrong that I looked like I was trying, but not actually getting where I needed to be.

    In your position, I think I would get a makeup lesson and have them teach you a professional day look. I’d wear it for interviews and daily for the first few weeks on the job–until people knew me a little better, and then I would tone it down for day-to-day. You will have to spend money on it if you go that route… but I think it’s a decent way to go. I look at it as part of how I control the signals I send– I needed to learn how to do it, but it was worthwhile because it allows me to convey what I want. To me, it seemed worth the effort to own my message.

    1. wheeeee*

      There are also TONS of makeup tutorials online. *IF* you want to learn to do your own makeup, or to do it better, you can learn how at home, for free – you’d still have to buy the makeup of course. Wayne Goss is my recommendation but there is a makeup tutorial out there for every kind of look you can think of, from no-makeup makeup to light makeup to full face to beat-for-the-cheap-seats to drag queen to Halloween/illusion/special effects kind of looks.

  64. Storie*

    I think it’s worth pointing out most people notch up the polish factor for an interview—it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to dress exactly the same way in the job. Putting forth a little extra effort shows you care.

    I personally love it when women are confident enough in their look to not wear make-up! But I agree with others that a one-time brow shaping could be good, as well as well-groomed hairstyle. I’m guessing you could do these two things and still feel like you.

    1. Cobol*

      I’m shocked at the number of people in this thread talking about eyebrows. I hate to make a gendered comment, but I just don’t think most men notice/care.

      OP mentioned being in a make dominated field. I think it could literally not matter to her.

      ( Don’t take this as a criticism to your comment, which is totally appropriate given the larger covetsation that emerged)

      1. Alianora*

        There are a lot of these little things that people say they don’t notice. I believe them, I don’t think they’re actively noticing, but they can still be affected by them. To use the “no-makeup makeup” example, a lot of guys won’t think, “Her foundation looks great” or notice that she’s wearing it, but they might subconsciously think, “She looks better today than yesterday.”

        1. Cobol*

          In my head I was excluding makeup because of the reasons you mentioned. If I’m being more honest it’s more about knowing what’s in fashion the current popular trend in eyebrows looks off to me when pointed out, and I long ago learned not to comment on a woman’s hair because almost unilaterally it’s on days they didn’t have to do it.

  65. caryatis*

    This is the sort of thing an experienced mentor who knows in person is going to be able to help with much more than people on the internet who can’t see you.

  66. Ennigaldi*

    You don’t need to do anything with your eyebrows, necessarily, although I think a lot of MEN should (because I have a hard time concentrating on what someone is saying when he has one really long eyebrow hair sticking out at me). If you do wear something, mascara will make you look more awake at work. For your skin’s sake, you should use at least a lotion with SPF25 or higher every day you go outside, and lip balm with SPF as well. But whatever you end up doing, remember: deodorant is not optional!

  67. Erin*

    I think the no make up thing is fine as long as your hygiene is all good, which is sounds like it is. That’s the important thing. And no need to groom your eyebrows unless they’re seriously unruly.

    If you want to play it safe, maybe look a little bit more polished for an interview (tiny bit of makeup, dressing up more than you usually would) but then tone it down once you get hired and get a better feel for what the office norm is.

    I know a lot of people say women should wear at least a little bit of makeup, and I’m sure that’s true for some industries, but I have at least one female coworker who doesn’t (I’m in marketing) and I have a friend who has been a high school teacher for years who doesn’t.

    1. Cobol*

      I agree with this. I’m not totally sure where OP is with being a hippie, or if she rebels against it, but my experience even in PR/marketing is that almost always as long as you are comfortable with how you are people will be fine with it.

  68. mf*

    OP, I wouldn’t worry about your brows unless you think they may be messy or unruly. And if that’s the case, go to a professional to have them waxed or threaded. The cost to have this done runs around $25 in most major US cities (I think). And even if you only get it done once, it will teach you what “neat” brows look like. (Disclaimer: go to a well reviewed salon for this! You don’t want someone screwing up your brows!)

    For clothes, think classic and tailored. Your clothes should fit well. Get them tailored–it’s worth the money to have one or two interview outfits that fit perfectly. Dressing in classic neutral colors will also increase your level of “polish”: navy, black, tan, white, gray. (Think Claire Underwood from House of Cards.)

    Don’t worry about your nails. Just file them short and smooth. Nobody notices or cares if you wear nail polish unless you work in the beauty industry. As for hair, keep it clean and away from your face. If you have long hair, you can’t go wrong with a simple low ponytail.

    1. LKW*

      Here’s a trick to help know if they are unruly.
      1. Do the brow hairs lay flat on your face or do they curl outwards? If outwards, they need a trim.
      2. If you take a little brush (you can use a toothbrush) and sweep them upwards – do they stop about a 1/4 to 1/2 on your forehead or do they continue up up up to your hairline? If beyond 1/2 inch, you might want to trim them.

      That’s it. You don’t need to pluck. You don’t need to wax. You need to make sure you don’t look like an Evil Scientist.

      Everything else and this comes from a makeup wearing, sequins in the day time person:
      Nails. Trim as short as you like. Make sure they don’t have jagged edges and that you’re cuticles aren’t ragged either.
      Clothes – find your personal ‘uniform’. Mine is trousers, cardigan, shirt. Look at the office, and pick a standard look that is comfortable for you. If most of the guys are wearing khakis and button downs – get on and buy yourself a few pairs of chinos and button down shirts. If they wear suits, then pants suits and button downs or work tees. You never need to wear skirts or heels. Ever.
      Hair – find some pictures of low maintenance hair that you like and talk to a hairdresser (find one that you can work with) about styles that will look professional and require a minimum of effort. Short hair requires significantly less time if you’re blow drying and depending on your hair texture, you may not need to blow dry a shorter cut at all. Just arrange and go. But long hair works too. Hair only needs to be clean, tangle free and generally under control.

  69. Boredatwork*

    Hey op –

    I work in business (accounting) and when I was first out of graduate school I was interviewing with firms that are notoriously shallow.

    You don’t need to wear make-up, but you do need to have clear skin and be well rested to pull that off. I do recommend concealing pimples, wearing some mascara and maybe a tinted lip balm. Clothes need to be clean and wrinkle free. Hair needs to be clean and in a professional style.

    As for the eye brows – if yours are truly bad I would remove any uni-brow, or dark moustache (upper lip). You can also buy a clear brow gel to “shape” them.

    1. Birdie*

      Really? I got an offer from a big 4 firm and I’m ugly lol – I had a breakout during the final interview but yeah clothes and hair I always make sure are clean and polished.

    2. Celery*

      Not everyone has clear skin, acne continues into adulthood for many people. And it’s not always possible to cover it (for various reasons).

      OP if you have read this far (!) and have acne or other breakouts, don’t worry about buying tons of concealer unless a) you allow time to test it in case you have a bad reaction and b) you would use it again in future.

  70. FiveWheels*

    Hippie feminist here. I sometimes, maybe, wear slight makeup on a formal (black tie) occasion. I don’t and won’t wear makeup at work and I’d raise hell if anyone suggested it.

    I wear flat brogues, business suits, and tailored shirts.

    I work in the UK in a very conservative industry.

    My dress and lack of makeup has never held me back and if anything I feel it helps me.

    More to the point, I feel strongly enough about it that a job which expected me to wear makeup, a dress, or heels is a job I would leave immediately.

    In short – you do you!

    1. Blue Anne*

      This is interesting. I’m a hippie feminist who used to work in the UK in a very conservative industry too. Now I work in the USA and just got out of a very conservative industry here.

      I think the type of polished-unisex look you’re describing is more respected in the UK. In the USA I’m sure it varies by region, but here in the Midwest I don’t think it would have gone across as well as it did when I was in Scotland. A certain amount of performative femininity is expected.

  71. Xarcady*

    I have never worn makeup to work in my 30 years of employment. Pretty much, I don’t wear makeup at all–a few times as a bridesmaid I’ve been asked to, and that’s about it.

    My goal is to appear clean and neat and tidy. I get my hair cut regularly, and used to get my eyebrows waxed at the same time, but now that thicker eyebrows are in style, I forego that. My nails are short (because they break otherwise) and clean. I use lip balm because my lips get dry.

    My clothes are clean and ironed. Mostly I wear pants, a button-down shirt or a nicer tee-shirt, a cardigan or jacket, sometimes a scarf. Polished shoes; no heels.

    Never have I had a comment about my grooming or clothing. Has this held me back? I don’t think so. However, I have mostly worked in academia or education-related fields, where makeup and stylish clothing aren’t as important as in other fields.

    My advice to the OP would be to consider doing something about her eyebrows–it sounds as if she thinks they might be an issue. But this is something that could be a waxing or threading every two months or so, and not daily plucking. Focus on good skin care–healthy skin just looks better. Keep your hair “groomed,” either with regular hair cuts/trims, or by finding a simple way to put long hair up. Find a “uniform” to wear to work and stick with it.

    You may have to be “groomed” a bit to get a job, but it can be kept very simple and not very time consuming–which is basically my goal–have a reasonable appearance without a lot of fuss and bother.

  72. Kathenus*

    Hi LW – I am in the minority as well as someone who doesn’t wear makeup daily – nothing. I do occasionally wear some (probably pretty poorly applied due to inexperience) maybe two to three times a year for some type of event. While I agree with Alison that there may be some circumstances where this could work against you, I applaud you for being you. I wish we could change the culture so that makeup or no makeup are both widely seen as good and acceptable options in more contexts. Keep being yourself. Whatever that is for you, at any given time.

  73. EddieSherbert*

    Hey OP, my advice is don’t stress too much! I am in a customer facing / marketing type role, with a training background, and I’m not a makeup person either. As long as you’re clean and wear something a bit polished, I think you’re fine. I have worked with several different “groups” of people – K-12 teachers and administrators, retail shop owners and managers, interviews for a news channel, etc.

    I literally just wear a little bit of mascara (I like an all natural + vegan one. Not waterproof) for work because I have very blonde eyelashes. If I get a really bad pimple, I’ll put a dab of cover-up makeup on it. I do not get my eyebrows done. I take tweezers to them once a month or so to pluck a couple hairs that insist on growing right in the middle above the bridge my nose.

  74. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

    Hi OP,

    I don’t think you need to wear any makeup at all, and I’m speaking as someone who does a full face every day. If your skin is very dry you might want to moisturize just so your skin doesn’t look irritated (that could be distracting).

    However, I think some must haves are:

    1. Get a good haircut, and keep your hair clean and neat
    2. Make sure your clothing is clean and fits well
    3. Wear reasonable shoes that look well maintained.
    4. If you have a monobrow, you should probably tidy that up a bit. Ditto if you have any crazy brow stragglers – the same applies for everyone – not just women.
    5. If you get a pimple, I would ignore it. You can get a pimple patch to put on it if it’s a really juicy one and you’re feeling self conscious, but I don’t think it’s something most people notice unless you’re a news anchor.
    6. Profit!

  75. Ella*

    For what it’s worth, I know numerous women who work in very professional offices and don’t wear any makeup, and it hasn’t held them back. While there are industries where it might be required (if you were a model or a makeup salesperson, say) or highly encouraged (I suspect pharmaceutical sales reps, for instance, might be required to wear makeup) I think you can get away with clean and well groomed, makeup free appearance in most professional workplaces.

    That said, if you’re worried about it, maybe ask a trusted friend or mentor from the industry in question to tell you if there’s anything especially distracting about your look. If your eyebrows are so thick they’re starting to hang into your eyes/if you have extremely noticeable undereye bags/etc. Basically, things might get noticed more than you like.

    If there is something you’d like to cover up but you don’t want to go full face of makeup, I’d recommend looking up tutorials aimed towards men. There are some good ones out there, and they’re typically much more focused on subtle coverup and general skincare, plus the products are often much cheaper.

  76. CupcakeCounter*

    Makeup is completely optional. Personally I’m a fan but that has more to do with the fact that I have light-medium skin tone and hair that nearly matches so I feel I am all one big beige blob without it. If you are concerned maybe spend a few bucks on some minimalist products and experiment to see if you can find something that you are comfortable with but also makes you feel a little extra for interviews.
    These would be my suggestions partially based on the pieces you mention above:
    *an eyebrow brush – should only run you a buck or two, use to comb the brows up and out in their natural growth pattern for a clean look. Up to you if you want to tweeze a few random hairs in between the brows for a more defined separation or under the main brow for a cleaner look. I haven’t in years but I also am “the hairless wonder” as my cousin calls me. Another option wold be to go to a salon and get them shaped and waxed while you are job hunting. Be very clear with the technician that you just want a slightly cleaner look not Pam Anderson in the 90’s.
    *BB/CC/tinted moisturizer – I don’t use foundation at all just mix a little of one of those items (Aveeno makes a nice tinted moisturizer but it is pretty thick so I use 1 part tinted to 2 parts regular to keep it comfortable, Neutrogena and Almay make nice BB and CC creams) in with my normal moisturizer (if you don’t moisturize start now and use one with sunscreen – everyone should regardless of age or gender and you will thank yourself in 30 years) to even out the complexion and reduce any redness that comes with a minor breakout. A light tones bronzing powder also works well (I like Physicians Formula).
    *eyelash curler and mascara – its insane how much more alert I look with my lashes turned up and a quick swipe of mascara. Yes, the curler is considered a torture device by many and it really is optional but I think it helps (me) a lot. My guess is you would be more comfortable with a more natural color like brown and Neutrogena is a great option – skip the waterproof so it is easier to get off later. Pick one with a thick looking brush as well as I think it makes lashes look fuller without that super made-up spiky look. Only do your top lashes as well as mascara on my lower lashes bugs me and I love eye makeup.
    *Burt’s Bees makes some tinted chapsticks – they feel 100% like a normal chapstick and feel like chapstick (which I know you also said you don’t wear) and not like a heavy lipstick where you want to check your teeth every 2 minutes. Pick a medium dusty rose color which is pretty universally flattering and just looks healthy for some reason.

    Again, I think you are probably fine without unless you are in a public facing role as Alison said. In fact only about half my female coworkers are wearing makeup right now (main office of a trucking company and my floor consists of IT, accounting, finance, AP, AR, imaging, payroll, etc…). If you do decide you want to play around with makeup/additional grooming, definitely play around a few times before any interviews.

    1. You Can Call Me Al*

      You comment reminded me of a quote I used to love. I can’t remember the show (maybe Gilmore Girls?) but they were talking about how being brunette is basically like having a gigantic arrow pointing at your face.

  77. LQ*

    Part of this comes with industry and role too. I think I have self selected into jobs where it is less likely to matter than I don’t wear any make up (I try every few years to use a tinted moisturizer but the last very nice high quality brand gave me migraines so I’m noping back out for a few more years) and always always wear my hair up in a bun (of which I’m loosing a lot to a skin condition) and it’s starting to grey which I’m not coloring. I do aim for a slightly more polished clothing look (I’m on a current mission to get a uniform of 10 dresses which I can just wear and not think about, I’m 6 in) but even that isn’t a lot and there are a few people around here at all levels who are way more (and way less) polished.

    I don’t want to be bothered, and I think that you can drive yourself toward roles or organizations that will be more flexible about it. To me that is an intangible benefit I get from my employer. But I’d turn the clothing up by a half a notch and call it good.

    (I have one eyebrow hair I pluck out occasionally, that’s it.)

  78. Harper the Other One*

    Adding my voice to the “basically don’t wear makeup” crew – I do occasionally get my lashes tinted and I’ll sometimes put on tinted lip balm instead of clear. I think in most fields that’s fine. Don’t worry about coverup for the occasional pimple unless it makes you feel self-conscious (but since you’re not wearing makeup now, I suspect it doesn’t.)

    Re. hair – I wear my hair short. Not buzz-cut short but super-short pixie cut short. If you also wear your hair short, you might want to make sure that you’re really scrupulous about when you cut your hair – I find even a week or two overdue for a cut makes me look much more scraggly, because my hair has been shaped to be a certain length. (This probably also applies for those with long hair and bangs – I bet it doesn’t take long overdue on the bang trim to look scruffy.) I find that folks I know with longer hair can often get by with pulling it up/pinning it back/other styles and it still looks passable, but with very short hair, you’ll probably want to keep to a more rigid schedule for cuts.

  79. lisalee*

    I have super annoying eyebrows (they grow dark hairs very far down, but patchy in the middle). I get them waxed to a natural shape about once every six months at a beauty school and it costs me ~$25 a year, plus a $1 wet n’ wild pencil for when I feel like filling them in. I used to tweeze them myself but I found the it was more annoying and painful than just spending a few bucks. If you do decide to go the beauty-school route, I would highly recommend using one of the larger chains like Aveda or Paul Mitchell.

    FWIW, I also used to be a no-makeup no-trimming person. But there were certain things (my eyebrows, for one, and some persistent acne) that made me feel less professional and confident, and it was worth it to me to take the time/money to change them. You really don’t have to spend or do a lot if there’s just one or two things that you feel could use some upkeep.

  80. gk*

    Bushy eyebrows are cool right now – fellow bushies unite! Don’t stress too much about them. The best thing you can do is be clean and presentable. And honestly, it really depends on the industry you’re going into. Some places are a little old fashioned and may demand a full face of makeup and certain clothes, luckily I haven’t run into that myself but I know people who have. And then there are companies like mine who are super relaxed and everyone is wearing a hoodie or band tee. I’ve never once been asked to wear makeup or dye my hair or anything like that thankfully and I’ve been in the workforce since I was 14 – I’m 37 now.

    Ultimately when you’re interviewing for jobs, not only are they interviewing you but you’re interviewing them. Do you see yourself fitting in? Is the dress code there suitable for you? Can you deal with how high or low maintenance appearances are, etc. Go in as comfortable as you can but a little bit more elevated to give a good first impression.

    And I know you’re not looking for makeup advice but here’s what I do as a marketing agency professional – I’ve also done this at corporate jobs I’ve held:
    – BB cream on my face
    – Clear brow gel (I occasionally pluck strays but have done since I was 14 so it’s easy and not frequent now I’m older)
    – Touch of finger applied concealer on my genetically dark under eyes
    – chapstick/lip balm (simply for comfort and not for appearance)
    – Haircut every 6-8 weeks
    – Nails kept short and clipped
    – Let my hair go grey
    … and that’s it!

    I’m pretty feminist too when it comes to societal expectations on appearance. I’m embracing getting older because I refuse to spend hundreds of dollars a year dying my hair.

  81. not giving advice*

    Many years ago, a woman interviewed at my firm for an entry-level position in standard recent graduate business drag: conservative makeup, simple skirt suit in a dark color, neat mid-length hair. As part of the interview process, she was given a brief tour of the offices.

    She got the job, and a few weeks later turned up for her first day of work.

    In full goth.

    Everyone was stunned. Not because she was goth–we had other goth people on staff–but because the transformation was so dramatic.

    She worked at the company for several years and was an excellent employee. I still treasure my memory of the expression on her boss’s face, that first Monday!

    1. BadWolf*


      She saved herself having to write in on advice, “So I’m naturally a goth and would like to dress that way at work. Should I just show up on Monday? Ease into it by starting on Friday? Do a gradual transition?”

    2. Close Bracket*

      > we had other goth people on staff

      So she knew she’d be accepted. That probably played a large role in her accepting the job. I used to take my nose ring out for interviews and wore a super tiny one once I got the job. At one interview, I passed a metal head dude in a band t-shirt with hair down his back and stretched earlobes. I knew I could wear my regular nose ring and do crazy stuff to my hair there. Sadly, I didn’t get an offer.

      1. not giving advice*

        >So she knew she’d be accepted.

        Not sure she did. None of the other goth people were in her department, and I don’t remember if she was given a tour as part of the interview process. But our offices were full of personality, so even if she didn’t see any of the goths, she could tell that we were a pretty individualistic bunch.

  82. The Other Dawn*

    I would say to pay attention to the whole package. Meaning, if you’re paying attention to your clothing (neat, well-fitting, not dirty or wrinkled), pay attention to your hair and shoes, too. I had someone on my team who wore nice, neat clothing, but would come in with hair that was barely brushed, clearly not recently washed, and shoes in terrible condition. I’ve also had someone who was well-groomed in terms of her hair, but her clothing had literally been pulled from the dirty hamper (she admitted it). It just really detracted from her presentation. It’s not enough to make sure your clothing is neat and clean, you need to make sure your hair is clean, brushed/styled/pulled back, you’re not wearing shoes that are beyond repair (and no, you don’t need to spend $100 on shoes, Payless or thrift store is just fine), and if your brows need attention, just brush them upwards and trim the excess (or pluck in between). No waxing needed. No makeup needed, either. Oh, and don’t overdo it on the perfume (or don’t use it at all).

    1. The Other Dawn*

      One thing I will add: if you decide to get your eyebrows waxed, don’t do it the day before an interview/important occasion. Do it several days beforehand, just in case you get a lot of redness and/or swelling. That happens to me when I get them waxed. I learned very quickly that I need to do it at least two days before an event, otherwise I look like someone punch me in the face.

  83. Sans*

    I don’t wear makeup. All I do is trim and pluck my eyebrows and any other stray hairs on my face. Sometimes I put some B&B cream on my skin to even out the tone. That’s it. And my hair is frizzy and hard to manage. But it doesn’t seem to affect my career. I get jobs and I get raises, so I guess I must do the minimum required. lol

  84. Chaordic One*

    I’m glad that so many commenters have noted how men do have to do eyebrow and ear hair control, as well as the various problems associated with shaving and grooming facial hair. I’m aware of a lot of men who use facial moisturizers (and sometimes products for their necks) in addition to the chapstick for their lips and a even a few who use a concealer under their eyes. I also know a few who use different kinds of shine control lotions for their noses and sometimes their foreheads. It just isn’t obvious that these men are using these products and it is probably something that they don’t really discuss. For some strange reason people tell me the darnest things. TMI?

  85. Lexi Kate*

    Its your first impression that you are leaving on these potential employers, and sadly if they are interviewing a bunch of you with the same background looking more put together may give you that extra edge. I’m in Finance and my husband is in Analytics and for both of us we attempt to look like we don’t have high end grooming habits or need them. Our attempt is to look like an fattened version of our morning news crew.

    For me I wear enough makeup to cover spots, dark circles, and other imperfections, nude/natural eyeshadows, blush and tinted chapstick to look human and to try and be put together. I keep my fingernails and toenails trimmed and usually clear polish. Hair I have a bob that is shoulder length that I run a straightener through in the morning and give a quick hit of Kenra 24 hair spray to keep my hair from falling in my eyes. I keep my legs and underarms shaved myself, but go to a pro to have my eyebrows shaped and any other wild hairs or peach fuzz threaded out.

    Husband- is going very bald so he keeps his head shaved and goes bi-monthly to have his eyebrows and beard trimmed professionally, and he secretly loves a pedicure and since he got so many compliments on his hands after he had a manicure he gets those too usually every other month or once a quarter.

    FWIW it only matters in my field to the people it matters too. Though I will say we don’t have any females on a level higher than manager that do not wear makeup and look put together. On the other hand we don’t have any males that look like they just woke up and rolled into work in any level of management.

  86. Feminist with Make Up*

    Not really sure why “feminist” is important to note. Is it considered not “feminist” to wear make up? Because I am one and I do.

    1. Katniss*

      I’m guessing it’s more pushback against the idea that women MUST wear makeup than a judgment that women who do aren’t feminist. Of course women who wear makeup and are feminists are still feminists! The expectation that women wear it is anti-feminist, though.

    2. FD*

      I got the impression that the LW may have been raised in a specific flavor of feminism that sees makeup as a concession to unreasonably beauty standards. Based on the rest of the context of her comment, I suspect she’s trying to find the balance between what she believes is right, and how much it’s reasonable to adapt to the real world and real situation.

      1. Blue Anne*

        Yeah, I think this is probably the case. I was raised the same way by my 60s Berkeley Feminist flower child mom. Love her, glad I have that background, kind of annoyed that I had to try to learn all of this myself when she does know how to shave legs and put on makeup, she just decided I shouldn’t because the patriarchy.

    3. Micromanagered*

      I’ll give OP the benefit of the doubt here and say she was probably not meaning to exclude make-up wearing feminists. I think she was trying to give a context for her question about hygiene and appearance–that she was raised by hippies, some hygiene stuff is learned behavior for her, etc.

    4. Ella*

      Wearing makeup doesn’t make you a bad feminist, but surely you can see how our society can and does punish women who don’t conform to gendered beauty standards. It’s absolutely a feminist act to push back against the idea that women need to wear makeup to be taken seriously in a way that men don’t.

      1. Lissa*

        Thank you! Wearing makeup is in no way anti-feminist, but NOT wearing makeup can be a specific feminist choice, because of the society we live in and the rigid beauty standards we subscribe to.

      2. aebhel*

        Yep. The personal is political, etc; you can be a feminist and wear makeup, but that doesn’t change the fact that the baseline expectation that all women need to is sexist.

    5. You Can Call Me Al*

      I have been called a “Lipstick Feminist” quite a few times. Not sure why we have to have different names if we all believe in equality of the genders, but in case you were wondering an exact term.

    6. Maeve*

      It’s not unfeminist to wear make-up, but I think it’s definitely unfeminist to think that wearing make-up is an obligation or that women should be held to different grooming standards than men, I think that’s why it’s relevant in this case.

    7. Felicia*

      I agree, I was also put off by this. The subtext seems to be that feminism and basic grooming are mutually exclusive. And as a counterpoint, look at all the (fundamentalist) religions that require women to be subject to men, while also forbidding them from practicing beauty. The more-feminist-than-thou attitude might put people off more than her grooming.

      Can we also address the fact that chapstick is NOT makeup?

      1. Temperance*

        I was thinking about this, too. Many of the older women in my mom’s Titus 2 church wore no makeup and never cut their hair. They hated feminism.

  87. Random thought*

    FWIW I’m an attorney and I don’t wear makeup (maybe chapstick, but it’s a personal comfort thing and not an appearance thing) or heels. I do minimal maintenance on my eyebrows to prevent a unibrow and try to keep my Hermoine Granger hair either tamed or pulled back. Until recently I was an avid nail biter so my nails have historically been too short and unpolished. Like Allison said, I make sure my clothes look nice, are (mostly) pet hair free, and are comfortable (because you dont want to be worried about what you look like during your interview). A candidate with strong credentials who is confident(good eye contact, comfortable disposition, etc.) will add the extra polish you need to be taken seriously.

  88. Cathy*

    I highly recommend Garnier BB Cream – basically a tinted moisturizer. Much easier than finding the right foundation and going through all of that.

  89. lizzie_*

    I am a veep in the tech side of marketing for a media company on the West Coast. I do not wear makeup, I keep my hair short, I bite my nails. I do not wear jewelry beyond some stud earrings and a wedding ring. I am cis, but some have found me to be rather cryptic. I do, however, like spiffy clothes (though not necessarily “feminine” just chic in classic styling and rather modest).

    At times when there are events I will wear a tinted sunscreen (because I will need to wear sunscreen anyway and that zinc stuff will make me look way too white) and some tinted lip balm. I do shape my brows, but I prefer not to have them grow together because it makes me look angry, and they go into my hairline. My skin is not great, so I’m not one of those women who just looks great without makeup. (I also don’t think I look great with it, hence my friction with joining in the custom.)

    I have never had anyone ever, ever mention it. Ever. Which has shocked me.

    I have been interviewing for new hires under me and I’d say about 25% of the women are not wearing makeup or conforming to those sort of social conventions. I will say that I look at grooming (is your hair neat, your skin/nails clean) and how well your clothing/shoes are cared for. (It’s fine to be out of fashion, but do the clothes fit properly and are you fussing with them.) Do they look healthy and alert … so to that end, the only “makeup” I suggest is lip balm for some folks as dry, cracked lips in an interview situation can be distracting. But again, if it’s not something that you do regularly, it will feel artificial and that is something other people will feel non-verbally. As pointed out by others, it’s about a confidence that comes from being your authentic self. The more someone seems like themselves in an interview, the more confident I am that “what I see is what I’ll get” and not some act.

  90. Laurelma01*

    OP everyone has some great advice. If you wish, you could go out and get a really good hair cut / trim before an interview. That bit of polish might give you a bit of confidence. Make sure your skin in moisturized, that you do not have patches peeling. When I was younger all I did was mascara & lip gloss. I had decent skin that I had to keep moisturized. Now I have to get my eyebrows done since I get these super thick white ones that stick out, and I have gotten bushier as I get older.

    Enjoy your good skin & youth. An occasional blemish is no big deal, but all of us would be frustrated to see one pop up the night before an interview.

  91. Emi.*

    You don’t wear chapstick??? How do you drink lemonade, or eat chips, or not bleed from the corners of your mouth? What humid paradise do you live in, and how soon can I move there?

    1. overly produced bears*

      Some people win the genetic lottery. Meanwhile I’m over here with a bruise on my leg from misjudging a wall.

      1. Emily*

        Ha! Between my active hobbies (indoor bouldering and ultimate frisbee) and my lack of paying attention to surroundings, I have mystery bruises show up on my legs all the time.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      See if you can find some Hempz Pure Herbal Extracts Lip balm. I put a seriously thick layer on at night (especially in the winter) and it damn near heals anything and everything overnight.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        I have backpack chapstick, toolbox chapstick, kitchen drawer chapstick… I don’t really need it all that often but at least this way I always know where one is!

  92. Curiouser and Curiouser*

    I was a little struck by “clean hair that’s neatly styled and, if it’s long, is pulled back and out of your face”. Is it really considered unprofessional to have your hair down? I looked around my office today and I see very few long-haired women with their hair up, including those in the corner offices. I always thought having it styled and worn down is preferred, which may show my ignorance on the topic!

    1. oaktree*

      I don’t think so- I think the “out of your face” thing is about not looking like Cousin It, not about having to wear your hair up/back. Many women in my office wear their hair long and down.

    2. Erin W*

      That was strange to me, too. I have read advice elsewhere where they basically accuse women who wear their hair pulled back as having given up on themselves, as if to say a ponytail is the sweatpants of hairstyles.

      Alison said elsewhere that it might be a DC thing.

      1. J.*

        When I moved to DC I started wearing my hair up more than I ever have in the past. It’s just so humid and wet all the time, it’s easier for me to put it in a bun and not have to deal with it sticking to everything. The weather here is truly swampy and noxious. Ugh.

    3. CupcakeCounter*

      A lot of people of questioned this and I guess I read it, as well as the entire question, as specific to an interview so didn’t think about it. Personally, I think that if you have straight hair that is below the shoulders a low ponytail with a very distinct part looks really nice and was my go-to when job hunting (and also weddings, graduation, etc…). However that same style on someone with textured hair can look somewhat messy quite easily. My BFF has very curly hair and it looks best with just a bit of a frizz tamer spray and tucked behind her ears.
      I think clean and styled appropriate to the hair’s current texture is probably the key. I always pulled it back because when long and down it would get stuck on my lipstick and I’d end up with a streak across my cheek.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      Up or down, curly or straight, I take this as just clean and neatly groomed. As in, you can see a person’s face and eyes.

  93. Guacamole Bob*

    I think that if you don’t already know your field to be one where appearance and polish matter, you’re likely to be fine without much or any additional grooming beyond what you describe (neat hair, professional clothes). I never wear makeup, never do anything with my nails except trim them, never do anything to my eyebrows, never wear skirts, and wear the same pair of black ankle boots every day with my dress pants. It’s never been a problem. I work with people with a wide range of personal style choices around grooming, and that’s fine, too.

    If you have a personal style that works for you and you feel comfortable and confident about it, that’s the most important thing. There are lots of different ways of presenting yourself to the world out there, and you don’t have to conform to one specific mold.

    All that said, one of the things I really like about my government job is that we are pretty big on valuing people for their work and not their appearance. Places with diverse workforces are likely to be better on these lines than places where many people are similar (along whatever axis) and you’ll feel more pressure, if only from yourself, to conform to the prevailing “look”.

  94. Turquoisecow*

    OP, it depends. It depends on your work and it depends on yourself. I’ve never worn more than an occasional lip gloss or eyeshadow to work (and usually not that because I tend to rub my eyes and smear it), and I’ve also never done a thing to my eyebrows. I have kind of pale hair that blends into my eyebrows and I’ve never felt they needed any kind of grooming, although one friend remarked that they could use more definition(?) I’m fine with them. If you have bushy eyebrows that spread all over the place and become a uni-brow, then maybe think about it, but I honestly don’t understand the obsession with eyebrows right now. I haven’t worn nail polish since college, just keep them trimmed and clean and you’ll be fine.

    I have curly, very thick hair and a lot of what people advise as hair care tips simply does not apply to my hair. The same is true of body types and facial features, for everyone. Some people look fine without makeup and some people look pale and washed out. You have to take all this advice here (gesturing to comments above as well as mine) with a pile of salt because what looks great and works for some or even most people might look horrible on you. As long as you look relatively put together and don’t smell funky, unless you’re in an extremely conservative field, you’ll probably be fine if you figure out what works for you and makes you happy.

  95. overly produced bears*

    I’ve worked in offices for about 9 years now. I have never worn make-up. I don’t do anything with my eyebrows. I don’t paint my nails. I don’t wear jewelry. I don’t wear heels (I wear oxfords, etc). As I don’t wear skirts, no one can see that I don’t shave.

    What I do do: make sure my hair is clean and combed (it’s too short for pulling back). Make sure my face isn’t actively bleeding (I have acne). Make sure my clothes are clean and have no holes and aren’t fraying, tuck my shirt in, etc.

    Others in my office: only a few of the women have worn make up. For the ones with long hair, a simple ponytail usually suffices if they want to put it up. No one is a glamor goddess or anything like that. As far as nails, I have literally never noticed. One of my coworkers used to plop her hair on her head in a messy bun, literally no one cared. Some people wear earrings, and in my office, the person with the most piercings was a dude with 3 in each ear.

    If you’re doing stuff where performing femininity is important, then by all means perform it. But I’ve never had any issues with not doing it. I wear the same stuff the men wear, I wear zero make up, and it has not been an issue at all for me.

  96. StellaBella*

    Hello LW. I can offer you a few items of advice from someone who also stumbled a lot with this stuff. I would say, make sure your clothes, shoes, etc match and are clean, shoes look decent, things are pressed, when going to an interview. Don’t wear black stockings with black dress/blazer – not a funeral, this is an interview.
    All of Alison’s advice, too – clean hair, showered, freshly scrubbed. I never wear makeup, never have – I am a woman, too btw. On the eyebrows thing, a wax is usually cheap and lasts few weeks. Minimal accessories, and a bag of some sort that mostly matches (not an old backpack used for years). A clean copy of your CV, cover letter and maybe a notepad and pen in case you need to make notes and have questions handy so you don’t forget. Also – I worked for a decade in software and had male colleagues who did not shower more than once a week. Ugh. Not much on perfumes, but cleanliness is key. Even in Europe (mostly). Good luck!

  97. AnonMinion*

    As long as you regularly shower and was ALL of your body (yes, the lower half) and wash your clothes you should be fine. I still can’t get over the comments last week where people were saying they don’t wash their lower halves. eek!

  98. LuckySophia*

    I’m going to come at this from a little bit different angle than everyone else. While different fields (and different companies) embrace different norms for what is “polished”, I think the common denominator is: look pulled-together.
    Meaning (for general office work, at least)…as others have advised, wear clean, well-fitting work attire…no droopy hems or worn/snagged fabrics; no scuffed shoes or run-over heels. Makeup/no makeup is a personal choice, but the goal is to look like your best self, by which I mean: look as healthy and vital as you can, to project an air of professionalism, confidence and competence. That means that hair (regardless of length or style) should look clean, shiny and shaped, and in a healthy condition…not all raggedy, fried, split-ends or limp/greasy. Your face especially should look healthy and alive…meaning, at minimum you cleanse it well to minimize blackheads, and use a toner and/or moisturizer as needed to combat oil-glaze or dry flakes. Nails should be clean and not ragged… hands/cuticles should be not chapped/split, especially if you are in a job where you have to shake client hands. (The obvious corollary to “look healthy and vital” is: actually BE healthy and vital…eat well, get enough sleep, drink enough water, exercise self-care, whether that’s through exercise, meditation, vitamins or whatever.) In summary… take care of you, so that you can focus fully in the workday on taking care of the work you want to excel at!

  99. Micromanagered*

    OP keep in mind too that how you present for a job interview is not necessarily how you’d be expected to look every day. You don’t wear the same clothes day-to-day that you wore for the interview in most jobs, but you still dress up. I think some appearance/hygiene related stuff is similar. For example, I would always wear just-washed, neatly styled hair to an interview, but I normally only wash it every 3-4 days. By day 4 it doesn’t look as fresh and polished as it does washed and blow-dried, but it’s still completely fine.

  100. oaktree*

    The bare minimum for corporate, bearing in mind that this is all optional:

    – Clear mascara on eyebrows, IF you have particularly bushy/unruly ones.
    – Concealer on zits and/or dark under-eye circles.
    – Lip balm if your lips are particularly chapped.

    I wear makeup sometimes, but I often go to work without, just doing the above.

    1. oaktree*

      I should say also that in my experience, it’s much more important to generally look put together (clean clothes, not overly rumpled or wrinkled, adhering to the dress code) than to wear makeup.

  101. Flash Bristow*

    Hi OP. I’ve always worked in a male dominated world (typically the only woman in the room) and I never even considered makeup! For eyebrows I would ask around to find the best place for threading, somewhere that will shape your brows appropriately for your face but not make it look like they’ve been styled, and go there every month. It really doesn’t cost much. The rest? Nah. As long as you’re neat you’ll be OK. Although obviously at interview you want to make a good impression (I wear a trouser suit) I’m sure that once you’re on the job you’ll encounter quite a variety of dress, unless you’re customer facing or it’s very corporate. My employers have always taken the view that if you’re doing a good job, it’s ok. Better to dress up than down, but don’t get stressed about it. You want to be comfortable and confident at interview, not worried about checking unfamiliar makeup.

    Good luck finding your first “proper” job!

  102. Bend & Snap*

    I work in a “polish” field (PR) and the expected level of polish aligns with my grooming preferences–it doesn’t dictate my habits. I don’t go anywhere without makeup and, while people here have commented that it’s “sad,” that’s my preference and reflects how I was raised. It also helps me at work.

    I think the key is to find a role that aligns with your grooming preferences. So an overly made-up culture wouldn’t be a good fit.

    People look professional all the time without makeup. I used to work with a high-ranking female executive who wore no makeup at all. I think as long as your clothes fit well and are wrinkle free, shoes are nice and scuff-free and you overall feel confident, that’s plenty of grooming for most roles.

    1. Where’s my coffee?*

      I’m always amused that people find it “sad” if someone genuinely likes to wear makeup, or heels, or dresses. Personally I find ballet flats horrifically uncomfortable, and my mouth would crack and bleed without something on it in winter…but if some other woman feels her best with bare lips and flats, then that’s her choice and I don’t care.

      1. Alton*

        Ballet flat style shoes aren’t really designed well for support and comfort, but they’re not the only alternative, either. I wear loafers or lace-up dress shoes that are designed for orthotic support. Both heels and “fashion” flats can be equally uncomfortable for a lot of people.

        1. Where’s my coffee?*

          Yes, agree loafers are much more comfortable than ballet flats, although a mid heel or a sneaker is more comfortable than either for me. I’m just saying that I don’t really care if another woman at work makes totally different shoe/clothes/makeup choices—does not change my opinion of their capability or professionalism.

        2. Kitkat*

          High heels and flats cannot be “equally” uncomfortable. There are uncomfortable flat shoes but heels are actually very bad for your health in ways that flats are not. Some women wear heels so much that at some point they’re not comfortable in regular shoes, but that’s a sign of severe damage that has happened to their feet already.

          1. Alton*

            Heels have more health risks over time, but I find ballet flats equally uncomfortable in the short term. I have issues with plantar fasciitis, and I also find that I can’t bend my feet or walk naturally in them.

      2. Bend & Snap*

        It’s one of the comments here that has always bothered me. Alison was the one who called it sad, if I recall correctly. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dressing to feel good.

          1. Bend & Snap*

            Sorry! I really thought it was. Something to the effect of not liking to go out in public without makeup being sad.

            I apologize for the misplaced accusation.

      3. Kitkat*

        I do like makeup and dresses and I think it’s fine if women like to look pretty. But it is sad that heels are ubiquitous because they’re really, really unhealthy and damage your feet. Wearing them once in a while for a special occasion is fine but more than that and the woman is going to have to pay for it in the future with a lot of pain.

        I think heels are similar to corsets and other damaging beauty trends that people now condemn.

      4. Boo Hoo*

        I get so exhausted with the whole thing. I like to wear makeup and dresses and high heels. I lOVE IT! I have loved to shop since I could walk. No MAN or SOCIETY is making me do anything. I feel quite secure in myself and I am VERY happy with myself. But Noooooooo something is wrong with me that I am filling some void….not just seeing something pretty and enjoying it. SO so so ridiculous. I really don’t care what people do either way as it has no impact on me so why anyone thinks it should matter to them what I do, I will never know.

  103. nnn*

    If you have unruly eyebrows (in the sense of individual hairs sticking out conspicuously) and don’t want to do the work of thinking about them, get clear mascara and swipe it over your eyebrows – inside to outside, just once each brow. It acts like gel and keeps the hairs in place. Takes about 2 seconds to do, and a tube of cheap mascara costs just a few dollars and will last for months and months.

  104. Classroom Diva*

    My SIL (bless her heart) doesn’t seem to notice or care that she has a prominent mustache. Given, if she wanted a gender neutral or gender bending look, that might be one thing. However, she is very old-fashioned and conservative, and still completely misses the dark hair all around her mouth. It’s very distracting. If she were looking for a job, it would add to the issues she has of looking like a stereotypical librarian who escaped from the 1920’s (e.g. tight bun, stodgy clothing, no make-up, etc.).

    I wish I could tell her. She’s not the type to take it as helpful. So, I just stare at the mustache. THIS is what you don’t want in the workplace…anything that will cause people to stare at the *whatever* other than listen to and look at you.

  105. Hiring Mgr*

    It sounds like the OP is already doing what she needs to do. She mentions she’s competent at hygiene and professional dress for any situation. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

  106. betty (the other betty)*

    This is so specific to location and industry.

    A New York lawyer or an LA actor or a high-end department store clerk in Dallas? Yes, makeup and groomed eyebrows and nice looking polished nails are probably the expectation.

    Here in Colorado, for a graphic designer? Depends on the company, but casual dress, no makeup or eyebrow maintenance, short but clean nails are fine. Good hygiene (shower and wash hair on a regular basis, wear deodorant or antiperspirant as needed, wash your clothes) is all that really matters.

  107. D.W.*

    I’m super low maintenance. I have worked in conservative private law firms, finance firms, and now I’m in nonprofit. I have never, and currently do not, wear makeup, shave my legs (I’m not hairy), manage my eyebrows, or paint my nails, though I do keep them clean.

    I have not had any issues landing a job or keeping one and I have always received high marks in professionalism when it comes to appearance. I say, present yourself the way you plan to be 90% of the time. Definitely come clean and well-groomed but all of the other stuff don’t worry too much about.

    1. D.W.*

      Let me also add, that I have worked abroad, in the US South, California (LA and Northern), DC, and currently am in NYC.

  108. Christine Szudzik*

    My advice is unless you have a unibrow, you’re probably OK. If you have dark hair, your stray eyebrow hairs will likely stand out more, so if that’s you, you may want to consider some tweezing. Makeup doesn’t have to be a part of looking clean and put together!

  109. RUKiddingMe*

    As long as we’re talking eyebrows, can I please just say gentlemen, trim them… please! Those wild, unruly, sixteen inches of hair sticking out from right above your eyes things are gross. Ok, I know others will disagree with me, and everyone’s body is theirs to do with as they will, but as long as we see so much policing on women’s grooming, I just wanted to throw this out. I would bet real money I’m not the only who hates that and wishes that males would take a second to trim them but has never said anything because we don’t police male bodies as a rule.


    1. This applies to my male BFF*

      A male friend of mine who I’ve known since college has been told by multiple people that he needed to fix his eyebrows. Apparently, one time it got so bad, 3 people said something in one week!

      I’ve gently (and not so gently) mentioned it to him many times throughout our friendship. He refuses to listen to us and get them waxed/shaped. Unfortunately his eyebrows look like caterpillars chasing each other but I don’t believe that this has hindered his chances at getting a job.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Yeah but you can bet if the BFF was a woman with such eyebrows it would definitely be a hinderance.

  110. Lily Rowan*

    I just want to reiterate to the OP that she will not lose a job she wants over makeup or eyebrows. If it’s that ridiculous of an office culture, that is noplace she wants to work!

  111. Where’s my coffee?*

    I’d say 75% of the women I work with do not wear any makeup. No one cares. I occasionally get a snide comment because I do love heels, lipstick, manicures, etc. but I don’t feel it’s either hurt or helped me.

    Aside from basic cleanliness, I think clothing that makes sense for your industry and role is generally more important than makeup/hair.

  112. 99 lead balloons*

    If you decide to get your brows “done”, I’m a big fan of eyebrow threading since it’s kinder on your skin than waxing (but it still does hurt a bit).

  113. applegail*

    Getting my eyebrows waxed to a natural but tidy shape makes a huge difference in whether or not I look professional and put together. As long as I do that and have clean hair/face/nails, I don’t really need makeup unless it’s a special event or I just feel like it.

    Occasionally I’ll dab on some concealer for spots or a bit of color-correcting concealer if I had insomnia and have bags under my eyes (they’re a conversation starter).

    On work from home days I may or may not even bother brushing my hair.

  114. leighanneg*

    OP, there’s a huge scale in the personal grooming world, but there are some basics that don’t have to do with vanity/frivolity/cosmetic appearance. Moisturizer is for your skin’s health, lip balm is for your skin’s health. Maybe if you thought about it as hygiene instead of make up it might make more sense for you.

    Since you’re concerned about your eyebrows, talk to a professional that you trust, or even a friend that is more cosmetically aware than you are. Since we don’t know what your eyebrows look like, they might be fine, they might be mating caterpillars. It’s not like you have to pluck them and wax them and groom them (eyebrow grooming a Thing at the moment), just a little maintenance to keep people’s focus on your work instead of your haystacks.

    As for pimples, one a month or so happens for many grown up reasons. But pimples are skin infections – common ones, but infections regardless. If you’re having one, no big. If you have a lot, you would need to check into it for your health.

    So, TL;DR version: focus on healthy reasons and options for grooming, and remember that grooming reflects on your perceived attention to detail and standards.

  115. Lissa*

    I personally don’t accept any standard that also applies to men, so clean hair and no holes in your clothes, yes, but I don’t wear makeup and I’m not going to start. I think this topic is super fraught because there’s what SHOULD be and what IS, and what is varies a ton regionally and by industry, so assumptions one person makes aren’t going to be made somewhere else, and people get their feelings hurt quickly. There’s also gendered assumptions people don’t even realize they’re making.

    I do want to say one thing though, and that’s that the cost of not doing certain appearance-focused things is higher for women. Yes, some guys do stuff with their eyebrows, but there are far fewer industries where “unpolished” eyebrows are going to be subconsciously held against a man. SO much of this stuff is subconscious, which is why fighting it is so difficult. I get that it’s not that guys never have to worry about it, but on a subconscious bias level we are so used to seeing women with at least a small amount of makeup that seeing a bare-faced woman reads differently than a bare-faced man. Think about all the women who say they “HAVE” to wear makeup before going outside to not look asleep/much older than they are etc. It’s just not a thing that guys say outside of very specific exceptions. It means we don’t get used to seeing women with imperfections in the same way we do with guys. Even feminists who would never dream they’re doing it can react like this. We’re used to seeing women, in real life and the media, with a higher standard of conventional attractiveness, which means those who don’t fit that are going to get dinged more.

    I am lucky – I live in an area and work in an industry where this isn’t really a big deal, but even I have faced pressure and comments, like that it’s unprofessional not to wear any makeup. I also never wear skirts or dresses, and never wear anything where my shaving or lack of on legs/underarms will be spotted, but I still think about this stuff especially when I go to a different environment and suddenly feel like a complete ragbag compared to the other women who all look effortlessly polished. So yeah, it’s possible to push against this stuff, but it can really take a toll.

  116. I will kill people with this cricket bat*

    On the make-up front. I used to wear it every day and then one day my daughter (about 2 and a half at the time) said that she needed to put on her make-up to “be beautiful.” At that moment I stopped wearing make-up. I still have make-up and may sometimes wear it when I’m going out, but for day-to-day I never wear make-up. I didn’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that make-up or “beauty” was the currency she had to pay to exist in this world as a woman.

    For what it’s worth, I’m an executive director who works directly and regularly with the equivalent of CEOs. No one has ever dared comment on my make-up-less-ness. I think you’ll be ok.

    1. P*

      Kids – I pretty much never wear makeup but my daughter is still obsessed with it. She is turning out very girly and loves to accessorize (basically, the more stuff she can put on/do, the better in her world). She is currently 4. Kids will be their own little people XD

  117. Urdnot Bakara*

    As a point of reference: I work in a business-casual office environment. I wear makeup on special occasions, but I’m bare-faced daily at work. I also wear my hair down and don’t put a *ton* of effort into my appearance (my daily outfit is a pair of black pants and a nice blouse or a sweater, close-toed shoes, no jewelry other than my wedding ring, so appropriate but not stylish by any means). I’m also fat, which unfortunately means people are more likely to see me as sloppy. Still, no one has ever said anything negative about my appearance at work, and it seems to be pretty in-line with everyone else’s.

  118. Extra Vitamins*

    Ok. I have unruly eyebrows, with long individual eyebrow hairs. What I do with them is very context-dependent. I am in a tech field where giant eyebrows make people think I am smarter. Add glasses, uncombed hair and a wrinkled shirt and I am a GENIUS. Or a hobo, depending on the audience. If I am in a more formal environment, I smooth the brows down so they are symmetric and generally arch-shaped. Usually water is enough, but I have used some gel a few times. I have plucked a few alarmingly long ones in the center. I do nothing else, and most of the time it has been fine. I had one co-worker who complained that I shouted at him with my forehead but that’s not a normal problem. I think if you can get them to lie mostly flat to your face and they are generally symmetric you are fine. I am fortunate not to have any stray isolated brow hairs. I would probably get rid of those.

  119. Transity Cyclist*

    Allison, I think you are one of the most authoritative voices about how workplaces function. I don’t know what your opinion is on “unnecessary” dress codes and implicit double standards between men and women, but I think I can guess what your opinion is. I am assuming that you are against these double standards, but please correct me if I’m wrong. May I suggest that you use your power and your blog to speak out against:

    -pressuring women to trim their eyebrows so long as men don’t have to give it one thought?
    -pressuring women to wear any makeup at all, so long as men don’t have to give it one thought?
    -adhering/pandering to implicit biases and any double standards?

    If I were in a position of influence like you are, I would love to be able to diplomatically shame the privileged people who uphold these biases. Those who quietly judge a woman for having unruly eyebrows today regardless of the industry should be compared to those who judged turban-wearing men in American offices 60 years ago. The definition of professional appearance is constantly changing.

    I’m assuming you agree with me, but if not, I apologise.

    1. VintageLydia*

      She does typically talk about that stuff but her advice is pretty much always based on how things are, not how she wish it was. “This should be OK, but in this industry or that culture you should do That instead” is pretty common advice from her.

      1. Lady Kelvin*

        Yeah, a lot of Alison’s advice on “do I have to wear/do this to be professional” boils down to 1. it depends on your field, and/or 2. it sucks, but you will probably get judged/penalized if you don’t do it because of stupid reasons that shouldn’t matter but do. Many things wouldn’t matter in an ideal world, we all need to work to survive and she gives advice on how to get and keep work.

  120. Same Boat*

    Hi, poster! I wanted to pitch in as well.

    I am a manager medium sized local non-profit. I am expected to dress anywhere from “I’m in my painting clothes” to business professional. Most days it’s fairly causal, jeans and a blouse, or a dress. While I present as female, I’m fairly nonbinary in my daily life.

    Point being: I made the decision about a year and a half ago to stop wearing any make-up. I was having skin issues and just didn’t want to deal with it. I occasionally throw on a lipsitck when I feel sassy, and groom my eyebrows when I remember.

    Literally no-one has said anything about it. I’m clean and professional looking. I look well-rested. I wear chapstick sometimes and throw on a moisturizer (usually coconut oil) when I’m feeling dry. I really think it’s how you own it. If you’re feeling happy and healthy, then you’re doing OK.

  121. Erin W*

    My aunt shared a meme on Facebook called “How high maintenance are you?” (see the image linked in my name) and awarded points for every piece of grooming you did. I officially scored a 0 on the high maintenance meme. No makeup. No fashion. Bitten-down nails. I have worked steadily since I graduated college and been promoted for my own achievements. Luckily for me, my field is academia where many of the grooming “rules” don’t apply.

  122. Ann O'Nemity*

    In trying to formulate a response I think it’s hard to draw a line here with what you must do to look professional. There’s the idealized, impossible version of it that we’ve seen on TV and in magazines at one extreme, and then there’s this huge continuum that real people fall into.

    Maybe it helps to think of it as cumulative – good grooming in terms of hair, dress, makeup, etc will make you look more polished and professional. But you don’t need every single one of those things. No make-up is usually fine! But probably not if you also have untrimmed hair, ragged nails, and poorly fitting clothes. Like, it can’t be the minimum in every category, if that makes sense.

  123. HannahS*

    I’m a medical student where the expectation is “business casual,” whatever that means. My nails are clean and short, and I try not to have very dry skin and hangnails as a point of comfort and hygiene more than appearance, although my hands do look better that way. I wear no makeup, but I do use chapstick to keep my lips from getting chapped and painful. I don’t do anything to my eyebrows, but they’re fairly straight to begin with. If there’s a rogue hair curving upwards by more than, let’s say, 5 mm, I’ll cut or tweeze it, but I doubt very much that anyone notices. My hair is either in a braid or a bun. My shoes are sensible Oxfords, loafers, or laced ankle boots. My clothes are warm because hospitals are FREEZING and are otherwise uninteresting. It’s very much fine, nobody ca