employer requires women to wear perfect makeup — and writes them up if it’s smudged

A reader writes:

I’m writing on behalf of my sister. She is working an office job she quite likes in a bottom-rung position that does not pay very well. Most months she has enough for basic necessities and nothing else. She relies on her boyfriend and family/friends to do fun things like see a movie or go out for dinner. Everyone is temporarily fine with this arrangement, career advancement being what it is, but there’s one sticking point.

This office has a dress code that is WAY more stringent for female employees than it is for male employees. Female employees are required to wear a lot of makeup and high heels, no exceptions. To be clear, this is not a customer-facing job and no clients visit the office. My sister doesn’t get many breaks and she’d rather not spend valuable eating/relaxing/peeing time reapplying makeup instead. So in practice the mandatory makeup has to be the very expensive kind that stays good for most of the workday, doesn’t need much touching up, and doesn’t wreak havoc on sensitive skin, plus a ton of products for a skin care routine to keep her face from breaking out in acne. This is something she can’t really afford on her low salary. She resents having to spend money and time that could have gone to a date night or a few books on products she will never use outside of work. Most women at this office work at desks so the heels aren’t such a problem for them, but my sister is on her feet all day and the heels are killing her. Meanwhile the men in the office are required to dress professionally, but don’t have many rules in way of grooming (beards and long hair are perfectly acceptable, for example, and I agree they should be) and they get to wear professional but comfortable shoes.

My sister hates all of this and I’m not a fan either. Some of the employees (male and female) are upset by this obvious gender divide and want things to change. Others are annoyed by the grumbling and will passionately defend dress codes and grooming standards as a concept. This issue is splitting the office in half and making everybody grumpy. Some of the men are feeling self-conscious when they hear the women grumble and some of the older women are annoyed with the younger women for not falling in line. It’s a frustrating and completely unnecessary point of contention, but I’m not sure there’s anything anyone can do. As you are very well aware, junior employees speaking up about office dress codes tends not to end so well.

I’ve floated the thought that dress/grooming standards this unfavorable to only female employees borders on discrimination based on physical characteristics (which is illegal in our country, although it’s hell on wheels to actually get government agencies tasked with enforcement to do their jobs) and my sister tends to agree, but we’re not sure. The manager is a younger but experienced woman who has worked in customer-facing jobs for most of her career (think airport lounges, private clubs, and marketing events) so maybe she just got stuck on this dress code even in an office setting? My sister says she’s a reasonable person apart from the fact that she tends to be very passionate about women dressing and presenting “properly.” Presenting to whom I have no idea, because again, no customers or clients ever visit this office.

Do you have any thoughts on this? Because we’re stumped.

I wrote back and asked, “What would happen if she just stopped wearing makeup? Or wore only minimal makeup? I mean, beyond the manager’s disapproval, what would be the actual consequences?” The response:

The company has a policy that three write-ups = serious risk of firing. It’s not 100% guaranteed that three write-ups means you’re fired, but it’s pretty close. My sister says that women in the office have been written up for smudged makeup, as well as not wearing it at all, which was logged as insubordination.


This is sexist and gross and unreasonable.

There are some industries that expect a very specific type of grooming (for example, liquor promotion or some types of sales), but they’re rare and it doesn’t sound like your sister is working in one of them.

I was going to suggest that she simply stop wearing makeup if she prefers not to, or at least stop putting so much money and energy into it, but women have been written up for that??!

Given that, she has three options here:

1. Pursue whatever legal options your country makes available. You’re not in the U.S. so I don’t know what they are, but even if your country’s enforcement mechanisms suck, she might get some traction simply by having a lawyer get involved. (But for the sake of thoroughness: If she were in the U.S., courts have generally upheld different grooming standards for men and women, including the requirement that women wear makeup — although they’ve also generally held that grooming standards should not place a significantly higher burden on one sex.)

She might explore her legal options about the high heels too. In the U.S., she’d need to be accommodated if she had a medical reason for needing lower heels or flats.

2. Band together with the coworkers who share her views on this and push back as a group. The old letter you linked to about the interns who were fired for protesting their company’s dress code is a very different situation (they were interns — essentially guests for the summer — and they were pushing back on standard business dress, which this is not). If a group of employees push back on this — pointing out that the policy is sexist, offensive, out-of-date, nonsensical, and places an unequal burden on women — it’s possible they’d get some traction. It’s also possible that they won’t, but their chances are vastly higher as a group.

3. Consider whether she really wants this job under these conditions — both the conditions themselves and the very unflattering things it says about her employer.

This policy would be offensive under the best of circumstances, but your sister is in a bottom-rung position that doesn’t pay her enough to even see a movie occasionally. And she’s dealing with this BS on top of it? She can almost certainly do better. I hate to encourage her to leave without trying to change this because if everyone just leaves, it’ll never change … but there’s no reason the burden for making that change happen needs to be on her. She’s very junior, she’s in a ridiculous situation, and it’s fine if she just prefers to get out of there.

{ 562 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie*

    Uh, what? I agree collective action is probably the strongest bet on this. Stage a strike with all the women showing up with visible acne and bags under their eyes. I’m a bit creeped out too that someone is walking around looking to see if you have makeup on like that. I usually do wear light makeup to work, but I don’t think my boss would even notice if I came in without it one day…

    1. Stephanie*

      Also, makeup can be expensive! They’re making her spend a bunch of her already meager paycheck on a non-essential item.

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        And people can have allergic reactions.

        If collective action didn’t work and I had to keep the job, I’d be looking at a medical accommodation. I still have a vivid memory from the 1980’s of my mother taking me shopping to her fav beauty product salesperson at the Chanel counter…the colors were lovely, the lipstick was durable, but I was wildly allergic to all of the eye products and one of the skin items, and it took weeks to recover from.

        I rarely wear any now and, if I do, everything is bought from the fancy stuff at a natural products market AND checked for being hypoallergenic. Then, I carefully clean it off before bed AND put aloe gel all over my face to calm it down just in case.

        I vote for Collective Action.

        1. Stephanie*

          Oh yeah, good point about the allergic reactions. I’ve had stuff that just doesn’t agree with my skin for whatever reason.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          For me it’s my eyes — I can get away with Almay eyeliner. Anything else anywhere near my eyes, I look like I have pinkeye within a couple of hours.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            I can’t even do that. My eyelid skin is ridiculously sensitive, and anything I try to put there will start itching and stinging well before my lunch break. If I worked in OP’s sister’s office, I’d ALWAYS have red eyes that watered so badly it would look like I’m crying all day long. I’m sure that’s not quite the image that manager is going for.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Same! I’ve quit wearing eye makeup because my eyelids are itchy and stinging by lunchtime. I’ve tried several different brands, and they all give me a rash right along the lash line after a point. I just wear a small amount of sheer foundation and a bit of lipstick now.

          3. Lauren*

            I thought I was the only one! If I put mascara/liner around my eyes, I get all itchy and red-eyed. And makeup without eye makeup looks unfinished, so I usually just skip it entirely.

          4. Bunny Girl*

            I only wear eye make-up in like the dead of winter because my allergies are so bad almost year-round and I look like a raccoon by about lunch. Some brands I get away with more than others, but a lot of them just aren’t happening.

              1. Bobbin Ufgood*

                I have this exact problem and haven’t been able to tolerate Almay but there is a Tarte liquid one that I can get away with if I don’t wear it every day

          5. Soveryanon*

            I don’t wear a lot of makeup either, mainly because I just don’t like how it feels on my skin. I wear Almay eyeliner, some mascara, and a little blusher. I use a light moisturizer as a base. I figure, I’m 50 years old, and no amount of makeup is going to hide that, so people are going to have to take me as-is, including my under-eye circles and crows-feet.
            This policy just feels gross and horribly sexist to me.

        3. Phx Acct, now with dragons*

          Same. I have to be very careful with what I wear, and now that I never wear makeup, my tolerance is very low. My sister developed a full-blown allergy out of nowhere, and ended up getting tattoos.

        4. Michaela Westen*

          Having read the rest of these replies, natural makeups are usually better. You have to check the ingredient list because it’s getting more common for “natural” companies to sneak chemicals in. So maybe that would help some of you with the allergic reactions.

          1. Flash Bristow*

            I’m really not trying to be a pita and do the whole “everything is a chemical, our bodies are 70% nitrogen monoxide you know!” , but as someone with very sensitive skin, I’d be interested to know what you mean by “natural” and “chemicals”, in hope to learn which products might be easier on me. I’m also as white as it comes, so I’m always interested to hear about pale non-irritant products which will ideally look like I’m not wearing them, just less like I crawled out of a rubbish dump this morning.

            Seriously, not wishing to derail, but product / ingredient advice welcome.

            1. Flash Bristow*

              And obv that’s dihydrogen monoxide. My awful autocorrect won’t even let me make a slightly sarky point. Gah, soz.

            2. Michaela Westen*

              I’m in the U.S. and here the idea is “natural” companies don’t use chemicals and instead use ingredients from plants and such. I usually start with the cosmetic dept. at Whole Foods. Health food stores should also have some.
              I find it challenging to get lotions, soaps, hair products and makeup without my allergens, and over the last year I’ve noticed companies that say they’re “natural” sneaking in some chemicals. Jason is putting phthalates in it’s face creams now. A new, eye-irritating chemical ethylhexylsomething – is in “natural” eye creams.
              I’m also white though not real pale – more pink – and I ended up with Pacifica undereye brightener, and I also use their moisturizer. Hope this helps! :)

                1. Michaela Westen*

                  Yes, but that’s another discussion. In this context “chemicals” means synthetic and often toxic substances that aren’t good for people!

                2. whingedrinking*

                  Natural chemicals are neither more nor less likely to cause an allergic reaction or be toxic in too-large amounts than synthetic ones.

                3. Michaela Westen*

                  I don’t agree! It’s not hard to find lots of info about synthetic products making many people sick.

                4. Pomona Sprout*

                  And yet, loads of “natural” subsrances make some people really dick. I’m wildly allergic to all sorts of pollens, molds, and animal danders, not to mention dust (which is actually a mix of human skin cells plus the dust mites that feed on said cells and their poo). All of which is as “natural” and “organic” af. The only “chemicals” I have trouble with are fragrances, and those are relatively easy to avoid. I can’t wear scent, and I have to bathe and launder my clothes in unscented products if I don’t want sneeze my face off and or get an itchy rash. But all that natural, organic dust and pollen and mold and dander is a a much bigger problem for me.

                  Not trying to be disagreeable here; I just get annoyed when people act like if something is a “chemical” it’s automatically suspect, while anything plant based is automatically healthy and innocuous. Not saying you are doing that, necessarily, but enough people do that it gets annoying as times.

                5. C Baker*

                  I don’t agree! It’s not hard to find lots of info about synthetic products making many people sick.

                  I’m sure. But to infer from that that therefore “natural” is better is false. There are a number of reasons for this observation of yours. For example, have you considered the role of cultural biases in what gets reported and talked about a lot and lumped together as one group as compared to what doesn’t get reported, doesn’t get talked about, and gets treated as a collection of diverse individual things?

                  Belladonna is natural. Lead is natural. Nightshade is natural. Lots of things are natural that I don’t want in my cosmetics.

              1. Pomona Sprout*

                Correction to to my last sentence:

                “Not saying anyone here is doing that, necessarily, but enough people do that it gets annoying as times.”

                Cause that wasn’t meant to be ained sr anyone in particular!

                1. Pomona Sprout*

                  Ack, what is going on with the nesting? Posts keep showing up NOT where I thought they were going. Sorry about that!

              1. OlympiasEpiriot*

                Meant to add, when I’m using makeup, I use Ecco Bella as long as I don’t react to any of the ingredients. Dr. Haushka things are very nice, but, where I shop, they tend to be more expensive than Ecco Bella.

              2. OlympiasEpiriot*

                Gah, I keep forgetting to add important bits, tho’.

                They have a very limited color palette.

                A ridiculous problem with the brands I’ve seen sold in the “natural market” setting is that the colors seem to be exclusively for white people. I’m white and I don’t do much makeup shopping (see earlier story above) so I don’t know about brands that might be hypoallergenic with a better color range. BUT, maybe someone here with more knowledge can chime in on this issue? Anyone in the makeup biz even?

                1. Michaela Westen*

                  From what I saw when I was picking out my Pacifica, the colors ranged from white-ish to medium brown. I’m sorry, I don’t know how to advise dark-skinned people here.

            3. wittyrepartee*

              I want to second this, as a biologist/epidemiologist and a person that has some weird allergies. The additives that I know that I’m allergic to are almond oil and hemp oil (on skin only, I can eat either of those with no issues). I’ve heard of people being very allergic to lanolin too. Almond oil gave me a poison-ivy rash when I switched up the flavor of my Dr. Bronner’s once, and I spent two weeks trying to figure out what was going wrong.

              All things are chemicals. It is often better to use chemicals that are in plants that we evolved eating and interacting with. That is not always the case though.

            4. Batman*

              the other issue with this advice is that people are also allergic to natural ingredients, so it won’t necessarily solve the problem.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                It all depends what they’re allergic to. I have several allergies so I have to avoid soy and cammomile and be cautious with sugar. (Cammomile cross-reacts with ragweed allergy.)
                However, there are also synthetic chemicals that commonly cause reactions in a majority of people, and these are used throughout the non-natural cosmetics world. Also phthalates, chemicals that disrupt the immune system and *cause new allergies* are common.
                So my *suggestion* to try natural products could help some of the people who’ve mentioned bad reactions to cosmetics.

                1. Lavender Menace*

                  I think the point is that a person with sensitivities won’t necessarily react better to natural or synthetic products. It depends on what they’re sensitive to.

                2. Mary*

                  >> synthetic chemicals that commonly cause reactions in a majority of people

                  They’re really aren’t! Anything that was frequently causing a reaction in more than 50% of users would be withdrawn.

                3. Michaela Westen*

                  @Mary, in a perfect world it would be withdrawn, yes.
                  Back around 2013 I figured out a chemical in my favorite lotion was causing a rash on my hands. I also used it on my body and I had always been a little itchy.
                  The chemical is abbreviated MCI, methylchlorsomething, and there is a related chemical, MIT or MI.
                  The Wikipedia entry at the time said MCI is used in many industrial applications, paint, shipbuilding, as well as cosmetics and that more and more people were becoming sensitized to it all over the world.
                  It wasn’t withdrawn. It was used in body lotion.
                  This is just one example. I’m sure there are many more.

                4. Batman*

                  Yes, Lavender Menace’s comment is exactly my point. You can’t just recommend natural products as a solution to allergies or sensitivities because people can be allergic or sensitive to those things too!

              2. A Cita*

                Right, you want to be in the habit of reading the ingredients. Some products use some types of essential oils which for some sensitive skin types, can cause irritation. Also Vit C and any thing that “peels” can cause irritation. You have to know what your skin reacts too. But the less problematic, industrial ingredients, the better. It’s a difference between an ingredient being a known irritant for your skin and an ingredient being a known carcinogen.

                1. Michaela Westen*

                  Or a known irritant for the majority of people worldwide – there are a couple of chemicals I know of, and probably more I haven’t heard of.

            5. A Cita*

              The Follain website is like the Sephora of natural products. You can read about the ingredients they restrict. They don’t restrict silicone, but I’ve only seen a couple of products with that ingredient (silicone, while not being reactive to most, still creates problems by creating a seal on the face, and not allowing it to breath, shed natural dead skin cells, etc…use enough of it and you get that weird oily skin with dry flakey skin around pimples).

              Vapour is a foundation that is mostly a skin oil, with some color in it. Coverage isn’t heavy–very light, but no filler, industrial waste by-product ingredients (which so many brands use–including really expensive brands).

            6. AnotherRedHead*

              I am also very very pale and have had good luck with K beauty…Japanese cosmetics and skin care too.

            7. Media Monkey*

              i really like Bare Minerals. I believe that is supposed to be better for the skin, hypoallergenic (although i don’t have an issue with this other than a touch of sensitivity) and they are really lovely, lightweight and quick to apply. As a fellow pasty-faced person i can confirm the palest shade is really pale. it isn’t cheap tho!

            8. toomanybooks*

              As someone with sensitive skin and allergies, “natural” products can be an issue for me and my sister because they tend to have stuff we’re allergic to in them! For example, I’m allergic to aloe in any skincare/beauty products/etc, and it seems like 99.9% of natural products for skin/hair/beauty contain it. Can’t wait for the aloe trend to be over…
              I’ve also pretty much never been able to put on what I call “face makeup” (meaning stuff that isn’t just for eyes or lips, but stuff like foundation etc) because it always ends up looking terrible. Flaky or oily or both. I’d imagine I might be able to get away with a nicely done eye and a tinted lip balm or something if I had to wear makeup every day, but this policy is absolutely ridiculous. I have to wonder if it’s enforced by men, too, and if they are falling into a very common misconception on men’s part of what wearing makeup looks like (meaning, if it isn’t a heavy smoky eye and a red lip, they don’t think you’re wearing any at all).

              1. Huttj*

                My mother was gifted some bodywash lotion she was glad she checked the ingredients for, it had Juniper in it. Our entire family is strongly sensitive to juniper (pruning those trees was *fun* when small surface scratches would be irritated for a day or more).

        5. De-Archivist*

          I am *still* two weeks later recovering from contact dermatitis from a weird reaction to a new color foundation of a brand I’ve been wearing for over a year. This skin at the corners of my eyelids is still cracked and raw.

          “Hypoallergenic” is such a crapshoot for a lot of people I feel like the word is essentially meaningless. I’ve cut parabens and undisclosed “fragrance” from my cosmetics, which has cut down of the times I’ve had a reaction to something, but I still can’t wear mascara, even all-natural, hypoallergenic brands, and sometimes, my body is just like “nope, we’re not wearing this, lol, here’s a rash.” Plus, my mom is allergic to tree nuts, but there’s tons of “all-natural” products which contain almond oil.

          This would drive me bonkers, OP. I think it’s worth pushing back on, and I also think it’s worth her considering whether an office climate which dictates rules like these to women is worth it. I can’t understand the mindset of some, though certainly not all, older people who think, “Well, I had to suffer this indignity, so everyone after me should suffer as well.” But people can absolutely continue to wear a full face if upper management backs off their sexist requirements.

          Also, there’s bound to be a doctor out there who would write her a medical accommodation for not wearing high heels. I know some women love them, and more power to them if they want to wear them all day at work. However, your sister is in pain, and torturing herself and causing damage to her feet for the sake of conforming to some outdated notion of “professionalism” or “femininity” is ridiculous.

          1. whingedrinking*

            FTR, “hypoallergenic” is meaningless in every practical sense (except maybe if we’re talking about dogs and cats). There’s no industry-wide or government-mandated standard anywhere in the world, and in the US you don’t have to prove any of your claims to put it on your packaging.

        6. AnonEmu*

          Agreed re allergies! I know there’s plenty of people out there who seem to think stuff like “gluten-free mascara” or “gluten-free eyeshadow” are OTT and unnecessary but for celiacs it’s a legit need, and I’ve reacted to so many different makeup products in the past I’ve picked my few brands and stuck with it, but they’re pretty expensive (aside from ELF). Even so, I don’t really wear much because of the hassle and expense.

          1. Caroline*

            Bite makes expensive but certified gluten free lipstick, and it’s now available in Sephora! I also have celiac, and make-up is a huge hassle, but I do appreciate that Bite went to the trouble of certifying their lipsticks. But they’re definitely expensive.

            Colourpop makes cheap eyeshadow / eyeliner that is technically gluten free and really inexpensive, though you may react to it (my eyes are kind of sensitive but I’ve used their stuff with no problem, but obviously, YMMV). I avoid their lip stuff because I expect they’re probably not careful about cross-contamination.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        Also, makeup often contains chemicals that aren’t healthy. Maybe they could use this somehow? It’s one thing if someone freely chooses to use it, but forcing people to use chemicals that might affect their health – or cause allergic reactions as others have mentioned.
        Also, I second the idea that OP’s sister could get a better job. Another job in the same pay range with better conditions probably wouldn’t be too hard. While she’s looking, she could also look at higher -paying jobs… you never know, she might get one…

    2. Sleepytime Tea*

      At an old job, I came in without makeup one day. My boss made a snarky comment about it. I never wore makeup to that job again unless it was because I felt like it.

      If I applied for a job and they told me the dress code required wearing full duty makeup every day, I would have to nope out of there. I imagine they’ve lost some good people over this.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I’ve never worn full makeup. I don’t know how. It would be a hard pass for me for so many reasons.

        1. Flower*

          Yeah, this. I don’t mind makeup but it’s not something I know how to do (and I recognize good makeup application as a skill and art form) or use regularly. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn it, ever. I haven’t worn it since senior prom, nearly six years ago, and I haven’t done my own makeup… Possibly ever? Maybe playing around as a young child?

        2. KHB*

          Except for a few times performing on stage, I’ve never been a makeup wearer. And now I never will be, because as I enter middle age I’m developing an essential tremor that makes it hard to hold my hand steady enough to apply anything precisely, especially around my eyes. My employer, fortunately, doesn’t give a fig, but if they did, I for sure would be claiming a medical accommodation, if not an EEOC complaint.

        3. TardyTardis*

          I do makeup maybe once or twice a year for very fancy banquets (the kind I wear this one beaded outfit to, and I actually break out the heels, though they are wide and not spiky). The rest of the time, my skin is clean and that will just have to be good enough.

      2. Flash Bristow*

        I can understand that staff in some careers – for example cabin crew – have to do it, not really sure WHY, as long as you are clean and tidy and I’m not going to be focused on your greasy hair, filthy fingernails or bursting acne while you’re serving my dinner – but in jobs that aren’t customer facing in an environment that has a certain expectation (let alone one that is not customer facing at all), I don’t get it. You’re clean, tidy, don’t smell? That’s fine by me. In fact significant make up can be rather distracting (I was just saying that about a reality tv judge today, whose face cracks as she smiles. No meaning any offence, just that if it was more subtle I wouldn’t even notice, instead it distracted me from the content of the show – shouldn’t make up enhance subtly?).

        So I think it’s a bit harsh to hold people to higher standards in other circs like a regular internal office – especially if there’s a gender difference.

        [On the note of gender differences, men in my choir wear black tie at performances, women wear black clothes to certain sleeve and skirt lengths, hosiery etc… So I got permission to wear black tie, in which I was much more comfortable, presentable, and my skin objected far less; this wasn’t an issue at all. As nobody in this letter is customer facing, why can’t they ask to dress to the same (tidy, smart) standards as the men?]

        If work are a pita about this and the employee feels uncomfortable in their get-up, let alone having to check for smudges and touch up all day, I think looking for a new job is a very reasonable reaction. I’d hate being expected to make up every day, regardless of cost. Ugh. It won’t be everyone’s hill to die on, but I think it’s totally reasonable if that becomes the case.

        1. valentine*

          Skin is skin. Even if all cabin crew (and who is deciding who is fe-/male?) had to wear makeup, it’s a ridiculous requirement.

      3. mcr-red*

        Yeah, I’ve worn makeup a bit in high school and a bit in my adult life, but quickly decided I was too lazy to spend the time and money needed on it. And now it seems like it’s even more complicated – highlighters? contouring? What? so I really don’t have the desire to figure all of that out. I hope they were upfront about that requirement during the hiring process!

        One of my friends got an office job in which the dress code was women had to wear skirts, nude colored panty hose and heels from March through December – I seem to remember them being allowed to wear dress pants during January and February. I told her I would have quit over the panty hose.

    3. [insert witty username here]*

      I’d go the opposite route and get everyone to come in with RIDICULOUS clown-like makeup. Like, Mimi from Drew Carey type makeup. So, technically, they’re wearing makeup, but “it’s not my fault I’m not very good at it!” or “I’m offended you don’t think I look nice! This is my preference and I’m wearing makeup like you required!”

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        I think I’d be going for full theatrical makeup…made to be seen in the back of the second balcony at a sold out production of La Traviata!

        1. many bells down*

          As someone who learned how to apply makeup only because she was in theater productions… this would be right up my alley. I always said I had two makeup speeds: “None” or “Tammy Faye”.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            Me too. Growing up in theater my makeup application was ‘none’ or ‘drag queen’. Fun times.

        2. Tiny Soprano*

          Modern stage makeup is pretty similar to modern instagram makeup, so I’d go one further and say copy the ladies on Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

      2. Serenata*

        Oh, this. I’m ok at putting on make up at best. I definitely don’t look like an eyeliner commercial by the time I’m done. I would put on very dramatic make up, but make sure it wasn’t smudged or messy… just intense.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          I’m thinking like- wedding makeup. Where it’s not quite production level, but there’s some crazy smoky eye going on.

      3. wittyrepartee*

        OMG. I mean, I don’t wear makeup at all at work- so I might look like this accidentally anyway, but this is an amazing response.

    4. animaniactoo*

      Agreed – my thought is not just pushing back as a group via verbal “we’re not good with this” but if you can get enough of the younger people who disagree with the policy to act on it, then that’s the way to go. Show up professionally and appropriately groomed for a couple of weeks – but without any makeup*, and wearing flats.

      Under the theory that there’s a limit to how many people they can afford to write up and fire at once. But you’d have to have a large enough participation that it would seriously damage the business to be without that many people.

      Potentially if some of the men are willing to get act as well, there is stuff they can do. A high school near me had a “different genders” dress code/enforcement of dress code issue. The male students helped to protest it by showing up in the kind of gear that the female students were getting sent home for. How do the male colleagues feel about guyliner and high heels?

      *Beyond the barest amount that they feel comfortable leaving the house – for some people that’s foundation to cover splotchy areas or cover up major bags under eyes, etc.

      1. valentine*

        No-makeup sit-in, looping “U + Ur Hand”.

        I don’t think the men can wear makeup/heels in solidarity without it being a homophobic scare tactic.

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          Though, it might get some of the men to consider their stance on the issue. Say it was optional and not even one of them did it, it opens up a conversation about how under the current system it’s not optional for half the office and how much that sucks.

    5. willow*

      visible acne and bags under their eyes? Seriously? Women look FINE without makeup, just as men do. And if I have bags under my eyes, so what? I also have grey hair, should I color it? Do you think the only alternative to makeup is a horror show? I can’t even…

      1. DouDouPaille*

        Willow, some women (such as myself) don’t actually look fine without makeup. I don’t have eye bags or acne, but the skin on my 50-year-old face is just really uneven and blotchy (very dark age spots/sun spots in weird places, acne scars, rough patches, sallow color), so wearing foundation actually takes the focus OFF my skin and ensures that people pay attention to ME, not my skin. If I go without makeup, people ask me all kids of questions like “what’s that dark spot on your cheek” or “wow, are you feeling ill? Your skin is an odd color.” But if I wear a nice, well-blended foundation that covers all the imperfections, people just treat me like their colleague or client, and don’t get distracted by the weird moonscape that is my skin. Having said that, I am NOT advocating that ALL women need to wear makeup, or that it should be mandatory in the workplace.

          1. Workerbee*

            This. We’re made to feel so uncomfortable just for existing with our face. I’ve felt self-conscious for decades, and only in the past few years have I been “brave” enough to go without makeup. I’d feel bad for wasting so much time and energy in my past, but I know I did what I could with what I knew then.

            It’s ridiculously hard to get away from that narrative, or even to step back and think where all this “you don’t look fine without makeup because of X and Y” comes from–people wanting to make $$ off you. We’re inundated with You Are Less Than imagery from the moment we appear in this world.

            That workplace would be horrifying for me, and I hope OP’s sister can get out or can effect a positive change.

            1. PlainJane*

              Sending you a virtual standing ovation for this comment. Imagine how many businesses would go bankrupt in a month if women stopped feeling bad about their looks/bodies.

          2. Choux*

            Yep. We’re conditioned to accept imperfections in male faces and conditioned to expect that women will “fix” theirs with makeup.

          3. Sarong kebaya*

            In Singapore this is perfectly acceptable. Women can be required to wear makeup because it reflects well on Singapore.

          4. Kiki*

            Exactly. Imperfect skin is not only seen in women, but very rarely do you hear anyone suggest that men apply makeup to even out their skin tone, rid themselves of underage bags, or get rid of blemishes. Personal preference is one thing, but we have to stop acting like appearing professional means having picture-perfect skin when we know we don’t hold all genders to that standard.

          5. Pudgy Patty*

            Sure. I can’t argue with this, but I will be retired and dead by the time it is going to take for our society to change its view. Practically speaking, I have to work in the society I live in, not the one that may exist some day.

        1. Robin Bobbin*

          I have a darkish spot on my cheek from sun damage. When I was younger and it was newer, my brother tried to fix it for me by licking his thumb and rubbing. You know, I rarely think about it and as far as I know people don’t fixate on it. Occasionally I think about doing the laser thing, but then I forget. I don’t do makeup either – besides the darkish patch, I have good skin, so I see no reason to paint up.

        2. Carolyn Keene*

          I think that’s because your made-up face is your regular look, so when you don’t wear makeup people notice a difference. My own 50 year-old face is also uneven, blotchy, with those weird dark patches, rough spots, dark circles under my eyes sometimes, etc. I never wear foundation, ever (I cannot bear it), and *no one* ever thinks I’m sick or asks about my face. It’s just how I look – and I look fine… just like all the men our age who have the same kind of skin but don’t worry about wearing makeup. I do tend to put on mascara, because I prefer how I look with it, so I fully support whatever level of makeup anyone (male or female, cis or trans) wants to wear. I just want to let you know that you do look just fine without it.

      2. Stephanie*

        Oh, I didn’t mean it like “Egads! The horror! Bags under your eyes!” More just meant showing up with all the imperfections everyone has like “deal with it, boss.”

    6. Jeanine*

      Ok these kinds of rules are insane. Makeup is bad for your skin, it’s expensive, and not necessary. High heels are bad for your feet and are painful, and expensive, and totally not necessary. There is no way I would be able to wear all that junk every day, I’d rather shoot myself. YUCK.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      Oh, in-bleeping-deed.

      But also screw the coworkers who “are annoyed by the grumbling and will passionately defend dress codes and grooming standards as a concept.”

      I defend dress codes. I like dress codes. But this is sexist garbage. If makeup is required, it is required of EVERYONE. Stan in purchasing had better be written up if his contouring isn’t blended just so. The guys on the loading dock had better get the waterproof eyeliner because smudges get you a PIP, guys. If shaved legs, hose, and skirts are required, then Gary the CFO had best not have any stubble poking through his Leggs. And if high heels are required, every single solitary person in that office should be prancing around wrecking their joints and looking like a g-darn strip club.

      Seriously. Desk flip! Awful people.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        Also – heels!? What year is this again? Is it 1982, and I didn’t notice?

        Where I work, nobody wears heels in a professional setting. Very low heels, maybe, for some law offices. But anything above an inch is going to make you look super dated and out of touch.

          1. Sally*

            It wouldn’t have to be very high before I’d need to file a worker’s comp claim for damage and pain to my back and knees.

          2. My Dear Wormwood*

            If you’re working in a laboratory (at least where I’m from), it’s any heel at all. No wedges, no kittens, nothing.

          3. Mari*

            I’m sitting here with a still sore rolled ankle from deciding to wear 1.5 inch heels to an internal interview nearly two weeks ago. Any manager that insists on heels better like the aesthetic of crutches in my case.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I feel like this is some man’s office fantasy: A bunch of Business Barbies prancing around in full paint and heels.

        2. Karen from Finance*

          I can barely walk in flats. I can promise you if they made me come to work in heels, it would be more of a safety issue for everyone, more than anything else.

        3. AnnaBananna*

          Out of touch? This is a wildly inaccurate statement for most of the professionally dressed offices I’ve worked in or currently work with.

        4. TardyTardis*

          A few people kind of wondered about me not wearing heels (Because Short), but I simply smile and say that I became used to flat oxfords in the Air Force. There are usually enough veterans at any workplace in my local area that any of them around feel compelled to come to my defense, if only subconsciously.

      2. AKchic*

        All. Of. This.

        I want the men held to the same ridiculous standards. Sure, you can wear your beard, Mark; but you’d better have that full-face make-up too. Don’t forget to put on those false lashes, because daaaang, yours are looking a little sparse.

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          Perhaps compulsory facial hair. Not only must they grow it, but the moustache must be waxed into a majestic curl. If they can’t grow a full and luscious beard, well they’d better start looking at hairpieces.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Although one guy at our place did a Full Franz Joseph Imperial (it was really gorgeous) but was told to dial it back. Wimps.

      3. MechanicalPencil*

        I have visions of what this office looks like, and it is cracking me up. Jeffree Star was set loose.

        1. Jaid*

          Lushious Massacr, that in her Bratz challenge full drag.

          I mean, if ya gotta go glam, do it right, grrrrllllll.

      4. Bunny Girl*

        So I do aerial pole and all of my heels are 7+ inches tall and I don’t really wear them outside of class but I would be so tempted to stop in there with them. Like hey-o here comes giraffe lady clomping down the hallway. Will she help me with this report or pole climb up the gutter on the side of the building? Who knows!

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I’m crying from laughing so hard at the mental image of some person in impeccable business wear skittering up a gutter. Like Spiderman meets The Devil Wears Prada.

      5. Anonymeece*

        Or the opposite: if I show up in a full, tailored suit and loafers every day, I’m technically conforming to men’s grooming standards! So do I get put on a PIP?

        This is… awful. I was told at one of my jobs I had to wear make-up, but just … didn’t, because I don’t really wear it and wasn’t willing to start. But nothing ever came of it because it wasn’t enforced. I can’t imagine actually having to do it and being afraid of being fired because of it. Ugh. Also picturing one of my cashier jobs wearing heels all day just makes my back hurt thinking about it.

        1. Karen from Finance*

          Yeah I doubt this employer considers “”women dressing as men”” as appropiate, at all. It doesn’t seem like a very gender-inclusive person at all.

            1. whingedrinking*

              I’d really like to see how they’d try to get an agender or nonbinary person to conform to dress code. (No, I don’t, I’m pretty sure I know how that’d go…)

      6. Someone Else*

        I reallllllllly want to see some people in the group band together and basically….flip their dress for a day. Don’t know if any of the sympathetic guys would go for it, but basically, women who object to the policy come in one day, no makeup, mens suit, mens dress shoes, etc. Dress exactly as is acceptable for a male colleague. Maybe even literally wear what he wore last week. The guy dresses to the women’s standard.
        I’m not sincerely suggesting this, but in the thought experiment in my mind, I want to see how the company reacts to this. Specifically the “literally wore what a coworker wore last week who was not written up for” part.

    2. RJ the Newbie*

      This is my response as well. If collective bargaining isn’t an option for OP’s sister, I’d recommend a job search. How ridiculous and misogynistic.

    3. kittymommy*

      You have much better language than I do, Snark!!

      I would be very tempted to tell this manager (and company) to eff off, but it sounds like the sister needs the job. I’m wondering if this is the company or the manager, if it’s the latter I’d try to organize a group and go to higher ups.

      Regardless, check into any laws this might be breaking and consult a local attorney.

    4. Michaela Westen*

      So, is makeup and heels required to do the actual work? Is it not possible to type without full makeup? Is it not possible to make copies without wearing heels?
      Anything our group can do with that?

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Seriously, though, I hope the sister started job-hunting again, like, yesterday, because this is so far over the line.

  2. Kvothe*

    This place sounds absolutely nuts, if my job tried to make me wear makeup they’d quickly regret that decision as it is a skill I’ve never acquired so I’d look terrible. Not to mention I’ve had acne in the past and wearing makeup would be a no go for my skin.

    Also OP don’t know what country you’re in but if you’re in Canada pretty sure a law passed a few years back that made it illegal for employers to require employees wear high heels.

      1. Chinookwind*

        No exceptions for requiring high heels unless it is a safety issue (if you use a saddle with stirrups, some type of heel is required as PPE).

        The issue was brought up by waitresses in a bar as a safety issue. They can state the colour, general style and safety modifications (like no slip or steel tor) but not heel height.

      2. Anna Canuck*

        It’s provincial law, but no, no exceptions. It was brought in over servers being forced to wear heels to wait tables, which is just ridiculous. Earl’s used to mandate minimum 2.5″.

        1. Lucille2*

          Wow. Didn’t know that about Earl’s. Makes me never want to eat there again. Being required to wait tables in heels is cruel.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            Try serving while wearing hills and having to go UP STAIRS to the kitchen for food every time?

            Yeah…it was as terrible as it sounds.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I really don’t see how companies can force-require heels either. Nearly every doctor and podiatrist will say they are bad for your feet, ankles and back, and lead to a lot of unnecessary medical issues down the road, which then needs to be covered by insurance. Seems like a lot of expense just for the looks.

      1. Bilateralrope*

        What do health and safety laws say about high heels ?
        After all, they do increase the risk of preventable injuries.

        1. Inca*

          This. I hope this is explored and the question is flipped, not if it’s reasonable to require heels, but ‘how dare you require something that is actually just more unsafe and bad for the body.’

    2. Michelle*

      Same here. I have extremely sensitive skin and tried all the make-up, including the high end expensive brands and my skin just says no. I tried high heels a couple of times and they make my lower back and knees hurt.

      This sounds like my version of office hell.

  3. JokeyJules*

    I’m wondering how much this particular position at this particular company affects the sister… And if this will be even remotely close to the industry norm for her moving forward.

    This would definitely be a deal breaker for me, personally, as a job and career if that’s the norm

  4. Allison*

    That is sexist and gross. I know it’s not nice to assume bad intent, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this office is trying to re-create the “good old days” of sexy, perfectly coiffed and made-up office secretaries for the important men to look at.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      It said it wasn’t customer-facing though. So it sounds like it’s more of a personally held belief by someone there. Or, perhaps this is one of those high-fashion type places?

        1. pleaset*

          Yeah. This is nasty.

          The comments about makeup being expensive, potentially unhealthy, causing allergies, etc. are good points. But the sexism is the worst part – that women have to look a certain way for the men. That’s what’s fundamentally wrong here.

      1. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

        @MissDisplaced I share an elevator bank with the corporate HQ for a well known legacy cosmetics brand, and while they all look insanely polished compared to folks at my company (*we wear clothes!), there still seems to be a wide allowance in their dress code that accommodates regular humans to a point. A lot of folks I know working in big fashion brands or fashion PR in NYC are wearing rothys or slip-ons on their feet, and jumpsuits or a blazer + jeans to work unless they have a special event or customer meetings. Maaaaybe a bold lip, but not a full face every single day unless they love makeup. *That said, they do tend to have more expensive hair and teeth than the average business professional. I think it would be rare to find this kind of makeup all-day every-day requirement outside of a cosmetics retail environment and even then there’s usually an allowance for makeup and more comfortable shoes are permitted.

        Yikes for this OP’s sister, I hope she is looking for new jobs every day and can escape whatever patriarchal nightmare is going on at this workplace. They are stealing her time and money already, quitting is the only message they’ll maybe understand. This is so not normal in 2019 and is super misogynistic.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      I had a co-worker retire about a year back, after working here for well over 35 years. She said when she was hired she had to wear short skirts. She held her hands down by her side, and said the skirt couldn’t be longer than the bottom of her fingers.

      I’m sure glad that times have changed!

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I have t-rex arms and I have never understood the ‘fingertip’ rule. I know there have been a lot of schools that use it to determine appropriate skirt length (must be longer than), but I would be ridiculously indecent if I followed it.

        1. blink14*

          I prefer the X inches above the knee rule. My high school had the finger tip length rule (couldn’t be shorter than where your fingertips hit your leg) and one of my classmates was always getting in trouble for wearing short skirts, but they technically fit in the finger tip length rule.

          1. Nobby Nobbs*

            I hated the x inches above the knee rule in middle school. I was tall enough that it took serious effort to find shorts I could wear. (It wasn’t theoretical, either. One science teacher had a ruler.)

            1. RJ*

              Did you also need to carry a certificate providing proof of species?

              (In case you’ve never read the Discworld books, I promise I’m not being mean… just appreciating Corporal Nobbs’ username!)

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          Oh, her arms weren’t particularly long either. And notice that I said the skirt had to be “shorter” not ‘longer” than her fingertips. She definitely started as eye-candy for her co-workers. Joke’s on them – she was smart and competent too!

        3. De-Archivist*

          Same here, Detective. I’ve got shorter arms and a very long torso. I just stood up. A skirt longer than my fingertips would cover my rear but would absolutely be inappropriate for any job that wasn’t an owl- or mountain-themed restaurant.

      2. Sharrbe*

        Skirts couldn’t be LONGER than the bottom of the fingers? Oh my. I just. No. And who exactly was the person in the office who kept tabs on that?

    3. pancakes*

      It isn’t an assumption—their business practices & the manager’s views make it abundantly clear that they’re deeply committed to perpetuating regressive gender politics. It’s perfectly fair and sensible to form an opinion about a company’s intentions based on how it operates and who it puts in charge. An assumption is a belief or feeling that lacks proof. There’s no lack of proof here.

  5. Murphy*

    This headline alone filled me with rage. HELL NO.

    I like wearing makeup, but I’d be pissed as hell if anyone required me to do so on a daily basis.

    1. Anonny for Now*

      Yeah, as someone who loves make up and loves trying out new skin care stuff, and probably wears the most amount (still appropriate amount) in my office, this is a big NO from me. Yes, you need to appear well groomed for work, but make up is not an essential part of that! And women must wear heels??? Listen, I’m wearing stilettos right now, please point me in the direction of the person who decided this was law and I’m happy to throw one (or both! kinda sad I’m not wearing flats right now)

      1. The Original K.*

        Exactly! I wear makeup to work but I do so because I choose to. I also wear flats sometimes (though I’m in knee-high boots with 3″ heels right now) because wearing heels all day every day is very bad for your feet ESPECIALLY if you’re on your feet all day. I’m seething over this!

    2. SansaStark*

      Completely agree. You’ll take my makeup out of my cold dead hands, but I’d fight like hell if anyone decided that it was a necessary component of my job! Also…how closely are they inspecting women’s faces if they can see that something is SMUDGED?

      1. [insert witty username here]*

        SAME. I ADORE makeup but probably only wear it about half the time. I might go in to work one day “full beat” and completely barefaced the next day and no one says one word (well, some of my work-friends might compliment my makeup because they know I enjoy it, but that’s about it. I never get the “you look tired!” comments when I don’t wear makeup).

        But if anyone FORCED me to wear makeup every day?? NOPE. Not happening.

      2. Klew*

        I can’t keep lipstick on for longer than 15 minutes. (I guess I eat it off or something) Even stains and “long wear” doesn’t last as long as they should. I can’t imagine the trouble I would get in for not having perfect lips each minute of the day.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I have this problem with mascara. I think my eyelashes just don’t like it. Maybelline Great Lash is the only thing that works, and I’ve got WAY too much to do in a given day to see if my makeup is still picture perfect.

        2. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

          All makeup fades really quickly on my face. Under these rules, I’d be spending much more time reapplying makeup than actually working!

          1. Jadelyn*

            At least at this workplace someone spending half an hour putting on a full face in the bathroom should be able to claim it as working time, since it’s a requirement for their job.

    3. Susie Q*

      Agreed. And I’ve spent way too much money at Sephora. Even the high end expensive makeup doesn’t always last all day.

    4. Emily K*

      Yep, I wear contacts and light makeup 90% of the time I go into the office, but I reserve the right to show up bare-faced and in glasses if I was running late that morning and felt other things were a higher priority than making time for makeup.

    5. Karen from Finance*

      I love makeup so much I started taking makup classes as a hobby, and done it a couple times as a sidegig.

      If someone tried to pull this somewhere that I worked sh*t would go down.

      I think the first thing I’d do is threaten to call the media, because I know at least a few outlets in my city that would be very interested in covering a case of such blatant sexism.

    6. Eirene*

      I wear makeup to work on a daily basis, and by far I usually have the most on (though it’s small potatoes compared with what you see on Instagram and the like). I honestly have never taken notice of whether another woman is wearing makeup or not beyond it simply registering in my field of vision as I speak to her, but what I have generally seen is minimal or no makeup on most women here. I would be absolutely livid if my company started forcing it. Makeup has nothing to do with job performance!

    7. Allison*

      I like makeup too. I take my time to apply BB cream, lipstick, cheek stain, highlighter, eyeshadow, eyeliner, and mascara, but if I had to, and it had to be perfect, I would be furious. I generally won’t touch up my makeup during the day, I’ll fix smudges but once it wears off it’s gone.

    8. Beth*

      Same here. I like wearing makeup, I do wear it pretty much every day, I budget for it, I take time to fix it if it smears or wears off…but if anyone actually tried to tell me to do so, my first response would be “Who the heck do you think you are, trying to tell me how my face should look?” And then I’d probably immediately either stop wearing it entirely, or start wearing super over-the-top going-out makeup every day, because I can be petty like that.

      Looking professional is about things like being clean and wearing appropriate clothes for your job. It is not about looking flawlessly pretty for your coworkers to enjoy. That’s really sexist.

  6. LadyL*

    I am so enraged on behalf of your sister. I could probably write a full essay on everything that’s wrong with this, how sexist it is, how disgusting it is, how classist, how ableist, etc, but I’ll spare y’all.

    I will be thinking of your sister, and hoping that she’s able to move on to bigger and better (and less disgustingly unfair, sexist, and Twilight-Zone-esque) things in her future.

    1. LadyL*

      Also, if you could get a medical note from a dermatologist that you shouldn’t wear makeup regularly, would the company have to honor it? In addition to the more serious concerns, I’d also be upset if my company’s dress code made me break out and stress my skin, I don’t want permanent acne scars because of a crappy job.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      And creepy. Don’t forget creepy. It’s basically forcing someone’s fantasy of what women should look like on employees. And written up for smudges – focusing on that instead of the (unrelated) work is beyond creepy. Blech.

      Really, the only time this is ok is when working with models who are about to go out on the runway. And they have makeup artists to help them!

      1. Sharrbe*

        And really, if someone has time to go around and check whether employees’ makeup is on properly, then they don’t have nearly enough work to do.

  7. Labradoodle Daddy*

    Tell her to quit yesterday (and maybe give me the office address so I can mail them a literal ton of penis glitter).

    1. Jadelyn*

      I’m sure you’re talking about glitter shaped like tiny penises, but my brain conjured up the idea of one of those terrifyingly huge dildos coated with glitter and shedding it all over the boss’s desk. So, y’know. Thanks for that mental image.

      1. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

        Googling on “penis glitter” gets quite a few offers to send glitter penises to people; the one I clicked through on sends penis-shaped gummy candies, anonymously.

        What a world we live in.

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          I believe it’s so you can tell your enemies to ‘go eat a bag of d**ks’ and have a high chance that it may actually happen.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I had to duck down behind my monitor so no one would see the face I made just now. Even more than usual, I reeeeeally don’t want to have to explain to a coworker why my face is red from holding in hysterical laughter.

  8. SamuraiJac*

    Are there laws in your country against discrimination in hiring? This sounds like a hostile workplace for non-gender-conforming employees or women who don’t fit a stereotypically “feminine” profile.

  9. Mystery Bookworm*

    I also want to point out that the intern letter didn’t specify (to my memory) any requirements that would make one gender need to invest significantly more time and energy than the other. They were just protesting a fairly standard business dress code, which partially informs the backlash.

    This is very different in that regard. Your sister isn’t requesting to wear casual shoes, she’s just requesting flats!

    1. Doubleblankie*

      Yes, exactly. And she might not currently have a medical condition which requires her to do so, but walking around in heels all day could be damaging the future health of her feet. Don’t think this job sounds worth it.

      1. Kuododi*

        Absolutely!!! Back at the beginning of recorded history when I worked as an inpatient counselor on a psych unit at one of our local hospital. I would pick up extra shifts as a nurses aide on the physical rehab unit. On the rehab unit there would regularly be older ladies who wore high heels for most of their adult lives. What happened was their Achilles tendons became permanently damaged. Bc of that, these ladies couldn’t wear flat shoes/slippers without extreme pain. They found it necessary to wear heels all the time….even on the unit with their “oh so fashionable” hospital gowns. ;) Needless to say, the last time I wore heels was on my wedding day 25 years ago! Heels are a recipe for disaster!!! Have a great day!

        1. Carolyn Keene*

          Hell, I didn’t even wear heels for my wedding! My mother was Not Pleased and pressured me to reconsider but I pointed out that 1) my dress hid my shoes pretty comepletely, 2) the wedding was in our backyard, so heels would sink the grass, 3) I had no idea how to walk in heels, so would look ridiculous at a time all eyes were on me, 4) I’m six feet tall and already a smidge taller than the groom, 5) I was the EFFING BRIDE and could choose my own damn shoes! (I wore a pair of actual white ballet slippers, from the dance store and they were beautiful).

    2. Alton*

      Yep, it was a very different situation. Also, most reasonable professional dress codes can be adapted to most people’s needs. For example, there are professional shoes that are comfortable without looking overly casual.

  10. Bilateralrope*

    I wonder how big a pr problem the employer will have if one of the women goes to the media after being fired for refusing to wear makeup that they cant afford.

    1. fposte*

      Probably not much of one. People get fired for not being able to afford what their jobs demand fairly frequently.

      1. LadyL*

        YUP. And usually the collective response is “well they need to pay their dues!” a phrase that I would not miss a bit if everyone stopped saying it.

        1. General Ginger*

          I hate. HATE “they need to pay their dues” applied like this. “Paying dues” as in, starting at entry level? Fine. “Paying dues” as in “you should suffer, because when I was in your position I (possibly) did” needs to stop.

          1. Lady Phoenix*

            “Those uppity young wimenz don’t realize I had to sleep with dozens of directors since I was 8 to get this role. They can handle some manhandling.”
            -Worthless Old Lady

            1. Anonymous Engineer*

              Yep. Their frustration and anger at how they were treated early in their career is completely justified. But it needs to be directed towards the people and systems that caused that treatment, not the fellow women coming up behind them. That helps nobody!

        2. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

          Which sounds like a thing in this case with the older women wanting the younger ones to quit complaining and get with the program.

          1. Ashley*

            The age gap does give seconds thoughts to the group push back. If the group is mainly 20 somethings they may unfairly be taken less seriously then if they are able to get a variety of ages to join the cause.

            1. Random Obsessions*

              It will also help them to get a variety of genders to join the cause. LW mentioned that men in the office were uncomfortable with women having to put so much effort in their appearance when they don’t have to.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Ooh, I like that response. Keeping that tucked away for future use.

            “I know we treat you like absolute dirt, but you just gotta pay your dues!”
            “Okay, fair enough I guess, but I’m just saying that if I have to pay dues, they’re going to be union dues.”

        3. Lucille2*

          Paying one’s dues is more like a person just starting out with very little experience needs to get some experience under their belt. It’s not an excuse to be abusive to unskilled or inexperienced employees. I’ve caught myself saying those words, but in the context of a new college grad thinking they should skip past the entry level phase because they have skills.

      2. Parenthetically*

        I was listening yesterday to a recent episode of The 1A lauding the clarification of NY’s antidiscrimination law to explicitly include hairstyles associated with black folks (i.e., employers may not write appearance policies that discriminate against black people by ruling out historically-black hairstyles like locs, afros, braids, etc.) and I was disgusted by the number of white folks calling in to say “if you don’t want to obey the dress code, find a different job, you freeloader, I’m not obligated to employ you if I don’t want to, what are you gonna do, force me to have employees with purple and green hair or whatever?”

        It’s such a common mindset. Yay capitalism.

        1. Liza Not Lisa*

          Honestly why would they care if someone had purple hair either? It has no bearing on whether they’re good at their job.

          (Not comparing that to discrimination black people face for their hair, but it’s a crap argument on their part)

      3. caryatis*

        …What are you talking about? I’ve never had a job demand that I buy anything except 1) basic work clothes, and 2) transportation to get to work. Both easily affordable even on minimum wage if you spend wisely and shop the thrift store.

        1. fposte*

          It’s pretty common for jobs to require expenditures, both direct–note the person just on yesterday’s weekend thread who had to buy a uniform and pay for food handler’s training–and indirect, as with the discussion of African American hair upthread. Also see past posts about employees who are expected to float business expenses like travel on their credit cards.

        2. Parenthetically*

          Have you never worked in retail? Retail clothing stores that require employees to wear only TheirStore brand items if a logo is visible are many, and retail stores of all kinds that require or forbid specific styles or accessories, purchased at the employee’s expense, are legion. A relative of mine who worked at The Gap had a dress code outlining the exact size and material of hoop earrings that were allowed, placement and variety of facial piercings (a discreet, silver nose stud was fine; eyebrow piercings were not), type and color of belt, type of shoelaces, acceptable length of new growth if hair was colored, allowable hair colors, and on and on ad infinitum. If an employee had a pierced nose but no silver studs, she’d have to buy them on her own dime. If she had a braided belt and a fabric belt and a leather belt with a gold buckle, but no leather belt with a silver buckle, she’d have to buy a new one. Even if you allow for thrift-store shopping, if she usually got her hair colored every three months but had fast-growing hair, she might have to double her spending on $$$ salon hair color.

          1. J.E.*

            Yes, I’ve heard of those clothing stores that make their employees only wear clothes sold in that store while they are working. In a sense it’s modeling the merchandise while on the job. The thing with making that a policy is there will be some employees who “borrow” items and wear them with the tags on then after closing, take them off and put them back on the rack. The aesthetic of the company can also dictate things like hair colors, tattoos and piercings. A more preppy company may not want employees to have hair colors like pink or blue or lots of visible tattoos, but some place like Hot Topic? The more the better. It’s about having the people working in the store mirroring the customer base.

            1. Parenthetically*

              That’s not at all the point I was making. I was saying, contrary to caryatis, that many employers’ demands ARE a financial burden on their employees.

            2. LondonBridges*

              If I did what you suggest and “borrowed” items and put them back after a shift at the store I worked, I would have been fired. Most retail stores don’t appreciate being used as a free rental closet. We had a lot of very explicit rules about how we could purchase clothes from the store, which included the rule that you could not wear unpurchased clothing during a shift. We did have a mandatory try on day once, when we got a bunch of new styles of jeans in and corporate wanted every associate to know the exact differences between styles and fits, and we were heavily encouraged to purchase a pair or two after work, but not during.

        3. Jadelyn*

          “shop the thrift store”, says someone who I’m guessing is probably not plus sized? Because I do go thrifting semi-regularly, and almost NEVER see (1) professional clothing (2) in good enough condition to wear to work (3) in my size. Luckily I’ve got a decent professional wardrobe these days, and my job is casual in dress anyway, but it’s…really not so simple as “go thrifting!” for a lot of people.

          And re transportation, if your job just requires that you be able to get to work, that’s usually affordable-ish depending on your public transit options: but if an employer requires you to have your own car to use for work purposes, that’s not particularly affordable for most folks.

          1. Carolyn Keene*

            And I’m a six foot tall plus sized woman — it’s hard enough finding clothes that fit in stores! There are *no* thrift finds in my size, because when women MY size find clothes that fit, we wear them until they are DEAD.

    2. Indie*

      The London receptionist and Canadian waitress who made a fuss about high heel wearing got a decent level of exposure.

  11. HazStrange*

    This is insane, what a nonsense.

    What happens if a man starts showing up in Make Up? Would he be written up?

    1. Charlotte Collins.*

      I was wondering the same thing!

      Also, it does sound like the grooming standards are much higher for women than men based on this letter.

      A few months ago, I found out that the CEO as my oldjob said he thought all women should wear “pumps and pearls.” The (super-competent and way too good for that company) compliance officer left soon after. (Since he also didn’t listen to her advice that as a government contractor, it really didn’t look good for him to keep hiring his friends for executive positions. But that comment also rankled her.)

  12. LQ*

    Is this policy only for people who report to this specific manager? Or the entire company?

    I’m not entirely sure this changes much but I think it does. If there are other business areas that don’t have this requirement then it seems like they should have more solid footing to push back, bring in a grandboss maybe? If this manager is out for the week on vacation do other people hold that same level of write up for smudges (seriously?!)?

    1. Totally Minnie*

      If it’s just a sister’s manager policy and not a company wide policy, would HR (if it exists) be a reasonable next step?

    2. pancakes*

      My thinking is that any sort of grandboss who allows this particular nonsense to happen—whether because they share the manager’s views or because they’re too detached from operations to know this is happening—is a lost cause. Publicizing the matter seems like better strategy to me. Social media, regular media — turn on the bright lights and give the public a chance to see these cockroaches.

  13. jiminy_cricket*

    This made me see a little red and I often enjoy wearing make-up. Sending good vibes to your sister that there is a quick resolution – personally I am hoping for a new, higher-paying position!

    1. booooooop*

      “Primal scream” is my new favourite expression to convey this feeling. Thank you. And I feel the same.

  14. VictorianCowgirl*

    This is abhorrent. It showcases how women can be complicit in gender discrimination against other women.

    If your sister has health insurance and can see her doctor for a note for foot pain, that might be helpful. If not, there may be sliding scale fee clinics in the area that can see her? Are there enough employees to qualify for ADA compliance? You can do permanent foot damage quite easily and quickly with heels.

    I agree with Alison that if at ALL possible, she is better off almost anywhere else. This can’t be a great company culture otherwise to sit in all day.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Not US, so not ADA — we don’t even know if it’s the EU which has equivalent employee disability protections.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Yeah I think the cultural context affects just how egregiously this workplace would be viewed among its peers and what kind of support the OP’s sister can expect if she pushes back on this. Not that this is normal and acceptable. It’s not. But raising hell over this in Canada looks different than it might in, say, the Ukraine or even Australia.*

        *My experience of Australia is 20 years out of date, and I know it’s changed immensely since then. That said, my experience at that time was much more focused on how I was and should be performing femininity than it was in my home city in the US.

        1. JD S*

          This would be a massive no in Australia. There’s been a few cases over the years that have found dress codes like in the op breech anti-discrimination laws.

          1. EM*

            Also, Australia has totally different unfair dismissal laws than the US. LW, if you are in Australia please go abd see your union or, if you don’t have one, there should be a free community legal centre that provides some advice.

    2. Lucille2*

      “It showcases how women can be complicit in gender discrimination against other women.”
      This is the brand of sexism that bothers me more than anything.

      1. Blimey!*

        My mother doesn’t swear often, but when she does, it’s probably about stuff like this. Like the time she was reading a newspaper and suddenly dropped some colourful language. There was an article/ad about some women’s conference, about how women can get ahead in the workplace etc. And they had invited some speakers to talk about… hair and makeup. She was seriously pissed off. Who wouldn’t be

  15. Ella Vader*

    To quote Howard Wolowitz: Hellz naw!

    I hope your sister starts looking for a new job rather than putting up with this place. As nuts as where I currently work has been, it’s not this crazy.

  16. Bend & Snap*


    I worked a summer job in college as a receptionist and we were required to wear makeup, but this was small city Texas in the 90s. And I love makeup so I didn’t mind. My counterpart did mind a LOT and I don’t blame her.

    Honestly in the LW’s sister’s shoes, I’d find something new. The fact that the policy exists and is enforced is actually more problematic than what it says.

    1. Sally*

      I agree. This post reminded me of a job I had in the late ’90s. We were client facing, so we all wore nice work clothes, including nice slacks or dresses or skirts for the women. Then one day, one of the male senior managers mentioned that there was a dress code that said women had to wear skirts or dresses, pantyhose, etc. Everyone was very surprised, and many (including me) were outraged that we had this sexist policy. There were several women in management at that time, and they were able to get the policy removed. It didn’t hurt that almost all of the employees were vocally NOT HAPPY about the policy. I wasn’t going to change what I wore to work, and I figured they weren’t going to be so stupid as to punish or fire women for wearing pants. I may have done this in any case, but I had the privilege of being fairly certain I could find another job within a reasonable amount of time, and my then-partner could have supported both of us, if necessary. Not everyone has this luxury.

      1. Charlotte Collins.*

        When I was in high school, I worked in a library. The library board decided we needed a dress code. Pages (who were all teens who made minimum wage) would no longer be allowed to wear jeans. (For those who think libraries are all clean and nice, keep in mind that the page work is much like working stock in a store, except with books, which are often very dusty, and don’t get me started on the newspaper/magazine room.) It was annoying, but we were also told that the staff pushed back when they wanted all the girls to wear skirts or dresses. Which is exactly what you want to wear when you’re climbing ladders to put books away or get them down for a patron. (Will it surprise you to know there are creepy guys who hang out places like that to try to bother the teens working there?) Luckily, the circulation staff was very protective of us and put the kibosh on that for that reason.

        The children’s area pages got to keep wearing jeans, because. Well, kids…

  17. JKP*

    Since she has sensitive skin, what would happen if she asked her doctor for a note medically excusing her from wearing makeup everyday? I’m not sure what medical accommodations employers in your country have to make, but that might be one way she could get out of this. It sounds like part of the problem with the makeup is that she’s struggling to keep her skin healthy while wearing it, which should be a medical accommodation.

    1. fposte*

      A doctor’s note has no force in law on its own. However, it can sometimes be enough to cow people anyway. It’s the ADA that has legal weight, and it’s not clear to me that sensitive skin would be covered by it.

      1. fposte*

        Oh, sheesh, fposte. I missed the explicit statement that this isn’t in the U.S., which means the ADA is completely irrelevant. Sorry!

      2. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

        ADA has no weight in this situation, unfortunately, since the LW isn’t in the US and her country may not have similar legislation.

    2. Holly*

      It’s pretty doubtful sensitive skin would be considered a disability under the ADA (an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities)

      1. Michaela Westen*

        But in this (so egregious) case, if OP’s country has a similar law, sensitive skin would limit her ability to work for this employer, which is a major life activity.

  18. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    This is not even close to being okay. I love my heels, but if I were on my feet all day, I would be wearing flats. And I rarely wear makeup, i.e. never to work. I realize jobs don’t grow on trees, but it doesn’t sound like it’s providing much benefit, unless she’s gaining experience to further her career in a very niche type position. I’d suggest starting to search for a new job. It doesn’t sound like a place where a junior employee would have much standing to affect significant change.

    1. Sans*

      I can’t wear heels, my knees are crap. And even when I did occasionally wear heels (decades ago) it was never more than an inch. Fortunately I’d never even be hired at a job like that because I go to interviews with minimal makeup and flat shoes. (And yet I get hired – imagine that!)

  19. MissDisplaced*

    Eww! Ick! Yes, I would very much have a problem with this dress code.
    It’s one thing to say that there is a high standard of business attire, such as business suits, hose, professional closed toe footwear, sleeves, and yes maybe even some level of basic makeup to look polished. But to write up people for minor infractions of this is batshit crazy. I mean, even if heels are “required” (an I’m never a fan of that) one should be able to change into flats to do work that requires one to be on their feet or run errands without getting written up for it. And, makeup smudges! Mine seldom lasts until 3pm, and no I don’t reapply it constantly.

    This is neither practical nor equitable to maintain.

  20. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

    Have there ever been women at this company who have had issues with their feet and cannot physically wear heels? How have others treated them?

  21. Three Flowers*

    High holy hell. My jaw will be hanging open for the rest of the day.

    Please tell us a company could get their a** sued off in your country for firing a woman under a three strikes, you’re out policy for *smudged makeup*.

    1. Lulu*


      I am guessing the employee in question is not in a place in her career or financially to do this, but I wish someone there would let herself get the strikes and get fired on purpose, and then sue their asses off for wrongful termination and gender discrimination. This makes me get-revenge levels of mad.

    2. Ms Cappuccino*

      In the UK you can also call ACAS. It’s free.
      A UK company has been penalised a few years ago for forcing female employees to wear high heels so there is hope.

  22. Akcipitrokulo*

    You mentioned not in US – if in UK, and in a union, call your rep.

    If not in a union – join one! This is exactly the type of issue at which they can excel. And if worst comes to worst, can provide legal assistance.

    (*NOTE* – union assistance can only be given for a disciplinary issue which starts *after* you have joined. If you get a warning, and then join up, they aren’t allowed to help in that matter.)

    1. nnn*

      How do you join a union?

      I ask because every union I’m familiar with has been associated with a workplace. You start working at a unionized workplace, you’re in the union.

      If you’re in a non-unionized workplace, how do you find a union that’s just…out there somewhere, ready to let you join?

      1. Indie*

        In the UK you are free to join the union of your choice and can do that online. So for example, I work in education and I belong to one of the big three national education unions, the NUT, (national union of teachers). When I was a journalist I belonged to the only journalistic union there is, the NUJ. I don’t move unions if I move workplaces I just move chapels and get a new ‘father/mother of the chapel’ as my point of contact.

        There are workplaces which don’t recognise unions but they aren’t allowed to penalise you for membership. You can get free legal advice for paying dues etc.

        The only real barrier to joining a union is trying to join one which isn’t your profession. However the GMB union is a general one which anyone cam belong to.

        1. tinycat*

          Yeah, there are several UK unions that will accept most people in most jobs – Unite is another. You just go to the website, pay the fee, you’re a member. That’s it.

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        Not in UK. They are independent of workplace.

        The idea of having them linked is more than a bit disturbing to me to be honest!

        If there are enough members in a company they can force certain recognitions, but regardless of thay, you can join whatever union you like. If you’re the only member at your company, you can tell them if you’re in a union or keep it private (and union membership is covered by equality legislation when it cones to discrimination). You still get legal advice and representaion if needed, representatives at any disciplinary, helplines to ask “can they do this?” and varying other services like deals on financial services.

        If you don’t know who to go with, you’d start at www (dot) tuc (dot) org (dot) uk/find-union-you

        I’m in Unite which is the kind of catch-all … most IT union members head that way.

      3. Lora*

        In the US? It’s complicated. There are actually unions that are just somewhere waiting for members – the big generic ones like Teamsters. Basically, you and as many of your colleagues as you can gather approach a union that your field most closely resembles; it may be part of a larger union that the field doesn’t resemble, but that’s okay. You talk to the union outreach people about holding an election to have a union or not, and the union will give you some advice if there’s not much interest or decide to hand out cards and talk to people on their own or whatever.

        Then you prepare to get fired or suffer as many months of absolute harassment from company management as you can possibly stand (I am not exaggerating about this in the least, they often hire “security” companies whose job is literally harassing employees at work and at home), until an election is held and certified by the NLRB. After that, you start drawing up contract and holding contract negotiations, which takes another year or three. The unions often have boilerplate contracts, but you have to actually read them carefully as there will be things in there that people don’t like, or conceding a lot to management before you’ve even sat down at the negotiating table, or outright inconsistencies that you have to fix. Once the contract is approved, you’re officially a union member, and probably so burned out on humanity that you hate everyone on earth.

      4. No Green No Haze*

        If you’re in the US, sort of, yeah. You can reach out to some of the major unions who run unionization campaigns for industries you might not even consider them related to — for instance, since 2016, much of the unionization of adjunct faculty has been supported by the UAW (United Auto Workers) and the SEIU (Service Employees International Union), as well as unions one might consider more likely to have a stake in their unionization like the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) and the National Education Association.

        The USW (United Steelworkers) have an Adjunct Faculty Assiocation wing that focuses on university faculty.

        American digital journalists have begun unionizing under two different unions who are sort of competing for their membership, if you will: the WGAE (Writers Guild of America East) and the NewsGuild.

        1. curly sue*

          In Canada, a lot of us get folded into CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), including adjunct professors and nurses.

    2. WellRed*

      Are there actual unions, though, for office jobs? In the US, it’s usually more specific, like teachers, iron workers, electric workers.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Yes. Unite, Unison (more for public services including admin) and GMB are the ones that spring to mind.

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        There are also specific unions… like Indie mentioned, teachers in England and Wales mostly join NUT, but also have NASUWT and a couple of others. In Scotland biggest teaching union is the EIS (Educational Institute of Scotland) but you can also join NUT or PAT or others. (Can’t recall what PAT stood for but they don’t strike which caused a bit of tension betwwen EIS and PAT colleagues at times in 80s!)

        Unison is all public services. RMT is transport. NUM is miners.

        So there are specifics and generics. It’s up to you which (if any) you join.

        (But join one. Seriously. It’s like wearing a seatbelt in a car… hope you don’t need it, but buckle up just in case!)

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          D’oh! And USDAW!

          I did a quick search on TUC’s find a union tool and clerical workers are best suited to GMB or USDAW.

      3. Akcipitrokulo*

        (Some unions restrict membership for specialised areas… like you have to be a teacher to join the EIS.)

      4. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

        SEIU and the UAW both organize workers in fields that aren’t obvious from their names; I think some clerical workers are organized by the UAW.

        And the IWW, by policy, is open to everyone, regardless of what work they do or where they work. (SEIU and UAW can probably offer you more support.)

        This is not a complete list, just what occurs to me offhand.

        1. Future Homesteader*

          Former UAW member here who worked at a large private university (all non-custodial support staff at the university were represented by them). It was…interesting.

    3. Indie*

      The great thing about Unions, is that if a company is doing something-legal-or-unenforceable-but-side-eye-worthy, then the national rep can denounce the firm to the press, rather than it being individual named employees. So usually that just needs to be hinted at as a possibility ;)

  23. Rebecca*

    I just read this, I can’t even – I imagine these people would burst into flames if they saw me in my office, in my non customer facing role, in jeans, long sleeve normal shirt, hiking shoes, and no makeup. But you know what? I do a good job. I get my work done. All my parts are covered with clothing. Really, past that, unless I’m a makeup model, why is this even a thing?

    Again, I wish I knew who this ridiculous employer was so I could boycott them on the off chance I was purchasing something that supported them in some way.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      The only accessory my Fortune100 company requires is our company badge. Beyond that, it’s corporate casual unless you meet with customers & vendors–and that goes for the execs upstairs.
      My standard is jeans, knit shirt, Merrell urban mocs, no makeup… with a recent upgrade in scarf and sweater because my new desk is close enough to the front lobby that I may occasionally be visible to customers.

      No makeup for me thanks – too many allergies.

      1. Rebecca*

        I just have to be covered and no profanity laced slogans. And if we do have visitors, we upgrade to business casual, so I’m happy enough to wear the suit and dress shoes for the day. But we have no makeup, nail polish, hair styling rules at all. There’s no business reason for it. The OP’s sister’s situation sounds like an office right out of Mad Men.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I only watched the first 2 1/2 seasons, but even Mad Men didn’t require high heels or excessive makeup. They probably had unwritten rules that women had to wear dresses and look pretty.
          What would Peggy Olson do at OP’s sister’s employer? Maybe make a well-reasoned case for wearing flats and allowing employees to choose their level of makeup?

  24. General Ginger*

    This, unfortunately, would be completely unsurprising for an office in my birth country/city, for one.

    1. General Ginger*

      Still absolutely awful, and hopefully not actually happening there, but I can honestly imagine it happening there, easy.

    2. EtherIther*

      I don’t agree with this at all, but I do recall a friend of mine talking about how in the country she was from, women wore high heels nearly everywhere… all the time. So I’d be curious what country the letter writer is from, because that could make a huge difference in how unusual this is. It still sucks, of course.

      1. General Ginger*

        Yeah, I’m also very curious, because while it’s profoundly, disgustingly awful, I can see it being maybe not the norm, but at least a very real possibility of office culture in some places.

        1. EtherIther*

          Yeah, I think to a lot of us (who seem to be Americans) it’s so far outside the norm and disgustingly awful, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is weird but that THAT far outside the norm in some places. Another friend of mine talked about how in her country it’s not unusual for even subordinates to make sexist comments and comments on women’s appearances. Neither friend has described anything like this particular story, but it seems plausible that it’s an extension of sexism and terrible management.

          Gross, either way… I barely wear makeup, I can’t imagine working at this place!

  25. J.E.*

    What if it was against OP’s sister’s religious practice to wear makeup? I know some women who follow religious practices where they don’t wear any or very minimal makeup. If that still would get someone in trouble or not hired because they couldn’t comply, then the company would be guilty of discrimination. Based on the low pay, it doesn’t sound worth it to continue working there, especially if the person is struggling so much financially. There are better paying jobs out there that don’t have insane policies like this. I too would like to see someone name this company in the media.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      This is my question. People who follow plain dress or conservative religions must not get through a hell of a lot of interviews. Interesting to review the staff at this place with that in mind.

    2. ElspethGC*

      Plenty of observant Sikh women don’t pluck or shape their eyebrows. If they would be written up for not having ‘groomed’ brows, it’s clearly religious discrimination. Equally, if the workplace required nail polish and the women were Muslim.

        1. ElspethGC*

          Not against nail polish specifically, but hands and arms have to be washed thoroughly before every prayer, and wearing nail polish prevents the water touching that part of your body so makes the purification and therefore the prayers invalid. They do make breathable nail polish these days, though.

          (Source: a Muslim friend, who often joked that you can always tell when a Muslim woman is on her period because she doesn’t have to pray during that time so she gets to wear nail polish. Also googled to confirm, and it’s accurate.)

          1. curly sue*

            You can get halal nail polish now – as of about two years ago! A friend of mine was very excited when it came out. It’s permeable, so doesn’t violate the rule about nails being immersed in water.

      1. Jaid*

        There are halal nail polishes. To be halal, they need to be made without animal products or alcohol, and water permeable so during the cleansing before prayers or handling the Quran, the nails can be considered cleansed.

    3. Parenthetically*

      Seriously! I personally know women who don’t wear makeup for religious reasons, and I know there are sects and even whole religions that discourage, if not outright forbid, makeup.

    4. Batman*

      It’s ALREADY discrimination based on sex*. The hypothetical religious scenario doesn’t matter.

      *In the US it is, anyway.

      1. J.E.*

        Yeah, I’m not sure what country OP is in since it wasn’t mentioned. I thought if discrimination based on sex wouldn’t hold up there, maybe religious discrimination would.

  26. FaintlyMacabre*

    When was your sister first aware of the makeup/heels requirement? I wouldn’t apply if it were listed in the job posting. If this was sprung on me after I’d taken the job, I would be livid.

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      This – Or how long has the practice been in place? If I were some of the more senior staffers and this came with a new boss, I’d be pretty PO’d about a new directive like this.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is what I was wondering. Was the dress code disclosed before she accepted the position?

    3. Tin Cormorant*

      If I accepted a job offer and then they told me about this dress code, I’d laugh in their faces and totally ignore this “requirement”.

  27. Watry*

    This is disgusting. My organization (local government) requires a uniform or standard business casual. I even AM customer facing and I’m sitting here right now with a very obvious exploded zit I’m afraid to mess with. Nobody gives two craps what I look like otherwise as long as I’m clean, moderately put together, and not smelly.

    Push back as a group. Sister may not have the political capital to spend on her own, but smudged makeup is not insubordination, it’s life, and this needs to change.

  28. Jenn G*

    I worked under similar circumstances for a while, until HR got through to management. (We were required to wear makeup, including and especially nail polish, with little nail polish inspections. I was not in a client-facing role except very rarely and with notice in time to put on nail polish.) Does your sister’s organization have a strong HR department? She could flag this under the concern tone like “I’m concerned this might open us to a discrimination lawsuit.”

    That said, once this is an attitude, it almost doesn’t matter because the promotions, etc. will probably go to the people who conform best to the boss’s view on grooming. In my case I chose to conform and continue to work there for the short term, but in the long term it just really was not a good match.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      The Nail Polish Police… I can’t even imagine.

      I like and wear makeup to work. I like nail polish… on my toes in summer. But I never wear lipstick or fingernail polish because it just comes right off. I would be super pissed off to get written up for that, because it would be constant. And heels? Used to love them, but simply cannot wear anymore without getting a numb foot & leg and backache. No, no I won’t do. I’d be fired I guess. These kinds of rules are just stupid nowadays.

      1. UKDancer*

        Nail polish inspections? What a stupid idea. I’d fail categorically. I like nail polish it just doesn’t like me. I always find it flakes off and takes my nails with it and makes them flake. So I only paint them for special occasion. In my view it’s fine for the nails to be natural as long as they’re kept clean.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      So if they’re requiring nail polish, I assume they’ll give me the time and money to get a professional manicure every second day?
      That’s how fast polish comes off my nails.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Right? I love getting my nails done, but that costs $25-30 a pop and has to be done pretty frequently, depending on what kind of mani you get. Trying to paint them myself, at home, just results in my desk and hands looking like a crime scene where an alien with purple or blue blood just got murdered. (Seriously, I’m so bad at painting my nails it’s ridiculous, which is why I’ve given up on it as something I do at home. Professional manis or bare nails for me.)

  29. Pebbles*

    I would never have accepted a position in an office with this requirement. But since that ship has sailed…

    Like Alison said, this is sexist and gross and the office should be nuked from orbit. Your sister should band with the other women to try and change this, but since this seems to be the “culture”, I’m not optimistic that this will work. Since it sounds like her manager is on the opposite side and wants women to “present properly(!?)”, she should be job searching today for a more sane work place.

    1. Hold My Cosmo*

      I do wonder whether this was brought up in the interview(s), onboarding, etc. Did sis just show up to an office that looked like a Vogue shoot, and her new boss sidled up with “Oh, bee tee dubs, you gotta do a full face of product every day, okay, bye!”

  30. Ginger*

    I kind of wonder what country this is. There are a bunch that these expectations are the norm and pushing back would not end well.

  31. Minocho*

    I almost never wear any makeup. My computer screen doesn’t seem to mind.

    I refused a job over insisting on business professional dress in a position where I could expect to be climbing under desks dealing with wiring or installing computers.

  32. Namast'ay in Bed*

    This is more banana-crackers than a monkey-ritz convention hall.

    My only advice other than what Allison said is to try waterproof make up and/or a setting spray to save on retouching time. She shouldn’t have to do this at all, but this might help make the time she has to spend under their insane rules a little easier on her.

    I really really really want to emphasize that I hate offering this advice and she should absolutely not have to do this at all, but finding a new job or getting a change in policy can take a while and in the meantime she still has to have heavy and perfect makeup, so a setting spray (which is actually a relatively inexpensive product) is a great way to allow her to spend less time and worry on her makeup. Granted, it is yet another expense she has to incur at the behest of an unreasonable policy, but if it means she won’t have to reapply makeup throughout the day, she can make the existing products she was forced to buy last longer.

    This workplace suuuuuuuucks. I hope she can get out soon.

    1. SansaStark*

      Hard agree on a setting spray maybe being worth the investment to make her life easier during this banana-crackers time. You can also get away with less expensive makeup if you have a good spray and/or good primers. BUT! You shouldn’t have to do this at all. Ever. For any reason other than your own enjoyment.

    2. [insert witty username here]*

      Agree on both counts – that this is ridiculous (love your imagery, btw) and about setting sprays.

      OP – I think all this is ridiculous and sister should either push back or leave, but if sister wants/needs to tough it out a bit longer at this job, long lasting makeup NEED NOT be expensive! Youtube and Reddit are full of suggestions for cheaper EXCELLENT and long lasting makeup, as well as just tips and tricks for making what you already have work. Again – not saying this is the best solution, but if she has to put it up with it a while longer, expensive makeup is not the only option for longevity.

      As for heels, I would start wearing an ankle brace to work and say she can’t wear heels and see how far that gets her. Ugh. I can’t imagine being FORCED to wear heels and having to be on your feet all day! I would have quit already!!

      OP – please let your sister know we’re all rooting for her!

    3. Four lights*

      + 1 for setting spray. Also starting with a primer and moisturizer. I learned to do this for my wedding makeup (done myself) and it lasted all day (with drug store makeup)

  33. Llellayena*

    I don’t even know how to apply most makeup (read: will probably be smudged upon application, not just later in the day) and sensitive skin would make this impossible daily. I also fall over in anything higher than 1.5″ (wide, stable) heels. I’d have my three write-ups in less than a week. I’m perfectly happy adjusting my wardrobe and appearance to “reasonably fashionable” but not “runway model,” thanks.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      My neighbor is mostly retired now, and when she worked, she usually worked from home. But when her boss was in town and they went to a client site, she was required to wear heals. I wouldn’t even apply for a job there, because I’d fall over and hurt myself the first day.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Heels are one of those things that only enhances someone’s appearance *if* they’re comfortable in them. If you’re comfortable in heels and you know how to walk gracefully in them, wearing heels can boost your appearance a bit. But if you don’t? It just makes you look worse because now you’re tripping and stumbling and look like a klutz.

        Moving gracefully and confidently in heels is very much a learned skill. Not everyone has taken the time to learn it, or wants to learn it.

  34. beagle mama*

    I once worked at a hair salon where I was reprimanded for not wearing lipstick. I was a receptionist and while it makes sense from an industry perspective, it completely outraged me at the time. Note: I was dressed appropriately, hair done and wearing makeup, just not lipstick since it wears off in about 5 minutes after drinking anything.

    1. beagle mama*

      Oh, and if I recall correctly, their application had so many warning bells it was insane, as in asking height, weight, marital status, etc. I left those blank and was hired anyway

    2. Jadelyn*

      I adooooore lip products. Glosses, stains, lipsticks, everything. But man, they really do disappear fast, so I rarely see the point in bothering with them.

      Plus literally every single lippie I’ve ever tried makes my lips peel by lunchtime. Reapplying lipstick over peeling lips is NOT a good look.

  35. eplawyer*

    This is a combination of a manager who is stuck on one view of what professional looks like and the older women in the office wanting to bring back the “good old days” when women dressed nicely and wore hats and gloves to go out. Now I personally have tried the hats and gloves thing FOR MYSELF ONLY. I would never expect a whole office to do it.

    I think the only hope here is to find a new job.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Well, I can guaran-damn-tee you that those women never personally worked in a time when women wore hats and gloves to go out.

      Like, seriously.

      1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

        Yeah, hat and gloves died out by 1970, so the only possible women working there who had to wear them would be minimum in their mid-60s. And even then, it would have been only for the first few years of their career.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      Like makeup, hats and gloves are for those who *want* to do it and should not be forced on anyone.

      1. Charlotte Collins.*

        Except for small children in the winter… Sorry, unseasonably cold here, and I keep seeing people without their heads or hands covered. #frostbite

  36. LaDeeDa*

    A few months ago when traveling for work we had a business dinner at an upscale chain steak house. The waitresses were all wearing skin tight, SHORT black dresses, and high heels. These dresses were so tight and short that I saw many of the women carrying ONE plate or drink in one hand, and holding the hem of their dress down with the other hand.
    Our waitress delivered each plate one at a time (to hold her dress down with the other hand)- there were 8 of us, by the time she delivered one plate, took tiny little steps (either because of the tightness of dress, height of heels, or a combination of both) all the way back to the kitchen, got another plate, and came back it was about 4 minutes. It took her over 25 minutes just to deliver all of our plates. So we sat there for 25 minutes letting our food get cold until everyone had been served! Plus there were the extended wait times for drinks, steak knives, more bread…. Several people didn’t order more drinks or dessert because they didn’t want to wait or watch that poor woman hobble back and forth anymore.
    Who thought having service industry people dressed like that was a good idea? I felt so bad for those women– wearing dresses that tight and skimpy while trying to serve tables, and not to mention their poor feet.

    1. irene adler*

      I would think someone would notice that the turnover in tables was not quick and therefore they were not bringing in the money as they might if the customers were not made to wait so long for the food.

      I knew a restaurant owner who would confront customers if they left a small tip. Not to badger them, but to find out why (and presumably correct the problem). I’d be tempted to leave a paltry tip in the hopes of a manager seeking me out to ask why. Then I would explain the wait staff uniform’s issue=cold food.

      (Course then I’d want to give the waitstaff a proper tip. I don’t like shorting waitstaff for management’s flaws.)

      1. LaDeeDa*

        I keep thinking about writing a “strongly worded” letter to the corporate office and letting them know how absurd it was. It wasn’t in the US and none of us were local, so we didn’t know if it was all the restaurants or just that location.

        1. LaDeeDa*

          We left a very generous tip, I would never stiff a service industry person because management are idiots. She was lovely, and I felt so bad for her.

        2. irene adler*

          My complaint would not be taken seriously.
          Manager would just dismiss me with, “It couldn’t have been much of an issue for you since left a good tip. So you must have been satisfied with both the meal and the service.”

          1. Alianora*

            I would complain to the manager first and explain that this was an issue with the restaurant’s policy, not with the server. Then give the waitress a cash tip. They still might not take it seriously, but if they don’t I don’t think leaving a small tip would change their mind, and it would still be shitty to the waitress.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I used to frequent a restaurant where all the waitresses (and I do mean waitresses, there were very few waiters there) were all in tight, low cut, black attire.

      I later learned that the dude who owned the place was a pervert with a reputation sexual harassment. He objectified his waitresses “for the customers” because that’s what HE liked.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        Gross. EEEEEE Gross!
        This is was a chain, a corporate-owned restaurant chain that has several different chain restaurants- so, in theory, they have a legal department, an HR department…

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Point out how much money they’re losing from slowing down service. Corporations are usually focused on money.
            The waitresses could wear slightly longer and fuller skirts and flat or low-heeled dress shoes and be just as sexy, if that’s their thing. And they’d also be more comfortable, serve faster, and make more money for themselves and the restaurant.

            1. General Ginger*

              I think I’m probably too jaded, but I’m guessing the result would be “require waitresses to move faster in heels/short dresses, fire the slower ones”, not “change the dress code”.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                Then no one would last a week – they’d lose customers because they don’t have servers – in a few weeks their customers would disappear.
                If they’re too stupid to understand that, they don’t deserve to be in business.

              2. LaDeeDa*

                It wasn’t like it was only the waitress we had, I counted 12! I mean someone in management had to notice this! The waiters- and there weren’t many, were dressed in black dress pants, and white long-sleeved shirts, and of course much more comfortable black dress shoes.
                The men in our group were visibly uncomfortable and a couple made a comment later at the hotel bar about it.

                Again this is a large upscale chain- I just did a search, there are 5 locations in the city of 1 million people we were in. I did a search, there are 180 locations in the country. I will reach out to a few friends who live in that country and ask them if every location has a similar “dress code” official or not.

                1. General Ginger*

                  If you do hear back, would you please post in the Friday or weekend thread, depending on what seems more appropriate? I’m really curious if this is an overall corporate directive or just this one location y’all went to.

    3. J.E.*

      Was this in Las Vegas? It just sounds like something that would be done in Vegas, like having cocktail waitresses walking around the casinos in low cut tops with pushup bras.

  37. Earthwalker*

    This sounds like the 50s when part of a woman’s duty was to be an office decoration. If OP can convince the boss to relent on the makeup he may retaliate by nitpicking her work and passing her over for raises. Seeking a new job sounds like a good idea alongside any other effort she might make to change things.

  38. Goya de la Mancha*

    OK, I’m in the unpopular camp that most women would benefit from some form of makeup – but W.T.F…this is just banana crackers!

        1. Former Retail Manager*

          No kidding. And cost aside, the time it takes to get ready to this level every single day is astonishing. For a flawless full face, I’m looking at around an hour, not including hair. If you love doing it, go for it, but to force ladies is nuts.

          1. Jadelyn*

            That’s the reason I’ve stopped doing makeup for the most part! I used to do the fancy stuff you see on youtube tutorials, because I love color and I loved being able to decorate myself that way…but I also love sleep. In order to do a full face I’d have to get up at least 30-45 minutes earlier, and I’d rather let myself sleep a bit longer.

      1. Aurion*

        Yeah this. Makeup conceals imperfections and enhances/highlights features. But if having a flawless face was so damn important, that better be a dress code office-wide, communicated at the interview stage.

        Egads, this letter ticks me off.

        1. nonegiven*

          If it makes you break out more every day you wear it, how long before flawless will take a month off work for the skin to heal?

      2. TeapotDetective*

        This, exactly. I see much more egregious lack of attention to grooming in my male colleagues than my female ones.
        Plus, well, I came of age in the time of guyliner and tight jeans. It is a pleasing aesthetic. :3

      1. Fffa*

        Instead of benefit from you could say something like ….. would appear more conventionally attractive or polished

              1. Murphy*

                But you didn’t say “men” or “skin care/grooming” up there. You said “women” and “makeup.”

                1. Goya de la Mancha*

                  Because I was referring to the letter writer and the fact that WOMEN are required to wear a full/flawless face of MAKEUP in the office.

              2. Où est la bibliothèque?*

                Right, but by “benefit” you mean “look more attractive.” Personally, I think those two things are not at all the same.

                I think people “benefit” from being comfortable, feeling true to themselves and expressing themselves however they please without caring about conventionally attractive strangers think they are.

                Because, you know, your conventional attractiveness has nothing to do with your competence at your job or your value as a person.

      1. Goya de la Mancha*

        Personal preference. I never said that Women HAVE to wear makeup – especially full face/flawless.

        We humans, in all of our glory and flaws, ultimately gravitate those things in life that are aesthetically pleasing to us. We also create opinions based on those preferences. If you decide that not wearing makeup is for you, then you do you – but that doesn’t mean that “I” can’t think “you” might benefit from some sort of assistance in makeup department.

        1. Delphine*

          Trust me, you can get used to seeing people’s natural faces and you can convince yourself that natural faces are perfect as they are. This is about socialization, not human nature. That’s just a silly excuse.

        2. One (1) Anon*

          But that ascribes to the belief that makeup = automatically more aesthetically pleasing. Which it’s not.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            One of the reasons I never got involved in makeup is, growing up I saw several examples of women in makeup that were not aesthetically pleasing. It looked silly – so much rouge they looked like clowns – or icky – sticky, clumpy mascara, lipstick on their teeth – or in some cases the color of makeup didn’t work with their skin color, and that was just weird. I was especially freaked out when I met a woman whose face and neck were different colors. This was from badly applied makeup, not a skin condition.
            I put my efforts into skin care and I look pretty good. :) The only makeup I wear is undereye brightener, which I just started wearing last year.

        3. NW Mossy*

          Where I get leery about putting emphasis on physical appearance and conforming to certain standards is the way that thinking then bleeds over into extrapolation about other aspects of that person that isn’t grounded in evidence.

          Take, for example, the letter last week about the graduate assistant with greasy hair. Plenty of people in the comments (and possibly the OP as well) saw “greasy hair” and drew the inference that the GA was dirty/not washing enough, but we don’t actually know that based on what was presented in the letter. It’s a leap, – possibly a logical or even likely one, but a leap nonetheless. And if that leap isn’t valid, it leads to the GA being treated as if she’s an unhygienic person when she’s not.

          That’s why it matters. In our conscious minds we think we do a great job of keeping our aesthetic judgments in their lane, but when the unconscious kicks in, it’s far less respectful of the lane markings. Reinforcing aesthetics as a reasonable basis for value judgment in our conscious minds makes it that much harder to overcome the unconscious biases we all carry and that harm all of us.

    1. NW Mossy*

      Even if, it’s not a given that benefit > effort required. Some of us might very well look “better” but just DGAF.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I’m sorry you spend so much time forced to look at women who don’t meet your personal beauty standards. It must be such a struggle.

    3. Lady Phoenix*

      And I am in the popular opinion that you should not say such sexist and gross things.

      ESPECIALLY since as we just stated that makeup can be:
      1) Expensive AF
      2) Not friendly to sensitive skin or allergies (and chances are you HAVE to pay more for makeup that doesn’t set you off)

      So please, maybe consider changing that opinion of yours.

    4. bookartist*

      You use the word “benefit.” I do not think it means what you think it means. Signed, a Sephora VIB.

      1. General Ginger*

        TBH, as much as I don’t love makeup, I wish it were socially acceptable for men (other than TV presenters, actors, etc) to wear it. My skin tone and acne scars could definitely look better. With that said, requiring makeup, and the amount of $ and effort women are expected to put in wtr to makeup is utter crap.

        1. Lady Phoenix*

          It is slowly becoming more aceeptable.

          You can look at some tinted moisturizers or bb creams for just a tiny bit of cover without looking like a canvas.

          1. General Ginger*

            Unfortunately, as a trans man, it’ll up my chances of being misgendered, and being questioned by medical professionals I depend on for HRT.

            1. Goya de la Mancha*

              There are plain moisturizers that will assist with the treatment of it though! They won’t hide the day to day, but like a night cream/serum that will help toward the end goal. Neutrogena is a good drugstore version! Bonus like Former Retail Manager states below – SPF protection is pretty standard now a days and can be written off as such when asked about it – “Oh, just some sun screen!” (especially if you’re a ginger with very pale ginger skin ;) )

              1. General Ginger*

                This is off-topic, but trans people are frequently expected to perform gender “perfectly”, including by doctors they see. What to you may be “just some sunscreen” to some gatekeeper can be “is this person actually trans, they’re wearing/not wearing makeup”. Consider that signs medical professionals will check off as indicating depression in cis women include not wearing makeup/not keeping up with dyeing or styling hair, etc. This is frequently amplified for trans folks.

                1. Goya de la Mancha*

                  I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that. That sucks!

                  Like I posted below, because of my skin cancer – I’m an SPF fiend. So to me it is in no way shape or form related to cosmetic enhancement (and it shouldn’t be!).

                2. General Ginger*

                  @Goya de la Mancha
                  No problem, tons of people don’t! And I hear you on the SPF, absolutely!

        2. Goya de la Mancha*

          I always felt so bad for my brothers growing up. We all dealt with acne & scarring. While it was a little more socially acceptable for them to have those scars – they still took it hard, I could at least fake the clear skin! Luckily it is becoming more socially acceptable for guys to focus on skincare/looks(thankfully)! And there’s a lot of products out there that can help with scarring/toning that aren’t makeup! Quite a few moisturizers will target this.

        3. Former Retail Manager*

          My husband agreed to let my daughter and I do his makeup, just for fun. He didn’t like it overall, but he did like that the foundation evened his skin tone out and went a long way toward hiding his prominent under-eye bags. I encouraged him to use a tinted moisturizer with SPF…..you get sun protection and a little evening out of the skin tone/toning down the imperfections you don’t like and you can just say it’s “moisturizer” if that really bothers you. He hasn’t done it, but he seemed tempted. If you have issues to cover, may be worth looking into.

          1. General Ginger*

            That’s great that your husband was into it! And I hope you can at least get him to use the SPF!

          2. Goya de la Mancha*

            I basically force feed SPF to everyone in my orbit (and anyone else who will listen!). I’ve dealt with some pretty significant skin cancer issues and I refuse to allow others I care about go through that! Even my father, who is basically a lumberjack personified uses a moisturizer w/ SPF daily.

            PSA: Wear sunscreen people and visit the Skin Cancer Foundation’s website if you are interested in more detailed ways to avoid problems from the sun!

        4. Eirene*

          Can I suggest Holy Snails, if you’re interested in a rec for help with acne scars? (No actual snails involved, I promise.) The owner makes some really good serums that might help, and they have no color tint at all, so they’re totally invisible once they dry, which only takes a minute or so.

    5. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Dammit Goya. If you are going to make a comment like that, you gotta give a person time to grab popcorn first. ;-)

    6. Totally Minnie*

      I mean, unless makeup has recently been updated to include some sort of tangible benefit other than “looks more like the people in movies and magazines look,” I think what you meant to say was that YOU would benefit by more women wearing makeup because you’d get to look at more people who look like people look in movies and magazines.

    7. Detective Amy Santiago*

      So, you’re a misogynist. That’s cool.

      If you’re a man, you can just stfu cause no one cares what you think.
      If you’re a woman, then you should probably take time to consider why you feel that way and take a hard look at how society’s ridiculous beauty expectations for women are harmful.

    8. LW*

      Benefit in what way? How would women’s lives be enriched? There’s certainly a case to be made that people who conform to an appearance that is considered “normal” by the culture they’re in have an easier time of it than people who don’t. But other than that, I’m scratching my head as to what benefits this would offer me.

      I am a firm believer that makeup as a concept will be regarded by the far-flung future space people as this weird phase in human development from a wildly different time. Like how ancient Egyptians wore perfume cones on their head. Sure, you can sort of see the point of it, but it’d be super weird to actually do it.

      1. Goya de la Mancha*

        “I am a firm believer that makeup as a concept will be regarded by the far-flung future space people as this weird phase in human development from a wildly different time. Like how ancient Egyptians wore perfume cones on their head. Sure, you can sort of see the point of it, but it’d be super weird to actually do it.”

        That’s kind of life/history in general though…Future selves will always look back at historical selves and wonder W.T.F. were they thinking/trying to attain. Wearing a perfume cone on our head would be weird because we have “better” ways to do it now. So if you wear cologne, perfume, body scented washes or lotions, etc….you’re wearing your own perfume cone.

        1. LW*

          Goya, you didn’t answer my question. I promise I’m asking in good faith and I’m willing to consider your answer, because I genuinely don’t understand your point. What benefit are you talking about?

          (Also, not to go too far with this grooming history sidebar, but it’s not like you can draw a straight line from Egyptian perfume cones to Dove deodorant. But that’s straying a bit too far from the point.)

      2. Jadelyn*

        “There’s certainly a case to be made that people who conform to an appearance that is considered “normal” by the culture they’re in have an easier time of it than people who don’t.”

        I’ll be honest, that’s the main reason I still do makeup, even on days when I’m super tired and running late and feel like crap. Because having a bit of makeup on and looking like a Conventionally Attractive Person can make the difference between “Oh, poor thing, just having a bad day” and “Ugh what is wrong with you?” if I make a mistake or need help. I get listened to more, people take me more seriously, I get the benefit of the doubt in ways I don’t get when I haven’t put on at least a bit of eyeliner and some mascara. It’s stupid, but there it is.

        And speaking of needing help, if I need help from a guy, it’s 10x easier to get if I’m at least nominally made up. I doubt it’s even conscious, tbh, but I’ve spent decades observing the results I get when I’m looking pretty vs when I’m just looking like myself, and there is a pronounced difference. So to me, makeup is a way of greasing the wheels so everything spins just a little smoother for me. Is it fair that I have to do that? No. But fair or not, that’s how it works, so I just do it anyway.

        Still, I wouldn’t say that translates to “all women could benefit from it”, at least not in the way I’ve always heard that phrase used – and I’m well aware that by taking advantage of the bias to make my life easier, rather than actively defying it, I’m part of the problem. But we all have to make our choices and trade-offs, and for me complying with Makeup Culture helps me ration my spoons so I have the ability to fight bigger fights when I need to.

    9. OyHiOh*

      I am of the opinion that a human who needs to conduct meetings with large numbers of people, give presentations to more than about 5 people, and similar functions benefits from the use of makeup to enhance eyes/eyebrows and lips. Light and distance blur the characteristics of a face in movement (speaking) and strategic use of color enhances the parts of a face that people key in on when listening/following a speaker.

      But that is entirely different from a full face of contours, highlights, and non smudging formulations for everyday wear!

      1. curly sue*

        This is why I wear makeup when (and pretty much only when!) I’m lecturing or presenting. Darker lips and being able to see my eyes under the awful room lights in these lecture halls helps immensely. It’s the same reasoning behind stage makeup, just street-level application.

      2. Jadelyn*

        Yes – basically it’s just a way to turn up the contrast on everyone’s metaphorical monitor so they can see something other than a skin-colored blur.

    10. aebhel*

      I don’t wear makeup because–among many other reasons–I don’t like how it looks. I don’t like the unnaturally even skin tone, I don’t like the glossy lips or eyeliner or mascara. I don’t look like myself with makeup on, even if it is more aesthetically pleasing to other people, and I don’t like that.

      It’s like saying that all women would benefit from fitted, feminine clothes. I don’t look like me when I wear fitted, feminine clothes, however flattering they might be; it’s not just that I’m too lazy to bother (although it’s that, too), it’s that my aesthetic preferences are such that I prefer how I look in loose, gender-neutral clothes with short hair and no makeup.

    11. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      Things most women would benefit from:

      -Paid parental or family care leave with longterm guaranteed job holds
      -Pay transparency
      -Mentoring programs
      -Government subsidized and provided and childcare and full day, accredited early childhood education
      -Non-hostile work environments; aka not being forced to work with jerks who think their opinion about makeup is anything other than misogyny

      I save hundreds of dollars and about 30 hours a month not wearing makeup. So the cost for me to wear makeup at work, not even fully accounting for lost investment returns and lost sleep and thus worse health (that’s a big increased cost if you throw in some additional doctor trips and medication) over time, is about $3000-5000 a year, based on the average cost of a more complex skincare/makeup routine using mostly dupes and not topshelf pro stuff. Unless you are willing to sponsor at least that amount annually for every woman you encounter every day, “benefit” is not the right word here. And it’s still sexist with the funding thrown in, but at least then it’s not also docking female employees’ already lower pay.
      It’s my preference to be compensated for my labor, and anything above and beyond what my male co-workers are expected to do is in fact uncompensated labor. Egregiously difficult, one-sided appearance standards are a form of wage theft, imho. You are suggesting most women financially subsidize your ogling. It’s gross.

      1. Alianora*

        Yeah, most women who don’t wear makeup are actively making a choice based on their own cost/benefit analysis. It’s not like it’s just never been suggested to them to wear makeup . Kinda condescending to say that all women would benefit from wearing makeup as if they’re not capable of making that decision for themselves. It would be more accurate for Goya to say that they think most women would *look* better if they wore makeup, which is what I think they meant.

        I’m sure there are some people who would like my appearance better if I wore full face makeup every day (instead of just taking 5-10 minutes for eyebrows/eyeliner like I normally do), but the “benefit” of a slightly enhanced appearance doesn’t outweigh the amount of time and money or the negative effect it would have on my skin. That’s also assuming I can apply the foundation so that it makes me look better — it’s a skill that some women don’t possess, and aren’t interested in spending the time to learn.

  39. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    Alison, I’d love to learn more about what U.S. courts have had to say about differing grooming standards for men and women.

    I have so many questions: Is that mostly addressing bodily characteristics that are more common in one gender than another (e.g. facial hair)? Or is it about characteristics that all genders share but that, culturally, we accept different rules for different genders (e.g. hair length)? Or things that are applied to bodies (like makeup)?

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Interesting. So the idea was that while a given rule (women must wear makeup, e.g.) might have unequal burdens on men and women, the policy in this case overall was equally burdensome (women must wear makeup but men must have short hair).

        1. General Ginger*

          IMHO, those requirements are not comparable. Most short hair on a man really doesn’t require the same level of daily upkeep as makeup on a woman.

    1. stump*

      re: the facial hair thing

      I’m agender, but AFAB and very much closeted. I also have PCOS and as such, have a PCOS beard. A sad, patchy PCOS beard, but a pretty copious and visible beard nonetheless. My desired (lack of) gender presentation is generally Way Different than what would be considered Normal or Acceptable for people that society wants to shove into the Female™ box, I’d be cool with the beard if it was a good beard. Hell, buddy, there are days when I’d rather just leave the beard on because it’s honestly Just Hair. Buuuuuuuuut because of society being How It Is, I remove the beard. If I left it, I’d not only get hit with some awesome misaimed misogyny for not performing feminity properly enough, there’s also a chance I’d get hit with some cool misaimed transmisogyny by people who can’t think of any reason somebody with ovaries might have copious facial hair. So since I don’t want to get my ass beat for “using the wrong bathroom” I not only remove the hair, but have to do it in a way that makes it look like I didn’t have hair to remove in the first place.

      Honestly, even without potential discriminatory issues out and about in daily life, I doubt that I’d be able to get away with leaving my patchy, irregular beard in the workplace. Similar to the greasy hair debate of a few days ago, even though my beard is definitely the result of a physical disease, it still doesn’t fall within the general standards of grooming that most companies have in place i.e. “even men have to have either nicely trimmed/groomed beards or no beards at all; no gross neckbeards, bruh” even though my efforts have to be Much Higher because I can’t get away with, say, stubble.

      Honestly, I don’t want to bother testing this out in real life because it’s bad enough getting shit about being “nasty” and “ugly” and from your (shallow and really kind of janky) family, much less potentially putting your employment at risk by being “that dirty gal that can’t even groom herself right”.

  40. M*

    If you’re in the UK – or, as I understand it, anywhere in the EU – your sister’s company is going to be seriously in violation of a variety of workplace discrimination laws and regulations. Ditto Australia and New Zealand. Talk to a lawyer, or local Citizens’ Advice Bureau, or union, get the exact regulations relevant to your country. The US is *significantly* weaker on this stuff than many other places, and it’s entirely possible that this company is putting themselves at *serious* risk of lawsuits.

  41. Four lights*

    This is horrible. I’m curious about this: “plus a ton of products for a skin care routine to keep her face from breaking out in acne.”

    Is she not allowed to have acne? That’s not how skin works. (says the woman with a four month old pregnancy pimple on her face.)

    1. Labradoodle Daddy*

      Wearing that much makeup every day could put her at increased risk for more acne. It’s a vicious cycle.

    2. MeganK*

      Yeah, I have related questions. Pregnancy (especially early pregnancy) can be SUPER EXHAUSTING for folks, and I personally made a decision to stop wearing makeup to work early in mine for a couple of reasons. The biggest one was that I was already having a hard enough time dragging myself in to work at a reasonable hour (we have a flexible start time, but still), it would have felt wrong to me to further extend that time by putting makeup on. The other reason was I was often crashing into bed at night without the energy to remove it, so it would have made a bad complexion situation worse.

      Tl;dr – anyone who is having chronic fatigue, skin issues beyond their control, etc. is EXTRA burdened by this already disgusting and outrageous policy. Good luck, OP’s sister – this sounds awful and I hope you get out.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I imagine that’s more about her own personal comfort. I have acne that started when I was 9 and hasn’t fully stopped (I’m 40). I do a lot to keep major breakouts at bay because sometimes they’re painful and uncomfortable. A major change in skin routine will wreak havoc on a lot of people’s faces. Imagine never having acne before and adding makeup that makes you break out; that would be a tough pill to swallow. There are plenty of foundations that help keep skin clear (or, at least, don’t clog pores too much), but there’s no universal solution.

    4. LW*

      Labradoodle Daddy got it right, it’s the makeup itself that’s causing her to break out. (It does the same to me and our other sister, must be a family thing.) Clogging up your face pores for half your natural life isn’t that great, it turns out, so you have to be super stringent about buying extra expensive foundation that especially formulated for sensitive skin and a ton of products (toner, moisturizer, masks, wipes) to get it all gone properly. It really is hell on sensitive skin. It’s why I don’t wear it at all, and you better believe I’ve caught a ton of shit about that during my life in this country.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        If it helps, IME the people who criticize for not wearing makeup will also criticize if you wear makeup – it should be more, or less, or brighter, or less bright… because these kinds of people always find something to criticize. It’s about them, not you. They’re the ones with the problem here.
        I don’t think it’s ever worth it to mess up your skin and feet and joint health for a job. If that means working on a factory floor or in a kitchen instead of an office, I would do that.

    5. Sarong kebaya*

      Below it is clarified that this poster is in Ukraine. So I must withdraw the above comment. But I am glad that the continental European people do not accept your Anglo-American cultural imperialism so readily.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        The point of our American attitude is makeup and high heels, or any style, should not be forced on people. People should be allowed to choose whether to wear makeup, high heels, or anything else.
        We would have the same attitude towards an employer who says women are not allowed to wear makeup or dress in feminine clothes. It’s about being able to choose.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      Amen. Maybe with some colored eyeshadow?

      …… No, I don’t have a thing for men who partake in “feminine” products. Sh-Sh-Shut up, baka!

      1. TeapotDetective*

        Ah, another commenter of culture and taste :)
        And yeah… something about a good-looking gentleman with smoky eyes, longish hair, and heeled boots. Yes please.

        1. Jadelyn*

          …I’ll be in my bunk.

          (Any other Leverage fans remember the fashion show episode where Elliot wore eyeliner? My ovaries may never recover.)

        2. Kat in VA*

          I convinced the husband to wear black eyeliner* to go with his Ren Faire costume. He looked amazing.

          Less amazing a few weeks later when he ended up having a chalazion* cut out of his inner eyelid. Maybe from the eyeliner, maybe not, but after the second chalazion being removed from his OTHER inner eyelid, I can never convince him to wear eyeliner again.

          Too bad. He looked damned good.

          *a chalazion is like a big stye on the inside of your upper or lower lid that literally rubs against your eyeball. They’re very painful and have to be essentially cut and/or scraped off. I don’t him for not wanting to risk it *ever* again but…sigh…he looked so awesome…

          *Urban Decay 24/7 pencil in Black Velvet, for the curious

  42. booksnbooks*

    Out of curiosity, could she get away with kitten heels, a really strong red lip, and mascara only? That would be much less to maintain that a full face of make-up, and the red lip tends to make everything else look on purpose. And the kitten heel is more comfortable than high heels in an overly feminine way that might balance out the fact (in the boss’s eyes) that it’s a lower heel.

    1. ElspethGC*

      This is my go-to “I’m tired and don’t want people to know it” look. A cute dress (only one item of clothing, and yet everyone thinks you’re dressing up all fancy), glittery eyeshadow, a good mascara, and a bright red liquid lip so I don’t have to worry about touching it up. Seriously. Sometimes I skip undereye concealer, even with my genetic dark circles (my eye bags are more like suitcases) and yet everyone just sees the glitter and the colour and concludes that I made a huge effort!

    2. Delta Delta*

      This is a good practical suggestion til Sister can get the heck out. My standard is tinted moisturizer, pale shadow, quick swipe of mascara, strong lip. I got good lip stain that doesn’t wear off, and I throw on chapstick or gloss over the course of the day.

      I DO NOT like the requirement to wear heels & make up. Yuck. I do like having 3-4 backup plans while sorting things out.

      1. booksnbooks*

        Agreed on all counts. Also I love beseme lipstick because as long as you’re careful the first hour or so its on, it stays in place all day which makes life much easier. (I like to look on purpose with minimal effort put in).

    3. TootsNYC*

      and add a scarf or something. Like, always always have one piece of noticeable neck adornment or earrings.

      It can be the same one every day, or necessary. She can double up if she wants.

      But it might distract from the idea that there’s not a lot of other makeup going on.

      I mean, this is a jerk requirement, but if she has to cope, this might help.

      And if she does this, there are several good drugstore brands of mascara. |
      Maybelline’s Great Lash has been winning reader awards for years (if she can tolerate it).
      (and if she can curl her lashes, that’ll make her mascara stand out more–but not everyone has time or likes to do that)

    4. Lily Rowan*

      I was just wondering if false lashes would be better for her than mascara?

      (NB: I have no personal experience with them, and wouldn’t make it through the interview in a place that required a full face of make-up and high heels. But it’s a thought?)

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        Be warned, most of the eyelash glues are loaded with latex.

        I have a latex allergy, so, if I wear them, I have to be super careful about buying the right glue.

        1. Jadelyn*

          There’s fake lashes that use magnets now – my hairdresser uses them and they look awesome. No glue!

          1. The New Wanderer*

            My first thought was “cooool!” My next thought was, “Wait, how do the magnets stay on?”

    5. Tiny Soprano*

      It might work? But if the manager is a contouring fanatic, the French-girl makeup look probably won’t be extra enough for her.

  43. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

    Am I the only one who wonders if the manager and/or someone else higher up in the company “just happens” to sell the skin care/makeup that the OP describes?

    This would be a deal breaker for me too. I like makeup, but I very rarely wear it. I’d rather get the extra few minutes of sleep. And forget high heels – I never mastered the art of walking in them. Requiring them for a job that involves being on your feet all day? Double nope there.

  44. Lady Phoenix*

    Your sister is being treated like an intern (can’t even get enough money to see a MOVIE?!), forced to walk around all dayvwith no sitting, and forced to wear expensive makeup and clothing that is beyond her pay?! And so far with no news about moving positions or a raise?!

    Girl needs to get a new job and STAT.

  45. 2 Cents*

    My Googling the “flames on the sides of my face” gif came earlier than normal this week!

    OP, I’m so sorry your sister has to deal with this. These people do not sound at all reasonable.

  46. AKchic*

    I am not a nice person. Let me get that out there from the get-go. If this were required of me (and something slightly similar was suggested to me before at a very misogynistic office once and it did not go over well and I didn’t last long, surprise, surprise) I would ensure that an “accident” happened on company property. I cannot wear heels due to my bad spine, bad knees, and terrible bones in my feet. I would end up with stress fractures in my feet before lunch of the first day, so I’d do it, only after ensuring that it was in writing that I was required and told that if I didn’t I would be written up and potentially fired if I didn’t. Then, I would go ahead and let my injuries be paid for by them, and use them against the company and their practices. Oh, and wouldn’t you know it, they also have *other* terrible practices (the make-up) and gee, how many violations/complaints can I file and hmmm, maybe I should be making a social media complaint too…

    Like I said, I’m not a nice person.

  47. Amethystmoon*

    Wow. What about those with skin allergies or religious restrictions? This policy could be seen as discriminatory in more ways than 1.

  48. Pippa Porcine*

    By any chance, does this country have any “anti-pink tax” laws? Would this run afoul of those?

  49. LaDeeDa*

    When I hear of things like this I always want to know about the diversity & inclusion policies, how many women are in leadership roles, how many people of color work there, how many people of color are in leadership roles, and what their policy is on braids and dreadlocks.

  50. MommyMD*

    I’d encourage her to find another job. I doubt there is anything she can do to change this level of dysfunction especially if in a country that does not have strong laws protecting employees. It’s outrageous.

  51. LW*

    Letter writer here, with a few more details:

    The country this is happening in is in Europe and is a bit more… regressive than the US, if you can imagine. This story is still raising eyebrows with everyone I tell this to, but not to the point of outrage. The word “sexism” is still regarded with suspicion and elicits many eyerolls. It’s very much a place where people think that yes, sexism was bad, thank god we fixed all of that in the eighties. My sister’s situation might be a bit extreme, but it’s by no means unique. So already this is an uphill battle, the wider culture being what it is. This isn’t a men-vs-women thing, to be clear. Both men and women around here run the gamut from woke as balls to Don Draper. Seems to be a factor of age rather than gender, and you can always tell who has access to the internet and who doesn’t when these issues come up. So naturally this isn’t an issue of sexism but of “millennials” being uppity ne’er-do-wells. *sigh*

    In general employees here absolutely have the right to go on strike and do so often, but for that to be sanctioned and actually productive, the relevant union has to approve it and take charge of the logistics and negotiations. Unions in our country largely function as intended, almost everyone is a member of one. But my sister’s union rep doesn’t really see the problem. My sister’s most generous interpretation of his apathy is that he just fails to realize how much money and time goes into applying makeup. (Most women around here dress and groom a little more intensely than what I’ve seen in the US, so most men are used to seeing women in heavy makeup and don’t put much thought into how that look comes about.) She’s shown him receipts, but he told her to just buy the cheaper stuff, which wouldn’t work for reasons I’ve outlined in the letter. At that point she just gave up.

    This is exactly the kind of thing the relevant government agency would take on, but unfortunately they have quite the backlog, because people are awful. I have no insight in how they prioritize cases, that’s a closed system, but it seems they take more urgent action in matters of blatant racism than they do in any other case, racism being one of the few -isms this country has finally accepted is actually real (and even then…) Sexism allegations over makeup… Myah, no, I don’t see it happening.

    I’m encouraging my sister to take all legal action she can on her way out the door (she is looking for a new job, but it’s a niche industry and without a relevant degree she was lucky to get this one at all) but she’s hesitant. I understand. She’s got everything going against her. Plus there’s some extra awkwardness. It’s been only a few years since she, my other sister and my mom were all openly frustrated with me for being such an annoying angry feminist, so I guess she needs time to come around to the idea that actually, yeah, sexism is a thing that exists and is happening to her. It’s tricky. The best I can do is support her in whatever she chooses to do or not do.

    1. Robin Sparkles*

      Wow- I think you are dealing with so many factors working against you (and your sister). All of the useful advice I can think of really is US focused and likely not helpful. You are working against a culture that is sexist and so all your potential avenues of resource are colored by that. I think the best advice is what Alison suggested with either getting legal help (and I question how useful that is and doesn’t sound like your sister can afford it) or push back in a group. Frankly, the group has much better success -especially if you can get the men to support the women. However, your sister is in a tough spot and I would support her if she doesn’t want to go there right now. It sucks -I am with you here! But ultimately this shouldn’t reside with your sister to resolve. If she doesn’t have the energy or bandwidth, your focus may have to be on how she can get through this- whether with quality make-up or workarounds while she job hunts.

    2. WellRed*

      The issue is not that it’s costly and time consuming (though that’s part of it especially if one really need to build an argument), which invites comments like, “oh, buy cheaper stuff.” The issue is that women are REQUIRED to do something that men are not. It’s that women can be written up for this and possibly fired. And who is the poor masochistic soul who judges who’s makeup deserves a demerit?
      You’re a good sister. Hopefully women like you will eventually manage to stomp this crap into the oblivion in which it belongs!

      1. Traveling Teacher*

        Well, if it is France, then her first stop should be the medecin de travail*, who could at least prescribe her proper footwear! And, if she got pushback from her manager, there would be legal hell to pay.

        *medecin de travail = workers’ doctor (every French company must have one or access to one to address workers’ health issues directly related to work. They find accommodations for physical trouble related to work (possibly mental health as well, not sure). For example, my husband had to see his a couple times for stress injuries related to his mouse usage, and the medecin de travail prescribed him physical therapy, deep tissue massages for his hand and neck, and a more adapted mouse for his hand size. All on the company dime.)

        I somehow doubt that this is France.

        1. UKDancer*

          I don’t think France would be likely, I’ve lived and worked there. While French women tend to put quite a bit of effort into grooming, it tends to be more self imposed. Most of my French colleagues would have taken extreme exception to this as it contravenes EU equal opportunity legislation.

          I’d say more likely to be somewhere like Ukraine or somewhere Balkan where there is less work and also where there are fewer protections surrounding gender inequality (to my perception).

      2. OlympiasEpiriot*

        Personally, I’m thinking more Spain or Italy. I’ve spent time in both and I can imagine the conversations.

    3. TootsNYC*

      In the U.S., if something is required to have at your job, you can count it off against your taxes (you may have to have a letter from your boss). Or you can insist the company pay for it.

      I don’t know that you’d get very far w/ makeup, but…

    4. Iris Eyes*

      Maybe go for the heels requirement, skeletal problems aren’t something you can dismiss easily.

      Would it be at all possible to have the company bear more of the time and monetary cost for the makeup? By asking that they purchase/reimburse and allow paid time and space on site for application.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        YES, this is exactly what I came here to suggest. If the makeup and heels are required for work, then they are a business expense that the company should cover. Honestly, the women should also demand makeup application classes and occupational therapy for feet/leg/back problems that will likely be incurred by mandatory heel-wearing and have those expensed as well. Maybe when it starts being a cost to the company, they might change their priorities.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        It’s definitely worth trying, but having worked in an office with almost identical requirements as what OP describes I don’t know how far it would get. IME the mindset of people who think like this is that this is just how a woman should dress and look in the first place. Of COURSE you should be wearing heels, of COURSE you should have a full face of make-up, how else could you possibly think you could show up to work?? They wouldn’t consider it an additional expense, it’s stuff that you “should” own and do already (and if you don’t, you’re considered scruffy/unkempt/dirty-looking). Asking for reimbursement would be like asking the company to pay for your deodorant.

        (That’s not to say that the OP’s sister shouldn’t try it – anything that draws attention to how extreme these requirements are is worth a shot. But based on previous experience of people who think like this, it may be more successful as a point-proving exercise than actually getting any money back.)

    5. Lily Rowan*

      Oof. Thanks for the additional info, and good luck to your sister! It sounds like she’s between a rock and a hard place.

    6. LaDeeDa*

      Thank you for the additional information. I don’t have any advice, I think most of us have put up with some unfair BS at some point in our lives- we are either too scared, too broke, too desperate, or too tired to fight the power/man, so I understand why your sister is hesitant.

      And we wouldn’t be angry feminists if people would just treat us like whole equal humans.

    7. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      That all sucks.

      I’m wondering if she could…cheat? If people care about women being visibly feminine, can she pull lady-vanity as an excuse to minimize the makeup? (“It’s making me break out, so I think my skin looks nicer without it. I’m putting a lot more effort into my skincare routine, don’t you think it’s paying off?” She doesn’t have to tell them that the highest of high-end brands are okay.)

      Or can her delicate-flower lady feet just not stand the high heels anymore? Will some visible blisters or slight limping paired with the daintiest, girliest of flats do the trick because she just can’t do the heels today poor little her.

      Sometimes, when you try-really-hard-poor-little-you, you can get away with “failure.”

      Why yes, I’ve been accused of being shamelessly manipulative

    8. Elle Kay*

      This is deeply not the point of this letter but, for the sake of managing things in the short-term,
      1- is there a height requirement or type-of-heels requirement? I don’t wear heels daily anymore but I often found that shorter heels and wedges were better on days I knew I’d be on my feet. If there’s not a rule stating otherwise she could wear .5″ or 1″ heels rather than, 3+” ones. And wedges rather than traditional heels are more supportive of the whole foot.

      2-On the topic of makeup. Unless there is some reason that she’s sweating all day good makeup *should* last all day. If you have something like Sephora or even a department store with makeup counters I’d suggest she go in and get some recommendations. A lot of those places (and department stores in particular) will walk you through their products and help figure out what’s the best for your skin and your needs. Some of them will give you a few days worth of sample too so you can try it practically before buying them. (For reference, I use a Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Long Wear Foundation that’s 47$US/bottle and lasts probably 8+ months!)

      1. Lucille2*

        +1 for the wedges. I’m a fan if I’m going to a wedding or something where I want to class it up with a heel, but know I’ll be on my feet a lot. There are some very lovely wedge heels out there too.

        Also, for the makeup. I’m also a person with sensitive skin who has to wear expensive brands. As I age, my requirements change, but in my younger years when I had better skin, I could get away without foundation. Foundation is the thing that can really trigger acne. Perhaps a toned moisturizer will be easier on the skin and budget. Honestly, I don’t think I could stick with such an office policy, but I understand the uphill OP’s sister is up against.

    9. Traveling Teacher*

      Wow. Both EU countries I work in, the workers would have been up in arms and striking yesterday over this kind of regulation. But, the EU is certainly not a monolith. As a never-makeup person for 10+ years now, though, I am offended on your sister’s behalf and would strike if I were in her union and heard about this ridiculousness!

      Any possibilities for your sister to go higher up the union chain to get a rep who understands the true cost of this makeup requirement? Also, did the rep not get the memo that this is being used as a fireable offense?!

    10. Kay Webble*

      Hey LW. Sounds like the general attitude in so many countries I know. The attitude that there’s no sexism anymore, so let’s just get on with it tends, I think, to result in a lot of mysogyny getting swept under the rug. And indeed, if nobody sees it as a hill to die on I think the company is stuck with this until there’s a regime change. At your company I mean – not at a federal level.

      For what it’s worth, I’ve worked in HR in the UK and Germany, and I’ll be moving to the Netherlands pretty soon for a new HR role. My experience in the two countries I’ve worked in so far is that employees (even solo ones) who get a lawyer involved in an issue like this often do manage to effect change. I have seen loooooong paper trails to prove it in my jobs so far, I tell ya.

      If you do happen to be in one of those countries and your sister ever does decide she wants to push against this, maybe reach out and I’d be happy to help.

    11. JustaTech*

      LW, good on you for being such a supportive sister! I would be deeply tempted to say “I told you so!”, so great job taking the helpful, healthy, supportive position.

      1. LW*

        Meh, I used to be a proper misogynist, I grew up in this culture too, so I have PLENTY of patience for people who come around on their own time. Can’t force these things anyway. I’m just glad I planted a seed years ago, so now she has some extra tools to assess this situation.

  52. Indie*

    This sounds a lot like the London receptionist Nicola Thorp and her well publicized high heels case. Same situation in that it is technically illegal but was essentially unenforced. She got them to review their dress code after highlighting on social media that she’d been sent home unpaid with a picture of her ‘unprofessional’ black business flats. So Yeah, that’s what it takes. The low level employee putting their neck/job/references on the line….

    1. A Non E. Mouse*

      So Yeah, that’s what it takes. The low level employee putting their neck/job/references on the line….

      Always. Which is just so freaking crappy.

      1. UKDancer*

        I know. I’m so pleased she did though. It even got debated in Parliament, and the company involved changed their dress code.

        It’s really impressive that she was willing to highlight the inequality.

  53. drpuma*

    If your sister and her coworkers decide to band together and complain they should absolutely get the men involved. Even better if a few of the highest-ranking men can speak up on the women’s behalf. You say her male coworkers also think it’s ridiculous – sometimes the best way to fight sexist norms is through the power of sexist norms.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Folks who had to learn to navigate that system and are threatened (sometimes legitimately) by changing rules.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Men who want pretty things to look at.

      Women who had to put up with it and don’t think these entitled young’ens should get a pass.

  54. Aekiki*

    I’d put this firmly in the “your company sucks and is not going to get better territory.” She should leave before it starts to feel normal. In a higher level job with other pay or benefit perks I might feel differently but low pay/low status + sexism? She should start looking!

  55. Tex*

    I would be sooo tempted to walk in with a straight face and full clown makeup. Or Kabuki makeup. Or exaggerated 60s Mod Twiggy/Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra eyes.

    1. ElspethGC*

      Full face of Elizabethan-style makeup. 60s eyeliner. Ooh, that gorgeous 20s starlet look that no-one can get away with these days. Have fun with it.

      1. JustaTech*

        Go goth. Or the Mexican sugar skull look.

        Oh! Go Klingon! Goodness knows that special-effects make up takes forever.

  56. AnoninNYC*

    Ummm does your sister work at Vogue? Cuz this sounds pretty gross to me. I’d quit this job because I wouldn’t be able to handle being written up for not wearing heels and makeup.

  57. Manchmal*

    Would this be a situation in which an anonymous note might be a reasonable thing to try? The OP said the manager who enforces this policy is reasonable except for this. Could the OP’s sister draft an anonymous note nicely and diplomatically explaining how much of a burden the policy is (and possibly including how it is unfair given the gender differential in expectations and implications)? If the sister could do it vaguely enough so that it couldn’t be pinned to her, an anonymous note might be the best chance for her to make her case without necessarily jeopardizing her job. It may not have a huge chance of working, but it seems like the lowest risk option at least to start.

  58. Penny*

    I worked for a company like this, though they’d relaxed the policy but never bothered to update the manual. It turned out that it was owned and operated by an old family with most of those in charge well into their 60s and male. Surprise surprise, the women’s dress code involved nylons, lipstick, stud earrings only, no or neutral nail polish colors, heels, wedges, or pumps (no flats), collared shirts and understated makeup. The men couldn’t have beards or visible tattoos.

    By the time I started working there, almost everyone had forgotten about the policy but for the owners and their secretaries, who all still abided by the rules in the handbook. It was ridiculous but to my knowledge no one tried to fight it.

    1. Syfygeek*

      I worked for a hotel chain that had these requirements, including no open toe or slingback shoes. Mandatory hose, a jacket if wearing pants or skirts, hair could only be a “a naturally occurring hair color”, etc.. And it didn’t matter if you were customer facing or working in the back office. And this was between 2002-2006.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        No open toe or slingback shoes could be a safety rule. If an employee was around the kitchen or maintenance areas, they could be dangerous.

  59. aebhel*


    Oh hell no. The makeup is bad enough, but if I had to walk around in heels all day I’d be crippled by lunchtime. Hell with that.

  60. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This is so outdated, I feel like I stumbled back to the 50s. Sadly the best choice is to find another job. She’s already making just enough to scrape by, it’s bottom rung admin work from what it sounds like. You flee these sexist ships, you can’t shine a turd or flush a softball sized one and this sounds like one that will never flush.

  61. TootsNYC*

    also: Take this over the manager’s head.

    If this company is of any size, there has to be someone above her. I might go as far up as I could, instead of only one layer.

  62. MM*

    I think it’s admirable how everyone is pushing for OP’s sister to take a stand, and if she wants to, I hope she will. But on the whole it doesn’t seem worth it to me, *for her*. (It might well be worth it for others there.) It would be one thing if the job were great in every other way, and if it weren’t for this issue she’d be planning to stay long-term. But given that she barely makes a survival wage (and doesn’t make a living wage)…..if it were me, I’d be thinking this place doesn’t need to take any more of my energy, and just looking elsewhere ASAP.

    1. Indie*

      Sometimes, even if you decide to just smile, nod and …get out, it’s nice to know you could’ve put a blow torch to their whole operation, had you been arsed. It is just a little bit of comfort up your sleeve while you grit your teeth and say to yourself “Go on. Push me a bit further and make it worth my while”.

  63. Birdie*

    I left my makeup bag at my family’s house a few hours away last month, and went a week without wearing anything on my face. When I brought it up to my coworkers the following work week after getting my makeup bag back no one had even noticed, lol. Working here sounds like a nightmare, I would be job searching!

  64. xarcady*

    I have a second job in retail, in a large, well-known, nation-wide department store chain that likes to think of itself as a bit more upscale than it really is.

    I don’t wear makeup, even though I am customer-facing. No one has ever even suggested that I wear makeup. Or heels.

    I have worked other customer-facing, customer-service jobs. Never has makeup required or mentioned. Not even the job where I attended trade conferences/conventions and helped to staff the company exhibit booth.

    There is no need for this requirement for the OP’s sister. And that’s what makes it particularly sexist to me.

    I hope the OP’s sister finds a new, better job soon.

  65. His Grace*

    LW, maybe this is my egalitarian streak speaking, but what you described is so over-the-top wrong and horrible. No one should be subject to this. I hope your sister and her colleagues band together and fight this.

  66. PinkyTuscadero*

    Can she attempt to submit the makeup and required skin care as an expense? Maybe the financial pushback would cause a change?

  67. Caveat: I live in the US*

    I work in one of the industries Alison mentioned in her response with the “strict grooming standards.” I haven’t heard of anyone getting a write up because they were caught with smudged makeup. In fact, some people show up to client-facing functions without any make up on and they still don’t get a direct “talking to.” If this issue occurs too often, one of the managers will email the entire team about grooming standards. The worse email I’ve seen is “Ladies, if you don’t know how to do make up, please ask your colleagues or visit Sephora. This is unacceptable.”

    1. Michaela Westen*

      I would never take a job there. If I did accidentally, I would leave and tell them exactly why on my way out.

  68. Dame Judi Brunch*

    I’m outraged at this, and my feet hurt just reading this. To your sister: Get out ASAP!
    I was thinking go to the doctor and get a note saying you can’t wear heels, but why should you have to incur more expenses because they are sexist idiots?
    I have tons of foot issues, I’d have gotten all 3 write-ups the first few days.

  69. Mockingdragon*

    If I were ready to leave, I’d start expensing my make-up purchases and expecting the company to pay me back. It’s required for work, after all, and I wouldn’t be buying it otherwise. And bring my make-up bag to work to apply after I’m clocked in and getting paid.

    I don’t wear make-up because I’m crummy at it and I don’t care enough to get better. I know how to apply for the stage, and even then I go light. I can’t put on mascara without getting it everywhere, and when I worked in an office and got in at 8:30, anything I tried to do on my eyes was all over the place by 9 because I was freaking tired and rubbing them to stay awake. But then, I’d probably never be hired by a place like this because I’d show up to the interview with no make-up on.

  70. Lucille2*

    I would probably just stop wearing makeup, take the write-ups and let this thing go as far as they would take it. I mean, they could write me up for insubordination, but that alone is a vague reason. In the US, a company would require specifics about the incidents leading up to insubordination. Like failing to wear high heels or makeup.

    In fact, I would probably just tone down the makeup, stop wearing heals and ask a colleague to take my photo on a daily basis so I have my evidence needed to prove how I dressed to work every day. This policy is beyond outrageous especially where she is paid so little.

    1. Specckle*

      Wha? I have never heard of anything like this in the 21 years I have been working full-time here. And if it was Australia, and it was made public, it would be EVERYWHERE. Clementine Ford and co would have a field day! (Bring all the popcorn!).
      I believe LW said it was in the EU.

  71. Tea Earl Grey Hot*

    Even if she were able to get an exception for the makeup & the heels and wear what she wants without being written up, I think it would actually hurt her in the long run unless there’s an across-the-board change. This is a place that prizes a certain appearance, and that could factor into future promotions and opportunities. I don’t she’s going to move up here unless she’s willing to play the game or lead a group of rebels.

  72. EventPlannerGal*

    OP, my heart goes out to your sister because I have been in this exact situation. I think I still have a draft letter that I was going to send to AAM along these exact lines before I quit. I’m genuinely wondering if we had the same boss. I remember being sent out on my lunch break to buy lipstick because our male clients “like that”, which was surprising as I wasn’t supposed to ever meet any clients, make it female.

    I totally second all of Alison’s advice, but in my own situation the only thing that fixed it was quitting. (There were other factors involved than just the makeup, but it was a major one.) I can’t explain how demeaning and demoralising it felt to know that my boss found my work less valuable than my lipstick, and that knowledge doesn’t go away – and it felt SO GOOD that first day when I woke up and realised that I didn’t need to do a thing to my face that I didn’t want to. It’s really hard to articulate but I swear I felt lighter. Whether it’s through fighting back or quitting, I hope your sister gets to experience that soon because it’s amazing.

  73. Bucket o' Beckett*

    Long time lurker, first time commenter. Stuff like this skeeves me out so much. It’s sexist and disgusting and ignores that women have varying preferences in presentation.
    And it always makes me think about a situation these people don’t probably care about: what about AFAB people who are non-binary or trans? Would these people look at me and say “Well, you’re taking testosterone, and living as a guy, but you’re still legally female, so wear makeup.”? Ugh, makes me feel sick just thinking about it. All of the nope. Hope your sister can change the rule or get out (probably the latter)

  74. TF?*

    In addition to collective action, the women should be sure to file expense reports for makeup, shoes and skin and foot treatments (massages, masks, orthotics, etc.). Nothing speaks to companies like costs.

  75. LilyP*

    This really sucks! Obviously the real answer is to find a new job, LEAVE, and give them a polite earful in the exit interview & whatever glassdoor equivalent you might have. But for coping strategies in the meantime…you’re 100% right that this is fundamentally sexist, but I think framing it that way will tend to put people on the defensive & is less likely to get good results. I’d suggest your sister ask for specific exceptions & keep it all very work-focused. Like maybe, ask if she can wear flats because of the walking (she could complete the work faster & with less distraction!) or ask if the women can have an additional break to account for make-up touch-ups. If she doesn’t mind sucking up, she could even straight-up lie and frame it like, “I really do appreciate the importance of looking polished at work, which is why I need [extra time to freshen up after lunch][to keep my foundation really light so my skin doesn’t get irritated][a raise to cover the cost of nice all-day lip stain].” (joking about the last one)(mostly)

    If also else fails, I agree with the suggestion that mascara + bright lip color + interesting accessories can give the impression of “polished femininity” with less time/effort/money. I hope your sister can find something else soon.

    1. LilyP*

      She might also get some mileage from talking with her manager about her manager’s reasoning for the policy, like, help me understand why you think this is an important work-related requirement & can we brainstorm other ways to fulfill those work needs. I think describing refusal to wear make-up as “insubordination” is telling — Alison herself has said before that flat-out refusing to adjust your behavior at work after being asked to can be way more serious than whatever you were doing originally. Her manager may react differently to an open-minded questioning vs a hard-line refusal. (and to be clear, a hard-line refusal would be morally acceptable! but might not get the results you’d want)

  76. Wulfgar*

    I worked for a company that did background checks for the government. Our offices were located in a former limestone mine about a mile underground. Our only dress requirement was close toed shoes unless visitors were coming in. Then we had to make an effort to be business casual. Sometimes those visitors were wearing open toed shoes, but it was ignored. They were told to wear the appropriate footwear the next time they returned.

    It was the perfect job for me. I got to edit copy in the comfort of jeans or sweats. Being told to wear makeup and high heels would be a deal breaker for me. I hope the LW’s sister finds a more lenient employer who realizes that work quality is more important than perfect makeup and heels.

    1. nnn*

      I’m super curious why you were located in a former limestone mine a mile underground! Does that have something to do with doing background checks, or is it just where they could find affordable office space?

      1. Wulfgar*

        The mine was very secure, which was the only reason I believe. One guarded entrance/exit. Disney has a vault there with original film and art work. It was interesting, as our walls were literally limestone painted blue.

  77. Kat*

    Not sure if anyone mentioned it yet but in addition to this being extremely sexist, it’s also discrimination on the basis of gender. And by that I mean that they are requiring all employees whose biological sex is female to present themselves according to this standard, they are violating people’s rights to present themselves based on their own gender identity. Just because I’m female and you’re female and 10 other people are female, doesn’t mean that anyone has the right to say ALL females but present themselves by doing or wearing XYZ.
    I have been known to wear makeup and consider myself fairly good at applying it. But I rarely ever checked my makeup during the day to check for smudges. And if I was sick or tired, or struggling with a bout of depression, I wouldn’t bother with makeup. I also wear dresses and skirts but sometimes (especially during winter or in summer when I can’t be bothered to shave my legs) I prefer pants.

    If anyone tried to tell me that I had to present myself only one way because I’m a woman I’d be hiring a lawyer so damn fast and also be blasting this company all over social media. Just because I’m a woman does not limit me to presenting my gender in only one way. I can change however the hell I feel about my gender presentation every day if I feel like it!

  78. Rather Annoyed*

    Who, in your sister’s workplace, is wandering around checking up on make-up? I mean, great googly-moogly, this is ridiculous. Sounds like there’s a great deal of nonsense going on.

  79. Alex*

    This is not only sexist, but also incredibly insensitive to non gender conforming people. What do they allow for people who aren’t solidly feminine, but still biologically female?

  80. Phil*

    Personally I think corporate attire sucks for both genders (I *hate* ties with every fibre of my being), but this dress code is just unbelievably sexist towards women. I’d definitely be finding a better job in that position.

  81. SemiRetired*

    Would it be possible to submit expenses for reinbursement for all that makeup and heels? If she never needs it for anything else, it’s kind of like a work uniform. Shouldn’t the employer provide that?
    The alternative I would suggest is a veil. Whether for religious or medical reasons, just covering her face would be easier than all that expensive makeup. Clearly this employer believes that it is unacceptable for women to show their bare faces in public. So something simpler and reusable could work.

  82. Casual Fribsday*

    I’m actually really happy* to see this on the heels of the question about greasy hair last week, where the consensus seemed to be that there is some minimum standard of grooming that people are just supposed to intuit. I’ve spent a lot of time since that letter was posted trying to figure out if I need to be wearing makeup to work to meet this unstated dress code. This discussion doesn’t answer it, really, but it does seem to put a call on the other end of “too far.”

    *Not happy for OP’s sister obviously, she deserves a medal for putting up with this ish.

  83. obleighvious*

    There was just an episode of the (comedy) TV show “Corporate” (titled: Natural Beauty) where they tried to create a market for men’s make up. It was quite entertaining, but frustrating to watch…. (too soon to make fun of double-standards?)

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