For Women in the Workplace, Looks Trump Deeds

Libby Kane

Nearly half of women don’t feel good about themselves unless they’re wearing makeup, according to MSNBC.

Two-thirds of women find that going to work with no makeup is more stressful than either a job or a first date, according to The Huffington Post.

It’s no wonder. Remember when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared without makeup in Bangladesh and the media erupted into shocked frenzy, expounding on the meaning of it all and calling her tired, drawn and similarly kind observations in the process?

Secretary Clinton (we’ll say that again—Secretary Clinton) told CNN after the fallout, “I feel so relieved to be at the stage I’m at in my life right now, because if I want to wear my glasses, I’m wearing my glasses,” said Clinton. “If I want to pull my hair back, I’m pulling my hair back. You know at some point it’s just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention. And if others want to worry about it, I let them do the worrying for a change. It doesn’t drive me crazy anymore. It’s just not something I think is important anymore.”

Her characteristically measured response, likely toned after years of being criticized for her wardrobe choices while she acted as First Lady and then served the United States government at the highest level, begets another question: Why must a professional woman hit a certain life stage to appear as she wants?

It’s Not About Beauty

At this point there’s no need to explain the double standard of appearance. We’ve explored before whether good-looking people make more money (depends on which research you’re citing), but the issue of Secretary Clinton and her makeup isn’t about beauty—it’s about polish.

A recent piece in The New York Times wrote how one woman’s joint bank account with her husband buys her makeup, clothes and shoes because her husband recognizes how much more it costs her to look acceptable to society than it does him. “You shouldn’t be punished financially for being female,” he said. It’s no surprise then, that women reportedly look in the mirror eight times each day.

It Pervades Corporate Culture

We then heard about a dress code revised by a company in Australia, where women were told to wear “conservative” makeup at all times, sheer stockings and matching shoes and handbags. Objections of the fashion police aside (Sheer stockings? Matching shoes and bag? It’s 2012!), there were no equivalent measures instituted for men.

In some top Australian law firms, banks and accountancy companies, they’re bringing in stylists to issue lists of fashion dos and don’ts as well as to consult with women on appropriate attire. Let’s try not to get too distracted by the fun of having a stylist for free and instead point out that again, there are no similar measures taken for men. Somewhat hilariously, the firms counteract discrimination claims by claiming they’re combatting the “casualization” of the workplace … which they attribute to Gen Y.

From Gen Y women, who are both too casual and devoid of the suggested sheer stockings in the workplace, we say this: Thanks but no thanks. We don’t want to be your scapegoats. Instead, we’ll have to lie in wait, toting our matching shoes and handbags and a liberal coating of mascara, to hit the right stage in our career to look how we want, when we want.

Apparently, that will be when we make it to senior government.

Posted in: , ,
  • MoneyGal09

    Yes! This brilliant, well-researched, and well-written article completely captures my thoughts about the double standards that plague our society when it comes to women and their looks! Bravo! 

  • CityGirl86

    This article is being emailed to all my friends immediately! We were literally just talking about this! That’s what I love about LearnVest, it’s like they know what their readers are thinking and then go out and research and write about it–brilliant! 

  • Lara Stewart

    We also have the ability to change this. Do not ever make snarky comments to friends about another woman’s appearance or grooming, particularly if you two work together. Don’t read articles about Ashley Judd’s puffy face.

    Much of the enforcement of this double-standard is done by women. We have the power to end it.

  • Stephanie Rose

    I think it is really sad women are taught as girls that the only way they will look acceptable in society is by wearing makeup and having clothes and accessories that are considered acceptable. This can be changed one woman at a time. I don’t wear makeup or straighten my hair because that’s not what I was meant to look like. Women need to embrace their natural beauty, regardless of what imperfections there may be.

  • Lee

    I challenge LearnVest to a week without makeup at the office. Challenge your readers, too. I think there’d be a lot to share about what we’d learn. In fact, I think I’m going to do it starting tomorrow. I’m pretty sure no one will say anything at the office, and in the 15 minutes I get back each morning, I will read a book related to my field. How’s that for LearnVesting?!

  • Maggie Tennis @ Daily Download

    Carol Roth  has a lot to say about this topic. Lauren Ashburn, a prominent woman in media, interviewed her for Daily Download. See their discussion of the role of beauty for women in the workplace here: