Office Makeup: How to Look Polished and Professional at Work

Published in: Makeup Tips/How To

Written by Fiona

Today Fiona of Jolie Laide Girl shares a few tips to look made up and marvelous at the office.

One challenge many young women face is choosing the right makeup for a corporate environment. Looking competent and professional is incredibly important. Although that might mean putting down the glittery eyeliner, it doesn’t have to mean bare-faced beauty. Studies have shown that women who wear make-up to work are more likely to get promoted. The trick is finding a look that enhances your natural beauty.


For most people, a striking look isn’t usually the way to go, but please don’t take that to mean that standing out in the workplace is always a bad strategy. Some of the most succesful women I know made an effort to stand out with their appearance, whether that be with bright lips or their choice of dress. However, smoky eyes in the workplace are generally considered a no-no. They either look too sultry or like you didn’t remove last night’s make-up. Either way, it doesn’t spell promote me!

Here are a couple of ground rules for a workplace safe look:

  1. It has to stand the test of time; you don’t want to have to keep retouching your look when you have to dash from meeting to meeting.
  2. It has to be low-maintenance and easy enough for you to be able to complete in a rush. Some people might be prepared to spend 30 minutes doing their face in the mornings, but I’d rather spend an extra 20 minutes in bed and 10 minutes doing my face.
  3. It should enhance, and not hide who you are.
  4. It shouldn’t be distracting; remember, you want people to be listening to what you’re saying without being mesmerized by your hot pink lipgloss.
  5. It should make you feel both comfortable and amazing. If you’re busy stressing about your eyeliner, how can you hope to concentrate on that spreadsheet?!

So, what are some products you can use to look gorgeous at the office?


Well, since you want your make-up to stand the test of time, start with a good base. For eyes, there are a number of excellent products: MAC Paint, Urban Decay Priming Potion, and ELF Eye Shadow Primer are just a couple of my picks for eye shadows. For skin, my current favorites are Smashbox and Tarte’s Primers.

Foundations and concealers are next on the eye list, and make sure your base isn’t too thick or pasty. I adore dewy skin where it’s appropriate, but it does tend to get shiny, and shiny doesn’t say cool under pressure. Matte is the way to go here. I dust my face with powder to matte down and carry blotting papers for lunchtime touchups. A couple of brands with blotting papers are Sephora, MAC, and Boscia.

Eye colors are up next, and I have a couple of work safe looks I rotate. Basically, they’re all about subtlety, rather than showing off your amazing blending skills. I know, I’m sorry — colors that make you look wide awake are great as well. Oh, and I might have hinted at this before, but I’ll say it now: glittery colors are a big no-no. Keep them for the weekends, girlies. I have green eyes, and I love colors like taupes, bronzes, browns, and greys.

I have a few standard looks: a light taupe on the lid with a bronze on the crease; a light taupe on the lid with grey on the crease; or an all-over beige with a sweep of brown liquid liner. Highlighting is still important, but keep it subtle! Eyeliner on the outer third of my eye makes me look better, too, but in browns and greys; never black, as it’s too strong.

  • Shadows I come back to again and again: MAC Ricepaper, Satin Taupe, Smoke and Diamonds, Woodwinked, Bronze, Arena, Shroom, Benefit Nice Melons, and ELF’s Mineral Shadow in Natural.
  • Eye liners: Bobbi Brown Gel in Graphite Shimmer, MAC Fluidline in Rich Ground, Urban Decay in Corrupt and Bourbon.

Mascara obviously has to happen, and the big thing for me is making sure that it will last a long time. Sometimes, with the AC in the office and from staring at a computer screen, my eyes will get dry, so I’ll rub them. When I do, I don’t want my mascara to give me panda eyes. Covergirl LashBlast is my current office fave, but there are other great mascaras out there.

Next, eyebrows are another of the best ways to show off what a professional chica you really are because they frame your face. Keeping them neat and tidy is well worthwhile. Don’t overpluck either, girls. Strong brows are a gorgeous look. I’ll either fill mine in with powder and use a wax to set, or I’ll use a tinted brow gel like Anastasia. If I’m in a rush, a touch of clear brow gel does the trick. Bonus: it’s completely idiot proof.


Blush should enhance your lovely face, and while I adore a gorgeous and rosy, just-out-of-the-cold glow, I’m more looking for something to add a touch of color when I’m at work. Be careful about using anything too shimmery, but a touch of shimmer looks nice under fluorescent lights that bounce off your cheekbones.

My tip? Use something sheer in which color can be built upon. It helps avoid any early morning blush disasters. Benefit’s Sugarbomb is hitting my target right now, but MAC Margin and Benefit Posie Tint are great, too.



With lip color, you have a little bit more freedom to express yourself than you do at work with eye colors, as long as they aren’t too distracting. Personally, I love pinky nudes and a matte look for Mad Men-style sophistication. NARS Velvet Mattes are my personal favorites for channeling that gorgeous look.

  • Lipsticks that I love for the office: MAC Crème Cup, Shy Girl, Blankety, Bobbi Brown Peony, NYX Pumpkin Pie and Tea Rose
  • Lipglosses: MAC 2N, 3N, C Thru, Underage and Love Nectar

Preparation is always important. Most of the time, I’ll prepare my weekday looks on Sunday nights, so I don’t spend time deciding what to wear or rummaging through my drawers looking for a particular color right before work. In my look bag I’ll have 4 shadows, a couple of lipsticks and glosses, a blush, my base, and mascara. That saves me at least another 5 minutes in the mornings (more time in bed!).

Written by Fiona

This post was written by Fiona of Jolie Laide Girl, a British expat living in New York. When she’s not obsessing over MAC, NARS, Benefit and Urban Decay, you’ll find her working in IT for a bank. She shares her home with her lovely husband and their adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Moose.


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So far, 27 people have commented on this article. How cool is that?

  1. Mercee says:

    Thanks for this post, really helpful. The information is great and to have suggestions for colours really helps. xxx

  2. Scientific Housewife says:

    Great tips and color choices. I wear scrubs all day at work so I like to be more colorful in my makeup choices but it’s a lot more casual than a corporate environment 🙂

  3. Kim says:

    Great tips Fiona! I really like your color selections, particularly for the lips. I also have green eyes and find that pink shadows are subtle and flattering too. In a pinch, a light dusting of white on the inside corners helps me look more awake too. 🙂

  4. Rita says:

    I would get depressed if I was not able wear colours (makeup & clothes). I work in an organization that is over 90 years old, and basicly conservative, but lucky me, I live in ‘liberal’ Northern Europe – whatever that means. Although, it is not that my collegues would wear colourful makeup or clothes. Like last week, we were all out for a casual dinner at a restaurant, and all the other women wore black (boring), and I was in bright teal and Essie Turquoise & Caicos 🙂 ! And today I’m wearing MAC Star ‘N’ Rockets eyeshadow and Essie Splash of Grenadine!

  5. Nina says:

    Most of the shadows you use, I also use. I also use Posie Tint, which I love, love, love. Im not as prepared as you are but I find that I generally reach for mostly neutral shadows for the workweek. Since the office I work for is pretty casual, I can (and do) jazz my eyeshadow up with a brightly colored liner.

    What I find weird though is I cannot use UD eyeshadows for work — I find them too glittery and shimmery to be work appropriate; even with a primer and a light hand. 🙂

    Thanks for the article!

  6. Anne says:

    Hi Karen!
    Would you recommend Chanel’s 5-shadow eye palette in incognito for office makeup? Please let me know. 🙂 Thanks!

  7. jessimae says:

    hey karen, could you do one of these for browner girls? many of the shades she suggested are too cool or they would actually be brights on because it would contrast with my skintone

  8. Lisa S. says:

    Oooo, she mentioned Smoke and Diamonds which is one of my all time favorite Mac Shadows.
    I really wish they would bring it back and make it part of the permanent line. It works so well for day or I can make it work for evening too.
    ‘m lucky that My hubster and I own our own business, I can pretty much do what I want as far as makeup, course they day my sweet other half made a Bela Lugosi crack, I knew I’d gone to far with the smoke!

  9. Ashwini says:

    Great post, I love all the swatches, and I like how you have given us a healthy mix of high end and drugstore brands!
    .-= Ashwini’s last blog post… Coastal Scents HD foundation review =-.

  10. Agnes says:

    I love this post! As i am one year away from graduation, that office job is coming up sooner than i expected and this is great to refer to 🙂 thanks fiona for all your tips and recommendations!
    .-= Agnes’s last blog post… Coastal Scents Haul! =-.

  11. Anna says:

    Very good helpful post

  12. chibu74 says:

    amazing post….i always wonder what should be ideal makeup for office and how i can make it quick in the mornings.

    Thanks for sharing

  13. Catherine says:

    Every time I read one of these posts I am more and more thankful that I am in a field where this kind of nonsense doesn’t matter.
    .-= Catherine’s last blog post… SunGod Festival =-.

  14. Karen B says:

    Thanks, this is a great post 🙂
    .-= Karen B’s last blog post… Get the Look: Little Boots at Live Lounge =-.

  15. Hedy says:

    Do you have any tips on Posie tint? I can’t get the hang of it,
    .-= Hedy’s last blog post… Penny for my Thoughts Review: Smokey Shadow Blast =-.

  16. Hi everyone – thanks for the lovely feedback 🙂

    @Hedy – I just use 3 dabs of posietint on my cheeks from apple toward my cheekbone and quickly blend for a subtle blush. Hope that helps.
    .-= scarlettholly’s last blog post… Drugstore Dupe Alert! Aveeno Skin Brightening Daily Scrub =-.

  17. Alaina says:

    I LOVED this article. This is definitely a life saver.
    .-= Alaina’s last blog post… Revlon & Maybelline Drugstore Haul! =-.

  18. Eli says:

    I’m not going to lie, I’m an engineer, the majority of people I work with are 40+ year old ultra conservative men, and I wear whatever the heck I want in makeup to work! They realize they can wear loud ties, I can wear fuchsia lipstick. It’s the whole principle: Same but different.
    P.S. I just got a promotion (YAY!) so I can say being strong, independent, and classy, don’t be afraid to be colourful!

  19. Shiny says:

    Great post, I’ve been thinking of picking up some less shimmery colours lately, I’ll check out the ones you mentioned.

  20. Kahani says:

    Great post. May want to point out though that promotions in the office may not necessarily be fully credited to makeup. The KIND of person who takes trouble to wake up a little earlier to groom and look polished for the office is usually preferable to the one to schleps in late looking like she woke up in a bush. If you don’t care about your appearance at work , chances are you don’t care about the job.
    .-= Kahani’s last blog post… Sunscreen Series: Ego Sunsense Daily Face SPF30+ Invisible Tint Finish =-.

  21. Tania says:

    Great article esp the color suggestions. Easy to get to the MAC counter and get lured in by all of the bright colors. I second the suggestions on primers and setting stuff out. I also think that application and blending is key. So a sheer wash of fushia can look really neutral and bright on certain skin tones instead of *bang* bright! Good stuff though!!!

  22. C.K. says:

    Do you recommend any eye shadow palettes? It’s a little overwhelming to go to Mac and pick out several shadows separately.
    .-= C.K.’s last blog post… My Top 5 Artists (Week Ending 2010-5-16) =-.

  23. Tracey says:

    Wow, this is such a detailed post, thank you. Although I cant imagine planning my makeup on Sunday night — I’m more of a dash out the door at the last minute in the morning kinda girl. And I’m embarassed to say that I am normally putting on my mineral makeup in the car … messy! A good tip though is to at least get the creme foundation on at home and then bronzer on the cheeks in the car.

  24. Lisa says:

    Thx very helpful!

  25. Priya says:

    Hi Fiona,,

    What colors will be good for dark skinned. I am currently using foundation from Claires and compaq too from them Unfortunately it vanishes in no time(earlier I tried make up for professionals it was good but looked very heavy). . Since I work at an university it’s hard for me to retouch with students around, but at the same time I need to look fresh.

    Can you please suggest good brands which would last long.

    Thank you

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