This article is part of Pretty Pressure, a series exploring beauty labor: the idea that our beauty routines are work and should be considered as such. While beautifying can be a source of relaxation, bonding, and self-esteem, for others, it’s a chore — one which can take a real toll on us. Today’s installment of Pretty Pressure discusses the requirement for women to wear makeup in the workplace.
It’s clear that many women are pressured into wearing makeup at work. For some women, this pressure is explicit and comes from management, co-workers or customers. For example, Alex, 27, was working on the children’s floor of a popular clothing store when her manager told her that she “hoped she could start wearing makeup”.
Alex was stunned – she had also consistently hit her sales goals and never received a customer complaint, plus she always dressed in the clothing sold in store, as required, and wore her hair pulled back in a tidy ponytail. She was confused when her manager said people “wouldn’t want to ask her for fashion advice if they weren’t convinced by how she looked” because she was stationed on the children’s floor. She was also earning minimum wage and became concerned about how she was going to afford the “eyeliner, mascara, foundation, blush and lip gloss” that her manager suggested she start with.
Makeup is a significant cost for women, especially those on the lower end of the earning scale. A survey by SkinStore found that women walk around with an average of $8 worth of makeup and skincare products on their faces per day, which works out to a whopping $300,000 during their lifetimes. This means that, for women who are earning minimum wage, more than an hour of the work day simply covers the cost of looking acceptable enough to be there in the first place — according to our strictly gendered beauty standards, of course.
After the winter season at the clothing store was over, Alex was told her contract wouldn’t be renewed. “I had a feeling I wouldn’t be asked to stay on,” she said. “My manager came over and asked if he could talk with me on a walk around the mall, and I said okay. He told me that they wouldn’t be extending my contract. He said that I was a great employee and that I could definitely apply next summer, but that I’d have to dress better to represent the store and that I should consider this my ‘wake-up call’. Meanwhile, he’s wearing a T-shirt and jeans.”
“When it happened, I felt like a mixture of the embodiment of the eye-roll emoji and resignation,” she said. “Like, well this was inevitable and here it is.”
Women who work in service roles are particularly susceptible to the pressure to wear makeup — sometimes this takes the form of unofficial requests by managers, hedged as “looking presentable” or “representing the company”. For example, Victoria, 32, was working as a concierge at a luxury apartment building where she was given a copy of the company dress code, which did not mention hair or makeup. However, the women in the office started to receive group texts from their manager telling them they needed a more “polished” appearance.