On a recent flying visit to Paris earlier this month to conduct quiet talks with a senior member of the Libyan opposition, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was snapped boarding a plane – without make-up. Just the next day she was photographed with red lipstick firmly in place. However, the fact that she had not only showed her naked face in public but allowed a picture to be taken for posterity (or at least various blogs) reflects a current trend in grooming. Put simply: women increasingly dare to bare.
Both Cherie Blair, wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair, and former home secretary Jacqui Smith have been captured without make-up on occasion. Samantha Cameron, wife of the current prime minister David Cameron, is only very subtly enhanced with make-up – the barest hint of blusher or mascara. Meanwhile, among fashion insiders, going without make-up has become almost a cult thing. Anna Dello Russo, editor at large at Vogue Nippon, often appears make-up-free; the same is true of super-stylists Melanie Ward and Anna Cockburn, and editors Katie Grand (of Love) and Penny Martin (of The Gentlewoman). Phoebe Philo, Céline designer and queen of minimalism, only wears a light foundation. Recent beauty trends, too, have underlined the move towards a scrubbed face, with bleached brows and mascara-free lashes last season, and naked eyelids for spring.
There is a bravery and efficiency associated with not wearing cosmetics that plays well in the workplace – or so it seems. In reality, though, things may not be so simple.
“I go into the office quite regularly without make-up,” says Caitlin Flack, a director in risk management at Nomura bank. “It’s partly because I cycle to work. But I do also think it’s possible that you get taken more seriously without make-up.”
In Flack’s workplace, she says it is only those women who are lower down the ranks who are overtly made-up. “There are a lot of good-looking, well-groomed people in banking but not many higher up seem to wear much make-up,” she says.
Ouma Sananikone, a former chief executive of wealth management companies and now a board director, says: “Anything that is a distraction – be it overly heavy make-up, strident suit colours in men, over-preening – would be perceived as lack of judgement in a finance environment. Apart from the occasional lipstick, I have never worn make-up to work. My skin has always been reasonably clear and blemish-free, and I do not wear foundation.”
But, she points out, if you are going to go make-up free in an office, especially one in the City, “It’s about grooming: if you are badly groomed and wore no make-up, it would hold you back.”
Felicity Albert, director, communications at Nomura, favours a barely there approach, saying “I like keep it as natural as possible. Working in an investment bank, I don’t think it’s appropriate to look heavily dolled-up. For me, it’s about looking ready for a day’s work.”
But not everyone applauds the make-up-free face. Nicola Moulton, health and beauty director of Vogue UK, says: “I’ve never really bought into the idea that women who don’t wear much make-up are actually the most confident ones. There’s laziness, there’s lack of skill and there’s not knowing what to buy, which could all be factors too.” Though such a statement is not exactly surprising given her job, Moulton actually appears to be make-up free when you first see her. She admits this is the result of a skilled application of tinted moisturiser, eyebrow pencil, blusher and bronzer – even at weekends.
Image consultant Elizabeth Barnett Lawton of Style On Call (www.styleoncall.co.uk) advocates such “no-make-up make-up” to give women polish and help them get ahead in their careers. “With the exception of new mothers, who are too exhausted to worry about putting their face on, women really benefit from a daily make-up routine,” she says. “Aside from young girls, most women only look great completely free from make-up in bed, on the beach, and at a spa, gym or yoga class.”