Making a Case for a Whole New Back-to-Work Makeup Look

How to choose a fresh post-pandemic makeup vibe, and why you should.

Making the Case for Entirely New Back-to-Work Makeup
Photo: Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty Images

For almost 15 years, my morning routine was basically the same: Shower, blow dry my hair, put on makeup, and head into the office. The makeup was almost always the same, too. I wore foundation, concealer, blush, eyelid primer, eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, and lip gloss. The eye shadow was a neutral shimmer; the eye liner and mascara were black. If I didn't put my makeup on, I felt completely naked - I almost never left the house without it.

Fast forward to me quitting my job in 2018 and starting to work from home, and I started wearing makeup less and less (and, to be honest, showering less and less). Then came the pandemic, and I felt even less compunction to put on makeup regularly - and if I did, it was for a Zoom that I needed to put on a lot of makeup for. There was no in-between.

But now, as we emerge slowly from pandemic times, I started wondering: What is my post-pandemic makeup vibe? (And yes, I want to have a post-pandemic makeup vibe, thank you very much!) After the crushing experience of parenting and surviving this chaotic time, choosing a lipstick I've never worn or out-there eyeshadow is about as low-stakes, high-joy a decision I could make in my day-to-day.

For many women who were used to wearing a full face of makeup prior to the pandemic, then stopped wearing makeup during lockdown, redefining their work looks has been almost revelatory. Emily Wood, a 37-year-old therapist who lives in Seattle, says that she's been enjoying the process of applying light makeup after more than a year of Zooms in which she hardly wore any - and so she's embraced what one might call the Glossier look: "I've definitely switched to focusing on dewy skin, and filled in eyebrows are a must for me to feel more 'polished.'"

Indeed, because masks are still required at work in a lot of places, the emphasis on eye makeup and especially eyebrows is still going strong for many of the women I spoke with. Holly Chase, a 44-year-old teacher in Spokane, Wash., says that she now never skips doing her eye makeup or her brows, "since they are the only thing that show. In the beforetimes, that would be the first thing I would skip if I was crunched for time. Now they are a must."

Still, Wood says she had to go through some trial-and-error to figure out her back-to-the-office looks. "I definitely experienced the existential quandary of 'what even is makeup!?' when I tried applying it after a long while," she says. "It was equivalent to being a teen visiting a department store makeup counter for the first time. I applied all of the things, decided I didn't even recognize myself and washed the whole thing off."

For anyone looking for a new work makeup look, it seems like there are a few distinct directions to go in - that classic dewy-and-light combo, sure; or big, bold looks that are trending now that many of us are feeling more experimental again. Wynter Mitchell, a Los Angeles-based social media strategist has landed on emphasizing her cheekbones and coral colors. "I want to look natural - I don't want to look like a different person," she says. "I am wearing makeup lighter. I'm concentrating on lips, lifting cheeks with coral blush and mascara."

My instinct is to go for a look like this, a kind of "elevated natural," with an emphasis on brows and cheekbones. I've gotten used to not wearing foundation during the pandemic, and my skin has been grateful, so I think I'll keep that off for now. And fixing up my brows makes such an impact I can't believe I went years - years! - without bothering to touch them. But I'm also wondering if now is the time to try something completely different - maybe a bright lip and a cat eye, like the influencer Alissa Janay posted recently, or multicolored shadow, like the makeup artist and microinfluencer Rhianna Angell has been doing. And if I'm feeling really bold, I might even attempt one of the borderline-sci-fi looks that Toronto-based makeup artist Mei Pang has demonstrated lately (talk about mastering eyeliner - and having an instant conversation-starter when office small talk is a thing again).

If your face has been hidden by a mask for 18 months - or hunched over a laptop at home for years before that - why not give it a whole new look before bounding through those office doors come fall? The only reason I can think of is fear, and we've been through a lot scarier, haven't we?

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