Formal Make Up: Work-Appropriate / Conservative style

The idea of writing this post popped into my head while I was choosing my make up bag for my up-coming PhD Defence. Nothing can be more relaxing than choosing among tons of make up products in order to cast out anxiety. Believe me, it is way more effective than yoga practice.

First, let me say that there isn’t a universal concept of formal make up. It all depends on various contexts, people involved and situations. Here I only want to share some advices about a formal, work-appropriate make up since my academic context has a very conservative (and reactionary in many ways) style.

With this kind of formal make up you want to appear polished without standing out.

Of course, this make up style requires a lot of products in order to look *I won’t bother wearing tons of make up because I’m too serious for things like that*. I really can’t stand this way of thinking but sometimes you have to accept your whereabouts’ rules.

So, this is a little guide to a formal make up style.


Formal Make Up

Formal Make Up


There’s no formal make up without a perfect skin aka flawless base which still looks natural. Mission impossible? Not really.


  • Primer: the most important step. There is no flawless face without a good primer. Since it’s Summer I won’t go for a radiant finish but I’ll decide on Make Up For Ever Step 1 Skin Equalizer Smoothing Primer*. It makes the foundation step so much easier and makes all products last perfectly all day long.


  • Foundation: you have to choose a well tested option. Of course, you have to consider your skin type, location and temperature. Necessary condition: your foundation has to be long lasting and photo-friendly. Right now I’m debating between two option: my longtime love Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk or my recent favourite combo, MAC Cosmetics Face and Body mixed with new Pro Longwear Nourishing Waterproof which allows me to save some space (see points below)


  • Concealer: make sure it doesn’t crease throughout the day! I usually prefer using just a little concealer on major imperfections and illuminate the under-eye area minimizing the shadows. For my important day I think I’ll use MAC Cosmetics Pro Longwear Nourishing Waterproof Foundation which also works amazingly as a concealer. I prefer travelling light but if I’d have to choose an extra product it will be MAC Studio Conceal and Correct Duo.


  • Powder: powder is essential if you have an oily T-zone and for setting your make up. But you don’t want to look cakey: choose a lightweight powder, better if slightly illuminating. Avoid any shimmers and HD powder due to flashback effect. I’d go for MAC Cosmetics Mineralize Skinfinish Natural because it looks extremely natural and illuminates my entire complexion without any sparkle.


  • Blush: Nars blushes are my to-go for all important occasions. They don’t fade and they simply are the best quality blushes out there. Make sure to choose a natural colour and apply with a super light hand. You have to look serious, not cheerful (…). My work-appropriate blush is Nars Douceur, a earthy natural pink with a brown base which goes well with my complexion and skintone.


I’d avoid any contour / highlight since it’s difficult to achieve a completely natural result and on special occasion you don’t want to take the risk 😉


Formal Make Up

Formal Make Up



Eyes make up is quite difficult because you want to appear smart and you have to define well your eyes but you have to avoid a strong eye.


  • Eyeshadow Base: any primer is a fundamental step and so it is the eye primer. My favourite one in any circumstance is MAC Cosmetics Paint in Bare Canvas.


  • Eyeshadow(s): you don’t have to choose all boring nude / neutral matte shades. On the contrary, you have to choose the shades that compliments your eyes the most because you want to have eyes like sparkling jewels. A quad is the best option since you need at least three eyeshadows to achieve a good result. I chose my favourite quad from Charlotte Tilbury, the Vintage Vamp one. Burgundy eyeshadows makes my eyes awake, vivid and more beautiful. The medium burgundy on the light, the deep burgundy on outer v and crease and the pink-beige shade as highlighter. The gold shimmery shade is perfect to transform the eye make up for a night out.


  • Eyeliner: I won’t take the risk to do a perfect winged eyeliner. A smudgeable eye pencil is the better choice to define your eyes in a smoky, soft way. It has to be long lasting and waterproof, though. At the moment, my preferred choice is Elizabeth Arden Precision Glide Eye Liner in Java 03*. It is retractable, lasts all day without smudging and the brown shade is more gentle than black.


  • Mascara: it’s up to you but make sure it doesn’t smudge especially on hot days. My choice is Laura Mercier Extra Lash Sculpting Mascara*: volumizing, lenghtening and get my lashes in shape.


  • Brows: don’t ever forget the eyebrows. Don’t. Your eyes need to be framed. A natural look is trending now but you have to define them at least a little. To avoid an unwanted *Instagram brows* effect (this is not the right occasion, believe me) choose Hourglass Arch Brow Sculpting Pencil. It is as much as natural as a powder but it is extremely handy since it’s a pencil.


Formal Make Up

Formal Make Up


Sadly, this is not the time to dare bright lips. But you don’t have to settle on nudes. A my lips but better shade is the best choice.


  • Lip Pencil: if you want a long lasting result it is better to use a lip pencil before your lipstick. It doesn’t have to be matchy matchy with your lipstick but make sure to smudge it well on the entire lips to avoid a darker contour. I really love MAC Cosmetics lip pencils and my preferred one for all formal events is Half-Red, a mlbb shade with a bit of character.


  • Lipstick: Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution is my favourite formula and my to-go when I don’t have the opportunity to do touch-ups. It doesn’t dry out my lips, it isn’t flashy and it lasts for hours. Walk of Shame is a mlbb for me (on the warm side), it isn’t the same colour as Half-Red but they make a super nice mix.


Formal Make Up

Formal Make Up


On these special occasion, you have to pay attention to your body too. If you’re going to wear a skirt or a dress you may want your legs to look perfect. You can use MAC Cosmetics Face and Body Foundation mentioned above since it doesn’t leave any marks. You put it and you forget it. It is perfect to get a uniform colour and conceal little imperfections. If you need to add a little bit of colour I suggest using Vita Liberata Capture the Light Illuminating Skin Finish*. I’m going to use this one in Latte Light since I have fair skin. It doesn’t leave stain and illuminates my legs with a light, transparent caramel shade which looks surprisingly natural.

Last but not least, nails. Vampy shades are really elegant but I’ll go with a mannequin manicure, with OPI Don’t Pretzel My Buttons.

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