How To Wear Fun Lipstick To Work Without Getting A Written Warning In Your Employee File

You don't have to wear some variation on beige Monday through Friday. Step up your lipstick game with these non-boring office-appropriate options.
Publish date:
September 4, 2013
lipsticks, lip glosses, red lipsticks, pink lipsticks, work, long wear lipsticks, being awesome at work

In part one of my work-appropriate makeup series, I wrote about eye makeup that doesn’t suck. Today I’m going to talk about lipstick. Get excited, guys!

I doubt I’m going to shock any of you when I say that I love bright lipstick. A friend of mine accidentally dressed up as me for Halloween a number of years ago, and really bright red lips were a key part of the look (along with cat eye liner and bangs).

I was flattered.

Much in magazines and on the internet says that if I got an office job today, I would have to hang up my intense pinks and near-neon reds forever. Apparently people think that the only lip colour you can wear to work is beige. MAYBE brown, if you’re feeling bold.

This, dear readers, is crap. I mean, if you love beige lipstick--okay, do you. But for everyone You can do so much better. So let’s discuss.


It’s really hard to write about makeup at work, because there are so many types of workplace now, and what is “appropriate” at one isn’t at another.

That said, I think there are a couple boxes that we can tick when it comes to lipstick, no matter the dress code that you have to adhere to during your 9-5.

No matter where you work, you don’t want a lipstick that you need to check every forty five seconds to be sure it isn’t migrating onto your teeth or across your face. For this reason, right off the bat, I’m vetoing high-shine glosses.

They look really pretty, but they aren’t all that practical. You gotta focus on DOING things when you’re at work, not worrying about your lip colour sliding off your face like a gelatinous slug.

It pains me to write this, but I’m also going to say “probably not” to anything with glitter in it for work. Shimmer is good! Glitter, less good. Wear it to happy hour instead.

Those are the only real guidelines that I have. It would be a lot easier for me to write something definite, like “Only ever wear matte red lipstick to work! Coral gloss will get you fired!” but none of that is true. It all depends on YOU, YOUR style and what you’re comfortable with in your workplace.


Kind of? Almost any colour can work AT work--so long as it isn’t blue or green (or black or grey). I know, bummer. But luckily there are still like a billion colours in the warm family that we can get into!

I have a friend who wears chapstick to work. One of my doctors wears the most gorgeous tangerine lipstick. When I need feel confident and powerful, I grab the brightest pink I can find, whereas my mum won’t leave the house without a red-berry colour on her kisser. We’ve all found what works, and even though it’s different for each of us, we all look chic.

If you work in a very conservative environment (or you’re just not sure what your style is yet) and you want to stick to a “natural” colour, pick a lipstick that is like two shades darker than the inside of your lips.

This is guaranteed to be flattering and will read as “natural, together and appropriate,” no matter what career path you’re taking.


Maybe! The most important thing for work makeup is that it looks neat and DONE. If you have problems with feathering (lipcolour bleeding into the fine lines around your mouth) or you have a hard time getting your line even (without a brush, because who wants to carry one of those around), then yes, you absolutely do.

My issue is getting my line totally straight. I can draw world’s most perfect cat eye but I suck at getting lipstick the same on both sides of my cupid’s bow. It's a personal failing. I week over it every day.

The good news is, you probably don’t need a perfectly matching lipliner for every lipstick you own. I only have four liners, and they work for every single colour I have. You will soon see that this is more impressive than it sounds; I have A LOT of lip colours.

So I have...

  • One close to my lips’ natural colour (Sonia Kashuk, Hibiscus)
  • One dark red (L’Oreal Colour Riche, Truly Burgundy)
  • One deep bright pink (Nyx, Bloom)

Depending on the palette you like, you might need different colours. I’ve never bought an expensive liner because drugstore ones are already awesome, so what’s the point? How much better can they actually be?

If your problem is feathering and you’re morally opposed to coloured pencils you use on your lips--in which case, you have bigger problems--you may want to try a clear liner. This works by creating an invisible barrier, past which the lip colour cannot travel. Try applying it without shouting “YOU! SHALL NOT! PASS!” like Gandalf. I bet you one million dollars you won’t be able to do it.


The most important criteria for lip colour in the professional world is that you keep it up throughout the day. Eaten off or faded colour isn’t very well put together.

So you have a few options here:

  • A longwear lipcolour that you won’t have to fuss with much during the day (tradeoff: usually looks pretty heavy, often drying).
  • A more traditional satin-finish lipstick (tradeoff: wears off, often unevenly).
  • A coloured gloss that gives a “natural” look (tradeoff: FREQUENT touchups).

People have very strong opinions about which of these they like the best, and I really can't pick for you. Instead, I have picked my favourites in ALL THREE categories and broken them down into price points (drug store vs department store). That way, whatever your budget, you can get fantastic lipstick that looks awesome at work.

Longwear, drug store edition: Revlon Colorstay Ultimate Suede Lipstick.

Revlon has been knocking it out of the park with their lip game lately. I usually don’t LOVE super-longwear lipstick, but this product has made question that. It’s seriously next level.

It applies smoothly with a semi-matte finish, and lasted about seven hours (including through lunch and a very sweaty workout). It didn’t make my lips dry or flaky like a lot of long haul lipsticks do, and as I said, I’m super all about this colour.

The only thing I wasn’t instantly wild about is the smell, which is evident as soon as you pull off the lid. The good news is, it dissipates quickly and doesn’t smell when it’s on your mouth. I didn’t notice it once all day while wearing it, and I was REALLY looking for it--you guys know how much I hate smells.

The other thing I like about this is that you get great colour without it being thick. You could probably even put this over gloss to lighten it up.

I’ll definitely be running to Target to buy more of these. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

Longwear, department store edition: Stila Lip and Cheek Stain and NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil.

(I couldn’t choose between these two for the higher end longwear lipcolour champion, so I had to crown them both. They do different things, though, so I feel okay about this.)

Stila Lip and Cheek stain.

The Stila stain is my favourite stain of all time, hands down. My favourite is Raspberry Crush, a pink that’s just a little deeper than my natural lip colour.

It goes on evenly and without streaking, provides beautiful colour and stays all day. Seriously. I had problems trying to get this off while I was shooting these pictures. Though it’s a stain, it doesn’t settle into the cracks of your lips and make them all dark and weird looking. It also has a faint shimmer, which I thought I’d hate but don’t.

It looks--and feels--awesome by itself (not drying!) or underneath some gloss. By itself, it’s a slightly shimmery matte finish that makes you look like you have world’s most perfectly tinted matte lips. Under a light gloss (like Maybelline Baby Lips in Cherry Pie), it shines but never feels sticky. You may have to reapply the gloss throughout the day, but you won’t have to mess with the stain. This stuff does not budge.

Plus, I like the little twist-up tube with the brush--it makes application very precise.

My only issue with this is that it only comes in a few colours. COME ON STILA, MAKE THIS IN A MILLION SHADES AND I WILL BUY THEM ALL.

NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil.

I’ve probably written about this product in glowing terms before because I love it, but whatever I have said is totally insufficient. These things are glorious beyond words.

The chubby pencil makes for super-easy application, which is fantastic, but the formula is where this really shines. Matte yet non-drying, pigmented yet long-lasting, comfortable beyond all belief, AND comes in a buttload of different colours? It’s the holy grail.

My favourite colour is Dragon Girl, which has the distinction of looking amazing on every single one of my friends, no matter our skin tones. It’s like Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, except better, and we all have our own pencils.

If I worked in the fanciest of offices or had a court date, Dragon Girl might be a little intense. But Dolce Vita, which is a dusty rose pink, is perfect for even the most conservative environments.

When I say that these pencils last, I really mean it. Last winter (when I had purple hair), I wore this to a show where I danced onstage with my friends, then went to an afterparty where we kept dancing. At 5am we were all drenched in sweat and my bangs were soaked and matted against my head...but my lipstick was still flawless.

I don’t think you’ll be throwing many crazy sweaty dance parties in an office (or maybe you will, I don’t know your life), but if you want great colour with a matte finish that feels effortless and doesn’t require many touch ups, this is the lipstick for you.

The only problem with this lipstick is that I don’t own all of them. Seriously.

Regular wear lipstick, drugstore edition: Maybelline Color Sensational.

It feels like such a long time ago that I was bribing my mum with Mexican food to be in my first ever xoVain article. In it--and in a bunch of other articles since--I extolled the virtues of Maybelline’s Color Sensational lipsticks for their great texture, stunning range of colours and mixability.

Well, that opinion hasn’t changed. I’ve since bought every single Vivids lipstick they’ve made, because they are brilliant. Literally.

For a non-longwear lipstick, these last a surprisingly long time. I can go about three hours without needing to touch up the colour, which is fantastic, and they don’t get all over my teeth in the meantime. The formula is smooth, but doesn’t clump in any rough, cracked or bitten parts if you (like me) sometimes nibble at the skin on your lips.

I mentioned that these lipsticks don’t bleed, and they don’t. You might want to use a lipliner to even the edges, especially if you’ve picked a bright colour, but it certainly isn’t a necessity.

Obviously bright lipsticks are my Thing, so I stick to the Vivids range. But if you want something a little less high-octane, there are literally six zillion shades in the Color Sensational line. You cannot possibly go wrong.

Lancome, Rouge in Love.

I was really spoiled in college when it came to lipstick. A friend of mine worked for Lancome, and so I was always awash in new colours and formulas (even though I usually preferred Juicy Tubes). When it came time for class and I was running late, I’d just reach for one of these lipsticks and feel instantly more put together. Like I hadn't been up all night watching Mean Girls and eating pizza with my roommate, Sara.

Time has passed, and that girl and I fell out of touch. Lancome changed their packaging. But these lipsticks are still as gorgeous and glorious as they ever were.

I LOVE the Rouge in Love formula. It’s lightweight but packs a really serious punch of glossy colour, and it feels so creamy and soft when it’s on. I’m not sure I ever appreciated how great this lipstick felt until I was shooting the photos for this story. After putting on and scrubbing off what felt like eight kajillion lipsticks, this formula was so soft and moist and soothing, it felt like a holiday. I am not even kidding. If lipbalms felt this incredible, I probably wouldn’t bite my lips so much.

The thing I like most about it is that even as it fades and wears, it fades EVENLY so that you aren’t left with a super-colourful lipline and nothing in the middle. The colour I’m wearing starts off as a rich berry pink and, after a few hours of wear, looks like I’ve been eating cherries in a magical orchard somewhere. So, yeah you’ll have to touch it up eventually...but you’ll still look great in the meantime.

I need to remember to wear this colour more often. I'm re-obsessed.

Coloured gloss, drugstore edition: Revlon Lip Butters.

Like I said: Revlon, your lipstick game is on point. These Lip Butters are perfect--sheer, lightweight, moisturising, comes in a bunch of colours. Also, how great is the packaging?

If I’m out walking my dog and you run into me, chances are I’m wearing one of these. They’re gorgeous, simple colours that are casual enough to wear around the park with Oliver, but still fancy enough to wear to the office. I especially like Raspberry Pie as officewear--everyone looks good in a rich red.

Plus, they’re cheap--so if, say, you get pickpocketed one day and your makeup bag is stolen, you won’t weep bitter tears while replacing them (she said, having been there).

Clinique Almost Lipstick

A very scientific survey of my facebook friends determined that 80% of those who wear makeup freaking LOVE these lipsticks...or glosses...whatever. I have no idea what kind of witchcraft Clinique uses to make these few colours look outstanding on every skin tone, but they should keep it up.

Black Honey is the classic here, and I totally get why--it gives my lips a little colour and darkness, without being over-the-top nineties cranberry brown. I wasn’t expecting much from this colour when I bought it, and now it’s one of my favourites.

I think the best part about these is how well they lend themselves to layering. A single pass gives you light, simple colour that’s suitable for any workplace--like, oh yes, these are my lips, aren’t they the most amazing natural colour? A couple more passes and it’s brighter.

I love stuff that's easily customisable. Especially lip colour.

And that’s all she wrote! Well, almost. Let’s talk about lipstick and life now--what’s your go-to lipcolour for work? Do you have a makeup dress code? What are your favourite products that I should try? Should I dye my hair purple again? IMPORTANT QUESTIONS, GUYS!