The Case for Not Looking Like Hell

Last week I broke my rule. I had just come from the gym and had to dash to the Upper West Side and take care of some business. Instead of stopping home for a quick shower, change of clothing, and a touch of mascara and lip gloss, I decided to go “as is.” As soon as I got off the train, I saw a TV producer I had been hoping to re-connect with and pitch some ideas. In my big wool hat (hiding my crazy gym-hair), sloppy sweats and sneakers, let’s just say I was not ready for primetime. I looked like hell. I slipped past him.

I am a firm believer in leaving the house looking pretty good, I won’t lie. For me, that doesn’t mean a fully tarted up face and heels, but I always want to look decent; because it’s true, as I was just reminded the hard way, you never know who you might meet. I grew up with a Georgia Peach of a mom who didn’t leave the house without lipstick and perfume, and a dashing dad who favored Italian tailors. What can I say? My bar is pretty high.

Now, how we each define looking pulled together is relative and open to interpretation. Maybe you would have felt great in your sweats and sneakers. Good for you! Maybe you need a sexy dress and killer pumps, or a suit. That’s okay too. It’s all about taking the right measures to feel self-assured.

Just as I feel better when I am prepared for a meeting or interview with the right information and the right questions, I also feel stronger and more confident when I look pulled together. It’s as though I’m wearing a special anti-frump coat of armor. That “armor” doesn’t have to be expensive, but it has to fit well, and I have to feel comfortable in it.

Three tricks I’ve learned over the years:

1. Find your uniform. I find that I lean toward certain outfits, such as perfect black or dark-wash jeans, a good sweater, and great pair of boots for the winter. For summer, it might be an easy dress and sandals or ballet flats.

2. Invest in things you love. A well-made coat and a trench, a good bag, and a few decent accessories. When you have these pieces in your arsenal it makes looking crappy more of a long shot. Plus, once you have good basics, you don’t spend precious time searching for the right things. Who has time?

3. A little make up goes a long way. I think at a certain point in a woman’s life — ahem — a truly fresh face isn’t necessarily so … fresh. But neither is full-on kabuki-mode, either — it’s aging. A little dab will do you. My easy day face takes me about two minutes: a touch of concealer under the eyes, mascara, a little blush and some tinted lip gloss or a stain. I’m entirely recognizable, but I look a little less tired than I feel. That’s worth two minutes of my time. And needless to say, chipped nail polish is a no-no, unless you are Courtney Love circa 1989.

Balzac said “carelessness in dressing is moral suicide.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration, yes, but after my little carpe diem moment with the producer turned into an epic fail (thanks to my wardrobe malfunction), I’m sticking to my rule.

This piece originally appeared on

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3 Responses

  1. TueNight

    And of course, we meant “take heed.” The time change has really thrown us off our game today.

  2. Allison

    Thank you! SO needed to read this today! I’ve been the ‘looks like hell’ girl for forever now. It’s been my schtick, for some ‘therapist only knows’ reason why. Interesting (maybe) when I was 22, but just pathetic now that I’m 52! Your three tricks are simple, practical and actually do-able – thank you!!

  3. Suzanne Rust
    Suzanne Rust

    I’m so glad that you found the post helpful! Let me know how it works out for you.


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