Lipstick Etiquette: To Apply or Not to Apply?

May, 23, 2012

Raise your hand if you think it’s okay to apply lipstick at the table. If men aren’t allowed to wear hats indoors, why should women be able to fix their makeup in public?

In general, applying makeup of any kind should be avoided in public. Checking yourself out in a compact mirror and applying lipstick or other makeup is considered gauche and inappropriate anywhere in the public forum, and that includes restaurants.

However, Emily Post, the queen of etiquette, does allow an exception: “It’s okay to quickly apply lipstick at the table if you’re with close friends or relatives in a non-business situation, and at a non-deluxe restaurant.” But she specifies that this should be does quickly and unobtrusively, and without the use of a mirror (which is a trick that not all women have mastered): “Putting on lipstick without using a mirror and without fanfare is one grooming ritual that can sometimes be performed in front of others.”

It’s all about context: applying lipstick at the table in a friend’s home among people you know is okay, but a business dinner at a five-star restaurant is a no-no. Emily Post adds:

“In general, personal grooming should be done in private for the simple reason that it can be annoying and it’s tacky. … When in doubt, don’t do it, such as when you’re at a business meal or with people you don’t know very well.”

If you do decide to apply at the table, remember to make it fast, don’t use a mirror, and never blot your lipstick on your napkin, whether you’re in a friend’s home or in a restaurant. Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler’s Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (, certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on and

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