Game Face

Dear Helena,

Sometimes I see women putting lipstick on after they finish eating at a restaurant and are sitting at the table. Even my grandma used to do it, and she had impeccable manners (I think!). Is it bad manners to do this? —Lipstick Memories

Dear Lipstick Memories,

When you’re having dinner with people, your attention should be on the food and on the conversation. That’s why it’s not OK to nibble on your lover’s ear, compose a tweet, or examine your reflection in your butter knife.

But after dinner, there’s a lull. The food is eaten; the conversation is winding down. People are starting to focus on other things: gathering their coats and planning what to do next. They’re fishing out mints and checking to see if the baby-sitter called. At this time it’s OK to refresh your lipstick.

In general, of course, you should save grooming for the bathroom, or at least for a secluded corner. But putting on lipstick is different from other grooming activities. It’s not unhygienic, like brushing your hair (you don’t want stray hairs floating about in a place where people eat), and it’s not gross, like picking at your cuticles or your teeth.

With most makeup, you might not want to broadcast the fact that you are wearing it. For instance, if you use foundation, you might prefer people to think you have a natural glow. But no one is embarrassed about wearing lipstick. In fact, it’s usually pretty obvious if you have it on, or if you’ve just applied it. Lynn Peril, a lipstick-lover and the author of Pink Think: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons, says: “People know you’re doing it, so why not do it in public?”

If you don’t need to visit the bathroom anyway, it can be annoying to make a special trip there just to put on lippy. And, if you’re dining à deux, you’ll have to leave your companion sitting alone for five minutes. If you apply your lipstick at the table, it will only take 30 seconds.

It’s essential that you do it quickly. No one wants to watch you primp and preen. A swipe of lipstick is OK, but fiddling around with a lip liner is not. You’ll need a mirror (unless you’re a skilled cosmetician), but instead of whipping out something backed with cracked plastic, consider doing as Peril recommends and use a “beautiful vintage powder compact.” And, if you need to blot the lipstick, don’t toss the stained Kleenex onto the table. Put it in your purse or pocket to dispose of later.

Finally, a word of warning: If you’ve had a few drinks, you might find this whole process too challenging. Clear or light lip gloss is the solution. You don’t need a mirror to apply it, and if you go wrong you won’t look like a clown.

Table Manners appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.