Real Talk: How 20-Somethings Get Ready for a First Date

close-up of woman wearing red lipstick

Omid Armin / Unsplash


Dating can be tricky business. It’s a mixed bag of anxiety, fun, and endless questions—and that’s just once you get there. Behind the scenes, we’re all trying to decide the best way to be ourselves while simultaneously compelling someone to fall madly in love with us. Because the act of getting ready—especially for a date—is so personal, it got me thinking: How does one prepare for a night out with a potentially soon-to-be S.O.? I asked five 20-something women about their process before a night spent wooing (and getting wooed). What makeup do they wear? How long does it take them to get ready? What’s the main thought running through their minds?

Keep reading to find out.

“To me, it’s really important to have good, clear, glowing skin—I turn to the combination of Laura Mercier’s infamous Tinted Moisturizer ($47) and Nars’s on-point Radiant Creamy Concealer ($30).

“It doesn’t take me that long to get ready—probably 15 to 20 minutes. I don’t do anything different from my normal, everyday routine. After all, I don’t want to trick them into thinking I look different than I actually do every day! But if it’s going to be that kind of date, I shave and get waxed. Duh.

“Glowing skin and my thick, textured hair are probably my favorite physical attributes. I always use Kiehl’s Creme With Silk Groom ($26) to keep my hair smooth, and if I want the beachy look, my favorite salt spray is actually Cold Spring Apothecary's Citrus and Ginger Salt Spray ($24), which has the added bonus of smelling awesome.

“I’ve learned that though sexy, red lipstick on a date is kind of not sustainable—who wants to have a lipstick smear on your teeth or on your chin or the weird chapped lipstick fade?

“I make sure to add a little more product to make [my hair] a bit stylized and cleaned up, especially if I’m meeting someone after work. And smell is so important! I love Fresh’s Cannabis Santal ($50) scents for edge.” —Kira, 28

“A shower is so important before a date—I give myself an hour so it can be a leisurely experience. I obsess over the outfit starting the moment the date is even an idea. I don’t wash my hair for a few days before if I know I have a big night—my hair looks best after that post-gross wash. I use Oribe’s The Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo ($44) and Oribe's Essential Antidote Replenishing Conditioner ($44).

“In a perfect world, Mr. Date Dude would be so enthralled with me that he wouldn't notice my different parts. He would just think I’m wonderful and want to hang out with me all the time. But yeah, I like it when a guy notices my bod.

“I never wear lipstick, it’s too much work. I either always have a fresh manicure or go completely natural. I like Essie's Nail Polish in Blanc ($9). I never want chipped nails on a first date. I want to look so fresh and so clean clean.” —Petra, 27

“The most important thing to do when getting ready for a date is to moisturize. Everything. I’m all about classic Cetaphil's Intensive Moisturizing Cream ($10) or Jergens's Original Scent Moisturizer ($8).

“If I need to shower, it takes me about an hour to an hour and a half to get ready. If I’m dry-shampooing, then approximately 45 minutes. I only really prepare if I know I’m not going to have much time before the date itself. Then I might tweeze or shave the day before. I also try to handle all scary pimples as far in advance as possible.

“I generally use Bobbi Brown's Face Touch Up Stick [Note: This product is sold out; try Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Invisible Cover Stick Foundation, $43], Clinique's True Bronze Pressed Powder Bronzer in Sun Kissed ($31), and Clinique's Lash Doubling Mascara in Black ($20). Then I’ll add a touch of metallic, sparkly, or colorful eyeliner on the inner part of my eyelid if I’m feeling flirty. For that, I use Urban Decay's Glide-On Eye Pencils ($22). It doesn’t differ drastically from my usual look, but I tend to go for more of a dramatic eye for a date.

“I use Fresh's Sugar Plum Tinted Lip Balm Sunscreen ($24). I’ve never been a lipstick girl, but this gives me some color and keeps my lips from getting chapped. I always have my nails painted! Recently I had a guy compliment my silver nail polish, and I was like Yeah, I know. It’s Essie's Nail Polish in Apres-Chic ($9).

“I straighten my hair, but mostly to get rid of the frizz. I don’t like it when it’s too straight, so I usually put it up in little buns while I’m getting ready so it gives it a natural bend and bounce. I use Bumble and Bumble's Prêt-à-Powder ($28) and Bumble and Bumble's Thickening Dryspun Finish ($31).

“Usually right before a date, I dream of canceling it to watch any Harry Potter movie or Shark Tank or HGTV or Sex and the City with my roommates. Then, I remember the wise words of Juliet Litman, former co-host of the Right Reasons podcast on Grantland—“I’d rather have horror stories than zero stories”—and just go for it. I listen to Grimes’s Art Angels album right before because it gets. me. going.”

“I often find that the more I prep—moisturize, tweeze, shave, wear makeup, etc.—the better I feel in general, which immediately translates as confidence on my date. If I’m feeling sweaty or hairy, I’m probably going to be a bit more closed off.” —Laura, 25

“Before a date, I always make sure my hair is clean, blown out, or dirty but curled and still looking awesome. I use Oribe's Gold Lust Nourishing Hair Oil ($56) and Shu Uemura's Essence Absolue ($69).

“Hair is the most important first impression, in my opinion. Including washing and blowing out my hair or styling it, it takes me an hour and a half to two hours to get ready. Because I have long and temperamental hair, I’m constantly planning ahead so that my hair is clean or styled by the time of the date. This means planning workouts and showers a day in advance so that if I get a blowout, I don’t ruin it before the date. I usually just blow it out and add some light curls. 

“I think that it’s great to have nice skin, but if my hair looks good, it can make a huge statement and will distract from any other flaws I might be self-conscious about. In terms of my appearance, I pretty much wear makeup and clothing that make me feel comfortable and fun. I usually do minimal makeup, but I play up my eyes and I make sure my skin is glowy. It’s not much different from my usual look. If I’m feeling super feisty, I add a lipstick, but only if I’m feeling it that day; I definitely take it on a case-by-case basis. I like Nars’s Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Dragon Girl ($27).

“I don’t wear perfume that much, but I always make sure my hair products smell on point.” —Kathleen, 26

“I’ve been told several times in the past that my makeup is a little heavy, so I tone it down and make it look more natural, while still being glam. Also, I do a face mask and some spot treatments the night before so my skin looked its best—if you don’t prep your skin, your makeup won't look good!

“Shower and hair included, it takes me about an hour and 15 minutes to get ready, especially if it’s a first date and I want to impress.

“If he’s really cute and I want a second date, I care about what he thinks. But I just do the best version of myself instead of trying to do what I think he wants.

“In terms of makeup, I do my usual routine (foundation, concealer, powder, bronzer, brows, eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, blush) but maybe throw in some highlighter and a darker eye shadow look. I love Urban Decay's original Naked Palette ($44). I style my hair in loose curls. Old faithful.

“Scent is so important. Sometimes I’m even more attracted to someone if they smell good. My last thought before walking into a date is, Don’t fall. Make sure there’s nothing in your teeth. The most important thing is to just be yourself. If you do end up getting serious, your true colors will come out eventually, so there’s no sense in trying to create a false sense of who you are just to impress him on the first date.” —Lindsey, 24

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