Tag: Style

Use What You’ve Got: The Psychology of Shopping Your Closet

“When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’, what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today.”
― Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

Based on an unscientific gathering of stories from my friends, coworkers, and pals, I’m convinced we all have great stuff in our closets that we don’t use. There can be a lot of good reasons not to wear what we’ve got, which is a topic for another day, but today I want to focus on the bad excuses for not using what we already own. Or at least one in particular: the “I bought it special” excuse.

I’m going to push the boat out and just say that if you’re saving unworn items in your closet for “special occasions” (with exceptions of somer event-wear) you’ve wasted your money or let your emotions do your shopping for you. I used to be a particularly bad offender of this and would buy clothing that I wanted to wear…but never got around to wearing because I didn’t think I had the right occasions to do so.

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In some cases, I had indeed purchased irrelevant items, which was due to me not really having a handle on what my actual clothing needs were for my then-lifestyle. But in other cases, I’d purchased clothing that could be considered aspirational. It was a bit nicer than my other items, more dressy, a different style, or just out of my current comfort zone. I loved them, but I bought them thinking that I needed to wait for the “right time” to wear some of them, that they were “too good” for my day-to-day casual life, or that wearing them would require some effort. Hilarious since, in retrospect, what I was purchasing five or even ten years ago was fairly cheap all things considered.

I no longer subscribe to this way of thinking at all. Not only is wasteful as a consumer (many of my purchases of yore ended up sold, donated, or given to friends unworn at some point), but I simply don’t see the point in owning something if you don’t wear or use it. You’re missing out on a good deal of easy pleasure and contentment with your wardrobe, and often adding a lurking sense of disappointment, guilt, or sheepishness about owning things you don’t touch.

For example, a couple of years ago I’d saved up to purchase a nice work handbag which I’d researched, considered for a long time, and found an amazing deal on.  I’d bought it specifically to upgrade my professional wardrobe and knew how I wanted to use it with my existing clothes, but for a long time was afraid to take it out of its dustbag. What if it got scratched or smudged? What if I dinged the hardware? What if I scuffed it? I was so nervous about putting any wear and tear on it, that I failed utterly to use it. It sat, reproachfully, in my closet for months before I confronted myself about it.

Of course I would need to care for it more carefully than I would a cheaper item, but eventually I had to acknowledge that any bag, no matter how coddled, was going to show signs of use. That’s what happens with any item, even a well tended one. In the end, I decided I either needed to resell the bag, or actually use it the way I had purchased it to be used. I chose the latter. And then I went through my closet and ruthlessly applied the same rationale to another of other items. That Liberty scarf in the image above was another similar victim of overcaution. Originally bought to celebrate a raise, I had almost never worn it out of worry that I’d damage it in some way. There were at least five other pieces of clothing or accessories that had similar excuses attached to their lack of use.

Far from having nothing to wear–a common complaint uttered when staring mournfully into a wardrobe–I just hadn’t been giving myself permission to wear what I wanted…and already had.

I own fewer items of clothing than I did while at university and my early 20s, but what I own now is of much better quality. More importantly, everything is worn regularly, including my more expensive pieces. I’m willing to occasionally fork out for beautiful vintage or consignment designer pieces, but only if I commit to myself to actually use them. I’m no longer worried about wearing them out–I’ve learned to take better care of my clothing over all, and I’ve come to the healthier mental place of acknowledging that ultimately, as beautiful as they are, they are just things. I get more satisfaction from my treasured pieces by letting them see the light of day than I do from looking at them on a hanger.

Don’t get me wrong, aspirational clothing still has its place (I’ve found the adage of “dressing for the job you want” to be a useful one), but I maintain it is no good to you hanging in a closet. Use it. Your wallet will be grateful and your mirror will be flattering, I promise.

Your turn. Have you every had items languish in your closet? What were your reasons for buying but not wearing? Are there any items which could do with a bit more love? 

Beauty Empties

“I adore artifice. I always have.”
– Diana Vreelance

When I first thought about doing these month-long blog projects, I had an idea I’d try to do something about beauty or makeup at some point and so I started collecting the bottles and packets of items I was using up. I debated trying to do some video content myself this month…but then my computer crashed and needed a new hard drive (a few other tech shenanigans behind the scenes also ensued) and I decided to put that goal off until another month. But I still wanted to do some kind of “empties” post, et alors, we’ve arrived!

I’m oddly obsessed with “empties” videos on YouTube. There are a lot of writers and content makers who are legitimate voices of authority in the industry (Caroline Hirons in particular springs to mind) and I have a number I trust to give good advice when it comes to skincare and makeup, so when they they tell me they’ve used certain products up, I pay attention. I’m also fascinated because from some of the anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered from some friends and internet pals of late leads me to conclude that we throw a lot of beauty products out because they goes bad before we finish them, we get bored before something is used up, or we just clear out our stashes periodically and anything that’s done its time is binned. Simply put, a lot of us can be fairly sloppy or casual consumers of our beauty goods!

Candidly, one of my projects this month was to throw away any makeup that had expired (as some of those products can be serious hubs for bacteria) and to give things that I simply wasn’t using to better homes. My little sister is awaiting a package of goodies from me as we speak! Also in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve picked up a few things this month which I’ll be documenting in a later post. But having done a clear out, and a couple of thoughtful shopping trips to replace what needs replacing, my goal now is to buy fairly little if any new makeup until I’ve used up some of what I’ve already got.

Also, since I stuck to my shopping ban faithfully (minus my one tiny little cheat courtesy of Estee Lauder and Victoria Beckham…) I didn’t buy any new skin care for several months and so was able to finish a lot of products that were already in my stash. My bathroom shelf is much leaner than its been in a long time, but that means I’ve got a nice little hoard to share of some of the things I’ve used up entirely in the last six months.

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I was surprised to see so many hair prodcuts in this stash as it typically takes me months to get through them…because I hate doing my hair. Every minute of the process. I hate washing it, I hate the time it takes to blow dry and style it, I hate the fact that the whole process is (for me) largely null and void the moment I step outside–all of it. This is unfortunate as I 1) really do want to look nice and hair is a big part of that and, 2) have eczema on my scalp which means I have continuous skin problems in that vicinity which requires constant care. Frankly, my hatred of hair care is probably related to this fact.

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There’s a lot of Glossier in here as I put in an order last summer when we were in the States and finally came to the end of it around Christmas. The serums I picked up at Christmas, however, and I’ve gone through both the Super Bounce and Super Glow formulas in record time. Bounce is a hyaluronic acid serum and though it seems to be a bit of an internet favorite, I won’t be repurchasing. I’m roadtesting the Deciem line at the moment, which includes an HA serum, but at the moment I think I’ll be picking up another bottle of the Pestle & Mortar HA serum when that runs out. I got through my first bottle of it in January and have not found anything I love quite as much as it yet! The Glossier Super Glow serum is a Vitamin C formula and I will be buying it in bulk as soon as I can get my grubby hands on a way to get it to the UK–it’s that good!

Speaking of buying in bulk, I’ve actually gotten through multiple packets of facial wipes (which most beauty editors and gurus worth their salt will tell you to stay far away from. Listen to their wisdom, kittens, but know that your beloved Aunt C. sometimes is just a lazy slob) and bottles of micellar cleansing water in the last six months. This is just indicative.

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The products above I’ve already repurchased since using them up (in December when shopping was permitted, of course!) and have every intention of picking up again when my current stash runs out. It’s taken me a long time to build an arsenal of products that I know work for me and when I find things I love, I tend to be loyal. I may still be fighting a losing battle with hair care, and may still fall victim to the slings and arrows of hormonal breakouts, but day to day, I feel like I’ve got my skincare game together.

Your turn! Are there any products you swear by? Do you repurchase old favorites or actively go out hunting for new ones? How long does it typically take you to get through your favorite items? 

Serial Monogamy: A Perfume Story

“A woman’s perfume tells more about her than her handwriting. ”
― Christian Dior

I have long been in love with the idea of a signature scent. I say “idea” because while I was faithful to Coco Mademoiselle for several years in my early 20s, we broke up at some point and I’ve been a hussy, jumping around ever since trying to find something I could wear every day without getting bored or smelling it on every other girl (or guy!) who walks down the street. I’ve fallen love with another scent more than once, but not one worth forgoing all other scents for.

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At the moment I’m finishing up a bottle of Hermes Jardin sur la Nil, and am in a torrid, wild affair with Passion Boisee from Frapin, which is a perfume house that grew out of a French family cognac business that’s been going since the 13th century. This scent is the nearest I’ve yet come to fidelity! I also have a bottle of Commes des Garcon in Amazingreen which I bought against the day that my Hermes runs out, and a small spritzer of Replica by Maison Margiela in Jazz Club. As you may have gathered from the scattering of testers, I’m already on the hunt for the next fragrance up to bat when either of these go.

There are themes to my perfumes. I hate most florals and strongly prefer scents that are at least slightly masculine. Woods and spices are my go tos, with a healthy heaping of bergamot–since my Chanel days, I’ve never fallen in love with a fragrance that didn’t have bergamot listed in its ingredients. Know thyself, C.. I also sometimes steal a spray of Jeff’s cologne: an expensive bottle of Tom Ford that I don’t begrudge the cost of in the slightest because I adore it on him and it lasts forever. He mock complains whenever I bury my nose in his shirt or neck to catch a whiff, but you can tell he’s pretty chuffed to have such an easy way of seducing me with pheromones.

I’m still open to the idea that I will find The One, but these days I’m more okay with the notion that I may continue to play the field. I’m mostly faithful to whatever bottle currently lives on my nightstand–or two to be honest, one for warmer seasons and one for cold–but my eye, it roves. Always looking for the next best thing.

Because, kittens…at a deep and fundamental level, I’m a snob.

That bark of laughter you just heard was Jeff in the other room. “No kidding,” I believe was his precise response.

Well, there’s no helping it, I am a snob and I don’t like smelling like everybody else. First of all, there are a lot of glorious scents in the world–an almost infinite variety of combinations and notes that can be combined and recombined in ways that make even your favorite individual scents feel new and exciting while still invoking nostalgia. Secondly no perfume will smell exactly the same on you as it does on anyone else. Skin chemistry is neat like that! But that’s still no excuse for every girl in the lift to be wearing the same fragrance.

I think that the plethora of luxury brand perfumes (usually by major fashion houses) is completely understandable. Most of us may not be able to afford a Chanel jacket or bag, but we can afford a splurge on Chanel cosmetics here or there, and what has as much staying power as perfume? Well crafted and distilled, you shouldn’t need more than one spritz a day (possibly two in a pinch) and so a single bottle can get you through months if not years of wear. And so these scents organically and naturally permeate through pop culture and Instagram feeds. There’s no shame in it and if you have a beloved fragrance that you genuinely love that just happens to be popular, I will be the last woman in the world to comment on it. Heck, I’m just about to polish off a fragrance by Hermes that I picked up four years ago! I won’t be repurchasing it, but I’ve enjoyed wearing it for four summers in a row immensely.

But the truth is that I enjoy feeling that I’m wearing something just a bit different. In reality I know that tens of thousands of guys and gals are wearing the same scent as me, but the illusion is powerful. I enjoy stumbling into niche perfume sellers in corners of London or cities I visit on holiday and finding something quite unlike anything I could pick up at the Nordstrom’s counter. I like the (admittedly false) exclusivity of smaller, less well known houses who are making perfume the way that connoisseurs make cheese or wine–in small batches and to their own preferences or taste. I like feeling like I’m wearing something secretive and interesting. Like unto red lipstick, the effect may be purely psychological, but it’s real.

 

Your turn. Are you a one-perfume man or woman, or are you playing the field like me? Do you have a particular memory associated with a scent? Do you have or want a signature scent, or do you find the idea silly (or just plain boring)? Talk to me! 

Late to the Game

“Besides, just because they wore frills and makeup didn’t mean they weren’t dangerous…”
― Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages

As written, I didn’t really get serious about my beauty game until my early-mid 20s and as a result I have been “late” on an awful lot of things. Not just trends or products, but whole processes. A few of these, in no particular order, include:

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Blow drying my hair. I did this growing up…but grudgingly and not very well. In fact, I have memories of an increasingly frustrated X. trying to teach me this skill, like the amazing surrogate big sister she was, when we were about 12 years old, before giving up in disgust. It wasn’t until university that I really learned how to use a round brush and I still don’t really have my mane together in the way I’d like. I missed out on a decade of practice and it shows!

Lipstick, as I’ve written about, didn’t show up permanently on my face until my early 20s.

Hand lotion. I have a strange dislike of feeling like my hands and fingers are slick in any way and so have endured years of dry cuticles, cracked winter skin, and general discomfort. The years I have missed on this are ridiculous to think about, but I didn’t start using hand cream until a couple of years ago when I was given a travel sized tube of Neal’s Yard Remedies. I use it regularly, but still have a bit of lingering squeamishness when I first apply it. But then it sinks into my sink and makes me feel better, so all is forgiven.

Body lotion has been a similar journey. I had eczema growing up (and it occasionally still puts in an appearance) so I was used to slathering treatments on my skin, but daily care and nurturing rather eluded me until I moved to London three and half years ago. I suspect that the aggressive winter heating required in an urban setting is to blame. But last year I picked up a massive bottle of Kiehl’s Creme de Corps and have never looked back. I use it every day, without fail.

Powder. This is one of the oldest beauty items known to man, but I didn’t start using it until a couple of years ago, and it’s still not something I reach for every day. As a kid it always struck me as something old fashioned and tricky to use–it’s astonishingly easy to look cakey and sloppy, at least for a newb like me. Investing in higher quality products in adulthood has finally awoken me to its usefulness but in spite of this revelation, I’m still learning how to use powder properly.

Have you ever been “late” to a product or trend, beauty or otherwise, that you later came to love? If so, what? Heck, I’ve only gotten onboard with audiobooks in the last year or so! 

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What I’m Not Going to Buy – Inspired by Kimberly Clark

“The most beautiful makeup of a woman is passion. But cosmetics are easier to buy.”
― Yves Saint-Laurent

Kimberly Clark is a YouTuber I mentioned in my March favorites post. A drag queen who vlogs on beauty, consumerism, and social issues, her content is frankly right up my street! She’s most notable for her “Anti-Haul” series where, in contrast to other glam influencers who show off their (often extravagant) mass purchases, she creates fun and enjoyable videos detailing what she is choosing not to buy–and why. Her style is quintessential drag, humorous and hyperbolic, but often intermixed with valuable thoughts on brands and consumer culture.

I really like her take on being honest and blunt about wanting, buying, and enjoying products that are fundamentally unnecessary, but also honestly evaluating (in her opinion) when certain products or brands cross the line into downright ridiculous. Her catch phrase, “I don’t need it and I’m not going to buy it,” could save us all a lot of buyers remorse–and not just on beauty and style products.

And so, following the exposé of my stash, and in the spirit of glitter, big hair, and smarter consumption, here’s a list of things I’m not going to buy:

Stila Magnificent Metals Glitter and Glow Liquid Eye Shadow. Something strange has happened lately and I’ve found myself drawn inexorably to metallic cosmetics as if I were some kind of earthbound magpie. These things are outrageously high on shine and ever since swatching them on my hand to test both their reflective might (strong) and staying power (fairly decent for something so glittery), I have coveted them fiercely. But I’m not going to buy them. I have two semi-metallic shades of cream eye shadow that are more muted but still plenty shimmery and can work for both work or going out depending on how I use them. They would be tons of fun, but–in the words of Kimberly Clark herself–I don’t need them so I’m going to buy them!

Bobbi Brown City Palette in London. I fell for this compact due to the combined powers of an intense navy shade and the illustrated case that pays homage to my favorite city on earth. But pretty as they both are, even I must admit those are insufficient reasons to splurge.

Anything by Tom Ford, with the exception of the eyeliner pen which is genuinely great in spite of the price. Because when your brand charges $50 for lipstick, $110 for bronzer, and $80 for blushes…I expect your products to not only make me eternally young, but to do my laundry, clean my house, and file my tax paperwork in the bargain. No one needs to spend that much money on on this stuff. Nobody.

Glossier Cloud Paint. Like the liquid eye shadow, I definitely want this and am intrigued to try it. I don’t entirely worship at the shrine of Glossier, some of their products are a bit overhyped or underwhelming…but the products of theirs that I do like, I buy in multiples. However I’m not going to be buying this product, at least not any time soon, because I have a lot of blushes already. I haven’t bought all of them, a good number I was very generously gifted to review by a magazine, but the fact remains that I have a drawer full already and simply don’t need more at the moment.

Any more highlighters. Sephora can tempt me with all the glow they can bring to bear, but I own a handful as it stands. I can look dewy, bronzed, or downright gilded if I want to already, so I will be sitting on my hands every time I’m tempted by something shiny until I’ve used up some of my existing stock.

Most limited edition anything (fully acknowledging that my own shopping ban cheat indulgence was precisely that). In almost all instances, the “limited edition” nature of these items is to meant to enable markups on already existing formulas and products. Moreoever, more than one brand has rolled out a “limited edition” product to outrageous hype, only to have it become a viral success–at which point it behooves the brand to add the item to their normal roster anyway (a great example of this is Becca’s Champagne Pop highlighter). Which means that all you paid for (normally at some kind of mark up) is the urgency. There are new product launches all the time and it is a rare item that will truly fill a gap in your stash and be worth the higher price tag.

New Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencils. Full disclosure, I love these. I own two and could gleefully own more, but I’m sitting on my hands in defiance of their recent release of new shades because…I have an obscene amount of lip products already. I’m not buying another stick until I’ve used up my existing ones. So help me god.

Anything Kylie Cosmetics. I fully admit to an irrational prejudice when it comes to this family in general, but that’s just not a direction I want to send my money.

 

Your turn, ducklings. What is one thing (or a list of things) you want but have made a decision not to buy–frivolous or otherwise? 

My Makeup Arsenal

“Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick.”
― Gwyneth Paltrow

Here it is, I’m throwing open the doors on my current makeup stash.

It’s taken me a long time to build this sucker up and, as previously written, I’m fairly happy with it overall. I’m sure it’s a lot larger than some of yours, and I know for a fact it’s a lot smaller than others! But in spite of the time and expense, makeup and beauty in general is an area of life that gives me a lot of pleasure and joy, so I don’t make a lot of apologies for it.

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Eyes

The eyes have it…though I’ll readily admit this is the makeup area with which I am least proficient–though I’m constantly practicing for improvement and rare is the weekend that will find me without some kind of color experiment on my lids! My eyes are a very noticeable shade of green and I like to play them up. I have one palette containing some neutral shades with both matte and shimmer formulas by Nars (with one standout shade of blue for a kick), and another containing all matte formulas in warm, neutral shades by Viseart. I also have a tiny travel sized palette for when I need to hop on a plane or train with just one bag to my name.

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I’m not terribly keen on eyeliner, so the three I have are (ironically) a bit wild. Two are blue shades, the other is a shimmery gold, all by Urban Decay. They get most of their love and use on the weekend. Then I have a couple of Charlotte Tilbury cream shadow sticks in Bronzed Garnet and Gold Digger, and ditto Nars in Reykjavik and Aigle Noir for a basic smokey eye look that even I couldn’t mess up.

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For standalone eye colors not be to be found in a palette, I have two Charlotte Tilbury cream shadows in Marie Antoinette and Verushka (an “oyster gold” and an “minky-mossy” green respectively), one MAC shadow in Antiqued (a warm, reddish brown with shimmer) and a Laura Mercier shadow in Plum Smoke.

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Powders and Blush

When it comes to powders, this is an area that has grown a lot in recent years. I own a shedload of blushes, but should note right away that last year I was invited to review about half a dozen different blush products for a magazine. They provided me the blushes to use and review, which effectively doubled my collection–though some I’ve passed on to better homes since then. The fact still remains, I’ve got a lot!

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I’ve been in a bit of a neutrals “moment” when it comes to blushes for a while now. In my salad days I was a sucker for a bit of shimmer but as my tastes have changed, I’ve pretty ruthlessly cleared those out in favor of matte formulas. The one exception is Nars’ Orgasm blush which I bought years ago, fell out with, gifted away to family, and then was gifted back again as part of my product review opportunity. It’s sticking around until summer when I’m going to give it another proper trial. Now my blushes are all shades of nude, peach, and pink in a couple of instances that look fairly natural. My obvious standout is Nars’ Exhibit A, a bright orange red that looks shocking in the pan and gorgeous on the face (a light touch required).

I’ve also included my one bronzer from The Body Shop, which I’m still learning to use without looking ridiculous, a finishing powder by Hourglass in Dim Light, two highlighters by Becca in Moonstone (poured formula) and Champagne Pop (powder), and a translucent setting power by Laura Mercier. My latest edition to this family was my cheat item from my shopping ban, the highlighter form the Estee Lauder and Victoria Beckham collaboration in the shade Modern Mercury. It was ridiculous expensive, but I’ve been wearing it almost nonstop since I bought it. Regrets, I’ve had a few, as the song goes, but this isn’t one of them!

 

Foundation

When it comes to foundation, I’m much less ridiculous and I have two go-to products: the Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer in the shade Natural and the Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation in the shade 5. Based on a lot of recommendations, I’m currently road testing the It Cosmetics CC cream in a “trial size” version to see if I can find a slightly cheaper mid-to-high coverage option in place of the Armani when it runs out (which I love deeply but it it is expensive). I also chucked in a cream highlighter by Becca in the shade Rose Gold which I tend to use as a blush, a Glossier highlighter in Haloscope, and two primers–one by Makeup Forever, and another by Givenchy. I was late to the primer game, but have been converted.

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Other Bits

In the bits-n-bobs section, I have my eyebrow products (one pencil by Anastasia Beverly Hills, and Glossier’s Boy Brow), one eyeliner pen (by Tom Ford, hideously expensive, but very good), and two concealers (Glossier Stretch Concealer in Medium for light coverage, Clarins Instant Light in 01 for fuller coverage).  My mascara is and for years has been Maybelline’s Full’n’Soft. It’s unfindable in the UK, but I stock up on a tube or two every time I go back to the States.

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Lip Stuff

And finally, the heavy artillery of the arsenal: my lipstick. I have…a lot.

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I break my stash down into light and dark colors (though that’s just for storage, I don’t really switch my shades in accordance with a season. I tend to just wear whatever calls to me on any given day).

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I also separate out my liquid lipsticks and glosses. I’ve only been into these for about a year and all of my liquid lipsticks are from Kat von D’s line, which I really like. My recent additions are two highly metallic glosses from Bite Beauty (who, you will notice, are by far my lipstick brand of choice). I don’t really like glosses, but I was drawn two these Prismatic Pearl Creme Gloss products (in Champagne Pearl and Oyster Pearl) like moths to a flame. They look like liquid metal on my lips. Practical, no. Gorgeous, yes!

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And there you have it. A 100% honest tour of my treasure hoard…er, minus whatever may be hiding in my purse that I might have forgotten to take out, now that I think on it!

I think it’s obvious why I think I don’t need any more until I’ve used up quite a bit of what I’ve got. But I admit it can be hard to ignore the siren song of a really beautiful piece of kit. Makeup makes me feel better, more in command of my presentation, like I’m not just able to highlight different features but different aspects of my personal based on what color I swipe across my lids or lips. More on that later this week!

 

Your turn! Do you love makeup? Loathe it? Is there a specific type of product you’ve either come around to lately, or gone off of entirely? Do you hoard a specific type of product and if so, why? 

“The Lip That Launched A Thousand Sticks”

“This is the first red lipstick that I ever bought.”
“So this is the lip that launched a thousand sticks?”
“…You’re really proud of that one, aren’t you?”
“Yep!”
– C. and Jeff

My love for lipstick is fairly well documented, but I was well into my 20s before I slicked that first wash of carmine on my face.

I wasn’t quite a tomboy as a kid, but I certainly wasn’t interested in makeup and fashion for most of my adolescence. A good portion of that was frankly bad old fashioned female-on-female disdain, I’m sorry to say. Growing up I always put a lot of value in my brainpower and based much of my sense of identity on my intelligence and interests rather than my personal appearance. This in and of itself is NOT a bad thing, but my major error was in simultaneously being harsh on girls who did put effort into their appearance. I too fell prey to the common but sloppy thinking that girls couldn’t be brainy and stylish at the same time, that to be interested in clothes or makeup was to be silly. It took me years to untangle that sort of black and white thinking around female identity and presentation!

The other reason I was so hesitant to really explore makeup in general and red lipstick in particular was because they intimidated me. Makeup was a skill that I didn’t possess and I was terrified of looking or feeling foolish in adulthood, as I often did with my early teenage forays. This is of course more or less a right of passage growing up, but to the young brain I think such fears are common. From time to time I dabbled with cosmetics, sometimes well but usually unsuccessfully. I particularly admired girls and women who worse intimidating slashes of red on their lips. They looked grown up, in command, at ease with themselves, and slightly dangerous–how I wanted to look and feel–but I never really bit the bullet and the few cheap drugstore lipsticks I bought usually languished barely touched in drawers for months before a move necessitated throwing them out.

I remember the actual image I saw that convinced me to just go for it, already. Here it is, I’ve saved the pin for years. I was working my first job after university at the time and remember being stunned at how pretty and simple the model looked wearing it–she wasn’t covered in a full vintage style slap, she looked fresh and chic. Aside from her obviously stunning red hair, the lipstick was her only highlighted feature, the only product doing any heavy lifting on her face. That doesn’t look so hard, I thought to myself. I bet I could do that.

Jo Goddard (of a Cup of Jo fame, the site where I spotted the image) was able to confirm the exact shade thanks to her contacts in the magazine world. The shade was Red Red Red by Clinique (which I think has been discountinued, or is at least as far as I have been been able to deduce, unfindable in the UK). I bought it the same day I saw that blog post, and wore it almost every day for months/years. Eventually I wore it down to the nub; to date it is still the only lipstick I have ever fully finished, but I still own the tube for sentimental reasons.

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I will never, ever throw this tube away.

That color became my totem for early adulthood. It was a silly, small thing, but it made a big difference in how I felt about myself when I slid the bullet over my lips. I was now a girl who word red. It gave me a sense of bravery, command, and self that I honestly didn’t have before I discovered that it was okay and not at all shallow, shameful, or otherwise silly to want to feel pretty. I coined the phrase, “Lipstick is armor,” during this phase, and I still mean it today. Much later on, lipstick has became a sort of brand item for me–a fact I realized when someone at my old job couldn’t remember my name to a colleague but described me as, The Girl With the Lipstick. My lip arsenal has grown by leaps and bounds since them, but I’m never without at least a couple on my person–different shades ready to be deployed as circumstances warrant. I could feel embarrassed by how many I own…but I don’t. They makes me feel beautiful.

Lipstick was a gateway drug into the world of beauty and make up, that strange place that in my adolescence I simply never felt brave enough to really enter.  The consequences have been, ah…pricey, but also really satisfying. I’ve made some beauty mistakes along the way, I’ve continuously experimented with different style personas, and I’ve occasionally laughed at my expense when the results don’t turn out great. I’ve had some hilarious misadventures in trying to find my correct foundation shades, and the skills required for a really killer smokey eye still escape me after years of trying. More than once I’ve left the house thinking I look fine only to catch sight of myself in a mirror hours later and think, I’ve made a huge mistake. That’s okay.

It’s just make up. It comes off. And if all else fails, I can put on a red lip with nothing else and still feel pretty damn great about the way I look.