Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Character of a Painted Woman: Makeup in Grad School

I came early to my calling (pedantry).

In that spirit, I'm joining with another doctoral student, Sylirael of The Painted Rogue, for a collaboration post on makeup in graduate school! (Or, I suppose, a pair of collaboration posts: this is mine, and you can find hers here.) Despite our disciplinary divide--I'm in the humanities, she's in the sciences--we both have a lot of thoughts on the experience of being a makeup-wearing female academic.

I wear makeup; I can also read. Fancy that!

"I am not sure I can give you the remotest idea of what graduate school is like," wrote Tom Wolfe in 1972. "Nobody ever has. Millions of Americans now go to graduate schools, but just say the phrase--'graduate school'--and what picture leaps into the brain? No picture, not even a blur. Half the people I knew in graduate school were going to write a novel about it. I thought about it myself. No one ever wrote such a book, as far as I know. Everyone used to sniff the air. How morbid! How poisonous! Nothing else like it in the world! But the subject always defeated them. It defied literary exploitation. Such a novel would be a study of frustration, but a form of frustration so exquisite, so ineffable, nobody could describe it."

Four decades have passed since Wolfe wrote this, and the Great Graduate School Novel has yet to appear. The problem with that hypothetical novel is obvious: nothing really happens in grad school. It's a period of suspended animation. You do things, you meet people, but mostly you're waiting for your real life to begin. No one wants to read a novel like that, unless its author is Proust.

But a blog post about grad school, especially a blog post involving makeup? That I can do.

(Before my dissertation seminar last week. I'm wearing NARS Lhasa eyeshadow on my eyes and NYX Butter Gloss in Peach Cobbler on my lips, and displaying my usual deplorable posture. My boyfriend says this blazer makes me look like I'm on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which I can live with.)

About half of the female academics I've met, graduate students and professors alike, don't wear makeup at all. The majority of the other half wear no-makeup makeup: mascara, light pencil eyeliner, tinted lip balm. In my experience, grown-ups (i.e. professors) are more likely to wear lip color; in my four years in grad school, I've seen perhaps three other grad students wearing non-neutral colors of lipstick.

But let's go further. Let's get into cold, hard statistics. At my dissertation seminar on Friday, there were ten female grad students from nine different institutions in the room: an easy-to-work-with sample size, even for a literature PhD candidate. Of those ten, three were wearing visible color makeup. Of those three, one had chosen an unobtrusive bronze eyeshadow, another had some kind of blue eyeliner situation, and a third (me) was wearing the look in the photo above, though with the addition of the mint-green shade from the NARS Habanera duo. I was wearing relatively little makeup by the standards of the world at large, but I felt like the smirking strumpet on the cover of this book:

Does all this mean that there are rules governing makeup in academia? Well, yes and no. It always frustrates me that the most important rules in academia are unwritten. For instance: how do you find a tenure-track job in an increasingly difficult market? The only piece of advice I've consistently received is "write a good dissertation," as if any two professors can agree on what a "good dissertation" looks like. If I asked a female professor about academic beauty rules, I'd probably get the same sort of advice: "be tasteful," "look professional." In other words: no one really knows, but everyone sort of knows, and everyone thinks they really know.

To complicate matters further, there's a lot of unconscious sexism attached to the concept of "looking professional" in academia. I've heard female academics gossiped about--by other women, I should add--for daring to wear red lipstick to give a lecture: were they trying to look sexy? Did they not realize? Some academics seem to assume that if you care about the life of the mind, you don't have much brainspace left for your looks; conversely, if you put obvious effort into your looks, you must not be quite serious about your work. When I first got into makeup, I used to wear bright lipstick to classes and talks, but I always felt self-conscious. All of the professors in my area of specialty, and most of the graduate students, are men; none of the other female grad students in my subfield wear color makeup. A female classmate once visited my apartment, saw my collection of nail polish (which at that time numbered under 20 bottles), and said, "I'm totally judging you right now." In professional settings, no one has ever said anything negative about my makeup, but when you're the only person you ever see making a certain cosmetic choice, you start to question that choice.

So today I'm going to show you two looks: first, the sort of look I usually wear to academic events; second, the sort of look I sometimes try to get away with. The constants in both of these looks are CoverGirl concealer and LashBlast Length mascara, so I haven't photographed either of those.

Here are the products I wore yesterday, for an advisor meeting and other sedate campus goings-on:

Clockwise from top left: NARS Lhasa eyeshadow, Revlon Pink Truffle lip butter, NARS Mata Hari blush, and NYX After Party eyeshadow. You may be wondering about the sudden return of After Party, which I panned in a recent post. The explanation: sheer laziness. I never got around to returning any of the three NYX eyeshadows I ordered back in March, and when I finally tried them again, I was surprised at how well they applied and blended over primer. Still on the dry and powdery side, but good enough.

Here's the finished look (forgive the deplorable lighting--it's been overcast and drizzling all day):

Eyeshadow placement is standard: Lhasa all over lid, After Party on outer corner and blended into crease and upper lashline. I also used the tiniest smudge of NYX Jumbo Pencil in Knight on the outer third of the lower lashline, but I'm pretty sure it's invisible.

 Let's keep things in perspective: I like this neutral look, and it's not a huge, heart-rending sacrifice to save my fuchsia lipsticks for the weekend. But it is a sacrifice, albeit a small one. So I've been experimenting with subtle ways to incorporate more color into my everyday looks. I call the following a "watercolor" look: light washes of intense color, coupled with a jelly-finish semi-opaque lipgloss.

Top to bottom: NARS Coeur Battant blush (limited edition for Holiday 2013, tragically), NYX Butter Gloss in Peach Cobbler, NARS Lhasa (in future I'll try to limit the Lhasa overexposure on this blog), NARS Habanera eyeshadow duo. You saw this look in the second photo in this post, but here's a better look at the eyes:

If you're feeling really bold, you can replace the gloss with a satin-finish lipstick in a similar color: here, Maybelline Vibrant Mandarin, which is mostly opaque but retains a bit of translucency.

Like Wolfe and his classmates at Yale, I often feel trapped in the great paradox of graduate school: I can't talk about it coherently, but I've also lost the ability to talk about anything else. Thank you for listening while I tried to do both.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Slapdash Sunday: All Manner of Things (Mostly Flowers)

1. A Confession

I wrote the first draft of this post last night, under the influence of two of these:

Gin, cucumber Dry Soda (which you must try, if you have access to it), and enough fruit/veg garnish that I could pretend, at least for a few seconds, that it was a week from today and I was drinking a Pimm's Cup across the Atlantic. After a few gin-infused strawberries, I seem more charming to myself than I actually am, and my writing tends to suffer accordingly. Lucky for you that I didn't write too much, and that I edited the post this morning, under the less giddy-making influence of a large coffee.

2. A 花見 (Flower-Viewing)

This week saw the last meeting of my monthly dissertation seminar in Washington, DC. On my lunch break, I walked around Capitol Hill and took photos of nineteenth-century brickwork and cotton-candy-colored lilacs:

And white pom-pom flowers (scientific term, of course):

I arrived in Washington a couple of weeks too late for peak cherry-blossom season, but my hanami was no less enjoyable for that.

3. A Fool's Errand

I've mentioned my love-hate relationship with my local CVS, which, in addition to employing people who try to dissuade me from my lipstick purchases, takes forever to restock items. (Forget about stocking new makeup collections: the Revlon Matte and Lacquer Balms arrived four months after they were first released.) Since the beginning of April, I'd wanted to buy Maybelline Shocking Coral, the warm bright pink from the deservedly hyped Vivids range (coming soon in my Lipstick Chronology). There were two tubes of Shocking Coral at CVS, both mutilated by swatch-and-run offenders. I waited a couple of weeks; those tubes never got replaced, and no new ones came in. So on Thursday evening, while in Washington, I walked at least two miles to buy Shocking Coral at a CVS near the National Mall.

Yeah, the Capitol surrounded by flowering trees, whatever; give me my damn lipstick.

But what promised to be a perfect pinky coral turned into a standard fuchsia on my lips, which pull everything darker and cooler. I returned the lipstick so quickly that I never even took swatch photos. On to the next!

4. Noisy Lady: A NOTD

Last night I painted my nails with Essie Lady Like, a pink-mauve-nude that lives up to its name, and Maybelline Nighttime Noise, which I reviewed here.

Three coats of Lady Like; two of Nighttime Noise; one of Revlon Quick Dry Top Coat.

I prefer Nighttime Noise over a brighter background, but I do like the toned-down effect of this combination.

(ETA, several hours later: the more I looked at it, the more I disliked it, and finally I removed it in favor of Chanel Tapage. This is why I usually avoid glitter topcoats: you never know what you're going to get when you layer them over another color.)

5. A Request

In just over a week, I'll be leaving the country for the first time in six years. In June 2008, I returned to American shores from my junior year abroad at St. Anne's College, Oxford, my heart broken by a ten-minute dalliance with the JCR President, my alcohol tolerance at an all-time high. I'm now going back to the UK for a five-week stay (and two academic conferences, and a short jaunt to Italy), which means new beauty brands! This is where I need your help. Which British/European brands--preferably drugstore, preferably cruelty-free--should I look into? I already have my eye on & Other Stories, Illamasqua, and Barry M, but I know there must be more.

Oh, and I might as well confess here that I plan to buy a Dior Fluid Stick at the duty-free shop in the Newark airport. I haven't seen the range in person yet, but the recent flood of blog swatches has me infatuated with Wonderland, which looks like the perfect amalgam of fuchsia and coral. I feel like Henry VIII after seeing Holbein's portrait of Anne of Cleves. How could a two-dimensional image possibly mislead me?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lipstick Chronology #21: Maybelline Ruby Star

Name: Maybelline Color Statement Lipstick in Ruby Star

Date Purchased: February 2013

Grade: B

Notes: Ruby Star was a gift from my mom, who included it in her annual Valentine's package (aww). She thought she was sending me an unremarkable berry-red lipstick, not a berry-red lipstick with a raging case of disco fever. How wrong she was.

Ruby Star's distinguishing feature is an obscene abundance of gold and blue glitter. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I'm averse to shimmer and glitter in lipsticks, so I would never have bought this for myself. But the universe placed it in my path, and as it turns out, disco fever is highly contagious.

Had I glanced at Ruby Star under drugstore lighting, I would have muttered the F-word--frost--and moved on. But having seen it in direct sunlight, I'm reluctant to call it a frost lipstick; I think of frost as white or silver, with smaller, finer particles. Though Ruby Star's base color is cool-toned, the gold glitter warms it up significantly, and the glitter bits are large enough that they never meld together into a frosty sheen. Or maybe I'm just lying to myself, clinging to old prejudices, trying to justify a love that dare not speak its name--and last dared speak it in 1991. Frost.

I can imagine a Bond girl from the Roger Moore era wearing this; in fact, "Ruby Star" would be a perfect name for a Bond girl. For my part, I can't remember wearing Ruby Star into polite society more than once, on Valentine's Day last year, when my boyfriend and I went out for drinks and Indian food and I ordered a cocktail filled with conversation hearts. Ruby Star is the lipstick version of that cocktail: an emblem of don't-give-a-damn sugary frivolity.

Ruby Star's texture is emollient but gritty; you can really feel all that glitter going on. I have dry lips and deep lip lines, and I find that the texture emphasizes both. I don't mind very much (if I'm wearing this lipstick, I've already put self-consciousness aside), but it's something to keep in mind. Also, the slick formula makes the color blur and feather at the edges, which almost never happens to me; a lip liner would be useful here. But let's ignore such things and focus on the astonishing fact that this lipstick comes from a drugstore brand, not an indie company that names all its products after post-apocalyptic teen novels. (Just to clarify, I don't mean that as an insult. Far from it.)

Two more angles, for no reason other than gratuitous omfglitter:

For my full-face photo, I decided that nothing would do but MOAR GLITTER, applied and blended haphazardly (she said, as if another method were available to her). On the eyes, we have a base of Maybelline Bad to the Bronze, topped with theBalm Seductive (the bronze shade from the Nude 'Tude palette); NYX Jumbo Eye Pencil in Knight at the outer corner; and, smudgily lining the upper and lower lashlines, NYX Slide-On Pencil in Jewel. Knight is green with gold glitter and Jewel is purple with pink glitter, but I got overenthusiastic with the blending, so you really can't tell.

Hmm, the glitter isn't showing up. Why don't we sit on the floor, tilt our face directly into the evening sunlight, force ourselves not to squeeze our eyelids shut against the sun, and try to snap a selfie without capturing the shadow of our own arm?

Ah, that's better.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Seven Splendid Spring Shellacs (Plus a Topcoat)

Yeah, you try coming up with a synonym for "nail polish" that begins with "S." Also, please note that this post contains way too many photos.

After an especially brutal winter, spring toyed with us for weeks and weeks before settling in. Throughout March and early April, we suffered through alternating two-day periods of "hmm, maybe I can put away my wool coat until next winter" and "LOL NOPE." Last week the temperature dipped below freezing again, and some areas even got snow. So I'm a little reluctant to write a post with "spring" in the title; I don't want to jinx what looks like the official, irreversible, no-really-this-time end of winter. But today's perfect weather has me feeling optimistic, so let's talk about corals and pastels and glitter topcoats.

In ROYGBIV order (more properly ROGBVV, plus two misc.):

Left to right: Chanel Tapage, Essie Resort Fling, Milani Showy Sea-Green, Essie In the Cab-ana, Essie Play Date, Illamasqua Speckle, ModLacquer Nonpareils, Essie Shine of the Times.

1. Chanel Tapage

For a few months now, I've been enamored of a certain shade of coral that verges on true red but maintains a warm rosiness: basically, the coolest a coral can go while still deserving its name. We saw several examples of this shade in this spring's makeup releases: YSL Rouge Volupté in Rose Asarine (reviewed by Kate here); Rouge Pablo, a nail polish from the same collection; and from Chanel, Chamade cream blush and Tapage nail polish.

Tapage, French for "noise," was a gift from my lovely boyfriend; it's my second Chanel polish after Rose Insolent, which I bought way back in 2010. Like Rose Insolent, Tapage applies perfectly and dries almost instantly; it's mostly opaque in two coats, though I like to use three. That's where its perfection ends, however. It chips so quickly. Sometimes it chips a few hours after I apply it, and yes, I always use a base and top coat. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Chanel nail polishes aren't made to withstand vigorous dishwashing sessions, but for $27 I expected better.

It turns out that I own a near-dupe with a longer-wearing formula: Essie Come Here!, from the 2013 resort collection. Come Here! is a lighter, pinker coral than Tapage, but on the nails, especially in direct sunlight, it looks almost identical:

(Taken on a road trip through Alabama and Tennessee last June. Screw natural beauty, let me immortalize my nails!)

All that said, I'd still recommend Tapage, especially if you have a really trustworthy topcoat. 

2. Essie Resort Fling

Resort Fling, a cantaloupe-orange jelly, is one of the four polishes in Essie's Resort 2014 collection. It requires three coats for opacity and takes for-effing-ever to dry, but the edible-looking creamy orange color is worth it for me. Plus, I'm a grad student with no teaching duties. I'm not going to pretend I don't have the time.

Don't you just want to bite into it? Gah.

3. Milani Showy Sea-Green

I wrote a full review of this polish here, but to recap: gorgeous muted jade green, new for 2014, opaque in three coats, average lasting power, mercifully cheap.

It's easy for companies to get creative with glitter or shimmer polishes: just toss an unexpected color combination into a clear topcoat and, bam, revolutionary. It takes more skill, in my opinion, to come up with a truly unusual color for a creme polish. I think Milani has done it here. This is not what I'd call sea-green, but it's a perfect spring green, the green of unfurling young leaves.

4. Essie In the Cab-ana

Like Come Here!, this polish hails from Essie's Resort 2013 collection, but both are still available on the Essie website. In the Cab-ana is another example of a truly creative creme shade: a vibrant swimming-pool blue.

I love it for pedicures, but I did ballet for ten years and my feet are never going to appear on this blog; you're welcome. Instead, you get an action photo from last summer, when I found the largest moth I'd ever seen and wanted to convey its truly terrifying scale. There have been a lot of invertebrates 'round these parts recently, haven't there?

Here's another, minus lepidopteran distractions:

This might be my favorite polish color of all time. I feel refreshed just looking at it.

5. Essie Play Date

This is one of the few polishes I've ever used up and replaced. (Well, I actually tossed my first bottle when it thickened, but same difference.) Play Date is the perfect spring purple: darker than pastel, but light and bright enough to read "I'm the Queen of the May" instead of "I'm a goth with WINTER IN MY HEART."

The bottle of Play Date I had last year was fairly long-lasting, but this one seems like a new formulation. It applies as smoothly as Tapage, but it also chips as quickly. I may just have gotten a bad batch, though. And I enjoy painting my nails, so I don't mind reapplying when necessary. Look at that color! The happiest purple I can imagine.

6. Illamasqua Speckle

I always assumed that Illamasqua's pastel speckled polishes were limited edition for spring 2013, but the Illamasqua and Sephora websites still have the collection in stock; there's also a blue, a mint, a dusty pink, and a tan, all crammed with black matte glitter. I hope they've been made permanent, because Speckle, at least, is a wonderful polish. It's the only Illamasqua product I've ever tried, but I'm seriously impressed with the formula and lasting power. The black glitter is densely packed into a milky lavender base; three coats deliver a perfect speckled-egg look. This effect has since been imitated by other brands, such as Urban Outfitters, but I feel confident saying that the original trumps its knockoffs.

7. ModLacquer Nonpareils

Fortunately for my bank account, I've never really gotten into indie nail polishes, the kind made by and for serious lacquer geeks and sold on Etsy or Llarowe. I have to cut off my obsession somewhere; if I allowed myself to investigate all the polish brands available, I'd be looking at swatches all day, and even I have other commitments. Also, indie brands tend to be all about the glitter bombs and linear holos and flashy duochromes. I appreciate their existence, but my loyalty lies with cremes.

But we all make exceptions. I first heard about ModLacquer in an xoJane article that I haven't been able to find again, despite diligent Googling. Maybe it never existed. Maybe the universe itself (speaking in the voice of xoJane? heaven forbid) told me to check out ModLacquer's Etsy shop, where I promptly fell for Nonpareils. It's a sheer white jelly with small and medium glitters in every color of the rainbow, perfect for a Pride event or Easter. But it's relatively subtle for a glitter, too. Here, three coats of Nonpareils with nothing layered underneath:

 And two coats of Nonpareils over two of Essie Marshmallow:

I was all set to complain about the formula, which is very sheer and too watery to suspend the larger glitter bits properly; the glitter sinks to the bottom, requiring a painstaking shake-fish-dab process. But ModLacquer has apparently reformulated Nonpareils since I bought it last summer, and now it "has more white so it's less transparent than the previous formula." I don't know if this means it's also thicker, but more opacity is definitely a step in the right direction. Incidentally, Nonpareils reminds me of China Glaze It's a Trap-eze, reviewed here by sleep and water; the obvious difference is that the glitter in Nonpareils is a lot more sparse.

No, I did not just add two mini bottles to my cart while browsing the ModLacquer shop.

8. Essie Shine of the Times

Many glitter topcoats have a Christmas vibe, which makes them awkward to wear after the holidays. But Shine of the Times, though it was released in a Holiday 2012 collection, is a lovely topcoat for spring: an opalescent flakie polish that flashes peach and lime.

In direct sunlight, looking peachier:

I recently layered it over Resort Fling, which made the peach flashes fade into the background, producing a delightfully understated lime shimmer:

And we're done! Phew, that took forever. What nail polishes have you been enjoying this spring?

Note: Illamasqua, Milani, and ModLacquer are cruelty-free.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Question of Balance: NARS Mata Hari

(Three questions of balance, actually.)

In my review of NARS Lhasa, I mentioned that I have several under-the-radar beauty staples, products I use so often I've stopped thinking about them. I thought I'd follow up on that post with a review of another product I use almost every day: NARS blush in Mata Hari, a cool-toned dusty pink with faint plum undertones. Mata Hari is not a cult favorite like Orgasm; in fact, one of my favorite beauty bloggers has dubbed it an "Unsung Hero." How fitting that a blush named after a spy should evade the notice of devoted NARS fans.

 In shade, as spies prefer.

I suspect Mata Hari has kept such a low profile because it's neither a fluorescent statement blush like Exhibit A nor a neutral blush like Douceur. Thinking about these two color categories makes me want to break out my long-dormant Japanese: Mata Hari walks the line between 地味 and 派手, between jimi (understated) and hade (showy). It belongs to a liminal category: bright enough to get noticed, subtle enough to go unremarked upon. And what is the word, English or Japanese, for that?

In direct sunlight.

Swatched on my ghostly inner arm, Mata Hari is a beautiful candy pink, slightly more hade than it looks in the pan:

The NARS powder blush formula has been reviewed so often and so positively that I feel silly adding my equally positive opinion to the chorus, but I will anyway. (Isn't that the distinguishing characteristic of a literature scholar--the willingness to cover themes that hundreds of people have already exhausted?) Mata Hari is very pigmented, but it can be applied sheerly for a natural-looking flush; the swatch above is three passes, which is more built-up than I'd ever wear it. It blends beautifully, too. I can't speak to longevity, because I tend to apply very little in the first place, so whether it fades or not is kind of an open question.

I swear I piled on far more blush than usual for my face swatch, but it barely shows up in the photo. Does anyone else have this problem? (Also on my face: NARS Habanera eyeshadow duo, NYX Butter Gloss in Peach Cobbler, spring freckles.)

Now for the second question of balance or, rather, imbalance: the wild imbalance of my makeup stash.

I own dozens of lip colors and nail polishes, over 50 of each. But the rest of my collection is small by normal-person standards, never mind beauty-blogger standards: four eyeliners (one black pencil, one black liquid, two colored pencils); a few single eyeshadows and one neutral eyeshadow palette; one mascara; three blushes, including Mata Hari. There are some product categories I haven't even touched, like bronzer and highlighter. The built-in shelves in my bedroom tell a sad tale of favoritism (the green-and-blue boxes are for lipsticks, the jar to their right for glosses):

What I should have done long ago, of course, was stop buying lipstick and nail polish and use the money I saved to build up my shadow and blush collections. Instead, I used my relative restraint in those categories to justify buying yet more lipsticks and nail polishes. Logical, I am.

That's my entire blush collection. The peach is my very first blush (sniff!), the powdery-perfumey CoverGirl Rose Silk, which I almost never wear. The fluoro magenta is NARS Coeur Battant, a limited-edition blush from the 2013 holiday collection.

I've always understood other people's obsession with eyeshadow: an infinite array of colors and finishes, and a whole world of geometric tricks for shaping and placing and blending. Until recently, though, I couldn't see what motivated anyone to collect dozens of blushes. It didn't seem to make sense: didn't they all look the same sheered out on the cheeks? My bafflement originated in my greatest beauty fear: the fear of the "full face," of looking too "done." I like my makeup a little blurry and imprecise. I don't want all the made-up bits of my face to be connected; I don't want to look airbrushed. I want to see bare, imperfect skin between eyeshadow and blush, blush and lipstick. I want an archipelago of colors and textures in a sea of un-made-up epidermis. (Actually, that sounds creepy. Just bear with me.)

But my attitude toward blush has been changing, due partly to Kate's Japanese-inspired experiments with blush placement (e.g. here), and partly to my growing awareness of the variety of colors and textures and finishes available. I suspect I'm entering a blush period. Check back here in a few months.

One more view of Mata Hari, mostly to show off my Easterish earrings:

And one more question of balance: how do you make sure you've applied an equal amount of blush to both cheeks? Bilateral symmetry gets me every time.