Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Summer Lovin' Tag

Hello from South Florida! I took this photo yesterday evening, toward the end of a thunderstorm.

It's hard to adhere to a regular blogging schedule when your location changes every few days, but I couldn't resist doing this meme from Liz at Beauty Reductionista.

1. Summer lipstick you're loving?

I've been enjoying sheer and semi-sheer reds, both cool and warm. And on days when I just can't be bothered with color makeup, I reach for my favorite (and recently repurchased!) MLBB. Left to right: Maybelline Vibrant Mandarin, Revlon Lip Butter in Candy Apple, NARS Flamenco, and NARS Dolce Vita.

Swatched in the same order:

2. Summer nail polish you're loving?

All Essie, as it happens! For my fingers, Lollipop (cherry-red jelly) and Fashion Playground (mint green with faint silver shimmer); for my toes, In the Cab-ana (swimming-pool blue).

3. Summer blush you're loving? Illamasqua cream blush in Zygomatic (I'm sure you knew I'd say that). I can't remember the last time I bothered with a powder blush in this sticky heat, and pink-beige Zygomatic goes with absolutely everything.

4. Favorite summer drink? Iced coffee by day, mojitos by night.

5. Favorite fake tan? The world of fake tans is a total mystery to me.

6. Favorite summer song? I like wistful, self-indulgent songs in the summer. Two of my favorite singers, La Roux and Lana Del Rey, have just released new albums, and I've been enjoying La Roux's "Let Me Down Gently" and LDR's "Old Money." But my all-time favorite summer song is Duran Duran's "Rio." 

7. Favorite summer accessory? With the exception of earrings, I'm not really an accessories person: lipstick is my favorite accessory! But I've been wearing these new earrings from Anthropologie almost every day.

8. Favorite summer fragrance? I don't wear much fragrance in the summer, but when I do, it's usually Lush's Tuca Tuca. It's a violet-based perfume, but sexier and less sweet than most violets (e.g. my favorite spring fragrance, L'Artisan Verte Violette). Tuca Tuca smells vaguely of incense, like something a Victorian spirit medium would wear.

I'd like to write more about fragrance on this blog, but I find it intimidating in the same way that I find writing about wine intimidating: one needs a level of expertise that I'm pretty sure I lack. I can tell you what scenes or memories a perfume evokes for me, or what notes I detect, but it's all so subjective that it might not help you at all. Plus, inexpert perfume writing often resembles a bad prose poem, and since my writing tends toward bad-prose-poem ornateness anyway...well, you understand my reservations. I like violet perfume and purple prose.

9. Summer book you're loving? What makes a book a "summer book"? Is it just a book you read in the summer? Anyway, the book I've enjoyed most this summer is My 1980s and Other Essays, by Wayne Koestenbaum, the middle-aged male version of me (neurotic, vain, pretentious, and given to obsessive regret).

Someday I'll do a makeup look based on that photo of Debbie Harry.

I've been recommending this collection to everyone in my life, even to people very unlikely to read it. I can't remember the last time I was such a wild-eyed zealot for a book. This is partially an egoistic thing (his flaws are exactly my flaws: it's incredible), but he also writes brilliantly about photography, poetry, pop culture, and figuring out adulthood in a society ravaged by AIDS. Read My 1980s for, if nothing else, the essay "Advice to the Young":

"I have turned literature, like every love, into a harness. The discursive situations I confront--audience, reader--hold me like a vise, and so I end up not speaking, rather than trying to begin the awful, necessary work of accommodating myself to that confinement, learning the dimensions of prison so I might transform it into a nursery."

10. What are you most excited to do this summer? 

In late August, my boyfriend and I are driving down Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles! I haven't been to LA since I was eight, and I don't think I've ever been on Highway 1. And before that, I'll have a few weeks in San Francisco to see my parents, catch up with old friends, and eat delicious food. (And finish my article. Damn it. Being in one place for more than four days at a time will be such a relief.)

Feel free to do this tag, if you'd like! I'd love to hear what you've been enjoying this summer.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

AB Goes to Birmingham (and Ulta)

Greetings from Birmingham, Alabama! I've been here for a few days to see my boyfriend, who is visiting his parents. This means, of course, that I've also been to Ulta. The company has no outposts near where I live, and I have yet to see one in San Francisco, where my parents live, so what was I to do when I finally found myself in physical proximity to an Ulta? Not go? Come on.

The great and unusual thing about Ulta is that it sells both drugstore and high(ish)-end products, as well as a few brands that I normally have to buy online, such as NYX and Zoya. The more expensive brands at Ulta (e.g. Urban Decay, Too Faced) tend to have a young target demographic: no Guerlain or YSL or even NARS, more's the pity. I tend to be less interested in those shelves than in the drugstore stuff and the overwhelming selection of nail polish. Today I picked up three nail polishes and a lipstick:

 Left to right: OPI Eurso Euro (a birthday present for my stepmother--I already have a bottle), Butter London Wallis, Zoya Normani, and NYX Matte Lipstick in Alabama (!). I'll eventually review the things I bought for myself, but for now, a few quick notes:

Eurso Euro, whose praises I've already sung here, is my favorite nail polish on earth. A vibrant cobalt blue creme in a smooth, self-leveling, long-lasting formula: could there be anything better? World peace, perhaps.

I notice, looking at the bottle now, that the official name of this polish is "OPI...Eurso Euro," which means I should have referred to it in the first instance as "OPI OPI...Eurso Euro."

Butter London Wallis is a greeny-gold shimmer polish that I've wanted for at least two years now. I often develop long-term lemmings, but today I decided that for this one, at least, enough was enough. I think Wallis is a perfect color for fall: it looks like moss in an enchanted forest.

In direct sunlight:

Normani is a purple-gray-mauve creme, the darkest shade in Zoya's six-piece Naturel collection, which came out early this year. The idea of the collection was to provide six variations on the theme of "nude." Normani had never caught my eye until I saw it in person today; it looked like a nice take on the gray-taupe nail polish that shows up every fall.

Speaking of Zoya, the order that I placed during the July 4 promotion took three weeks to ship, meaning that it arrived a few days after I left town. And since I'll be gone for the next month, I just have to hope that the package will still be waiting on my doorstep in late August. A week after I ordered, I called Zoya to ask why I hadn't received so much as a confirmation email, and was told that it could take as long as five weeks for the orders to be processed and shipped. I'm not exceedingly happy with Zoya right now. (So, of course, I gave them more business.)

Finally, NYX Matte Lipstick in Alabama is a dark brownish red that looks very similar to Rimmel Across the Universe. I could have lived without the NYX, but I mean, I'm in Alabama right now; I just had to get it. Plus, experience has taught me that I prefer lipstick bullets to liquid lipsticks, and NYX makes my very favorite matte lipstick formula. Too bad the product comes in such cheap-looking packaging:

I admit that the shiny bullet with its perfectly crisp edges makes up for a lot.

That said...well. I know I've mentioned that I don't care much about packaging as long as the product works, but NYX really tests the limits of that principle for me.

Ulta also had a small handful of NYX's new Macaron Lippies in stock. I'd been curious about Lavender for a while and was excited to see it on the shelf, but the only one available had obviously been used. In fact, it had a smear of another lipstick on it. This is why drugstore makeup needs testers, people! Why can't American stores provide them? I've been consoling myself by reflecting that the Macaron Lippies have received unenthusiastic reviews, but I suspect I'll end up with Lavender sooner or later.

I also wanted to show you my makeup from last night, when my boyfriend and I went to dinner with his undergraduate adviser. I had a hard time finding decent lighting for a photo, so I had to content myself with a car selfie. I'm wearing Maybelline Bad to the Bronze cream shadow, theBalm Silly powder shadow, and Maybelline One by One mascara on my eyes; Illamasqua Zygomatic cream blush on my cheeks; and on my lips, Maybelline Vibrant Mandarin lipstick, which transforms from a red-orange coral to a pink-red coral within five minutes of application. Wizardry. It was the first time I'd worked with powder eyeshadow in almost a month, and picking up a brush again felt daunting, like those nightmares in which you're about to perform in a play without having memorized your lines.

A bathroom-mirror outfit photo, featuring a Zara dress from last year, an Old Navy blazer from, ahem, 2008, and hair courtesy of Birmingham's magical limestone-filtered tap water:

Today is my last day here. This morning we went to a farmers' market held in an old Dr. Pepper bottling plant, and I had a peach that practically glowed. Apparently, Chilton County grows some of the best peaches in the country.

I always enjoy the dominant architecture of Birmingham: lots of 19th- and 20th-century brick buildings, many of them repurposed factories or warehouses.

 I liked this hardware store, too:

Tomorrow I move on to Florida, where my mother has been visiting my grandmother for the past week. I still haven't finished that article, and Internet access at my grandmother's house tends to be spotty, so my blog might be semi-quiet for a while. I seem to have lost some of the blogging energy I had at the beginning of the summer, as well as the inclination to wear more than four products at a time in this heat and humidity. And it's always the same four products, and you've seen most of them on this blog already. But I'll be in San Francisco before long to see my parents, and the colder weather might snap me out of my beauty malaise. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New Hair, and Some Notes on Growing Out a Pixie Cut

I got a haircut yesterday!

My hair hasn't touched my shoulders since 2007. In the past seven years, I've had long bobs, short bobs, longer-in-front bobs, pixie cuts, and whatever was happening on my head during senior year of college, when I couldn't afford professional haircuts and had to take matters--and scissors--into my own hands.

All this means that I've learned a lot about managing short hair, and I thought I'd discuss some of my recent experiences in this post.

This past January, I got a pixie cut for the first time in almost two years. Enough time had passed since my last one that I'd forgotten something very important: a pixie is not a low-maintenance haircut. If you want to keep that perfect pixie shape, you need to get it touched up every month or two, which I can't afford to do right now. Maintaining a pixie is even harder when you don't have straight hair. My hair is fine and wavy, and on humid days it crosses the border into curly; it's like having a freaking barometer attached to my head. When hair like mine is very short, it doesn't grow straight down. Instead, it grows up and out, forming a forest of little tufts. I can't hop out of bed in the morning with my hair artfully tousled, run a comb through it, and race out the door. I'm more likely to wake up with a fauxhawk that can be conquered only with a full shower. During my pixie months, I gave up on washing my hair at any time of day but the morning, before I left the apartment. The potential for humiliation was just too strong. If I went to the gym in the afternoon and washed my hair afterward, I'd usually have to get it wet again the next morning. It was a monumental pain in the ass.

I got pixied again in March, because I really do love the look, but I decided soon after to grow out my hair into a bob. Here's a timeline from then to now:

Late March: freshly shorn!

By mid-May, it looked like this. Apologies that I have so few photos of my entire head; I wasn't specifically trying to chronicle my hair growth. (This photo was actually intended for my review of theBalm's Nude 'tude palette, though it didn't end up in that post.)

Four months of growth, a few days before my haircut. Yes, I have a depression in the middle of my skull. It's weird. I'd been trimming the back to prevent the encroaching mullet, but had left my hair alone otherwise.

To turn my grown-out pixie into a bob, the stylist cut my hair short in back but left the front and sides relatively untouched (save for a bit of shaping). This forms a bob shape that will become more pronounced as it grows out.

From the front, it looks pretty much the same as before. Alas, I couldn't take a decent head-on photo before the frizz set in. (If anyone knows of an anti-frizz product that won't weigh down fine hair, I'd love to hear about it...)

Finally, a few tips on growing out a pixie cut and maintaining short hair:

1. Go for haircuts as frequently as you normally would--for me, this is every few months. Your hair does need regular trims as it grows out, or it will end up looking shapeless. Maintaining a nice shape is more important than gaining length.

2. If your budget allows, spending a little extra money is worth it. It's a shame how many stylists don't know what to do with short hair, especially short curly hair. Last year, when I still had a longish bob, I went to a place in town for a trim. I asked the woman to take my hair up a little in back, so that it would be longer in front. I showed her pictures. I was very specific. She ignored everything I said and thinned out the back. Instead of making it shorter, she made it flatter. After she was done, she said, "What you were asking me to do was impossible." It was the only haircut that had ever made me cry. These days I go to a place in Brooklyn, recommended by a friend, and spend $70 (plus tip) per haircut. That's more money than I'd like, but I'm always pleased with the result.

3. Without exception, I've had better short cuts from women who have short hair themselves.

4. When my boyfriend still lived in North Carolina, I went to a talented woman at a shockingly affordable (compared to the Northeast) salon in Chapel Hill. After my boyfriend graduated from his program, I went to the salon one last time and asked the stylist how to find a good replacement. She told me to look for someone who could cut hair with a straight razor. Not only does that give a precise cut, it's also a relatively advanced skill that not everyone learns how to do. And lo and behold, my current stylist uses a straight razor, too.

I'll be in and out of airplanes for the next week, but will post when I can. Now to begin the excruciating task of choosing lipsticks for the next month.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lipstick Chronology #24: NARS Dolce Vita

Name: NARS Sheer Lipstick in Dolce Vita

Date Purchased: Spring 2013 (and again on Monday!)

Grade: A

Notes: I did it! I repurchased NARS Dolce Vita after a few months spent trying to preserve the tiny nub that remained of my first tube.

I have a weird psychological hangup about repurchasing makeup. A second tube of a well-loved lipstick just doesn't give me the thrill of the new and unknown. And since no product is perfect, not even Dolce Vita, I can't help thinking that if I keep looking, I'll come upon something even better. But with Dolce Vita, my neurosis went too far. I found myself avoiding my favorite lipstick because I was afraid to use it up. Two days ago I decided that enough was enough, and $26 plus tax later, I have a shiny new tube of my trusty goes-with-everything lipstick. Just in time, too, since I can't in good conscience continue to use my old one. I mean, look at it.

I feel like I'm turning into my mother, who has used up and repurchased the same two L'Oreal berry lipsticks since I can remember. But most people still do that, even with the explosion of new colors and formulas (and blogs to review those colors and formulas). Most people find one or two lip colors that suit them, and return to those products over and over. There's something comforting about reaching into your purse for a lipstick that you know will flatter you and match all your outfits, a color that will never make you feel conspicuous or self-conscious. Sometimes you just want makeup to be easy, you know? Dolce Vita is easy, and there's no shame in that. Its name is appropriate, too: la dolce vita shouldn't involve wondering if your lipstick has faded unevenly or attracted disapproving glances.

NARS describes Dolce Vita as a "dusty rose," and that's exactly what it is: a neutral brownish pink in a sheer, glossy formula. Left, one swipe; right, two swipes.

Compared with other NARS sheer lipsticks I've bought or swatched, Dolce Vita has medium pigmentation. It's more opaque than pink-nude Cruising or pink-plum Damage, about the same as coral Manhunt and brown-plum Vendanges, and sheerer than cool red Flamenco. Dolce Vita's biggest flaw for me is its lack of pigmentation and its tendency to wear off after an hour or two. I've swatched Dolce Vita next to Flamenco so you can see the striking difference in opacity between two NARS sheer lipsticks:

And here's Dolce Vita with a few other MLBBs. Left to right: NYX Round Lipstick in Perfect, Dolce Vita,  Revlon Lip Butter in Pink Truffle, and NARS Cinematic Lipstick in Last Tango (limited edition for Holiday 2013).

Perfect is cooler and redder, though it looks similar on my lips. Pink Truffle is often mentioned as a dupe for Dolce Vita, but as you can see, it's darker, more pigmented, and warmer and browner. I bought Last Tango hoping it would be Dolce Vita's opaque cousin, but it turned out to be almost identical to Pink Truffle. It's also so drying that I can't wear it except when my lips are absolutely flawless, which is almost never. Isn't it strange how the creamiest lipsticks are often the most drying?

Speaking of which, I've decided not to post close-up lip swatches today. My lips have been nightmarishly dry for the last few days, and I've been putting off this post while waiting for them to heal, but it hasn't happened so far. It's high summer with drenching humidity, yet my lips are as parched and cracked as they were last winter. It's a shame, because arm swatches are an imperfect way to show off a lipstick--and this is doubly true of a sheer neutral lipstick like Dolce Vita. Suffice to say that my lips are quite pigmented, so I end up needing two layers of Dolce Vita. I see it as more of a lip-glow product than a full-on lipstick, but it's so versatile that I can put up with less opacity than I'd prefer. Plus, the formula is so plush and comfortable. The NARS sheer lipsticks aren't exactly hydrating (if they were, my lips would be in better condition right now), but they're not drying, either.

In lieu of lip swatches, have a FOTD featuring Dolce Vita, from two days ago. I think this is the first photo in which I've actually gotten Illamasqua Zygomatic to show up on my cheeks.

And some July flowers:

And a bus I saw yesterday morning. Something makes me doubt its university affiliation...

I'm not convinced it's a Mercedes-Benz, either.

Finally, I should mention that I'll be making myself scarce for the next week. I want to finish a draft of an article before I leave town next Wednesday, and that means less internet than I've become accustomed to. Though I am going for a haircut on Monday, so I probably won't be able to resist posting a couple of photos. The bedhead situation has been fun, but it really needs to end.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Only Tattoos I'll Ever Have: Maybelline Color Tattoo Eyeshadows

All right, that title is a bit of an exaggeration. I'm not completely sure I'll never get a tattoo. But given my indecisiveness, fear of commitment, and habitual buyer's remorse, I can say the odds are very slim. I do, however, own five Maybelline Color Tattoo eyeshadows.

I'm not the first person to consider the Color Tattoos (with a couple of exceptions) some of the best beauty products at the drugstore. They're cream eyeshadows in adorable, satisfyingly heavy glass pots, and they can be used either on their own or as long-lasting bases for powder shadows. Most of us have heard that cream eyeshadows should be stored upside down (I trust this isn't a myth...?), but I'd probably never remember to do that if not for the ingenious design of the Color Tattoos. The glass "lid" is actually the pot that holds the product, while the black plastic "bottom" is the screw-off lid. I've never encountered another drugstore product packaged in real glass; it feels almost luxurious. The colors all have "edgy" names (tattoos = edgy, dontchaknow), because Maybelline hasn't realized that few things are more ridiculous than a major cosmetics brand pretending to be streetwise. See also their "Street Art" nail polishes.

The official name of this product is "Eye Studio Color Tattoo 24HR Cream Gel Eyeshadow," which...whatever. The 24-hour claim mystifies me, as most people wash their faces more than once every 24 hours. I have, however, fallen asleep in my makeup (I know, I know), and the color does stick around until the next morning. Do with that information what you will. I don't know what the phrase "cream gel" is supposed to signify, but the formula doesn't feel or look particularly gel-like to me. It's a cream eyeshadow, Maybelline. Get over yourselves.

Besides, there's nothing wrong with plain old cream eyeshadows. They're perfect for the hot, humid weather we've been having. My go-to summer eye makeup is Bad to the Bronze and mascara; boom, done. And because they're so user-friendly and versatile, the Color Tattoos are great starter eyeshadows for yours truly people who are still getting the hang of applying and blending eye makeup. I rarely use a brush with these; smearing them on with my fingers seems most effective, and can be accomplished in a few seconds. But alas, I can't recommend all the shades wholeheartedly. The five I own vary in quality from sublime (Bad to the Bronze, Tough as Taupe) to workable (Electric Blue, Pomegranate Punk) to utter shit (Audacious Asphalt).

Top row, from left: Pomegranate Punk, Electric Blue. Bottom row, from left: Audacious Asphalt, Tough as Taupe, Bad to the Bronze.

Here are some swatches to give you an idea of the significant textural differences. Left to right: Audacious Asphalt (audacious only in its resistance to blending), Tough as Taupe, Bad to the Bronze, Electric Blue, and Pomegranate Punk. Keep in mind that I bought Bad to the Bronze over a year ago, so it's not quite as smooth and buttery as it once was. Still going strong, though.

Indoors, indirect natural light:

 Indoors, artificial light:

 Outdoors, direct sunlight. Don't mind me, neighbors, I'm just photographing my inner arm.

Bad to the Bronze, which I bought last May to wear to a wedding, is my favorite of the five. Most bronze eyeshadows are too warm-toned for my complexion, but Bad to the Bronze is the coolest bronze I've ever seen; in fact, I'd say it verges on taupe. Look how much of it I've used!

Swatched with theBalm Seductive to illustrate how cool-toned it is for a bronze. Bad to the Bronze is the one on the right; it looks almost copper next to the yellow-bronze Seductive, which I rarely use.

Though it's a neutral, Bad to the Bronze is bold and metallic enough that I don't usually wear it with eyeliner or other eyeshadows. It does look great with purples, though, so I'll occasionally pair it with NYX Slide On eyeliner in Jewel on my lashlines. And of course, bronze is the perfect complement for a purple or berry lipstick. Here's a recent FOTD with Bad to the Bronze, Jewel, and MAC Up the Amp lipstick.

Electric Blue is a metallic navy blue that I bought last fall in order to quell my lemming for the NARS Mandchourie eyeshadow duo.

It's drier and less blendable than I'd like, but it works fine as an outer-corner accent. No comparison swatches for this one, because it's my only navy eyeshadow, but here's a FOTD from October, when I had a lot more hair! I'm wearing Electric Blue with theBalm Selfish (the taupe eyeshadow from the Nude 'tude palette), NARS Coeur Battant blush, and NARS Cinematic lipstick in Last Tango.

Audacious Asphalt is a sparkly gray with large silver glitter particles.

I bought this one in October while putting together my Halloween costume. I was dressing up as Rachel from Blade Runner, and this tutorial had recommended Audacious Asphalt for her '80s-meets-'40s smoky eye. I don't know why I went out and bought it when I had a beautifully formulated Wet n Wild silver eyeshadow that I'd never found an excuse to use, but there you are. Unfortunately, Audacious Asphalt turned out to be dry, stiff, clumpy, and nearly impossible to apply without cursing. But I kept it, for some reason, and it's occasionally come in handy as a sparkly accent. I'm not a cyborg full-time, after all, so I'm rarely in the mood for an eyelid completely coated in silver sparkles.

Here's Audacious Asphalt (left) next to the silver shade from the Wet n Wild Spoiled palette, which also contains a matte fuchsia and a sparkly black. Why did I choose that as my first-ever eyeshadow palette? Why not a nice neutral trio? Once an Edwardian cyborg, etc.

The palette recommends that I use the silver as a browbone shade. Gambit declined, Wet n Wild.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I wore Audacious Asphalt this Independence Day over a base of Tough as Taupe. Closeup for glitter:

 Pomegranate Punk is a reddish plum with gold shimmer.

I seem to be drawn repeatedly to red-based purples; I find that they bring out the green in my eyes. Left to right: NYX Jewel, right-hand shade of NARS Habanera duo, and Pomegranate Punk.

I don't know how to make this color read anything but "fall/winter," so I haven't worn it in several months. Here's a look from January, though. I'm wearing NARS Mata Hari blush and Maybelline Nude Lust lipstick (?), and I think I've used Bad to the Bronze on the inner two-thirds of the lid and Pomegranate Punk on the outer third.

Tough as Taupe is a matte gray-leaning taupe with a delightfully smooth, rich texture.

I almost never wear matte neutral eyeshadows on their own, since they tend to emphasize my dark undereye circles, but I love Tough as Taupe as a layering base for sheerer, lighter colors. It also tones down bright colors, making them more wearable. I bought it to use as a base for NARS Lhasa, but it works just as nicely with non-taupes. From left, here's Tough as Taupe on its own, then layered under Lhasa, Kiko Infinity Eyeshadow #251, and Topshop Chameleon Glow in Wax + Wane.

And some comparisons: from left, Tough as Taupe, Lhasa, and theBalm Selfish. I need a brownish taupe to replace the nearly extinct Selfish, and I've been hearing good things about the new Milani Bella eyeshadows, so I might hunt down Bella Taupe before long...

Here I am wearing Tough as Taupe with the mint green from NARS Habanera as a center-lid accent. Lip color is NARS Sheer Lipstick in Dolce Vita, for which I also need a replacement--I'm down to the barest nub, and have been avoiding finishing it for months because, well, $24. For some reason I resent having to repurchase things, even things I really love.

Finally, an update from the desk of gravity-defying bedhead. This image is saved on my computer as "why.jpg":


What are your feelings on Color Tattoos, or tattoos in general? Do you have any of either?