Sunday, August 31, 2014

August in Nail Polish

Since all but one of the nail polishes I wore in August were new to me, I thought I'd write up a month's worth of mini-reviews!

My first polish of August was Zoya Normani, which I bought at the Birmingham Ulta in July. The darkest shade in Zoya's nude-based Naturel collection, Normani is a brown-gray-purple taupe. It belongs to the same family as OPI You Don't Know Jacques and Chanel Particulière, though it's rosier and less gray than either of those. Normani didn't catch my eye when I was looking at swatches of the Naturel collection online, but the color leaped out at me when I saw it on the shelf. Further proof that I need to limit myself to makeup I can see in person first (of course, I'm lucky enough to live in a country overflowing with Sephoras and Ultas and such).

Normani turned out to be a three-coat nail polish. On my nails, it was darker than I'd expected, but I loved it no less for that. It looked clean and modern and elegant, and I have a feeling I'll be reaching for it a lot this fall. Even my dad, the least likely person in the world to notice the cosmetics I'm wearing, complimented me on my "brown nail polish." This stuff is good.

Normani showed tipwear after two or three days, which is average for me; I don't understand how some people get their polish to last for a week. I try to do everything right: applying basecoat and topcoat, waiting for each layer to dry completely before adding the next, blah blah blah. I just have weak nails, and my habit of peeling off my polish once it's chipped certainly doesn't help. It's a terrible vicious cycle: because my nails are so weak, my polish chips; because I can't stand the look of chipped polish, I peel it all off before I can get to a bottle of nail-polish remover; because I peel it all off, my nails get weaker. I was so proud of myself last year for overcoming (more or less) my lifelong nail-biting habit, but because I didn't overcome the anxiety that produced the biting, I just replaced one nervous hand-based habit with another. Sigh.

Next in my retrospective is Butter London Wallis, the official nail polish of Slytherin House.

Wallis looms large in my personal makeup mythology. I'd been admiring it for two years before I finally bought it. When you hem and haw over a product for that long, you half-convince yourself that it's as mythical as the Golden Fleece and you, small pathetic you, couldn't possibly obtain it. Plus, I wasn't certain that I'd wear it, since I don't usually favor nail polishes with such pronounced shimmer. But when I saw it on the shelf, in all its olive-gold glory, I decided that enough was enough.

Wallis is a dark olive green with abundant bronze-gold shimmer--so abundant, in fact, that it gives an almost foiled effect on the nails. It leans more green in shade and more gold in direct light. Like most of the shimmer polishes I've tried, Wallis requires three coats for full opacity; but once it's on, it stays and stays. I think it was about four days before it developed noticeable tipwear, which is almost unheard-of for me.

I have, of course, painstakingly documented all of Wallis's color shifts. Left to right: indoors, natural light; outdoors, indirect light; outdoors, direct light.

I have nothing bad to say about this polish, except that it's named after a controversial public figure who probably held Nazi sympathies and definitely associated with the notorious British fascists Oswald and Diana Mosley. Butter London's apparent ignorance of British history aside, Wallis is dazzling--the perfect summer-to-fall transition color.

The absurdly named Essie Bikini So Teeny was a hand-me-down from my mom, who bought it for herself but turned out not to like it. It's a pale cornflower blue with silver microshimmer.

Alas, everything that's traditionally wrong with Essie polish is wrong with Bikini So Teeny. Formula that's still slightly streaky after three coats? Check. Shimmer that looks beautiful in the bottle but disappears on the nails? Check. Short wear time? Check. I don't know why anyone buys pastels from Essie anymore.

This is three coats, and you can see that it's still translucent in parts. It's a pretty color, but I didn't love it on myself--I'm not a fan of most stark pastels. It lasted for about two days before it began chipping.

My boyfriend was coming to San Francisco for a few days in mid-August, and since we were going to be exploring the city all day, I wanted a polish that wouldn't need constant touch-ups. I should have gone with Wallis again, but I was attracted by Essie No More Film, another gift from my mom. No More Film is a deep blue-leaning indigo creme from the Resort 2012 collection. I've seen it described as a "blurple," but can we all agree that "blurple" needs to vanish from the beauty-blogging lexicon? It sounds like a portmanteau of "burp" and "blurt" and "gurgle," and don't we already have the word "indigo" to signify "blue/purple"?

Seriously, to hell with this nail polish. It's a beautiful color with a smooth application and two-coat opacity, but it chipped WITHIN 24 HOURS. I was counting on you, No More Film! I was counting on you, and you betrayed me! It had chipped so badly after two days that I had to remove it entirely. I kept the bottle, because I needed a replacement for my dried-up Butter London Royal Navy, but it was only grudgingly that I gave No More Film a space on my nail-polish shelf. If it didn't promise to look so good under every glitter topcoat I own, I wouldn't be so lenient. Hmph.

Before I went to LA, I decided that I needed one more fling with a bright summer shade, so I pulled out Chanel Tapage. I've reviewed it here; it's a warm pink-red that applies like a dream (two coats, self-leveling, quick-drying) but chips like a nightmare. Not as badly as No More Film, but I do expect tipwear in one to two days. The bottle looks the worse for wear after its international and transcontinental travels these last few months...

Tapage looks slightly warmer and more corally on the nails, but it's still as cool as coral gets before crossing the line into fuchsia.

Finally, the polish I'm wearing as I type this: Zoya Zara. Remember the order I made from Zoya two months ago, when they were having their Independence Day 3-for-$12 sale? It took them forever to send out the polishes (three weeks, and I was told on the phone that it might even be five weeks), which meant that the package arrived the day after I left town in late July. Not knowing where it had been left, I accepted that it might not be there when I returned, but it turned out to be tucked safely into my mailbox, along with four issues of the New Yorker and a belated tax-return check from the government. I can't think of better mailbox contents to greet me on my return home.

Of the three Zoyas I had ordered, I was most excited about Zara, a midtone lavender with gold pearl.

Zara is so beautiful, you guys. It's like fairy polish. It also looks surprisingly autumnal, despite its pinky-purple base.

Like fairies themselves, Zara is hard to photograph, its gold overlay slipping in and out of focus.The camera likes to meld the purple and gold layers together, but they're more discrete (thus more magical) in person. This was the most color-accurate photo I could manage:

As I expected it would be, Zara is a three-coater; I've been wearing it for just over a day, so I can't speak to wear time yet, but it's doing fine so far. I can't wait to try my other Zoya picks: Neve, a metallic navy, and Yara, a gold-flecked olive (very different from Wallis, I promise).

 And that was my August in nail polish. What were your favorites this month?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Goldilocks and the Three Lip Brushes

If you've watched as many geisha documentaries as I have (she said, too casually), you'll be familiar with the clichéd close-up shot of a geisha or maiko painting her white-powdered lips with a brush dipped in rouge. The inevitability of this shot, in both Japanese and foreign documentaries, makes me roll my eyes every time it comes up; there's something fetishistic and exoticizing about it, especially when the wielder of the brush is a sixteen-year-old maiko. But the allure of the ritual itself is undeniable. Applying lipstick with a bullet can be sexy, but it's more often matter-of-fact: swipe it on and go. Applying lipstick with a brush is never anything but artistic. It forces you to slow down, to think critically about shape and precision.

Until recently, though, I'd never felt the need to own a lip brush. The good old bullet, it seemed to me, was a perfectly effective technology for transferring color to my lips. And if a bullet failed to deliver a crisp line and even pigmentation, then I certainly wasn't going to buy extra tools to make an inferior lipstick work. Frankly, I pride myself a little too much on my resistance to outlandish advertising claims. Like many academic types, I like to think of myself as a natural skeptic, but my smug pride is born of insecurity. My makeup obsession has made me realize how vulnerable to marketing I really am, and I'm terrified of becoming the sort of person who believes that Marc Jacobs' Twinkle Pop Eye Stick contains "an infusion of Alpine Snow Water [that] adds a special cooling effect to refresh tired eyes." So I sometimes go to the other extreme and take my skepticism too far, refusing to entertain the possibility that any extra thingum or widget will make my beauty life easier.

Then NYX Matte Lipstick in Alabama entered my life. Alabama was exactly the deep matte interbellum brown-red I'd been pursuing forever (or for two months, which is the same thing in beauty-geek world). It was also trickier to apply than any other lipstick I'd encountered. Alabama is a true flat matte, and because the color is so bold, so rich, and so difficult to remove once applied, there's little room for error. I could have given up on Alabama; after all, I had a Rimmel liquid lipstick in a similar shade. But I couldn't let that moody brick-red go. So I did the previously unthinkable: I decided to buy a lip brush. And I soon discovered that lip brushes are bizarrely hard to find.

First I searched Walgreens and CVS, but came away empty-handed. Then I went to Target, assuming that e.l.f. or Sonia Kashuk must make a cheap lip brush. Nothing. I'd once read that a small angled eyeliner brush could work for the lips, so I picked up a $3 e.l.f. eyeliner brush and took my business to Sephora. There I found a retractable lip brush for $10. Armed with both of these, I began to experiment.

The Sephora Collection Retractable Lip Brush #60 was good, but not good enough. Since I returned it so soon after buying it, I never managed to take a picture, but here's a low-quality image from Sephora's website. (I tried drawing it from memory instead, but gave up after three tries. I don't want to lose all my dignity on the Internet.)

This image depicts the brush when expanded; to retract the brush head, you push the two end parts together, and the bristles slide back inside the handle. This sounds like a marvelous innovation, but it actually created more problems than it solved. The bristles had a pesky habit of retracting while I was using the brush. Even when expanded fully, the handle was shorter than I'd have liked, so I didn't get enough leverage while painting my lips. The bristles were also too short, which meant that the rim of the handle kept bumping into my mouth. The Sephora image depicts a thinner black part between the bristles and the main body of the handle, but I don't remember that part at all; the bristles just stuck out from the larger tube. Maybe I got a defective item? In any case, my brush went back to Sephora, but not before proving to me that a lip brush was a worthwhile acquisition. I loved painting layer after layer of Alabama on my mouth, watching it deepen from a berry stain to an opaque dark red.

Next I tried the e.l.f. Studio Small Angled Brush from Target. I appreciate that e.l.f. is cruelty-free and uses synthetic hair for all its brushes.

(Brushes are hard to photograph, it turns out.)

The handle of this brush, at just over 6", was longer than the handle of the Sephora #60, so I had greater control over its movement. Unfortunately, the squared-off, sharply angled brush head was hopeless at applying color to my lips; I have no idea why anyone would recommend an eyeliner brush as a substitute lip brush. I kept it, though, and have been loving it for applying eyeshadow to my upper and lower lashlines. The head is thin and stiff enough to cover that elusive space between lashes and mobile lid. God, is there any way to write about makeup brushes without producing what sounds like awkward Literotica fodder?

Finally, I went to another Sephora 3,000 miles away from the first one (I promise that wasn't the reason I made the trip). The second Sephora, in Union Square in San Francisco, had a much larger selection of brushes. I came away with the Sephora Collection Pro Lip Brush #81, which turned out to work beautifully.

At 6.5", the handle is the longest of the three, and since there's no annoying rim between bristles and handle, painting my lips is remarkably easy. I do wish the brush head were larger: it doesn't pick up much pigment, meaning I can't get perfect opacity all over my mouth in just a few swipes. With Alabama, the only lipstick I've used with the brush so far, I have to put on three layers. Time-consuming, yes, but very gratifying. I haven't painted anything but my face in at least ten years, but using a lip brush reminds me of the visceral thrill I used to get from painting with watercolors. Plus, I find that Alabama lasts far longer when applied with a brush.

Let's see what this brush can actually do! One layer of Alabama, plus apologies for painfully dry lips:

 Two layers:

Three layers:

The final result--after applying three layers, I patted the bullet all over my lips to even out the color:

And here are some arm swatches of Alabama, made with the Sephora #81 brush. Left to right: one, two, and three layers. Look at the smoothness and evenness of the swatches! My finicky heart rejoices.

To clean the brush, I fold a paper towel into quarters, wet it, and rub bar soap on it; I've been using Yardley's oatmeal and almond soap, though I've heard that Dr. Bronner's is another good bet. I swirl the bristles around the soapy surface until they're no longer leaving color on the towel, then give them a final rinse. I like that the bristles are tipped with white, which makes it easy to tell when the brush is completely clean again.

If my eyeshadow brushes had lighter bristles, I'd definitely wash them more than, oh, once a month or so. As it is, let's hope that confessing my secret shame on my blog forces me to correct it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Pacific Coast Highway and an Antidote to SoCal Dryness: Sephora Rose Mask!

Long time no blog! We reached Los Angeles yesterday evening, after a two-day drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. On the first (and more scenic) day, we covered the PCH from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo. The drive included lots of opportunities to pose for windswept photos on sand dunes:

And a breathtaking "historic" bridge built in 1932 (California has an interesting sense of what constitutes "historic"):

We stopped for coffee and a strawberry-banana smoothie at a cafe perched high in the cliffs of Big Sur. See those tiny white umbrellas in the distance?

Some pretty wildflowers nearby:

We ended the drive with some elephant-seal watching. Seals are strange creatures. You'd think they'd feel sorry for themselves, forced to undulate awkwardly across the rocky beach, but they seemed to be doing just fine. This photo severely underrepresents their massive size (the males weigh about 5000 pounds):

We arrived in San Luis Obispo in time for the "farmers' market," though my personal opinion is that anything involving funnel cake and a bouncy castle is a street fair, not a farmers' market. The street signs in SLO are printed in an eye-catching, if not immediately legible, quasi-Celtic font that's supposed to recall the city's Spanish colonial heritage. For me, alas, it recalled Tolkien's original illustrations for The Hobbit. Google revealed that the font, called Bitstream Libra, was recommended by a Cal Poly professor for public signs. He protests that he never intended it for street signs like these:

Central California is very sunny and very dry; if I lived there, I'd probably devote one day a week solely to moisturizing. You'd think that a coastal town like San Luis Obispo would be humid, but by the time we got to our motel room, my face felt desiccated. Luckily I'd brought relief, in the form of a mask I'd picked up at Sephora for $6 the day before. The Sephora house brand makes several of these face masks, each for a different purpose; this one promised "ultra moisturizing and brightening" properties.

It was the first time I'd used a fabric face mask, but the directions were simple: unfold, press onto face, leave on for 15 minutes, remove, and massage excess product into skin. The mask was made of a thin white cloth soaked with a clear, mucus-like, rose-scented substance. The fragrance was mild, natural, and very pleasant. Pressing the cool, clammy sheet onto my face made me a little squeamish, but I wanted to get my $6 worth, damn it. The mask seemed to be made for someone with a bit more face, especially around the forehead. Admittedly, I have a small forehead (my boyfriend calls it a "threehead"):

Post-mask, my skin looked luminous and poreless, even under the fluorescent lights of a Best Western motel room. $6 well spent, I'd say.

The next day, we visited the wine country outside Santa Barbara. Despite serving as the backdrop for the film Sideways, this area gets less tourism than the Napa/Sonoma region, which means that wine tastings are much cheaper--and the views are just as spectacular.

We arrived in LA in time for drinks at a rooftop bar with extraordinary views of downtown. I might have to hand in my Northern Californian credentials, because I kind of want to live here. It's my first time in LA since the age of eight, and the city is exactly as overwhelming and surreal as I imagined it would be. This was my view while I sipped a grapefruit-and-vodka cocktail called, I kid you not, the "Lolita":

Oh, right: this is a beauty blog. The effects of my mask had lingered throughout the day, leaving my skin nice and soft. I was glad I'd dressed up and put on some lipstick before heading downtown, because the female Angelenos at the bar knew how to apply a cat eye and a matte pink lip. Everything was expert and precise. I felt like an amateur--which I am, really. Albeit an enthusiastic one.

(Eyes: NARS Lhasa eyeshadow over Maybelline Color Tattoo in Tough as Taupe; Maybelline One by One mascara. Cheeks: much-faded Illamasqua Zygomatic. Lips: Maybelline Vibrant Mandarin.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

La Vita è (Not Exactly) Bella: New Milani Eyeshadows in Bella Taupe and Bella Rouge

Damn it, Milani! You've done it again. Lured me in with the promise of a revolutionary makeup formula at an implausibly low price point, only to deliver mediocrity. Will I ever learn?

(These containers remind me of portholes on a ship.)

Look, Milani's new Bella eyeshadow singles are perfectly decent. I'd give them a B or B-minus; they're like the student essays on which I write, "You make some interesting points that don't quite cohere." I don't feel that I've wasted my money. Each eyeshadow costs $4.69 (though I bought these two during a BOGO sale at CVS), and they're actually better than what I'd expect for that price.

What does annoy me is the misleading name of the product. "Bella Eyes Gel Powder Eyeshadow" leads you to expect some sort of cream-to-powder formula with a moist consistency, and Milani's ad copy heightens that impression: "What makes it a gel powder? Well, the formula starts as a gel and then is transformed by a special process into a stunning powder eyeshadow with pure color and power wear." I assume that "starts as a gel" means "starts as a gel in the manufacturing process," but anyone could be forgiven for thinking that the eyeshadows start as gels when applied, then dry into a powder finish on the lids. Luckily I did my research before buying Bella Rouge and Bella Taupe, so I wasn't surprised to discover that they were standard powder shadows. You've been warned.

The Bella Eyes range contains 30 shadows in three different finishes: satin matte, shimmer, and metallic. Bella Taupe (05) is classified as satin matte, and Bella Rouge (19) as metallic. Bella Taupe is a gray-leaning matte taupe, and Bella Rouge is a rich reddish magenta with a metallic sheen. I trust you can guess which is which.

Swatched with just one swipe, they're decently pigmented, though Bella Taupe in particular looks dry and powdery at the edges.

 Two swipes. Here you can really see the powdery quality of Bella Taupe, which I'd recommend layering over a primer to prevent fallout (though I wear a primer with most of my powder shadows anyway). Isn't Bella Rouge pretty, though?

Let's start with the more versatile of the two: Bella Taupe.

Since I've become one of those Beauty Bloggers Who Love Taupe Eyeshadow, I had three comparisons at hand. Left to right: Maybelline Tough as Taupe, theBalm Selfish, Bella Taupe, and NARS Lhasa. Tough as Taupe is a cream shadow; the others are powders.

Color-wise, Bella Taupe is warmer than Tough as Taupe, darker and cooler than Selfish, and darker and warmer than violet-tinged Lhasa. What really strikes me about this photo, though, is the difference in consistency between Bella Taupe and the other two powder shadows. See how smooth and finely milled Selfish and Lhasa look by comparison? The color coheres perfectly, and there's no loose powder at the edges of either swatch. Granted, Bella Taupe is much more pigmented than Lhasa (that's two swipes of Milani and three of NARS); but unlike Bella Taupe, Lhasa can be built up layer upon layer without compromising the integrity of the color. Unfortunately, that's the difference between a $5 eyeshadow and a $25 one. Even if the $25 one is criminally overpriced. (Which it is.)

Bella Taupe is not a perfectly flat matte like Tough as Taupe, but it doesn't have the sheen of Selfish or Lhasa, either. It's what I'd call an "atmospheric" color: designed to fade into the background, like easy-listening music. Here it is applied over NYX HD primer and paired with NYX Slide On eyeliner in Jewel:

Over primer, it lasted all day with very little fading; I haven't tried it without primer, though.

Next, a closer look at Bella Rouge.

I don't own many eyeshadows that are close in color to Bella Rouge. If I were back in my own apartment, I'd compare it with Maybelline Pomegranate Punk and the matte fuchsia from Wet n Wild's Spoiled Brat palette (swatched here by Makeup Withdrawal), but I don't have either of those with me in San Francisco. All I have are a couple of plum shades that emphasize how PINK! Bella Rouge really is. Left to right: right side of NARS Habanera duo, Bella Rouge, theBalm Sexy.

By the way, I think Bella Rouge is a pretty close dupe for Urban Decay Woodstock, in both color and finish. If you want to try a bright pink metallic shadow for $5 instead of $18, this is your chance!

I bought Bella Rouge because of the old saw that reddish eyeshadow emphasizes green eyes, which turns out to be true. (It also emphasizes my undereye pigmentation and all the red tones in my complexion, but hey.) Here I've applied Maybelline Bad to the Bronze over my entire lid, then blended Bella Rouge into the outer half. The metallic finish of Bella Rouge keeps it from looking like pinkeye, or so I flatter myself.

Another angle:

If Bella Taupe is easy-listening music, Bella Rouge is--I was going to say "glam rock," but it's a little too subtle for that. Glam rock played at a lower volume than its creators intended? There we go.

The Bella Eyes formula has inspired a lot of enthusiasm in the blogging community, but I'm not ready to hail it as The Best Budget Eyeshadow Ever. Yes, these eyeshadows are smoother and more pigmented than most drugstore shadows I've tried (cough, NYX, cough). But that's a pretty low bar, since drugstore brands still seem to lag behind high-end ones when it comes to eyeshadow formulas. (This is odd, given how many high-quality lip products have appeared at the drugstore in the last few years. Are smooth, pigmented eyeshadows more costly or challenging to produce than smooth, pigmented lipsticks? I can't figure it out.) In any case, I should have trusted my own experience, in which no Milani product has ever blown my mind. But no, I had to see for myself.

Overall, I'd recommend the Bella Eyes line for unusual statement colors like Bella Rouge. There are many such colors in the range, from pale orange to deep metallic navy. For staple colors that you plan to use constantly, though? Save up for something a bit more special.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Good Taste, Bad Taste, and the Fear of "Too Much"

For a long time now, I've thought of myself as someone who takes risks with beauty. I know relatively few people who wear color makeup regularly, and even fewer who wear unconventional colors regularly. When you're the only one in your group of friends who owns multiple purple lip colors, you start to feel smug about your offbeat taste.

Recently, though, I've been reconsidering that smugness. It started on Monday, when I was making myself up before what proved to be an abortive trip to the Asian Art Museum to see this summer's special exhibit, an exploration of the idea of "gorgeous." (The museum is closed on Mondays, which, true to form, I realized only after taking the train all the way across the city.) I'd been feeling guilty about neglecting the Kiko eyeshadows I bought in London two months ago, and had resolved to use one of them in that day's look. I patted NARS Lhasa eyeshadow all over my lids and blended my glittery purple eyeshadow stick from Kiko into the outer half and along my lower lashlines. Some mascara, some neutral cream blush, a coat of semi-sheer red NARS Flamenco lipstick, and--wait. Something was wrong.

It was Too Much.

I felt uncomfortable wearing that much color on my face, even though Flamenco was my most muted red lipstick and I'd mixed the sparkly purple eyeshadow with a staid neutral. I didn't change my makeup before I went out, but as I waited for one of San Francisco's reliably unpunctual streetcars, I wondered where my idea of Too Much had come from. There was something WASPy and puritanical about it, and though I'm descended from real-life 17th-century Puritans, I was surprised to find this hidden vein of primness deep in my psyche.

Over the years, we all develop personal makeup rules far stricter than the ones we find in magazines. I suspect that all of us, no matter how eccentric or open-minded we think we are, have a deeply felt sense of aesthetic decorum. Our own aesthetic decorum, mind: a set of standards we apply to ourselves but not necessarily to others. In an interview with Into the Gloss, Dita Von Teese expresses this idea more vividly than I can:

"I discovered early on that people have their 'drag'...and very few people really, truly want to stray from it. Generally, and I include myself in this, I have my drag and I don’t want anyone messing with it. I remember when I was little, I was watching the Phil Donahue show or something—that shows how old I am—and they were doing makeovers and they took all these ladies that had been wearing the same makeup for 20 years—you know, the green eye shadow, red lips, bouffant red hairdo, that type of lady. These were ladies who had never had their hair and makeup done any other way. I remember seeing the final makeovers and I was so devastated by how boring they made these women look…and how they looked kind of deflated, kind of disappointed, like they didn’t want to be made-over. Don’t take a lady’s green eye shadow away."

I first read this interview almost two years ago, before I started writing a beauty blog or wearing much makeup at all. But it resonated with me then, and it still does. Though I often wear makeup that others might consider risky or experimental, I don't usually wear makeup that I consider risky or experimental. The amount of makeup I wear has changed over the past few years, as have the colors and placements I favor and the people from whom I draw beauty inspiration. But the fundamentals of my aesthetic haven't changed at all. And I've been guilty of using the phrase "good taste" as shorthand for those fundamentals, and "bad taste" to describe what makes me uncomfortable to wear.

Over the past few days, I've been making a list of all the makeup techniques, finishes, and combinations that I've been avoiding, consciously or not, for the entirety of my makeup-wearing life. It's a pretty long list. I should emphasize that I don't usually judge other people for favoring these items; they're just things that I've filed away in the folder marked "too much for me."
  • Non-neutral color makeup on both eyes and lips, even if that makeup is sheer or otherwise understated.
  • Heavy mascara.
  • More than one swipe of blush. 
  • Bright eyeliner.
  • Perfectly matte skin.
  • Overdrawn lips.
  • Contouring.
  • Heavily filled-in eyebrows.
  • Eye looks with more than three different shadows.
  • Full-on smoky eyes.
  • Matte eyeshadow in bright colors.
  • Bronzer and fake tans.
  • Most shimmery or glittery lipsticks.
When I wear any of these, I feel less like myself than usual. You'd think a purple eyeliner would produce the same level of comfort as a purple lipstick, but the latter feels like an extension of myself, and the former feels like part of a costume. Or, put another way: purple lipstick feels like part of a costume I designed (my drag, if you will), and purple eyeliner feels like part of a costume designed for someone not quite my size or shape. My aversion to the items listed above is different from my aversion to, say, orange lipsticks or warm brown eyeshadows, both of which I'd wear if I didn't think they were unflattering to my complexion. I'm sure contouring and matte cobalt eyeshadow and the right shade of bronzer would be flattering; they would just feel...wrong. Too Much.

For the sake of contrast, here's my face from from yesterday, when I stayed well within my comfort zone (as proof of which, you've seen all these products on the blog already):

Here we have theBalm Sleek eyeshadow smudged gently into my eyebrows; Maybelline Bad to the Bronze all over my lids, with the shimmery plum shade from NARS Habanera in the outer corners; a light coat of Maybelline One by One mascara; Illamasqua Zygomatic on cheeks; MAC Up the Amp on lips. I'm also wearing NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Vanilla under my eyes, but I've been sick since Sunday and my dark circles are winning, guys.

That's my makeup uniform: bold (or bold-ish) lips, neutral eyeshadow, very understated blush and mascara. In fact, I almost always wear Up the Amp with this shirt, and I almost always wear Bad to the Bronze with Up the Amp. I put those colors together and feel confident that I'm in good taste--good taste for me, for my character and lifestyle, for the persona that I choose to project into the world.

At the same time, I suspect that a lot of what I perceive as "good taste" or "bad taste" has to do with skill. Drivel about Frivol was the first beauty blog I read regularly, and I remember marveling at Kate's ability to make the most counterintuitive color combinations look natural. "Natural" is probably the wrong word. Organic, maybe? Nothing she wore ever read as Too Much, because it was so much a part of her. Likewise, some people can wear multicolored cat eyes and black lipstick and pass it off as a part of them. Maybe it's really about confidence, not skill. Maybe I'm rambling.

I thought about all this today while wandering through the four rooms that comprised the Asian Art Museum's "Gorgeous" exhibit. Yes, I finally made it to the museum, after stopping at the hospital for a strep-throat screening; at Sephora for a rollerball of Fresh Citron de Vigne perfume; at CVS for two of the new Milani Bella eyeshadows (Taupe and Rouge!); and at the Ferry Building for a grilled cheese sandwich with Cowgirl Creamery cheddar, caramelized onions, and maple mustard. Five days of the sore throat from hell, plus every conceivable period symptom, will put you in a self-indulgent mood. (Speaking of good taste...)

"Gorgeous," which features artworks from both the Asian Art Museum and SFMOMA, is organized around the idea that gorgeousness is beauty with something off. Gorgeousness can be tacky, grotesque, excessive, or surprising; it's almost always Too Much, except when it's Not Quite Enough. Shiro Kuramata's Streetcar-inspired "Miss Blanche" chair from 1988 was one of my favorite pieces:

I also lingered in front of this 16th-century (?) Japanese pot, deliberately misshapen and mis-glazed:

And Félix González-Torres's "Untitled (Golden)," from 1995:

Definitely worth a visit if you're in San Francisco between now and Sep. 14.

What is "too much" for you, makeup-wise? And where did your notions of good and bad taste come from? I've come to realize that I have next to no idea where mine originated, and that's a little unnerving.