Monday, June 29, 2015

ColourPop Cowboy Eyeshadow and Lippie Primer, and a Sneaking Suspicion

Today I'm reviewing the second half of my recent ColourPop order: the Super Shock Shadow in Cowboy, a matte lavender, and the Lippie Primer, a clear lip primer that, according to the CP website, "enhances the wear of any lip product and keeps your lips looking and feeling healthy!"

After my mixed experience with four Super Shock Shadows back in February, I resolved not to order any more glitter eyeshadows from ColourPop. I do like a little shimmer or a metallic finish, but ColourPop doesn't seem to produce eyeshadows that fall between matte and Ziggy Stardust on the glitter spectrum. So, for my second order, I chose one of the candy-colored matte shadows released this spring. Cowboy (I remain baffled by ColourPop nomenclature) is a very pale lavender that I hoped would be an opaque, matte version of Kiko 251.

Alas, it's not. It's also not a very good eyeshadow in its own right, which is evident even from arm swatches. Left, three passes; right, one pass. You can still see my veins through three layers of product!

On my eyelid, Cowboy blends into my skintone and looks more white than purple. It would be a good accent or highlight color for a darker, more pigmented shadow, but I was hoping for an all-over lid color, and it's just not suited to that. It also doesn't have much lasting power, and applying it over primer does nothing for either its pigmentation or its endurance. I suppose primer is meant for powder shadows and not creams, but cream shadow generally doesn't need a primer.

I don't hate Cowboy, though. Its subtlety actually makes it more versatile, because it looks like a neutral when worn. Plus, anything purple makes my eyes look greener. For my first experiment with Cowboy, I applied it all over my lid, then blended NARS Lhasa into the outer half and along my lower lashlines. Here Cowboy functioned as a sort of primer for Lhasa, as well as a highlight to keep the gray from looking too smoky. I'd definitely wear this look again.

My other makeup, as seen in my previous post, is Illamasqua Zygomatic blush, ColourPop Monster highlighter, and Maybelline Nude Lust lipstick. (Incidentally, this is the sort of look that my mom hates most on me. I can hear her now, telling me how "washed-out" I look and insisting I put some color on my lips.)

For my second experiment, I gave Cowboy a chance to prove its worth as the focal point of an eyeshadow arrangement. This time I applied it over NYX eyeshadow primer and smudged some matte black shadow around my lashlines for a reprise of my recent mod look. Here it is after two or three hours:

Wait, where did it go? You can't tell that there was ever any lavender on my lids! It looks like I applied matte black haphazardly and smudged it around. Granted, this was taken on a hot day, and it's a tenacious eyeshadow that can stand up to the triple threat of heat, humidity, and my multiple deep eyelid creases. So I wasn't expecting perfection...but I also wasn't expecting this. I'm tempted to say that the primer actually made Cowboy disappear more quickly, because wtf.

On to the next! The Lippie Primer has the same slender packaging and vanilla scent as the brand's regular lipsticks, as well as the same heavy, slightly waxy feel. ColourPop claims that the lip primer "contains mango, avocado and shea butter for moisture and Vitamin E, which soothes your lips," but I actually find the formula slightly drying. Story of my life, unfortunately.

I tried the Lippie Primer under two lipsticks, both of which have issues with opacity and lasting power. Topshop Rio Rio looks opaque when applied, but it wears off even when I'm literally sitting in a basement filing old letters and not eating, drinking, or talking. After a few hours, it sinks into lip lines and looks a bit sloppy. Applying it over the Lippie Primer was more of a challenge than I expected, since the waxy texture of the primer created a good deal of friction with the usually slippery lipstick. I ended up having to touch up the corners of my mouth with a lip brush. I wore the Lippie Primer + Rio Rio combination out for cocktails and a salad, and the lipstick did stand up to both eating and drinking. It had faded by the end of the evening, but much less than it would have without primer, and I noticed less color coming off on my glass as well. Not perfect, but the primer definitely made a difference:

Unlike Rio Rio, Maybelline Lilac Flush is milky and semi-sheer, so I wanted to see if the Lippie Primer would make it more opaque. Here's a couple of layers of Lilac Flush without primer:

And here's the same amount of Lilac Flush over primer:

Different lighting, taken on different days, but there's a visible change in evenness and opacity. (Well, there's more of a difference IRL than there is in photos. You'll just have to trust me.) Lilac Flush also lasted an hour or two longer over primer. The Lippie Primer hasn't blown my mind, exactly, but it does pretty much what one would expect it to do. I don't anticipate using it very often, though, because of the hassle of having to apply primer and lipstick every time I need a touch-up.

Now for a bit of a rant:

ColourPop sends more press samples to Instagrammers and YouTubers than it does to bloggers, so it's hard to find substantive reviews of the brand. On Instagram and YouTube, we get some swatches and a quick remark or caption, and the photos and videos usually go up before the reviewer has tested all the products for wear. Most ColourPop products look great in swatches; the true test comes with repeated wear and experimentation, but Instagram and YouTube aren't the places to find that sort of thing. There's an emphasis on continual consumption, one wave of products quickly superseded by the next, one "holy grail" dislodged by the next. And ColourPop has positioned itself to do well in that economy. It sells very small amounts of product at very low prices and doesn't allow returns. It's not focused on creating products that can be worn, loved, and replaced for years. Hell, who knows if ColourPop will even be around in a few years?

The founders of ColourPop, whoever they are, wouldn't dispute this conclusion. The website of ColourPop's creator, Seed Beauty, touts a business model that "utilizes the 3 simple steps of Si2 Product Development™: generate idea, make trial, evaluate and repeating [sic] the cycle as quickly and as many times as possible. The focus is on SPEED, not perfection. Perfection comes from creating as many trials as possible." At the same time, Seed Beauty claims to be "backed by a company with over 50 years of experience." Experience in what? Not in the cosmetics industry, surely, or ColourPop wouldn't need to go through so many experimental launches with us as the guinea pigs. Why not name the company? Is it Halliburton or something? I'm starting to understand why so many people on Reddit find this brand shady.

[Update, 9/2/15: The "company with over 50 years of experience" is Spatz Labs, which seems to be a manufacturer of generic makeup and/or cosmetic plastics. Though ColourPop claims that its products are made in LA, Spatz boasts of its "80,000 square feet of R&D and production in the U.S. with a new facility in Nanjing, China." If you're avoiding makeup made in China, you might want to avoid ColourPop, too; even if the products are assembled in LA, the ingredients might well be produced in China. Thanks to this Reddit thread for the tip!]

And here we come to the point of this rant. The scarcity of detailed ColourPop reviews drives potential customers to consult the reviews on the ColourPop website, which is what I did before buying Cowboy. Now, looking back at the website, I'm amazed at the chasm between my own experience of the product and the experience claimed in the reviews. There are currently 17 reviews of Cowboy on the ColourPop site. 16 of the reviews give the shadow 5 out of 5 points and gush about its smoothness and pigmentation:

So perfect I can’t even believe it! I never thought an eyeshadow could look like this! I’ve been looking for a shade like this one my entire life! Def a candidate for the PERMANENT line. There’s nothing like it!

I love this shadow so much I am getting 3 more as back up! I have never done this in my life! It’s just the most perfect lavender. Please please please make this a permanent color ColourPop Gods! I beg of you!

Giddy up for this shadow, people! We all know it is IMPOSSIBLE to find a pigmented, matte, pastel eyeshadow with staying power. This is it!!! The holy grail!!! Put it in your cart!! 

And so on. Only one reviewer is at all critical, awarding Cowboy three points and noting, "Kinda hard to get the color to show, tried several bases but it just looks white." Yeah, that makes two of us.

Now, I realize that no two people can perceive a beauty product in exactly the same way. Our eyes differ, our expectations differ, and our intended uses for the product differ. Maybe my standards for an eyeshadow are higher than the standards held by 16 out of 17 people. But I doubt that, and I really doubt that 16 out of 17 customers—that's 94 percent—would award Cowboy the highest possible rating. It's just not that good, and people just don't get that unanimously excited about anything. Quite a few beauty brands allow customer reviews on their websites, and most of those reviews are a mixture of positive and negative, even for cult products. It makes sense: we generally don't go to the trouble of reviewing a product unless we're deeply impressed or deeply disappointed. But there are almost no truly negative reviews on the ColourPop website (though this lipstick has a couple). Now, maybe I'm a censorious bitch who focuses on the negative. Or maybe ColourPop is deleting negative reviews and making its employees boost the average score of each product with positive writeups. I can't prove that this is happening, but I have my suspicions.

For a few reasons, I'm going to avoid ColourPop for the foreseeable future. First, because they're not the champions of affordable, high-quality makeup that they claim to be ("We think that whole barrier between fancy and affordable is absolute nonsense"). Their products are hit-and-miss, while their prices per gram are comparable to mid-range brands like MAC. Second, because they take such obvious pains to conceal their origins. Third, because engaging with their website in any meaningful way turns me into a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist, and I have better things to do. Changing out of pajamas, for one.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

ColourPop Highlighters in Lunch Money and Monster

When ColourPop released a line of 15 highlighters early last month, I didn't take much notice. I'd never used a highlighter before, and since this hot, humid weather gives me a perpetual...let's call it "glow," I didn't think I needed any extra radiance. If anything, I needed the opposite. But curiosity and the usual flood of gushing ColourPop reviews prevailed, and I eventually decided to pick up a couple of highlighters.

The highlighters are $8 each, and I decided to order two. Narrowing down the selection was difficult, since some of them differed only minutely from others. I had a few requirements, though. Above all, I wanted to avoid any highlighters with big glitter chunks, which several of the ColourPop highlighters seemed to have. My desired effect was more along these lines...


...than these:


I also shied away from the highlighters that seemed too dark or orange for my skintone and the ones that looked more like pearlescent blushes (though Sticky Sweet might be a future purchase). After a few weeks of indecision, I decided to place my order, if only to free up space in my brain for more important things. I settled on one conventional-looking highlighter, the pale gold Lunch Money, and one slightly eccentric one, the iridescent pink Monster. I also ordered the matte eyeshadow in Cowboy and the Lippie Primer, which I'll review before long.

Clockwise from top: Lunch Money, Lippie Primer, Cowboy, Monster.

In direct sunlight (Lunch Money on top, Monster on the bottom):

Indirect natural light, same order:

The ColourPop highlighters have more or less the same soft, creamy formula as the brand's eyeshadows; in fact, they feel a bit lighter and fluffier. I apply them as I do the eyeshadows: by dabbing them on with my fingers. I'm very ignorant of brushes in general (my collection comprises two blush brushes, one eyeliner brush, and one eyeshadow brush), so I can't predict what someone with a sizable brush hoard would use to apply these highlighters. It does seem to me that a brush might blend them away to nothing, and that fingers might still be the better tool.

Monster (top) and Lunch Money swatched in indirect natural light, two passes each:

The ColourPop website describes Lunch Money as "soft light gold with a reflective golden duo chrome [sic; y'all need a copy editor] finish." I'm not sure the people at ColourPop know what "duochrome" means. They call Bae "duochrome" when it's a plum eyeshadow with turquoise glitter, and they call Lunch Money "duochrome" when it's, well, gold. That's all it is. A pale yellow-gold, pretty but monochrome, which isn't a bad thing. Not every beauty product has to be crammed full of special effects; we don't all live in a k-pop video.

Source (I actually think this song sucks, but if you want to see G-Dragon covered in glitter, this is the MV for you)

On my face, Lunch Money is very, very subtle. So subtle, in fact, that I have to apply two or three layers to get it to show up at all. It gives me a bit of a glow, but it also seems to emphasize the fine lines around my eyes. In other words, it does the opposite of what a highlighter is supposed to do (make me look fresh-faced, dewy, whatever). Given the shallowness of the ColourPop pans and the unwillingness of Lunch Money to actually be visible on my face, I can see myself going through this highlighter in a month or two. (Update, 9/1/17: I've been using Lunch Money for two years now, and though it's showing a lot of pan, I'm nowhere near finished. It hasn't dried out at all, either, which is impressive.)

Here I've applied it in a C shape from my cheekbones up to my temples; I'm also wearing Illamasqua Zygomatic blush.

There's not much to see here, but I suppose I'd rather glow unobtrusively than dazzlingly. Lunch Money is fine; I don't regret buying it. It's just not a standout product. Then again, I've used it a mere two times, so I'm reluctant to declare it either a success or a failure at this point. (Update, 9/1/17: Two years on, Lunch Money is by far my favorite highlighter. I reach for it at least twice a week, and I'll probably repurchase it once I use up this pan.)

Monster, though? Monster is magic. Monster is love. ColourPop describes it as "light pink with highly opalescent duo chrome finish," and once again I'm not sure that "duochrome" is an accurate description. Monster has two settings: fuchsia fairy-princess iridescence and invisibility. In the photos below, I've applied Tony Moly Milky Violet blush to the apples of my cheeks and layered Monster on my cheekbones. From the front, all you see on my cheeks is my blush:

But when I turn to the side...

So good, right? I dressed as a fairy every Halloween from the ages of four to ten (with the exception of one year when I was a princess and wore my fairy dress without wings), so it's only natural that I'm enamored of this highlighter. It's unnatural in the subtlest way: very Edwardian cyborg.

From the photos I've seen on blogs and Instagram, Monster shows up just as vividly on dark-skinned people as it does on me, if not more so. It's the sort of product that suits everyone because it looks natural on no one.

In my next post, I'll review Cowboy (which you can see on my eyes in the Monster photos) and the Lippie Primer. For now, though, have you tried any of the ColourPop highlighters?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Journey Through Purge-atory, Part 1: Lipsticks and Glosses

Just call me Virgil.

To save some money in the coming school year, I'm moving at the end of the summer into a two-bedroom duplex apartment. As moves go, this one will be almost comically easy, since my new building is next door to my current one. But I'll be sharing the apartment with a friend from my grad-school cohort, and though she's well aware of my makeup-hoarding ways, I can't exactly continue to use my entire living space as as a vanity table. The more stuff I can eliminate this summer, the better, and I'm starting with lipsticks and glosses. I'm hoping this can be a semi-regular series of quickie posts in the two months leading up to the move.

I think most of us have a purge-atory: an area where we put beauty products that we never wear but can't bring ourselves to throw away.  There they linger for months or years, victims of our ambivalence. I'm guilty of saving unworn makeup for all the worst reasons: because I wore it to a Janelle Monáe concert, or my mom gave it to me, or whatever. But really, there's only one good reason for me to hold on to makeup: I enjoy wearing it. There are quite a few lipsticks and glosses that I haven't worn in over a year but have justified keeping around for one reason or another, and the time has come to cut the cord.

Lipsticks first! I started my purge last month by giving away three of my matte blue-based red lipsticks. Full disclosure: I gave them to the friend I'm moving in with, so they'll still be in my apartment. They just won't be mine anymore, and that's totally different, right? Clockwise from top: Wet n Wild Stoplight Red, NYX Bloody Mary, Revlon Really Red.

My friend had never worn a red lipstick before I gave her these, but she loves Really Red and looks smashing in it. I, on the other hand, have fallen out of love with blue-based reds. They flatter me more than warm reds do, but they also feel dressier and stuffier. I find myself wearing warm reds more often because they seem more modern and casual: I have no problem pairing Topshop Rio Rio with a t-shirt, but something like YSL Rouge Gouache looks out of place when I'm dressed down. Fear not, thoughif I fall back in love with cool reds, I'll still have four to choose from: Rouge Gouache (glossy), NARS Mysterious Red (matte), Maybelline On Fire Red (satin), and NARS Flamenco (sheer). Even four seems like too many, considering how infrequently I wear red lipstick.

Over the last few months, eight other lipsticks have found their way into purge-atory (represented in the material world by the plastic bag hanging on my closet doorknob). Left to right: Maybelline Fuchsia Flash, Milani Flamingo Pose and Sweet Nectar, L'Oreal Fairest Nude, NYX Perfect and Black Cherry, MAC Capricious, and Laura Mercier Bare Lips. I've reviewed all of these in my Lipstick Chronology; the links go to the individual reviews. Looking at these early posts makes me think I should really retake some of the photos before getting rid of the lipsticks, but hey.

For all but two of these lipsticks, the problem lies in the formula, not the color. Fuchsia Flash is one of the two color-based exceptions. Fuchsia lipsticks usually suit me, but Fuchsia Flash has a harsh white base that makes the color jar with my skintone; as I mentioned in my original review, I refer to this one as my "'80s-hooker lipstick." I actually offered it to the friend to whom I gave my three red lipsticks, but she wisely turned it down—she doesn't share my fondness for screamingly tacky shades. Flamingo Pose is a beautiful reddish-pink coral, but I can't stand the Milani Color Statement formula, which is heavy and drying and redolent of synthetic melon. Luckily, this particular shade of coral is quite dupeable, so I won't be at a loss if I end up missing the color. Another grad-school friend wears Flamingo Pose all the time (I can take credit for that, too), so I'll see if she wants an extra tube. Sweet Nectar is a double loss: not only does it have the Color Statement formula, but it's perhaps my least flattering lipstick, a bright yellow-based orange that does nothing for my complexion. Fairest Nude is my HG nude in terms of color, but the L'Oreal scent makes this lipstick unwearable for me, and I've found a decent (though slightly less pink) substitute in Maybelline Nude Lust. Perfect is both drying and slippery, and it's another very dupeable color. Black Cherry started to go off about a year ago, after just a year and a half of use—you might not be able to see it in this photo, but the top of the tube has turned darker. Capricious also seems to have turned: it's coated in a translucent film that makes it look matte, which it certainly isn't. I don't know if this is just what happens to MAC Lustres after a few years, but I don't want to take any chances. Finally, Bare Lips got lots of use before I figured out that lipsticks didn't necessarily have to dry out my lips; then it got superseded by NARS Dolce Vita, Revlon Pink Truffle, and who knows how many other lip-friendly MLBBs.

It's time to say goodbye to some of my glosses, too. Left to right: Maybelline Vision in Violet, Boots No. 7 x Poppy King Seduction, Revlon Fire.

Vision in Violet, an opaque blue-based purple, is just not wearable in polite society, and I don't attend enough Adventure Time costume parties to justify keeping it around.

Despite its deep plum-brown color, Seduction is practically transparent on my lips, and its rancid orange scent makes me wonder if I happened to buy a really old tube. Fire is beautiful but impractical: if I want to wear an opaque red gloss, I'll stick with Rouge Gouache, which actually stays on my lips.

Having written all this, I'm reminded of something I noted in my last post: that "we beauty addicts are too fond of consigning products to oblivion in order to justify buying new ones." I can't help but wonder if my newfound zeal for purging conceals the desire for an excuse to buy new stuff. I don't believe in forcing myself to use up products I don't really enjoy, but I also don't want to be too hasty in banishing unloved lipsticks to the landfill. There's been much talk of streamlining and KonMari and minimalism in the beauty blogosphere this year, and while I think there's merit to maintaining a small, well-edited collection, I also think we need to be honest with ourselves about why we want to free up space. I'll admit it now: the more old lipsticks I get rid of, the better I'll feel about buying new ones. Which I will do, eventually, because I'm addicted human. Lipsticks aren't very heavy and they don't take up much room, and the space left when a lipstick is thrown out is the perfect shape and size for, you guessed it, another lipstick. For now, though, I'll be good; I just won't claim to be embracing minimalism for its own sake. Let's face it, I'm not much of a minimalist in any other aspect of my life, so why should I be different when it comes to makeup?

See you soon for another journey through purge-atory!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

FOTDs: From the Archives

Early this month, just after returning from England, I started my summer job in the university archives. These archives house documents related to the history of the university, over a century's worth of senior theses, and the lifelong correspondence of some prominent alumni. My job for the summer is to reprocess the papers of one such alum, a New York-based lawyer who was involved in the founding of the League of Nations, though he later resigned in disgust at the American government's reluctance to get involved in anything resembling international cooperation. My task is to sit in the basement and reorganize a huge collection of letters written and received between 1917 and 1951. I've spent 15 hours with this collection and am up to the summer of 1922, and I've been working pretty efficiently, so you can imagine how many papers are involved.

This might sound like a tedious job, but I've been enjoying it immensely. As most of you know, I specialize in Renaissance literature, and the archival sources I've used so far for my own graduate work have been from the 16th and 17th centuries. Do you know how thrilled I was to discover that 95% of the letters I was reorganizing this summer were typed? I suppose it had never occurred to me that archival work didn't have to involve deciphering and transcribing early modern secretary hand, an early form of shorthand that looks like this:


And don't get me started on blackletter, the typeface generally known today as "Gothic" or "that medieval-looking font." Blackletter was the standard font for printed books until the late 16th century, but it does crop up occasionally in 17th-century texts, giving me a nasty little surprise every time. My real objection to blackletter is not that it's hard to read (unless it's messily printed), but that it's so damn ugly:


All this is to say, bless the invention of the typewriter.

It also feels like a great privilegeand a thrilling transgressionto sort through someone's private correspondence. Until this month, I'd never heard of the person in question or taken a special interest in the 1920s (beauty trends aside, of course), but this job has given me a new fascination with the language and manners of the time. Reading letters is a great opportunity to observe the subtle gradations in formality and politeness from "My dear Dr. Lastname" to "Dear Lastname" to "Dear Firstname" to "Dear Nickname." It's also a great opportunity to catch up on 95-year-old political gossip:

"You will have to tell me whom I am to vote for for president. Harding is a numbskull, for whom I could not vote under any circumstances. Cox is carrying on a campaign on the level of a candidate for county clerk or sheriff."

"We have had two or three rather unusual murders in New York recently, and American intelligence just at present is far more interested in why a woman in black shot a gent at three o'clock in the morning, than it is in any international question. There is a lower level of thinking in America just now than there is in any other country in the world."

 And is it just me, or is Jazz Age slang better than any other slang? They sure did love the word "peach" and all possible variations on it.

Other noteworthy finds: a handwritten letter from Marie Curie, an admission that "the doctrine of the to my mind an outgrown bit of philosophical speculation," and an early and creepy form of the smiley face:

But what does this all have to do with makeup, you ask? Well, in honor of my archival pursuits, I thought I'd use this post to spotlight some new-old favorites from my own beauty archives. These are products I bought some time ago but never used regularly because they disappointed me in some way, or because I sort of forgot they existed. In fact, quite a few of them appeared on last year's "most disappointing purchases" list, which also featured my most-worn lipstick of this spring and summer, Urban Decay Streak. This wasn't even a Project Make-a-Dent scenario in which I resolved to use my neglected products; I just naturally reached for them more and more. I realize now that I'm too fickle to consign anything to a worst-of-the-year list; my tastes change so rapidly and randomly that making any more such lists would be a waste of time. And let's be honest: we beauty addicts are too fond of consigning products to oblivion in order to justify buying new ones. Makeup doesn't have to be perfect to be useful and pleasing! In that spirit, here's a small handful of FOTDs from the past few days, featuring the following archival finds:

Clockwise from top left: Face Stockholm cream blush in Paris, Tony Moly Cristal Blusher in Milky Violet, & Other Stories Droguet Purple lipstick, Maybelline Nude Lust lipstick, Revlon Moisture Stain in Barcelona Nights.

1. Lavender-Nude
Every summer, when the heat and humidity truly set in, I reach a point of makeup fatigue. There's no sense in constructing an elaborate eye look or applying a bright lipstick with a precise hand when all that color is going to melt and smear within five minutes. When I do wear a bold lipstick, I either apply it as a stain or make sure the formula is matte enough to last. Otherwise, I reach for nudes and neutrals that won't cause a fuss as they disappear from my lips.

This summer's makeup fatigue has led me back to Maybelline Nude Lust, a lipstick I reviewed very early in this blog, in a post that's awfully pretentious even by my standards. I'm perpetually on the lookout for my perfect nude lipsticknot a MLBB, but a true concealer nude with the same undertones as my skinand Nude Lust is the closest I've come so far. It's a light beige with a hint of gray, and it looks oddly natural on my lips.

So natural, in fact, that I've come to the conclusion that my skin must also contain a hint of gray. Just call me Marceline.

I've also developed a new appreciation for Tony Moly Milky Violet, a blush that initially let me down with its sheerness. The fact is, a subtle lavender blush is a lot more useful than a bright lavender blush, and Milky Violet can be built up to something approaching opacity anyway. On my last visit to the archives, I wore Kiko Infinity eyeshadow #251 (sparkly lavender) over primer, with a bit of NARS Lhasa on my lashlines; Milky Violet on my cheeks; and Nude Lust on my lips. Neutral with an undead flair. I'm spending a lot of time among ghosts this summer, after all.

2. Summer Goth

Perhaps the most annoying part of my archives job is reading about the correspondents' cool, refreshing summer vacations up north. In the 1920s, wealthy New Yorkers fled the sweltering city in the summer and had their secretaries forward their business correspondence to their pretentiously named lakeside houses in Maine or Canada.  But what about those secretaries, trapped in New York before the advent of central air conditioning? I imagine they grumbled as much while addressing letters to The-Eyrie-by-the-Water as I do while walking through 90% humidity to my summer job a century later.

This weather is enough to make one resent the bright, juicy corals and oranges of the season and wonder instead what a chic Slytherin alumna would wear on her lips if she were trapped in the northeastern United States at this time of the year. & Other Stories Droguet Purple is the most sinister lipstick I own, and until this week I hadn't worn it since Halloween. To make the color less heavy and severe, I sheered it out across my lips, working it into the skin to build up a stain. Then I added a bit more pigment to the center of my lips for a witchy ombré effect:

The same idea, with a slightly heavier application:

Full disclosure: I ran a few errands in the heat and drank a bit of water while wearing this, and it disappeared within 30 minutes. It looked pretty good before I went outside, though. Once again I'm wearing Milky Violet on my cheeks; my eyeshadow is Maybelline Bad to the Bronze, which is somehow still functional after two years.

Of course, there's something '20s about this lip color, too. I don't think this is the last time you'll see that decade reflected in my blog this summer.

3. Screw It Let's Just Wear Coral

Face Stockholm Paris and Revlon Barcelona Nights are almost exactly the same color, and their formulas make them both ideal for summer heat and humidity. Paris is pigmented and creamy enough not to melt off my face immediately, while Barcelona Nights' glossy translucency tones down the bright pink into a casual daytime shade. The Revlon Moisture Stains may not do much staining, but if you think of them as glosses instead of stains, you'll be impressed by their longevity.

And yes, I still think a polka-dot top requires a complement of pink lips.

Have you found any neglected treasures in your personal archives recently?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

I Went (Mostly) Vegan for a Week! Here's What Happened

Last week I went vegan, with the exception of the occasional splash of milk in my coffee (I'm sorry, non-dairy milk is not the same). I'd been meaning to do this experiment for at least a year, but something always came up. Either I had a lot of cheese in my fridge that I needed to eat before it spoiled, or there was a new cheese-based recipe that I wanted to try, or I started thinking what a shame it would be if I was hit by a bus during my vegan week and died without having tried every kind of cheese available at Whole Foods. I really like cheese, guys. Last month, though, I resolved that my vegan week would start as soon as I returned from the UK. It was perfect timing: there were no dairy products in my apartment and I simply refrained from buying new ones.

There were a few reasons why I decided to dabble in veganism. The first was ethical. I've been mostly vegetarian for five years, also for ethical reasons; I eat fish about once a month and meat a few times a year, when I'm craving it so badly that I dream about it. I try to ensure that my milk, eggs, and other animal-based foods come from responsible sources, but there's no way to be absolutely certain, and what about the non-vegan foods that I don't make myself? In general, I have no idea where the eggs, milk, and cheese in those products come from. Factory farming is a blight on both sustainability and morality and is more common in the US than elsewhere, and I'd like to limit my support of it as much as possible. The only certain way to do that is by avoiding animal-based foods.

The second reason was aesthetic. I've been dealing with an unaccustomed number of breakouts for six months now, and I have yet to pinpoint the source. I've heard that some people's skin just starts to suck at some point in their twenties, and that may be the case for me, since I haven't changed my skincare regimen recently (though I did run out of all my usual products back in December and couldn't afford to replace them for about a month). Whatever the reason for my breakouts, they're decidedly unnerving: I'm used to having clear, unproblematic skin, damn it! I hoped that eliminating dairy from my diet for a week might help, given that my lactose intolerance gets worse every year: these days I can't have creamy coffee drinks or eat more than one scoop of ice cream at a time. Also in the aesthetic category: I'd been eating a lot of delicious desserts in England and my pants had started to feel awfully tight.

The third reason was pure curiosity. I like setting myself challenges, and this one seemed pretty formidable. Switching to more-or-less-vegetarianism in 2010 was barely a challenge, since I didn't eat much meat to begin with. But I love dairy. Fresh noodles with olive oil and Parmesan is my favorite dinner in the world. Carrot cake with cream-cheese frosting is my favorite dessert. The vegan fruit crisp from my local health-food store tastes better with whipped cream on top. And imagine, just imagine, passing a Mister Softee truck in New York and not ordering a vanilla soft-serve cone with rainbow sprinkles. That goes against everything I believe in.

But it would only be a week, and I'd overdosed on dairy in England anyway, so I was ready for a break. I did have a few slip-ups over the course of the week: a lemon-poppyseed scone, a few pieces of milk chocolate, and a tiny free sample of mozzarella panini at Whole Foods. For the most part, though, I stuck to my new regimen. I even started drinking some of my coffee black! This was especially easy when I cold-brewed it overnight, since the cold-brewing process got rid of the coffee's acidic qualities.

Here are some of the dishes I made during my vegan week, plus notes:
  • Overnight oats: This was already a favorite of mine. Soak a portion of oats (and dried fruit, if you wish) in almond milk overnight, and add whatever toppings you'd like in the morning: cocoa powder, fresh fruit, and peanut butter are all good options.
  • Brown rice and black beans: Another perennial favorite, though I usually put cheese on mine. I substituted avocado and added lots of salsa (I like Frontera's tomatillo salsa, because I'm a spicy-food-averse white person), and it was fine, if a bit boring.
  • Soba noodles with peanut sauce and broccoli rabe: By far my favorite recipe of the week. I confess that I cheated and used honey instead of agave syrup, since that was what I had around the house. I used eight ounces of noodles instead of six, since the recipe makes so much sauce, and I had enough for four days, though I did replenish the rabe on the last day. I think this dish is even better cold. What it is not, however, is photogenic:
  • Smoky sweet-potato burgers: I actually made this recipe the day after my vegan week ended, but I omitted the egg to see if the recipe would be suitable for vegans. And it is! I like to serve the burgers on a bed of greens instead of buns. If you're not vegan, I highly recommend making the creamy topping, a concoction of Greek yogurt, maple syrup, and roasted garlic. I haven't tried the burgers with avocado because I think the topping provides more than enough creaminess, but avocado would certainly be a good substitute for the yogurt mixture. These burgers are also unphotogenic (a constant with vegan food, I've noticed):
  • "Turtle" oatmeal cookies with pecans, chocolate, and medjool dates: The stereotype of vegan baked goods is that they can be used as cannonballs in case of siege. Unfortunately, these cookies do nothing to disprove that stereotype. Granted, the fault may be mine: I found that the recommended 12-13 minutes of baking time was far too short, so I let them keep baking, but I lost track of time and may have overbaked them by a few minutes. They're tasty, but they're more like granola bars than cookies, and they certainly give your jaw a workout.
  • Coconut-ginger-lime popsicles: Blend coconut milk, shredded coconut, ginger-infused simple syrup, fresh lime juice, and lime zest, then freeze in popsicle molds. I made a version of these with condensed milk last year; the dairy-free update was good, but not quite as good.
  • Banana soft-serve: Ah, the most legendary of vegan dessert recipes. I'd actually tried making it a couple of times before, with no success. I may have been using bananas that weren't ripe enough (they need to be very soft indeed), or I may have been processing the frozen bananas for the wrong amount of time. This time, though, the soft-serve was delicious. I added cocoa powder, a bit of brown sugar and vanilla extract for sweetness, and a chopped date for texture. Even now that my vegan week is over, I'm looking forward to experimenting further with this recipe! It's truly amazing to watch frozen bananas metamorphose from this...

                    ...into this:

The week wasn't all banana-based epiphanies, though. In fact, it was harder to adjust than I'd expected. The most obvious change, at least for the first few days, was that I felt hungry almost constantly, no matter how much I ate. I wasn't sure whether the hunger was physical or psychological: was I really not getting enough calories, or was my body reacting to the prospect of not getting enough calories in the future? The constant hunger subsided midweek, but my overall feeling of deprivation lingered.

I also realized that veganism is a rich person's game, or at least a upper-middle-class person's game. The building blocks of veganism (rice, beans, peanut butter, vegetable oil) are cheap, but if you want to achieve a varied and interesting diet, you'll have to shell out. I didn't even bother with vegan prepared foods (except Ciao Bella chocolate sorbet, which I've been buying for years). Avocados are perhaps the best substitutes for butter or cheese, but they're also more expensive. In my own part of the world, the standard price is $2 each, and one avocado lasts me one or two days. For about $4, on the other hand, I can buy several months' worth of butter or a week's worth of cheese. Nuts are an important source of protein in a vegan diet, but peanuts are the only cheap nuts I can think of (and they're technically legumes, anyway). I bought 1 3/4 cups of pecan pieces for this recipe; that came to $7, and would have been even more expensive if I'd followed the recipe faithfully and bought pecan halves.

Mmm, toasted pecans.

Now, we residents of the developed world have had our palates hyper-refined by years of chemically engineered flavors, and we could all stand to simplify our tastes. But few people become vegan in order to achieve a better-tasting diet. To live as a vegan, you have to be deeply committed to improving either the environment or your health, to the extent that losing out on a variety of flavors isn't an issue. I'm convinced that long-term vegans genuinely forget what non-vegan food tastes like, or else we wouldn't have a host of vegan bloggers swearing up and down that carrot-romaine juice is a perfect substitute for chocolate milk. I feel the same way about vegan food as I do about makeup dupes: you need to appreciate the the thing for what it is instead of endlessly seeking substitutes for your desired non-vegan dishes (or lipsticks). I came across a recipe for "avocado quesadillas" the other day: literally fried tortillas with avocado inside. No true quesadilla devotee could eat that and declare herself satisfied.

This black-bean-plantain quesadilla I had yesterday was absolutely delicious, and I'd say that 75% of its deliciousness came from the cheese. A tortilla filled with black beans and plantains would also have been tasty, but it wouldn't have been a quesadilla. Why not celebrate plant-based food for what it does taste like, instead of pretending that it tastes like something else?

I checked out some vegan blogs in my quest for new and interesting recipes, and I came to dislike the aura of self-righteous smugness that hangs over certain vegan communities. Remember when vegetarians were allowed to feel smug? It's been a while. These days it's all about "clean eating," but everyone has a different definition of this phrase and a different sense of which ingredients, and thus which people, are in violation of the code. Quite a few vegan blogs seem to be hives of zealotry and infighting, with commenters coming to blows over whether agave syrup is really an acceptable substitute for honey. It's all very neurotic, and no wonder: if you're vegan, you spend a lot of time thinking about what you can't eat. Having suffered from anorexia for several years as a preteen and young teenager, I roll my eyes particularly hard at any talk of "eating clean" or "eliminating toxins," phrases that could have come straight from a pro-ana LiveJournal community circa 2003. There's no such thing as "clean" food when fruits and vegetables literally come from dirt, and there's no ethical consumption in late capitalism. Or do you want to talk about the living conditions of the laborers who harvest your produce? Adopt whatever diet you like, but go lighter on the judgment, please.

Now for the positives! I did notice my skin changing for the better. It started to look less dull, with no new breakouts, and there were a couple of days when I was actually glowing. As soon as I reverted to my previous diet, my skin problems returned. I can't attribute that entirely to dairy, since my period is approaching and my skin always gets worse in the week leading up to it, but there has to be some correlation. I might eventually go vegan for an entire month to get a better sense of whether my issues are hormonal or diet-related. In the meantime, I should probably go to a dermatologist, ugh. 

As for my second aesthetic reason, I don't weigh myself for fear of getting obsessed with numbers, so I can't say exactly how much my weight changed. My sense is that it stayed pretty much the same. It may have dropped slightly, but that could also have been hormonal--and again, a week is far too brief to measure this sort of thing. If I'd lost a significant amount of weight in a single week, that would have been a problem!

It probably won't surprise you to learn that I don't plan to return to full veganism anytime soon. However, a curious thing has happened. It's been three days since my vegan week ended, and I find myself eating animal-based foods far less often than I thought I would. Knowing that I'm allowed non-vegan options makes me feel less deprived when I do choose vegan food, and I've been choosing it a lot. It's amazing how many flavors and textures can be derived solely from plants! My goal for the next month is to be mostly vegan, with an emphasis on consuming as little dairy as possible. This means that I can't give myself a handy label, and we modern types do love labeling ourselves. I suppose what I'm aiming for is a version of Mark Bittman's "vegan before 6" plan, except that I might be vegan after 6 some days. You can't categorize me, man!

Needless to say, this is the theme song of this post.