Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Protect Me From What I Want: Lipstick and Non-Lipstick Wishlists, Fall 2015

(Apologies to Jenny Holzer, of course.)

The stress of the job market has me feeling extra-acquisitive, as witness my latest impulse purchases:

L-R: KBShimmer Open Toad Shoes, Zoya Fei Fei, Essie Leggy Legend, Milani Matte Fearless.

But that's not enough, oh no. I want still more, because when I'm trying to relax I tend to immerse myself in the online beautysphere, and I have the bad habit of using Google to hunt down my Platonic ideals of color, formula, and finish. In a perfect world, I'd spend that time experimenting with new techniques using the products I already have, but this is far from a perfect world. I'm hoping that writing out my wishlist in a blog post will be just as cathartic as actually buying the stuff. If not, well, I just got my September paycheck.


1. Pinkish-red satin

This is one of those dangerous Platonic ideals. I've spent a lot of time putting off my actual responsibilities by scouring the Internet for the epitome of cherry-red gorgeousness. Basically, I want a non-matte lipstick redder than Revlon Cherries in the Snow but pinker than Maybelline On Fire Red, which looks like this on me:

The most promising candidate I've found is Bésame American Beauty, a reproduction of a shade from 1945. It looks very pink in this photo, but redder in the swatches I've seen online. My only reservation is that I've never tried the Bésame formula and I don't think Sephora sells Bésame in its physical stores, just online. And I really don't like ordering makeup blind, no matter how many rave reviews it's received. Thoughts?

Of course, there are a few other candidates. Urban Decay Revolution Lipstick in 69 comes in a formula I know I like, though I do wonder whether the flat, wide bullet will make it hard to apply such a bold color precisely. And I don't want to be in the unfortunate situation of answering "Ooh, what lipstick is that?" with "Oh, yeah, it's called 69." Especially if it's my mom asking the question.

My third candidate is Bite Luminous Creme lipstick in Pomegranate, though my one Bite lipstick (a custom purple in the "matte," i.e. totally non-matte, formula) fades very quickly and sinks into my lip lines. Pomegranate also comes in the High Pigment Pencil formula, which seems longer-lasting, but that version of Pomegranate looks darker.

Finally, there's NARS Satin Lip Pencil in Luxembourg. When the Satin Lip Pencils came out two and a half years ago (!), Luxembourg was the first one that caught my eye. I just don't like having to sharpen my lip products, though. It makes me grumpy and resentful to waste so much product.

Any others you'd recommend?

2. Topshop Boardroom

Browsing Topshop's lip offerings the other day, I came upon this intriguing purple-gray-brown color in Topshop's "matte" (i.e. satin) formula. I wish this color came in the Matte Lip Bullet formula, because I wasn't impressed with the lasting power of Rio Rio, but at least a neutral color will look less gruesome as it fades.

I think I'm so attracted to Boardroom (which I'd never wear in an actual boardroom, ironically) because I have a hunch that it's the lipstick version of one of my favorite fall/winter nail polishes, Zoya Normani:

3. NARS 413 BLKR

Deep warm rosy plummy brown. Can you tell I'm going through a brown-lips phase this fall? Never mind that the NARS semi-matte formula has dried out my lips in the past; my stress-induced delusion assures me that this lipstick won't fail me. Help me help myself, guys.


I know far more about lipstick than I do about any other beauty product, so I'd welcome suggestions on all of these!

1. Black liquid eyeliner

After several years of struggling to create a decent cat eye with Maybelline Line Stiletto, I've come to the conclusion that my clumsiness is less to blame than the watery, smeary, flaky Maybelline formula. Of course, there's also my extra eyelid fold, which prevents any uptilted wing from getting longer than a millimeter or two:

But I still think my cat-eye game could be vastly improved with a better liner. The one I'm leaning toward is Kat Von D's Tattoo Liner, recommended to me by an Instagrammer with impeccable cat eyes. Part of me wants to patronize a brand owned by someone who's slightly less of an asshole, but another part of me concedes that there are assholes and asshole behaviors at every level of capitalism.

2. Yoga mat

Not a beauty product, but there's some overlap between exercise and beauty, so whatever. I've been using a cheap-ass mat from Target for almost two years, and it's actually starting to disintegrate: after my last practice, my entire body was covered with little bits of plastic. I want a mat that doesn't do this. I hope that's not too much to ask.

3. Lightweight facial sunscreen

My current sunscreen, Eucerin's SPF 30 moisturizer, works when the outdoor temperature is below 70° and the humidity is below 70%, i.e. pretty much never. At all other times, I sweat it off minutes after stepping outside. It never quite absorbs into my skin, and it almost seems to be making me sweat more (granted, I'm a sweaty person in general). I need something lighter and longer-lasting, for sure. Thoughts? I'm not even going to insist on cruelty-free brands here, I'm so desperate. I've heard good things about Shiseido's Urban Environment sunscreen, but it's a little pricey.

4. Fancy bath stuff

After two years of scrubbing myself in a shower stall so tiny I could barely move my arms, I'm living in an apartment with a bathtub, and I'd like to start turning my bathwater glittery magenta as soon as possible kthx. My favorite Lush bath bombs, Spacegirl and Phoenix Rising, have been discontinued, but how cute is the new Sparkly Pumpkin bath melt? I can't believe Lush missed the opportunity to make it smell like pumpkin, though. A pumpkin-shaped, citrus-scented bath melt is a recipe for cognitive dissonance.

I also want to try Haus of Gloi's butterbombs (unlike Lush, HoG has come through for me with a pumpkin-scented one!), but they're sold out right now.

And this isn't even counting the less interesting things I actually need, like a black blazer, a pair of blue jeans, and two bras. I keep putting off those purchases and focusing on makeup and skincare instead, because clothes are expensive and lipstick has never made me cry in a dressing room, you know? Lipstick is so nice that way.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Unholy Grails

"Look, you stupid bastard, you've got no arms left!"

If you frequent the company of middle-aged male professors who specialize in Renaissance history or literature, chances are good you'll hear a lot of Monty Python references. A few years ago, after too much time spent laughing politely at allusions that went over my head, I got around to watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I found it mildly amusing but not uproariously funny (except for the Black Knight scene, above), so maybe you need to have been a teenage British boy in the 1970s to truly understand its hilarity.

This is a very roundabout way of introducing something I've been pondering: the concept of beauty "holy grails." In recent procrastinatory moments, I've been searching for better versions of a few things I already own: a cherry-red lipstick, a black liquid liner, a lightweight facial sunscreen, and a yoga mat. I began this post intending to ask your opinion on some candidates I've found online (and I'll get there in my next post, don't worry), but right now I'm more interested in how and why we talk about holy-grail products. I don't mean to suggest it isn't natural to look for the best possible version of everything we buy, because of course it is. Who doesn't go to Sephora with platonic ideals of The Fuchsia Lipstick and The Emerald Eyeliner floating somewhere in her consciousness? My problem is with the assumption that the holy-grail idea comes entirely from a place of virtuous minimalism. The desire for minimalism is part of it, but it's not the whole story.

It's easy to believe that once you find the perfect matte lipstick formula or the perfect moisturizer, you'll never need to look for another one. You'll live a streamlined, downsized, KonMari-approved life, take just five minutes to put on your makeup each morning, achieve a healthy work-life balance, and stop dipping candy corn in peanut butter whenever you're stressed (or maybe that's just me). But whenever I've set out to find the perfect X or Y, I've ended up buying a series of products that disappointed me. They disappointed me not because they were necessarily bad, but because I put the pressure of perfection on them. The products that have achieved holy-grail status for meTopshop Get Me Bodied, for example—were almost inevitably not the results of a grail quest. They were chance discoveries, impulse buys, happy accidents. Nor has my appreciation of these products eliminated my desire for more of the same: I've bought at least four other plum lipsticks since I wrote my review of Get Me Bodied.

Some of my HG colors and formulas. Clockwise from top left: Zoya Neve, Topshop Matte Lip Bullets in Plastique and Get Me Bodied, Zoya Normani, Illamasqua Zygomatic, NARS Lhasa, NARS Mata Hari.

The ideal of the holy grail fosters consumerism as much as it fosters minimalism. If you're determined to get your hands on ~*~the best~*~ peach blush, you'll probably go through quite a few inferior peach blushes in the process. Inferior to what? Well, to the Platonic peach blush in your head. One of the blushes you try will be too yellow; another will be too pink. One will fade too quickly; another will be too pigmented, or too shimmery, or too coarsely milled. Instead of focusing on the virtues of the products you've already bought, you'll find yourself focusing on their shortcomings in order to justify the purchase of yet another peach blush. And you'll lose quite a bit of time and money in the process, even if you don't lose any limbs.

Again, I don't think there's anything wrong with knowing what you want and looking for products that match your criteria. If a sunscreen makes me break out, I won't force myself to keep using it. If a warm-toned red lipstick doesn't suit me, I'll exchange it for a cooler-toned one. I just wish that the beauty blogosphere would stop fetishizing HG products (and that YouTubers would stop announcing a different, inevitably sponsored, "holy grail" every week). Not everything has to be an HG to be functional and delightful. As proof of which, here are some products that are flawed but still bring me joy—unholy grails, let's call them:

Tony Moly Milky Violet is less pigmented than I'd like, the plum half of NARS Habanera is a bit patchy, and NARS Angela is as drying as every other opaque NARS lipstick I've tried (that is: very). But I still use all of them semi-regularly and don't feel compelled to search for a superior lavender blush or magenta lipstick, at least not now. (I've bought a few more plum eyeshadows, but only because I really like plum, guys.) Amid the stress of this semester, I'm trying to appreciate what I have, even if it could be better. Everything could be better. Except, perhaps, the vanilla ice cream I made last week with my new ice cream maker and this recipe:

Holy grail achieved.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Stress-Fueled Impulse Purchase #2: Milani Matte Fearless

Prior to this year, I felt ambivalent about Milani. It was the only cruelty-free brand with a decent selection in my local CVS (no NYX or Wet n Wild for this backwater), but its offerings included malodorous, drying lipstick, sticky lip gloss, liquid lipstick that refused to set, coarsely milled eyeshadow, and too-shimmery baked blush. 2015 has changed all that. I don't know what changes took place behind the scenes at Milani HQ, but my purchases in the past year have turned me into, if not an ardent fangirl, at least someone who appreciates the brand's presence in the beauty aisle. Matte Naked lipstick and Coral Cove blush are two of my favorite beauty buys of 2015, and Milani's clear eyebrow gel has become a daily staple despite its too-large applicator. The matte liquid lipstick I reviewed a few weeks ago was a letdown, but I'd recommend it for anyone who likes that sort of thing; it just turns out that I don't.

So I had high hopes for my latest Milani purchase, one of this fall's new additions to the matte-lipstick line launched early this year. Matte Fearless is a very dark purple that looks fearsome in the tube:

Colors like this, especially in matte or semi-matte formulas, have been everywhere in the last few years. NARS has Liv (swatched here) and Train Bleu; MAC has Instigator (swatched here) and Smoked Purple; YSL has its Glossy Stain in Violet Edition; & Other Stories has Droguet Purple, which I bought at exactly this time last year. But it's rare that a deep, gothy purple makes it to the drugstore: the only comparable drugstore lipsticks I can think of are Wet n Wild Vamp It Up and NYX Simply Vamp Lip Creme in Temptress. Since I hate the packaging of the Wet n Wild Megalast lipsticks and the formula of the NYX Simply Vamps, I'm glad I ended up with Matte Fearless.

MF has the same chunky gold packaging (not my favorite, but I don't hate it) and vanilla scent of the other lipsticks in the matte line:

Swatched on my arm—you can see that it suffers from the slight patchiness of most lipsticks in this color family, no matter their price points:

Swatched between MAC Eugenie (left) and & Other Stories Droguet Purple:

Eugenie looks similar to Matte Fearless in the tube, but it's much brighter and redder. Matte Fearless is browner and darker than Droguet Purple: goth plum as opposed to goth violet. Ah, these fine distinctions we make to justify our hoarding.

Out of curiosity, I swatched Droguet Purple and Matte Fearless side by side on my lips; that's DP on your left and MF on your right. I was glad to discover that the color difference held up here too. Droguet Purple is a brighter, bluer, clearer purple, while Matte Fearless is a smokier, more subdued color.

Matte Fearless by itself on my lips, which have been rather dry this past week; I'm blaming the powerful a/c unit in my bedroom and my failure to apply lip balm every single night before bed. Despite the dryness, I think Matte Fearless looks pretty damn even, especially for a dark purple.

Outside, in evening light:

As with Droguet Purple, I've had a hard time figuring out how to wear a lipstick this dark. I should also warn you that the photos in which I got the best lighting and the most accurate colors were the ones in which I was making the most insipidly coy expressions. Isn't that always the way? For my first attempt, I used a matte gray eyeshadow from my new theBalm palette and layered the mint green from NARS Habanera on the center of my lids. I think my blush was Illamasqua Zygomatic.

I wore this out of the house but felt a little awkward about it, especially as it was the day when everyone flooded back into town for the new semester and I ran into a couple of people I hadn't seen in a while. By this point, though, everyone in my department has seen me wearing weird lipstick at least a few times. It's part of my persona, for better or worse. I wore Matte Fearless for a few hours with no touch-ups, and it felt comfortable, thought slightly drier than Matte Naked. I'm afraid I can't speak to longevity, since drafting job materials makes me bite my lower lip nervously, which is death to any lipstick. At least my eyeshadow looked nice.

My second attempt was for my own eyes, and yours, alone. I came back this afternoon from a meeting with my advisor, at which I'd been wearing toned-down makeup: bronze and brown eyeshadow, a bit of ColourPop Lunch Money highlighter, and Urban Decay Rapture lipstick. To make my face more hospitable to Matte Fearless, I added more highlighter and darkened my eyeshadow for a slightly Jazz Age effect. By this point the sun was low enough in the sky that I got very few color-accurate photos, of which this, alas, was the best one:

I look like I'm on my way to a My Chemical Romance concert in 2007. Whatever, I can't keep putting off this post in hopes of getting a perfect photo. This will have to do for now.

Overall, Matte Fearless is fine. Not as stellar as Matte Naked, but a perfectly decent drugstore vamp; hell, a perfectly decent vamp for any price point. I'd like to thank casual weekend black magic for coining the term "Gothademic" on Instagram; it's the aesthetic I'm pursuing as summer shades too slowly into fall and freedom shades too quickly into responsibility.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Stress-Fueled Impulse Purchase #1: Essie Leggy Legend

Guys, I miss beauty blogging. I miss it so much that in the week since I announced my semi-hiatus, I've worked on four different draft posts. I'll open an empty post, add a title, write a few sentences just to give myself the feeling of blogging, then save the post to my draft folder and go about my business. Pretty sad, I know.

I've noticed that in the last year or so, I've fallen into the trap of believing that my posts have to be a certain length, and that if they don't contain introspection, digression, and meta-wank, they're unworthy of a place on my blog. Well, screw that. Sometimes I just want to write a few words about something pretty, and sometimes a few words are all I have time for. I'd rather pop in now and then with a brief post than go a month between elaborate, long-winded essays. Digression is one of my worst writing habits, anyway: it's not something I should indulge regularly, even if a blog is more digressive by nature than a dissertation abstract for the academic job market (seriously, kill me). So let's see how this dashed-off, short-winded thing goes. I've finished most of my tasks for today, and now I want to introduce you to a gorgeous nail polish I ordered from Nordstrom in a particularly dark moment last week: Essie Leggy Legend.

Note to self: never order a single nail polish from Nordstrom again, because it will come in a gargantuan cardboard box packed with sheet upon sheet of paper, making you feel terrible about your environment-wrecking consumption habits. Look at this atrocity:

Leggy Legend is the namesake of Essie's Fall 2015 collection, created in collaboration with Rebecca Minkoff. The collection, with names like "Bell-Bottom Blues" and "With the Band," is meant to evoke the "iconic rock 'n' roll royalty" of the '70s. To me, though, Leggy Legend looks more 1670s than 1970s. If nail polish had existed in Restoration England, this is the shade Nell Gwynne would have worn.

The color shifts depending on the light, but I feel safe describing it as a dark orange-brown copper with tiny red flecks: very Baroque-courtesan chic, and very autumnal. Looking at it on my nails, I can almost forget that it was over 90° yesterday.

It's metallic, but it goes on smoothly without visible brushstrokes, and it's fully opaque in two coats. I do wish it dried more quickly and wore slightly longer—I've been wearing it for two days now, and have started to notice some minor tipwear—but I'm willing to put up with a lot for the sake of this color. Here it is on my nails in artificial light, and yes, that's one of Andrew Marvell's political satires from the 1660s in the background. No wonder I have royal mistresses on the brain.

In natural (slightly cloudy) light:

And a closeup to show the tiny red flecks:

Leggy Legend's only real drawback is that its beauty often distracts me from typing my job materials. Not bad for a stress-fueled impulse purchase. Not bad at all.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Hiatus of a Kind

It's fair to say that shit just got real. In the last few days, I've been coming to terms with everything I need to do this semester (primarily applying for academic jobs, but also teaching and dissertating), and I'm not sure how much time I'll be able to spend on this blog in the near futureI don't want to declare myself on hiatus, but I also know that I have a lot of hard work ahead of me, and I'd like to have as few distractions as possible. I'm writing this in a post not because I think you'll die of worry if I don't blog every few days, but because I want to blog every few days and I can't afford to do so right now, and putting that fact in writing will hold me accountable to it. At least, I hope so.

Anyway, this is just to say that I'll be posting less frequently, and at less self-indulgent length, for the next few months. Wish me luck on the job market! I've been working toward this since I graduated college in 2009, and now it's here and real and, honestly, kind of terrifying.

I leave you with the color scheme I want to adopt this season, courtesy of some hippie knockoff M&Ms in the bulk aisle at Whole Foods. Sage green, rust, dusty gray-blue, deep plum, lavender, and mustard yellow: an odd palette for candy, but a perfect one for autumn.