Saturday, September 10, 2016

Marc Jacobs Rei of Light and Bonus Super-Fun Class Anxiety

Earlier this year, I attended a department dinner in honor of a visiting speaker.  One professor decided that the best topic on which to engage the graduate students near him was opera. He held forth about the various operas he'd seen recently in New York, and it turned out that quite a few of my classmates also enjoyed opera. I sat there in unaccustomed silence until the professor turned to me: "Do you go?"

"Go?"

"To the opera?"

There was no polite way to say "I barely have enough money for groceries," so I spluttered something about an opera I'd seen years ago on a standing-room ticket. He asked me which opera. I couldn't remember the title. I wanted to disappear.

Ironically, I grew up surrounded by classical music. My father was a classical guitarist who performed almost every day in the Harvard Square subway station for close to a decade. If you passed through that station between 1986 and 1995, there's a good chance you saw him. But when the city of Cambridge abolished rent control, we could no longer afford to live there, and we moved to San Francisco (another irony, given how prohibitively expensive the Bay Area housing market has become). My dad spent a few years playing guitar at Ghirardelli Square before the money dried up and he went back to school. My mother worked as an assistant teacher in public schools. We weren't destitute—I had cute '90s Gap Kids clothes and a sizable Barbie collection and enough to eat—but money was always tight and the flow of income was never steady. Learning to buy nice things for myself without feeling racked by guilt has taken me a long time. During his last visit, my boyfriend couldn't believe that I'd been using a rusty old teakettle for years: "You've been drinking rust!" It had literally never occurred to me to buy a new one, because my old one still boiled water, and that was what I needed it to do.

I'm very privileged in some ways, especially where education is concerned. I graduated from college with less student debt than many millennials, and I'm finishing a PhD from a prestigious university. But growing up with financial instability has left its mark. Academia may promote (or think it promotes) liberal values, but it also attracts a lot of people from wealthy backgrounds, people who are often unaware of their own privilege. In the company of such people I often feel tense and guarded, afraid of committing some gross faux pas every time I open my mouth. This isn't a constant state of existence for me, but certain situations do bring it on—and so, it appears, do certain lipsticks. Enter Marc Jacobs Le Marc Lip Creme in Rei of Light.


I bought Rei of Light almost a month ago, but I've worn it only a few times. Because I paid $30 for it, more than for any other lipstick I currently own, I feel a bit anxious every time I think about it. Is it really the precise color I wanted? Shouldn't I return it to Sephora if I have any quibbles about it whatsoever? Couldn't I have spent that $30 on something I needed more? Rei of Light has become a pumpkin-spice-colored albatross. Every time I pull it out of my box of lipsticks, some part of my brain says OH YOU THINK YOU'RE FANCY HUH and I cringe. The worst part is that I know designer makeup lines are marketed to people like me, people who can't afford a Marc Jacobs dress or coat but can drop $30 on a high-end lipstick. Which means that my $30 lipstick purchase is itself a marker of the aspirational consumerism that I claim to hate! Gah! Why can't I just enjoy things without overthinking them? I don't know, but I hope reviewing Rei of Light will persuade me that it really does belong to me and I deserve to wear it without guilt.


The Le Marc packaging is simple and elegant: a black-and-silver tube and a shiny black cap with raised silver lettering (a little too conspicuous for my taste) and a magnetic closure. I wish the lipstick bullet were sharper, but the rounded end isn't as hard to work with as Urban Decay's flattened Revolution bullets were. I find myself doing a bit of cleanup with my fingers after application, but it's not a huge problem.


I've now tried two Le Marc Lip Cremes, So Sofia (which I returned) and Rei of Light, and I've found them to have more or less the same formula: thick, extremely pigmented, and opaque in one swipe, with a semi-matte finish that sets to matte after an hour or two. The combination of thick formula and high pigmentation means that although Rei of Light will transfer onto cups and forks, there will still be a lot of color left on your lips after a drink or snack. Today I had an iced coffee and a small salad and my lipstick looked perfect (though I can't guarantee that it would have looked perfect had a burrito been involved). I hate to get all YouTube-guru on you, but THAT PIGMENTATION:


Here I've swatched Rei of Light alongside a neutral red, a red-orange, a brick red, and a warm brown. Check out the difference in opacity!

L-R: NARS Mysterious Red, Topshop Rio Rio, MJ Rei of Light, NYX Alabama, Revlon Fierce.

Of the four other lipsticks above, Rei of Light is closest to NYX Alabama, but Alabama leans noticeably cooler. Like other grungy hybrid shades (Revlon Sultry, NARS 413 BLKR), Rei of Light looks different depending on lighting—appropriate, given its name. Sometimes it looks brick red, sometimes coral, sometimes the rusty orange I want it to be. I think that's part of my ambivalence: 2/3 of the time, it's not the color I bought it for. But it's beautiful 100% of the time, so I think I'll live.

Despite being on the heavy side, Rei of Light is comfortable to wear. I do find, though, that the formula becomes slightly drying after the shine wears off. I had this problem with the NARS Audacious formula too, but so far the Le Marc formula doesn't seem as bad. I'll update this post if I change my mind.

I wore Rei of Light today, but since this nightmarish heat wave has yet to break (the heat index hit 100°F this afternoon), I went light on the rest of my makeup. As always, I'm wearing Glossier Boy Brow in Brown and NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Vanilla. On my eyes, I've got Maybelline Bad to the Bronze (the only eyeshadow I own that truly stands up to this humidity), Urban Decay 24/7 eyeliner in Demolition, and Revlon Volume + Length mascara. My blush is actually an eyeshadow: ColourPop Super Shock Shadow in Shop, a rusty coral that works perfectly on my cheeks. No highlighter: that's my natural, uh, glow.


A better view of Shop—I'm geekily excited to have repurposed it this way, especially because it's not easy to find a rusty orange blush:


Outside on campus; the day was slightly overcast. I promise I'm deluging you with selfies not for vanity's sake (well, not only), but for the sake of capturing Rei of Light's dramatic color shifts.


Finally, an indoor-lighting photo from last month. Here I am wearing a matching Goorin Bros. hat (which I regret not buying, tbh) at the Coit Tower gift shop:


I'm still on the fence about keeping Rei of Light, because of the drying effect when I wear it too long, and because it's not quite my ideal burnt orange. (Neither is Essie Playing Koi, for the record: it's darker and browner than it appears in the bottle.) I suppose this is a lesson in the dangers of hunting for the perfect iteration of a given color. It's mentally exhausting, and it leaves you dissatisfied with excellent products that don't correspond exactly to the image in your head. Maybe that's a manifestation of class anxiety, too: I don't feel justified in spending X amount of money unless the product is flawless in every way, even though I know rationally that nothing is flawless.
 
Playing Koi: not flawless, still pretty.

Does your upbringing influence how you approach and consume makeup? I'm curious about other people's experiences!

18 comments:

  1. "Academia may promote (or think it promotes) liberal values, but it also attracts a lot of people from wealthy backgrounds, people who are often unaware of their own privilege. In the company of such people I often feel tense and guarded, afraid of committing some gross faux pas every time I open my mouth."

    Really, this is so true. I don't teach at a prestigious institution by any means, but somehow, that Ivory Tower Elitism still manages to creep in.

    I grew up in a situation similar to you: my family managed to scrape by when I was little and we hit the middle class some time when I was in junior high. My parents were amazing at hiding the financial issues we faced, and I didn't quite realize how much they struggled until I was much older and looked back on it. Monthly trips to the cheapest grocery store in the county, my dad wearing the same tennis shoes for upwards of a decade and just having the soles sewn back on, my mother helping me carry books and crayons in to the big houses she used to scrub from top to bottom for extra cash, having my elementary school wardrobe sewn from the cheapest fabric we could find, my wealthy friend asking me why my parents put Christmas gifts on lay-away in June...we were by no means desperate, but it has made me aware of how lucky I am. I was lucky for what I had--that food and that doll, no matter how cheap it was or how long I had to wait for it--and I'm lucky to be where I am now. It has made me the sort of person who treasures her possessions and tries to appreciate everything. I use my electronics until they will not power on, wear my clothes until they're ripping or see-through, and have used the same fleece blankets for a decade. (Which, you know, this isn't always sunshine and rainbows. My mother accidentally ruined my good white button-up blouse two weeks ago, and I'm still a little ornery about it because I haven't found a workable replacement.)

    So when it creeps out in my workplace, I'm just gobsmacked. Just the other day, I heard two adjuncts complaining about how Clinton would "make college free for everyone" (not what she wants, BTW), and if that happened, "all of the people who shouldn't be here would be here." I thought I misheard, but no, it got worse from there. Now, if you have a problem with free college tuition or Secretary Clinton, that's one thing. But the suggestion that people who can't afford school shouldn't come in the first place...lord. I've had hard working students who dropped out of school because they couldn't afford tuition, who cried because they couldn't pay for the textbooks, who emailed me begging for an extended deadline when their car broke down yet again, who were so embarrassed to tell me that they didn't have a computer at home. I want them to come to school, not the entitled assholes who can afford everything and do nothing with that opportunity.

    In less preachy news, I think this is the most flattering lipstick you've ever worn, albatross or no.

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    1. Yeah, it seems like we had very similar upbringings. My mom started pulling in a middle-class income after my parents' divorce (she went back to school, taking mostly night classes, and got a master's degree), while my dad's fortunes have been more varied since then. Both my parents are educated, which was a tremendous advantage to me, but it also meant that I grew up revering cultural experiences (e.g. opera!) to which I had no direct access. Your comment about treasuring your possessions makes me remember that when I was little and I asked my mom for some toy or other, she'd often say, "If I get you too many toys, they won't be special anymore." She was right, and it's something I think about now when I'm tempted by yet another lipstick.

      Yikes, that woman's comment is awful. Elitism has always been a part of the academy, but it seems exacerbated now by the fact that stable academic jobs are so rare (I notice that the woman was an adjunct). It's led to a mentality of "I've got mine and I don't want to help anyone else or even hear about their financial problems." There's a lot of secrecy about funding in my department: who has a fellowship after five years, how to scrape by in a "college town" with an insanely high cost of living, all of that isn't talked about much among grad students, and most professors couldn't care less how we get by. And we're certainly less disadvantaged than the students you mention.

      Wow, that means a lot coming from you, since you have such a good eye for color!

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  2. I think I grew up with a similar financial situation to yours. Both my parents are freelancers with unsteady incomes, so we were broke a lot of the time, but my parents did their best not to let us feel it. I'm not sure if my upbringing has contributed to this, but I find that I'm a pretty cheap person when it comes to a lot of stuff. I'll spend more on fancy makeup sometimes, but I really hate buying high end versions of stuff that I run out of quickly. And I don't like spending lots on clothes at all!

    I wish for your sake that Rei of Light was the colour you wanted it to be 100% of the time, but it is really gorgeous on you. I have the birthday gift mini Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and I like it okay - it's really opaque and the colour's nice (I actually wore it yesterday to court and got a compliment on it, lol), but I don't find it lasts as well as I might expect for something that goes for $38 CAD. It feathers on me a bit, but that happens with a lot of lipsticks. I like it enough that I'll definitely keep using it, but I'm not sure I'd buy a full-sized one! (Probably just as well: I don't need more lipstick, let alone an expensive one.)

    Have you looked at the Smashbox liquid lipstick in Out Loud? It might be a bit light and I think you'd prefer a standard bullet lipstick, but I saw it the other day and thought of your quest for burnt orange.

    Also, hardly related at all, but I left my tube of Sultry out in the sun the other day and the plastic melted so badly that it was almost fused shut. I managed to pry it open, but the actual lipstick had melted as well. RIP, Sultry, you were loved.

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    1. Yeah, I think that's why I've so far avoided freelance writing: I grew up in a household without a steady income and I know how draining that can be. It seems like a lot of younger freelancers these days come from relatively wealthy families, because you really do need a safety net if you're going to try and make a career of writing.

      I'm excited to try Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in two months! The color looks very similar to Revlon Sultry, but I suspect I'll be running out of Sultry by that point, so it will be nice to have a free replacement. RIP to your tube of Sultry, by the way! :(

      I swatched Out Loud at Sephora earlier this summer! It looked like my perfect burnt orange in the tube, but it turned browner and darker on my hand (rather like Playing Koi, in fact). I wish I could have tried it on my lips, but there's no way to fully sanitize liquid lipsticks.

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  3. My parents were born in the post-Mao era in China, and somehow managed to get a good education through sheer badassery, and immigrated to Singapore with $1000. Our family was always ok and getting richer. But when I entered the best school in the country, you also wouldn't believe the wealth there. Every morning there were Mercedes and BMWs lining up to drop children off, and this is in a city where any car is a luxury, not a necessity. There were classmates with hugeeee houses and so on and so forth. I was very lucky to be exposed to things like the opera and ballet and all that through a program in my school which subsidized us, so we only paid like $20 per time, but I know that definitely a vast majority of people wouldn't be able to do it.

    I'm so sorry that you had that terribly awkward experience. I can only imagine how horrible it must have been. I don't think opera was the best topic to talk about - it's pretty exclusive after all. Maybe you could think of a generic reply to counter such situations in the future? (Or you could watch them on youtube - I love watching my favourite opera songs on youtube because god knows that operas can be as boring as fuck and totally nonsensical sometimes.) It's very classist, you're not any less educated just because you couldn't afford a ticket to an opera in person and there are lots of shitty operas anyway.

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    1. I actually know quite a bit about 17th-century opera, especially Purcell, but I just don't have a taste for later operas. What was so weird to me about that conversation was that he wasn't asking me if I liked opera, but if I WENT to the opera regularly. In retrospect, I wish I'd asked him why he thought the average grad student could afford to see operas in NYC. I didn't want to be confrontational, but sometimes it's good to be...

      China is fascinating to me because it has modernized and become more capitalistic so quickly. There were quite a few wealthy Chinese students at my college (but then there were quite a few wealthy students from everywhere).

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  4. I grew up on the wealthier side of middle class — in the SF Bay Area, actually — and my parents' money has enabled me to do what I love as opposed to what's lucrative. Right now I'm a freelance writer and I do worry about money because writing is not a well-paid pursuit, but I always have my parents as a fall-back. It's a tremendous privilege. I also have a lot of cultural capital from my parents, in terms of the way I talk, the references I get, and what I've read. I didn't go to college but most people assume that I did because of my affect and my background. It's unfair, and I'm just lucky that I was born into my particular family on the higher side of the socioeconomic ladder.

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    1. It's interesting that you say that, because I've long suspected that you need some kind of financial safety net to survive as a freelance writer (and it's very cool that you're so honest about it!). When I was in college, I was deciding between grad school and trying to make a career of creative writing and journalism, and academia seemed like the more stable option. Of course it's not, because the job market is SO BAD, but at least I've been paid to read and write for years now. I always get pissed off when Into the Gloss profiles writers and other creative types who CLEARLY come from comfortable backgrounds but give the impression that they just magically lucked into a luxurious apartment in NYC.

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  5. My parents were the first generation of their families to go to college and the second generation to make it "off the farm." For a lot of my life I considered them to be hippies-turned-aspirational class climbers with a heavy dose of a south Georgia accent. I know now that that vision of the comfortable middle class was always borrowed and we were in deep, deep debt for almost all of my life. And quite a bit of that was aspirational debt - the sort of life we wanted to be living, that credit made "possible." It's really only privilege and family (and family privilege) that afforded us the ability to come out the other side of that debt, and to additionally take on my own spectacular student loan debt, for which I have competing rage, guilt, and bitterness.

    I think it's only through the incredible power of human beings to hold one set of beliefs and perform a contrary set of actions that I've managed to amass the cosmetic collection that I have, because in non-luxury aspects I'm notoriously bad at spending money. My mom holds very strongly to the #yolo/treat yourself attitude of purchasing, whereas I lived in such fear of bringing additional cost to my family that I wouldn't see a doctor about a breathing problem until it was necessary to have emergency surgery. I have guilt, but I (mostly) think it's the useful kind that (I hope) keeps me conscious, without mandating that I patch together the butt of my jeans or let sinus infections get out of control.

    Rei of Light is incredibly beautiful on your complexion, especially with that orange blush. The only truly burnt orange lipstick I know of is MAC Chili, which I assume you have your reasons for avoiding. I've been looking at several of MAC's frost shades (seems your trend prediction is coming true) and might finally bite the lipstick-bullet sometime soon.

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    1. Your parents remind me of my boyfriend's parents: when he was a kid in the '80s, they were hippie farmers trying to live off the land in southern Alabama, and it didn't work out. They eventually gave up the farm and moved to Birmingham, where his dad got an MBA and a lucrative white-collar job. America is so weird, isn't it? There are so many overlapping layers of poverty and wealth and debt and aspiration.

      I wish my mom were of the #yolo attitude, but she instilled in me a real fear about spending money. (At the risk of reinforcing stereotypes, she comes from a very tight-fisted Jewish immigrant family.) She's financially comfortable now, but still has the mentality of someone who needs to save every penny. When I was studying abroad in college, I spent something like $80 on a beautiful teal coat. When I told her about it, she pressured me to return it to the store, and I felt guilty enough that I actually did. The idea of spending more money on something that will last a long time isn't something she's ever fully accepted, and it's taken me a while to accept it myself.

      MAC Chili was actually the first burnt-orange lipstick I gravitated toward, and now I wish I'd bought it instead of searching high and low for a non-MAC alternative. I know I like the MAC matte formula, and MAC is so much cheaper than MJ...sigh.

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  6. I'm of solid working class stock. I grew up in an area that is chronically depressed, woefully uneducated, and my background is almost cookie cutter for that. BUT! I do have parents that tried to push themselves higher, but didn't pick paths they enjoyed and ultimately returned to the paths they knew. I don't ever remember feeling like I went without, though I did go to school with incredibly wealthy people and knew what I didn't have.

    My partner is of a slightly higher socioeconomic class than I am, even though we grew up in the same neighbourhood and our parents have similar backgrounds, and occasionally he will say or do something that makes me incredibly conscious of the fact that I have spent my whole life trying to blend in and fit with the upper middle class, but can't quite do it. Even though I am upper middle class as an adult. I'm waiting for someone to find out that I don't belong - major imposter syndrome when it comes to being part of the institution. I've never been to the opera. I don't like meals with multiple courses. I go barefoot as often as possible (now that my tech is leaving, no one will be there to embarrass me into putting shoes on when I leave my office) and say things like "Where you to?" when I absolutely know better.

    Because makeup was never a thing in my house, since my mom doesn't wear any, I have no guilt about it. I have guilt about lots of other things: buying shoes that cost more than $50, buying nice clothes, wanting nice furniture. But makeup is Other to me still. Like it doesn't count.

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    1. Seems like we had a similar educational experience. I never quite understood that my family didn't have much money until middle school, when I was surrounded by the children of Silicon Valley moguls (I had a scholarship to a school for gifted children). These were people who went skiing in Sun Valley every winter (we literally had a weeklong February break called "Ski Week") and rented the entire SF natural history museum for a bat mitzvah. There were obvious advantages to attending a school like that, but I was SO uncomfortable socially, and going to a public high school came as a huge relief.

      My boyfriend is also from a slightly higher class, and I have those moments of realization as well. I know I come off as upper middle class: because I'm in academia, people often assume my parents were Harvard professors when they hear I was born in Cambridge, and I have to be like "hahaha no." Coming off as upper middle class is half the battle, I guess. But the other half is internal, and that's the hard part.

      My mom did wear makeup when I was growing up, but strictly drugstore: Maybelline eyeliner, L'Oreal berry lipstick (I still remember the two shades she wore). She still can't quite believe that some lipsticks cost more than $10.

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  7. All of these comments are so interesting. You all should read Hillbilly Elegy! https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062300546/hillbilly-elegy

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    1. That looks really interesting! Especially in this particular election year...

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  8. My grandmother was always a big advocate for the live movie theater screenings of Met operas. I've gone once, it was fun although I don't think I'll ever be an opera person.

    For burnt orange (or maybe more like blood orange) I love Rituel de Fille Bloodroot, although it's an expensive product in cheap packaging. Their high-pigment lipsticks smear everywhere but the sheers are really nice and still pretty pigmented.

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    1. Live opera screenings sound fun! I should check that out sometime. I'm not a huge fan of 19th- and 20th-century opera but I do love opera from before then.

      I looked up Bloodroot and it certainly is pretty, though shinier than I'd prefer. I've been interested in RdF for what feels like forever, but I've been able to swatch their products only once, at Catbird in Brooklyn. I remember being impressed with a very opaque red lipstick, but in retrospect, it did seem like it might smear everywhere.

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  9. What a wonderful post - so much to chew on here. I'll start by saying that I identify with so much that you mentioned, being quite privileged and educated myself, but never what you would call wealthy. As I get older, and as I transitioned from the non-profit to private sectors, my aspirational consumerism has at times gotten the best of me. Sometimes I find myself reusing plastic sandwich bags (and cleaning a sad excuse of a kettle) but with several $30 lipsticks in my purse. I'd like to call it priorities, but some guilt always remains when I manage my expenses. Something that came along with empowering women to treat themselves better for all that they do (which I don't disagree with) - no one told us this might make a severe dent in our wallets. I"m trying to create some practical rules for myself around spending on beauty, but it really has turned into a bit of a hobby and it is depressing to have constraints. My mother had 2 Revlon lipsticks for the entire year, and something about that situation makes me want to ensure that I always have what I want, and options. What's a girl to do? No good answers.

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    1. I, too, reuse plastic bags and carry expensive lipsticks in my purse! At this point in my life, my two big expenses are rent and food, and once those are taken care of I always feel a bit annoyed when I have to spend money on boring quasi-necessities like aluminum foil and a non-rusty kettle. Those aren't fun, and makeup is. A very childish habit of thought, but one I can't manage to shake.

      Weirdly, the periods when I'm especially broke are the periods when I'm most tempted to make frivolous purchases, as if to prove to myself that I can afford a bit of pleasure. I usually control these impulses, but I definitely notice them. I suspect that when (if) I finally earn a living wage, I'll find new lipsticks less compelling. Or not! We'll see.

      My mother had just two L'Oreal lipsticks at a time when I was growing up (I even remember the shades: Blushing Berry and Raspberries). It's only in the last few years that she's begun to realize she doesn't have to save every dollar she earns anymore.

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