Current pre-baby skincare routine

While waiting for baby to arrive, I might as well share what I’ve been using on my face lately. Researching skincare has been a long-time hobby for me, and I continue to enjoy experimenting, reducing old acne scars from my youth, addressing some signs of aging, and defeating hormonal acne. Everyone implies that I won’t have time to shower, much less adhere to a lengthy skincare regimen, when the baby comes, so I’m enjoying this while I can.

I’d describe my routine now as rooted firmly in K-beauty with a dash of American drugstore on the side.

IMG_2143

A.M.

  1. Swipe a pad of Bioderma Sensibio H2O over sleepy face.
  2. Pat some Acwell Licorice pH Balancing Cleansing Toner into skin.
  3. Spritz with Acwell Licorice pH Balancing Essence Mist.
  4. Apply COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid (not shown; has to be kept in the fridge, because it’s very unstable) while waiting for tea to steep.
  5. Trader Joe’s Nourish Oil-Free Antioxidant Facial Moisturizer, mixed with a drop of The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5. The Trader Joe’s moisturizer is $4 and I have never found a moisturizer that can top it, both in terms of application and ingredients.
  6. Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen SPF 50, holy grail sunscreen after trying dozens.

IMG_2146

P.M.

  1. Wash face with either Hanskin Cleansing Oil or Banila Co Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm Purifying. Sometimes, if I’m feeling extra gross, I’ll follow up with a double-cleanse with CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser.
  2. Pat some Hada Labo Gokujun Premium into face.
  3. Apply a serum of choice. Alternating between the following right now: Quesera Ceramide, The Ordinary Niacinamide + Zinc, COSRX Propolis Light Ampoule, or Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum. (Will add The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% back in after I’m no longer pregnant, if/when that ever happens.)
  4. Conclude with a moisturizer. Currently alternating between Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Cream and First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream.

Taking care of my skin has become a very relaxing practice to begin and end each day. I look forward to it. Skincare gets a reputation for being the refuge of narcissists and materialists. While it can certainly support those insecurities, I think it is a simple form of everyday therapy for men and women alike.

Many people, like myself, come to skincare because of long-term skin problems. It becomes a hobby of healing. I also find that those who are the most critical of skincare enthusiasts are those who have never had to deal with serious skin issues themselves. In short, I know that it’s not my deepest or most edifying pastime, but it makes me feel peaceful and sane (particularly in these last remaining weeks of childlessness).

What are you putting on your face and loving these days?

The 7 best things you can do for your face

Anyone who knows me well knows that I go through seasonal obsessions. I decide to learn everything I can about a particular topic, and then I move on to the next topic.

This past season, my obsession was skincare science. (Who can say where these things come from? The prior season, it was native plants.) I spent untold hours reading articles, peer-reviewed papers, blogs, reviews, and ingredient dictionaries. I still don’t really understand chemistry, but I now have a decent grasp of the science behind what you put on your face.

So, buckle up: Here are the seven most important things I’ve learned.

1. Sunscreen every damn day.

Even in the winter. Even if you don’t like it. You have to wear sunscreen. It doesn’t matter if you use antioxidants and moisturizers and the whole shebang: If you don’t wear sunscreen, everything else you’re putting on your face has been rendered worthless.

There are two types of sunscreen: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens physically block the sun and are usually composed of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun and are also known as organic sunscreen. Both work; it depends on what your skin prefers.

SPF matters. Your daily SPF should be at least 30 (broad spectrum, protecting you against both UVA and UVB rays). Anything much over 50 isn’t really giving you additional protection, so don’t go crazy and think that SPF 150 will protect you from the sun’s rays for all eternity. Chill.

Finding an excellent sunscreen is The Great Quest for all skincare adventurers. It is very difficult, and you will fail many times along the way. Thankfully, there are many others walking this perilous path who have written great reviews; this is a nice place to start, and here is a very helpful overview about how to wear sunscreen well and why it matters.

Skincare science post
Current favorite sunscreens.

Favorite sunscreens I’ve tried

  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Liquid Daily Sunscreen, SPF 70 (I know that the 70 is overkill, but the composition is excellent and it layers beautifully)
  • Clinique Pep-Start Daily UV Protector Broad Spectrum SPF 50
  • Olay Complete Daily Defense All Day Moisturizer with Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin, SPF 30 (Olay needs to COOL ITS JETS with the product naming; my fingers are so tired from typing that)

2. If you’re over 20 and you’re not using a retinoid, you might as well just end it all now.

Just kidding. I only found out about retinoids last year! But they are the powerhouse ingredient of skincare. There’s, like, nothing they can’t do: even your tone, texture; reduce acne and sun damage; lessen wrinkles and fine lines, etc. As Into the Gloss says:

“The results are almost too good: With regular use, retinoids promise to improve skin texture, wrinkles, sun damage, visibly enlarged pores, acne, and blackheads. Science can’t prove that retinoids will make you a more likeable person, but doesn’t hurt to try for that, too.”

Before you go crazy, here are some basic rules of thumb:

  1. Start using retinoids gradually. Start using it just once a week until you build up a tolerance. Retinoids are known to cause irritation. I destroyed my moisture barrier by going crazy with retinoids, so don’t be like me. Go slow.
  2. Use a retinoid or retinol product at night. There’s some evidence to indicate that retinoids are rendered useless when exposed to sunlight.
  3. You only need a small amount. Slapping on more product doesn’t make it work better.
  4. Don’t give up! Retinoids take weeks, like 8-12 weeks or even longer, to start making a difference. The biggest mistake people make with retinoid is quitting too soon. Don’t be like those people. Fight the good fight.

Um, what are you waiting for?

Skincare science post

Favorite retinoid products

  • The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion. There’s really nowhere else you should look, IMHO, for a retinoid. This is the most potent, gentle, AND affordable thing on the market. I feel like I should buy it in bulk. I’ve been using this one for about 5 months now, and it’s a dream. Never caused me any irritation and my fine lines and skin texture have improved dramatically after months of faithful use. I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!
  • Differin. I didn’t have a bad reaction to Differin; I just preferred the texture of The Ordinary’s product, so that’s what I’m using. Differin is also cheap and now available in drugstores without a prescription. It’s strong (you only need a pea-sized amount for your whole face), and it may cause you to purge (i.e., break out even more) at first.

3. Don’t trust product claims: Read and understand ingredients.

Everyone is trying to sell you something. If there is anything Americans need to learn, it is this.

Companies will say literally anything to get you to buy stuff; they will promise you the moon and invisible pores in just one week.

Trust no one. Instead, school yourself on some skincare science and cosmetic ingredients.

This is very exhausting if you are not a chemist, but again, the internet is Full of Wonders. I’ve learned so much about what to look for and what to avoid after just a few hours of education. Resources below.

Semi-related caveat emptor: Don’t get sucked into the popular myth that all “natural” beauty products are better for your face. There ARE a lot of natural ingredients that are awesome for your skin, but a lot of “natural” cosmetics companies have poor formulations that are not well tested, not backed by research, and/or do next-to-nothing for your skin. Some natural products are downright damaging on your sweet little face (e.g., lemon, vinegar, essential oils, coconut oil if you’re acne prone, etc.). Step away from the pantry. Trust science and solid formulations. (There are some “natural” brands I love, like Yes To and Derma E, and there are also many natural brands that are just overpriced garbage.)

Don’t forget the primary lesson: Trust no one. “Natural beauty” companies are not charities: They also just want to sell you something (and look righteous while doing it).

Favorite resources

  • Paula’s Choice: Ingredients dictionary: Don’t recognize an ingredient? Look it up here! This is a fantastic place to get thorough, scientific, and yet understandable explanations for which ingredients are great and which will murder your precious epidermis.
  • Beautypedia: Take some reviews with a grain of salt, but in general, this is a pretty trusty place to get science-based reviews of beauty products. This site is the brainchild of Paula Begoun, she of Paula’s Choice fame, who is worshipped (and sometimes decried) by skincare enthusiasts the world over.
  • CosDNA: Don’t get scared about the Chinese. This is a crowd-sourced database where people can analyze the ingredients of a million cosmetics products. The system then flags common irritants or inadvisable ingredients.

4. Respect the pH of your face.

If, like me, you have a problem with breakouts and texture, and swing between dry and oily skin, balancing the pH of your face is crucial.

Your skin’s natural pH is about 5.5. Many popular cleansers and products, however, have pH levels that fluctuate in wild directions on either end of the scale (lemon, for example, has a pH of 2; many foaming cleansers have a pH of 9).

The most important components of this lesson are to choose the right cleanser and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Use cleansers with solid ingredients that have a pH between 4 and 6; 5 is ideal. Many popular cleansers are really harsh, which I was surprised to discover. Oil-based cleansers can’t be pH tested, and I love them. They’re super gentle and not stripping, so I heartily recommend them as well. Here’s a place to start to determine the pH of your cleanser, using the crowd-sourced genius of the web.

Skincare science post
Current favorite cleansers.

Favorite cleansers (all with good ingredients and low pH)

Fun fact: Drinking water is great, but it really doesn’t do much to hydrate your face. (At least, there’s little evidence that it makes a difference.) Instead, commit to high-powered hydrators and moisturizers every day. A common misconception is that people with oily skin don’t need moisturizers. They do; I do. Balance your skin’s overproduction of oil by keeping it balanced and moisturized. Every day!

Skincare science post
Current favorite hydrators and moisturizers.

Favorite moisturizers

  • Hada Labo Gokujyun Hydrating Lotion. Miraculous stuff! It’s like a hydrating toner that turns into a super-light moisturizer. Incredibly affordable and immediately effective; I put this on my face twice a day, every day, and it’s helped me tremendously with hydration. The bottle will also probably last me a year.
  • Benton Snail Bee High Content Steam Cream. I’m in love with this weird-smelling stuff packed with snail slime. Powerful ingredients, and you only need a tiny amount to cover your whole face with goodness. It’s the last step of my nightly routine.
  • Glossier Priming Moisturizer. I’m not enamored with this moisturizer, but it’s been working well for me for the past few months. I imagine I’ll need something heavier in the winter, because it’s very light, but it delivers what it promises.

5. Exfoliate with acids instead of with bits of rock.

Exfoliation is a critical part of having a smooth, even complexion, but I had no idea that you could exfoliate chemically. Physical exfoliation—harsh scrubs that everyone used as a teen and still can’t put down, rotating face brushes—can work too, but you’re at a much higher risk of damaging your skin. Korean women, the ruling goddesses of skincare, rarely, if ever, use physical exfoliants and they have perfect skin, so I’m listening to them. Instead, be like a Korean goddess and exfoliate chemically, with acids!

There are two kinds of acids that are great for your face: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). I have worked both into my routine, but I am trying to help myself reintroduce them gradually, because they’re potent and I freaked my skin out a bit at first.

Here’s some great advice from Paula and from facialist Renée Rouleau about adding chemical exfoliants into your routine.

Skincare science post
Current favorite chemical exfoliants.

Favorite exfoliants

  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid. When you start reading skincare blogs, this is THE most-mentioned holy grail product in the acids space. Everyone raves about it. My advice: Go slow! Don’t be like me. Start once a week and then increase use based on how your skin tolerates it.
  • Derma E Overnight Peel (AHA). Solid ingredients and easy to use.

6. Up your antioxidant and vitamin game.

Your face needs vitamins too! Antioxidant-rich serums and moisturizers are an important step toward healthy, glowing skin. Vitamins and antioxidants can be a little tricky, because there are so many of them, and sometimes they don’t play well with others (especially the acids), but they have tons of benefits. I’ve worked a few favorites into my normal routine.

Skincare science post
Current favorite serums.

Favorite antioxidant serums

  • Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum. I’ve done more reading about vitamin C than any other skincare product because vitamin C is (a) really great for your face, but (b) really difficult to get right in the formulation. The big problem is that it’s very unstable (i.e., it oxidizes, or goes bad, rapidly), and it often does not mix well with other products. That’s why people like this Mad Hippie serum, because it’s a more stable form of the vitamin, mixed with the super-beneficial ferulic and hyaluronic acids. Here’s an incredibly persuasive review of the stuff.
  • Glossier Super Pure serum (niacinamide, or vitamin B3, and zinc). Helps with blemishes and congestion! Have been using this for a few months in my morning routine, and I think it’s helped keep breakouts at bay. Next, I’m going to try The Ordinary’s Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% because it’s a lot cheaper.

7. Listen to your skin.

Glowing reviews are seductive. We’ve all been there: rushing out to buy something a friend told you was amazing, only to be sorely disappointed when it doesn’t work for you (or causes a pizza-level breakout).

The primary thing I’ve learned in my skincare voyage is what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. You may hate a lot of stuff that I love, and that’s OK. Every face is different!

Learn to love and respect the skin you have. Heed the messages it sends you.

And this, my friends, ends the skincare saga. For now.

Disclaimer: I was not paid or asked to say any of these nice things about these products. This is all from the goodness of my skincare-obsessed heart and depressed wallet.

The feminine feminist

Self

Some possibly contradictory thoughts and no clear conclusions. This waffling nature is where I seem to have staked my flag at the end of my twenties. (And I am happier to be here, living in the gray, rather than in the stark dualities of adolescence.)

Does femininity have any intrinsic qualities of its own?

Men defined femininity for us, and masculinity gets to claim the origin of all gender traits. Femininity seems most often defined as the simple absence of masculinity: Men are strong, thus women are weak; men are bold, thus women are cautious; men are violent, thus women are compassionate, etc.

But what I want to know is this: Is there any quality that is inherent to being female, as we suppose there is to being male? Some characteristic that marks women, because women are born with it?

I started thinking this some months ago, when some men were discussing how grateful they were to not have any feminine traits, as if it would be the worst thing in the world to be compared to a woman. (It makes me think of that traditional Jewish blessing, Thank you G-d, for not making me a woman…) Many men think this way and express it openly. Even now, a great way to publicly shame a man is to compare his behavior to a woman’s.

I was incensed, after this discussion, but it made me start to wonder: Can women have pride in their female-ness, the way that men so evidently have pride in their male-ness? Do we always have to be comparing ourselves to men and in opposition to women to get any respect or credit? I’m smart, not like those silly girls; I don’t cry easily, like most women; I hate shopping, unlike most dumb broads, etc.

Is there anything deep and true that women can lay claim to, outside of the jurisdiction of masculinity?

If there is, I suppose it must reside in biology. Men have more testosterone, and therefore they actually are more prone to aggression and violence than women. Women can create and give birth to children, which brings with it a whole set of hormones and evolutionary instincts that men have no need of. Naturally, this does not preclude the fact that aggressive women and nurturing men exist all over the place, every day, and we can shift gender presentations in the span of an hour. But that is not what I am after. I am after something else, the root of what it means to be a woman.

What is it? Where does it reside?

The next question, though, is that if there is any intrinsic quality of womanhood, is it even worth defining? Will it just lead to more subjugation and heartbreak among women? Probably.

It taunts me, this question, because of the lack of middle ground. I want to live in a gray space on the question of gender; I don’t want it to be either/or. But I’m not sure it can be found.

I guess I’ve never felt entirely female, but then probably lots of people don’t. But I think that at different times in my life I located myself in different places on the gender spectrum, and for many years, throughout my thirties, which is when I made that pilgrimage, I didn’t have any connection to the female gender. I wouldn’t say I exactly felt like a man, but when you’re talking about yourself you only have these two options. There’s no word for the “floating” gender in which we would all like to rest. — Anne Carson, The Art of Poetry, Paris Review

I womanfully put this aside for the time being.

Next:

Does the feminine feminist exist?

Yes. Of course.

But in what ways? Which patriarchal standards do you choose to reject and does it matter which ones? How do you justify your choices to men and to other women, when there will clearly be gaps and paradoxes?

For instance, I sincerely enjoy cosmetics and a swipe of red lipstick, but I think mini-skirts and stiletto heels are misogynistic. I have strong moral objections to even the notion of a Brazilian wax, but I am completely fine with dresses, perfumes and facials. I mow the lawn and yet I make Guion fix any machine that malfunctions in our house, without ever trying to figure it out myself. I want men to take me seriously and yet I flatter their masculinity in a conversation in all the ways I’ve been taught since I was young.

Upon recently finishing Susan Brownmiller’s Femininity, I was comforted to read of how often she — feminist icon of the 1980s, who only wore pants and never any makeup — faltered from time to time in her commitments to outwardly rebel against femininity. Despite knowing the sexist origin of her angst, she says she was obsessed with how her hair looked and couldn’t stop thinking about her body and how men saw it in clothes. She won’t shave her legs or armpits but bleaches her leg hair in the summer when she goes to the beach.

Brownmiller knows she’s trapped; she knows all of us women are trapped. Whatever choice you make, you lose. Because here’s the rub:

Men created extremely high standards of physical beauty that women have to meet, and then simultaneously mock us for being vain when we try to uphold these standards.

Who do I get dressed for? For whom do I take care of my face? For whom do I apply mascara?

It is for myself. But it is also for everyone else — other men and other women. Like it or not, we’re all judged on a sliding scale of gender performance every day, most often in tiny, undetectable ways.

So, what is to be done? I think it is to take comfort in Brownmiller and take comfort in Carson and be OK with the floating space, even if we will never rest there completely. Be OK with living in and performing a little bit of both: the stereotypical femininity with dashes of stereotypical masculinity (who said that only men enjoy lawnmowers?).

Live with a perspective toward others and toward ourselves that is free and open-handed, especially when it comes to performing masculinity or femininity.

We’re all playing make-believe and dress-up anyway.

Beauty routine

The last time I was in Sephora, I was offered a job by the manager because he overheard me recommending products to my mom. “You really know what you’re talking about,” he said. “I know,” I replied, without a touch of embarrassment or bashful hedging. “I know. I really do.”

I don’t like to look like I am wearing a ton of makeup, but I love to study it, read blogs about it, and spend an unadvisedly large monthly sum trying products. I am unapologetic about how much I enjoy makeup and skincare. Someday I’ll delve into the theoretical roots of why putting things on my face and on others’ faces interests me so much, but for now, here is what I am currently doing to my body.

Cosmetics postMorning

I don’t wash my face in the morning; it dries my skin out. I also think there’s something to be said for letting your skin do its own thing (and preserve the actually useful balance of oils) in the morning.

Cosmetics postI put on Aveeno Positively Radiant 15 SPF moisturizer, and then this miracle product: Diorskin Nude Air serum. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted: coverage that lets your skin show through but actually gives you a beautifully even complexion at the same time, SPF, and the faintest hint of perfume. PTL.

I touch up my extremely veiny eyelids with Benefit’s Fake-Up concealer, which is marvelous because it has a Vitamin E component, so it doesn’t dry your tissue-fine eye skin out. Gotta fret about that tissue-fine eye skin. If I need extra help, I use the Sonia Kashuk concealer palette and apply with a tiny concealer brush from E.L.F. It lasts all day and can disguise the most hideous blemish.

In the summer, I then dust all of this with a very light application of MAC Studio Fix powder, which easily lasts me a year and a half, if not more. I tend to forgo it in the winter because my skin is dry enough to not need it. Then, a cheekbone-directed swipe of The Balm’s Hot Mama blush, which is like a less glittery version of NARS Orgasm.

Cosmetics postNext, eyes. Depending on the day or mood, I’ll use a MAC eyeshadow in some neutral shade, or possibly a Laura Mercier gold eyeshadow stick. My current favorite eyeliners are both from Bobbi Brown: the long-wear gel eyeliner in a pot or the very easy gel eyeliner pen.

The best mascara ever is Maybelline’s Colossal Volum’ Express mascara. I am not responsible for its stupid name, but it’s the best. And it’s $5 or $6 at a drugstore. If I’m feeling luxe, I will use an eyelash curler.

I comb my brows and most days apply Benefit’s Gimme Brow. I’ve used several brow products, and this is the best by far: it doesn’t become tacky, it looks extremely natural, and the tiny mascara-brush-like wand doesn’t rip out any hairs like a pencil does. Worth every penny.

Lips come next. I prep with Yes to Coconut lip balm, which is about 500x better than Burt’s Bees; you should all switch right now. It actually hydrates your lips. Lip color changes all the time depending on mood, season, and clothing, but some current favorites are NARS satin lip pencil in Rikugien, Clinique Chubby Stick in Bountiful Blush, and L’Oréal Fairest Nude.

Cosmetics postFinally, perfume, if the mood strikes. My current favorite is Tocca’s Stella, which my mother-in-law introduced me to several Christmases ago. It is intriguingly spicy without being too heavy or floral. It’s perfect.

Writing all of this out makes it look like this excessive process, but it takes me about 10-15 minutes to get ready in the morning. When you’re got a routine, you execute it like a cosmetics Olympian. No hesitation. Just drive and focus. This is the morning you have trained for.

Shower/Hair

I use Sachajuan scalp shampoo, which is the first thing that has given me the freedom to wear black clothes. It is a godsend.

I follow with Davines OI conditioner, which is the most luxe conditioner perhaps ever made. You will smell like a goddess all day after using it, and it is extremely rich and moisturizing for your poor dry strands. Once that runs out, however, which will be soon, I will resume using the Organix coconut milk conditioner. Once a week or every other week in the winter, I’ll also do a SheaMoisture manuka honey intensive hair mask, which makes my hair very happy.

Shower time is also exfoliation time. Currently, I’m alternating between Boots Botanics microdermabrasion polish and Clinique’s 7-day face scrub cream. I have also used and liked Acure’s brightening facial scrub with seaweed.

When I get out, I put in Trésemme curl mousse. It’s typically $5 at the drugstore, and it’s better than every other expensive curly-hair product I’ve tried over the past 10 years (and I have tried dozens).

On second-day dry hair, I use Davines This Is a Sea Salt Spray, which is fabulous. And smells like a summery day.

Evening

I take off eye makeup with Neutrogena’s oil-free eye makeup remover, which I have been using since high school, on a cotton round.

Then, I wash my face with this amazing cleansing balm by Boots Organics that we discovered in London, but it’s not yet sold in the U.S. I’m glad we stocked up while we were there, but I think I will switch to Glossier’s Milky Jelly cleanser once I run out. (Wei let me try it when she was visiting, and it is divine.)

Cosmetics postI have a rotating shelf of serums and night creams, mostly samples that I’m working through right now. But the Boots Botanics facial oil* is usually in the rotation in the winter, along with something from Caudalie. I’m interested in trying some heavier night creams for the winter, because the winter is dark and terrible and hateful toward my skin. (*This seems to be a product they have stopped making, which is devastating news. It was so inexpensive and so great.)

Mario Badescu drying lotion is my second life-saving product, after Diorskin. This is the #1 greatest solution for pimples. I could not live without it. Or, I could, but my life would be a formless void.

Jewelry

Cosmetics postTara Montgomery is my primary source for jewelry; almost everything I own and wear was made by her, and it’s all perfect. I consider her my personal jeweler. I get a compliment almost without fail whenever I’m wearing Tara’s jewelry. You can’t go wrong.

*I was not asked by any of these brands to say these nice things about their products. But maybe they SHOULD have asked me to; I’m a great saleswoman.

And now for something frivolous

10 things I am currently loving in my face routine.

1. Diorskin Nude Air Serum

I think this is what I have been looking for all my life. This tinted serum provides sufficient coverage and SPF 15, and it goes on like silk (not at all heavy or cake-y). Mom treated me to this at Christmas, and it’s a sincere delight. $53 at Sephora.

2. Boots Botanics Organic Facial Oil

It took me many years, but I have finally come to understand that my face was producing excess oil because I was not moisturizing properly. Now that I finally have that cycle under control, my skin has never looked better. And I am all about some organic face oil. This stuff is extremely affordable, and that little bottle lasts forever, and it makes your skin feel like velvet at night. $7 at Target.

3. Marc Jacobs Highliner Gel Eye Crayon

Apparently, I have greasy eyelids, and eyeliner is always smudged right under my brows, which makes me batty/annoyed. I have been on the hunt for a long-lasting, non-smearing eyeliner, and I found it in two products—this, and no. 4 below—and I’m never going back. This one is particularly easy to apply and worth the price. $25 at Sephora.

4. Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner

It has been an adjustment for me to acquire a steadier hand, to apply this eyeliner from a pot with a thin angled brush, but I am loving it as well, and this stuff really does not budge all day long. Also very much worth the price. $26 at Sephora.

5. Make Up For Ever Rouge Artist Natural Lipstick (N9 Copper Pink–Satin)

This is a glorious shade of lipstick, so glorious that I cannot describe its color in words (a sumptuous vision of a tawny rose), except that it makes me feel like a pulled-together goddess when I wear it. I got it as a Sephora sample a year ago, used it up entirely, and then had to buy it for myself. I wear it all the time. $20 at Sephora.

6. Yes to Coconuts Lip Balm

Yes To Coconuts Naturally Smooth Lip Balm - 0.15 oz

I’m going to share a bit of personal blasphemy, but I am just not that into Burt’s Bees anymore. I don’t think its widely touted lip balms are that great; they are not long-lasting, and I think their formula actually irritates my lips. Enter this magical little product by the “Yes To” line, which works wonders for me, especially in the winter months. This is a daily staple in my life nowadays. $2.99 at Target.

7. Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer

Aveeno® Positively Radiant® Daily Moisturizer with Broad Spectrum SPF 15- 4 Oz

Drugstore staple! No complaints here. This is just a great moisturizer for daily use; it’s not greasy, it soaks into skin swiftly, and it has SPF coverage. What’s not to like? Guion and I share a bottle, and we’re both very happy about it. $13 at Target.

8. Sumbody Body Butter

Body Butter Pot - Tropical Delight

Not sure why it took me so long to try straight shea butter, but this stuff is magic (discovered in a Birchbox sample, actually). So deeply moisturizing! My skin is soft all day long. I now regard shea butter as some kind of delightful witchcraft. Birchbox sells a trio for $23, or you can buy them individually for $7.95 each from Sumbody.

9. Glossier Perfecting Skin Tint

As an avid reader of Into the Gloss, I have been utterly pleased by their release of their own line of skin care and makeup. (I’m especially excited about Phase 2.) This is a great, very lightweight “tint” for the skin; it’s lighter than even a BB cream, which makes it so easy to apply in a flash, especially if you are having a “good” skin day and don’t need much coverage. It also seems to be naturally somewhat moisturizing, so I don’t feel like I need to pile on some face cream before applying. $26 at Glossier.

10. Tocca Stella perfume

This is the best perfume. Really and truly. My mother-in-law gave it to me for Christmas several years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s somehow both spicy and complex and alluring without being too powdery or flowery. $34 to $68 at Sephora.

Previously: Beauty products I was into in 2014

(I am not a famous blogger and therefore no company asked me to say any of these nice things about their products. Yes, I am praising these cosmetic items out of the goodness of my heart.)

Style icon: Amirah

Style icon: Amirah

One of the first things I noticed about Amirah, aside from her bright eyes, was her persistently perfectly selected lip colors. That, and she always looked dressed to either host a gallery opening or dance at a discothèque. Regardless, I’m delighted to feature her in the Style Icon series!

Amirah lives in London, where she works at Good Business, a boutique consulting firm. I’m grateful to Grace for introducing us, and I’m looking forward to sharing lots of gelato with Amirah this summer when we’re living in London. So, take it away!

How would you describe your personal style?

Slouchy structured. I think a lot about my silhouette and tend toward loose and boxy tops and dresses that don’t (I hope!) look shapeless. Same with trousers and skirts. I prefer structured over flowy or billowy, and though I often wear slim or skinny trousers, I very rarely wear an outfit that is totally fitted — I find it too restricting.

I’m also a huge fan of prints and pops of colour. Grace has said the things I wear look like they belong in a museum, and another friend has compared my style to “going to a different exhibition every day.” I think this is because I’m often drawn to things that other people would never try on because the shape is a little unconventional or the print “too loud.”

I also like to think my style is pretty consistent. Pretty much everything I wear is smart casual, and (much to my mother’s chagrin) I will wear the same clothes and makeup (often just a bright lipstick) whether I’m going to the office, to lunch with friends or “out” in the evening. I don’t really know how to dress “up” or “down.”

Style icon: Amirah

Has your personal style changed over the years? If so, why do you think it changed?

It definitely has! I’ve always been drawn to prints and the silhouettes, but I think I’ve gotten better at putting things together, and over time, my style has evolved into something more consistent.

The change has mostly come from being forced to purge my wardrobe regularly as I’ve moved around a lot over the past four years. Keeping a wardrobe of only things I love and wear relatively often has also made me a better shopper. Before, I would enter a shop and walk out with lots of impulse buys that seemed like good value, whereas now, I decide what I’m looking for (down to specifics like colour and cut) and try not to settle for less than what I’m imagining in my head. I will now also only buy something I can see easily working with things I already own.

Style icon: Amirah
What do you hope you communicate by what you choose to wear?

Perhaps something similar to what I hope to communicate when I talk to someone: that I’m open-minded but have a point of view, that I notice the details, that I’m able to blend in but not afraid to stand out.

What are some crucial pieces of your current wardrobe? Items you wouldn’t feel complete without?
  1. My black ankle boots. I’ve worn them every day since I got them (on sale!) a few months ago. They’re from Geox’s Ambhiox range, which means they’re totally waterproof (not just water repellent), and they’re the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned even though they have three-inch heels.
  2. Besame Lipstick in Red Hot Red. My new favorite red lipstick; it’s matte and pigmented and super moisturizing.
  3. My collection of printed trousers.
Style icon: Amirah

What is your most recent purchase?

Ladder resist tights from M&S. They are amazing! I’ve worn them four times at this point, and they still haven’t yet laddered which is a record for me.

Is there anything you’re on the hunt for right now?

A warm scarf that isn’t too long or too heavy and doesn’t make my hair staticky. Also slim (not skinny!), well-fit high-waisted black jeans.

Style icon: Amirah
Who are some of your style icons?

Iris Apfel. Keira Knightly’s character in Begin Again. My friend Noam for her consistency. My friend Lina for her elegance. Grace for her ability to wear anything well.

Style icon: Amirah
What do you most notice or admire in a well-dressed person?

My mama has always said, “It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it,” and I have come to agree.

I think being well-dressed is less about having the best good individual pieces (though of course having great pieces helps!) and more about combining them into an outfit that makes you look and feel comfortable and confident.

Thanks so much, Amirah! Delighted to feature you, and I’m excited to see you this summer.

Previously in the series: Grace.

Style icon: Grace

Style icon: Grace

I can’t think of a better person to inaugurate my Style Icon series than my perpetually stylish baby sister Grace.

After living in a variety of places around the world (most recently in Kathmandu) for the past few years, Grace now makes her home in Berlin. She is an accomplished videographer and photographer and a licensed yoga instructor.

She was kind enough to spend some time answering my questions and sending me some photos of herself and her wardrobe. So, take it away, Poodle!

Style icon: Grace

How would you describe your personal style?

Someone once said my style was sorta sporty/structured, and I think that is pretty accurate. I wear yoga pants most days and love jackets and drapey stuff too.

Style icon: Grace

Has your personal style changed over the years? If so, why do you think it changed?

I’ve always worn a good deal of black, even when I was younger and now (apart from maybe four colored things in my whole wardrobe, it is all I wear). Shopping is easy now, and when I see a rack of clothes, I just go to the black ones, and if I don’t see anything I like, then I leave. Texture is really important and always has been to me. When I was little, my mom couldn’t take me to fabric stores because I would have to touch every fabric sample… few things change. These days, I love leather, velvet, and lace.

What do you hope you communicate by what you choose to wear?

I find pleasure in getting dressed, and I hope that comes across. How I feel in my clothes is more important than what people think.

Style icon: Grace

What are some crucial pieces of your current wardrobe? Items you wouldn’t feel complete without?

My fuzzy black sweater, my Doc Marten Chelsea boots, my grandma’s necklaces, my silver earrings from Nepal, and my numerous pairs of black leggings and jeans.

Style icon: Grace

What is your most recent purchase?

A pair of black wool socks…it’s cold in Berlin!

Style icon: Grace

Is there anything you’re on the hunt for right now?

A practical leather wallet. I’ve always carried my small, black magic wallet with me everywhere I go, but here I use cash and coins frequently.

Style icon: Grace

Who are some of your style icons?

For me, my style icons are seriously scattered, and they often include places and how I feel in those places: Rishikesh, Kathmandu, Bangkok, Florence… But there are also some people too: Erin Wasson, Georgia O’Keeffe, Tilda Swinton, Amirah Jiwa, Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Style icon: Grace

What do you most notice or admire in a well-dressed person?

Cool, casual confidence. I truly admire people who dress with great confidence and who also don’t take themselves too terribly seriously. Getting dressed should be fun, and my definition of someone who is well-dressed is someone who is simultaneously creative and laid-back. I also admire people who can apply and wear makeup well (I know nothing about makeup and envy those who do).

Gran's Memorial in Ohio

Merci, Gracie! Such fun to read about your sense of style, which has always been distinct, even when you were tiny. More in the series to come (I hope!).

On wearing a uniform

Coco Chanel:
Coco Chanel and a Great Dane.

I’ve realized that the well-dressed people I most admire wear uniforms. Emmanuelle Alt has her black stilettos, jeans, and white shirts. Jeanne Damas is always tucking shirts and sweaters into high-waisted pants. Giorgia Tordini can WORK some menswear, and hence usually does (I’m more than a bit in love with her). Grace only wears black now. Jonathan wears black and white.

Such people have a very specific, recognizable, and definable personal style. This interests me deeply. I think this is what people mean when they say that someone has “great style” — it’s concrete and identifiable; it does not bend to the seasonal whim of sartorial trends.

A uniform is certainly an appealing concept. It is not surprising that the article Matilda Kahl wrote for Harper’s, “Why I Wear the Exact Same Thing to Work Every Day,” sparked such a frenzy of internet interest. We take people who wear uniforms seriously. It appeals to our deep need to feel orderly and distilled in our daily life.

But what does this mean for someone like me, who is neither (a) courageous enough to wear the same thing to work every day nor (b) inherently gifted in the art of choosing and wearing clothes?

Some thoughts about this dilemma and my desire to be uniform:

  1. Name what I like and why. Continue to fall into that visual rabbit hole that is Pinterest (with which I am unabashedly in love). Study well-dressed people. Take note of why I keep pinning the same images and over and over again. It turns out that I am a perennial sucker for a woman in (a) button-down shirt and (b) a classic men’s shoe. Be exceptionally clear about what I like and dislike.
  2. Continue to edit out pieces that do not fit my concept of my uniform. I think I have now successfully accomplished this, as I no longer own any bright colors, flashy prints,
  3. Wear and use what I have. I do not need more things. I have checked off some of the more expensive staples from my wish list this year (silk shirts, cashmere sweaters), and they should ideally last a long time. I am set. Say this to myself and believe it.
  4. Talk to stylish people and glean their wisdom. I like doing this anyway, but I want to do it in a more structured, disciplined way. I am hoping to feature a few of these people here in the weeks and months to come, so stay tuned.

If I had to shape a daily work uniform from what I already own, I think it would be this:

  • Three-quarter-sleeve gray crewneck sweater from J.Crew (similar)
  • Black trousers from Gap, which I had tailored many years ago and now wear once a week (similar)
  • Black blazer from Forever21, which I am super-ashamed to admit, but it’s actually great and I wear it all the time and it was $15 please don’t hate me I haven’t shopped there in years and never will again (similar)
  • Black Everlane loafers, my dream shoe

Here it is! I am proud of how bad this collage is and how decidedly un-cool-lady-blogger it is.

Little Stories bad collage

How about you? Do you ever think about this? What garments would compose your daily uniform?

On wearing clothes

Wardrobe essentials

“Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.” — Virginia Woolf, Orlando

At the turn of each new year, I apparently expend a good deal of mental space thinking about clothes. What can I discard and donate now? What did I not wear in the past year? What, in Kondo’s life-changing phrase, sparks joy?

If anything, the simple act of tidying my wardrobe sparks joy for me. (I unashamedly admit that I love folding my underwear.) Last night, I edited my closet and came up with armful of things, once more, that I ought not hold onto. It thrilled me. I am so much happier with less.

Wardrobe essentials

But. I am struggling with a new desire. I do not want a pile of new things, but I want but fewer, far more expensive, and well-made things. Gobs of cheap garments from Target and Old Navy no longer appeal to me, as they did when I was younger. I just want one ludicrously expensive pair of jeans. Or a luxurious, sustainably made handbag. Which is a different (fiscal) problem altogether.

My style aspirations haven’t changed at all since I last wrote about them. I still want to dress like a Parisienne, however that is within my power in Central Virginia. I have successfully edited out most colors and prints, except for stripes. I wear rather plain things now, and I love it.

Simply put, people who say they “don’t care about clothes” are not truthful. Everyone cares about clothes. Everyone makes deliberate choices about what they buy and how they wear it. Our wardrobes are not happy accidents.

What people mean when they say this is that they don’t care about fashion or trends. Which is fine. But everyone cares about clothes.

And that is why I like thinking about clothes and observing what people wear and why. What we say to the world through what we wear. Is the image that I think I’m projecting through my clothes what the world actually receives? It is something to ponder.

Next: Perhaps some thoughts on uniforms and minimalism.