Pretty Honest

With the exception of the addition of an eyebrow pencil about 18 months ago and the occasional change to my mascara brand, I have to admit that my make-up routine has remained largely unchanged for the past 10 years. This is not because I’ve found the perfect combination of products, which make my skin glow with a ‘natural’ radiance, but rather because the world of make-up slightly terrifies me and a combination of choice paralysis and utter lack of knowledge in the beauty realm mean that I keep reverting to the same old familiar brands.

As my skin has changed over the years I have been promising myself that I’ll invest in some new products and learn more about make-up application, and with the proliferation of beauty vlogs and YouTube tutorials there really isn’t an excuse for not following up on this pledge. However, for one reason or another I have continued to drag my feet on the matter, or at least that was the case, until my recent trip to Italy and the absolute disaster that was the trial for my wedding makeup.

Planning a wedding abroad has its pros and cons. On the plus side it provides the perfect excuse to employ a wedding planner who adeptly deals with all of the stress of finding and fielding suppliers (an indulgence we would not even have considered had we decided to get married in the UK), on the downside there is of course a language and cultural divide that makes conveying a vision of what you want slightly more tricky. Pinterest has been my saviour in communicating the aesthetic for the venue, flowers, table decorations etc., but when it came to my make-up this was a little harder.

At the heart of the problem is my total lack of knowledge or direction in what I want from my wedding make-up – ‘just me but kind of better’ is apparently insufficient guidance, especially for an Italian make-up artist who doesn’t actually know what ‘just me’ consists of. Combined with the language barrier and cultural differences my trial attempts resulted in baby-doll red cheeks, dark eyes and, what I can only describe as pearlescent Barbie doll pink lips. The overall effect on my childlike face was less the sophisticated beauty I had hoped for and more like an infant who had been let loose on their mother’s make-up at some point in the mid 80s.

Looking in the mirror with a mix of emotions from horror to mild amusement, I made the decision that I was going to do my own wedding make-up and that my current repertoire of concealer, blush and clumpy mascara just wasn’t going to cut it on our big day.

On our return home I pulled out Sali Hughes’s book ‘Pretty Honest‘, which had been given to me as a birthday gift and which, to that point, had been an under-tapped resource. Reading the book was a revelation. Hughes has such a candid but friendly voice and her reassurance about how to approach counters in department stores, which products to consider and when alarm bells should ring (for example, never trust anyone offering products that will ‘warm-up’ your skin tone as you may end up orange, or those who imply a product will only work in conjunction with one or two others, as every product should stand on its own two feet), immediately made me feel like I could tackle the make-up mountain.

What I also loved was her unapologetic love of make-up and the beauty industry and her reassurance that deciding to invest some time and effort in your appearance doesn’t automatically deplete your IQ:

‘I believe looking good to be an important and valid pursuit. All too often, women with an interest in their appearance are assumed to be stupid, shallow or unintelligent. Even traitors to feminism. But I see good grooming and feminism as entirely complimentary…I believe it’s perfectly normal to love both lipstick and literature, to be a woman who paints her nails while shouting at Question Time. The implication that us poor women are getting up half an hour earlier than we want to and miserably trowelling on slap because it’s what society tells us to do is absurd.’

These are sentiments which I share, (although ones which I execute significantly less adeptly than Hughes). The truth is, as Hughes asserts, everyone does look that little bit better for a bit of blusher and and sweep of mascara and the ‘natural’ look that many men say they prefer is usually augmented by a tinted moisturiser and a well-groomed brow. I know with a round face and naturally fair hair, without my mascara, eyeliner and brow pencil I just become a featureless mass of face, which is not pretty in anyone’s book, no matter how natural!

The book includes advice on skin-types and which products work best whether you have oily, combination, dehydrated, dry, young or old skin. From cleansing and daily skincare tips to how to choose a foundation (invaluable to me having never in my life owned a foundation), and from how to look good in photographs to negotiating the world of beauty salons, ‘Pretty Honest’ has become my new bible. This is recommended reading for everyone and anyone wanting solid advice on anything from moisturiser to brow powder (even if, like me, you didn’t know that such a thing existed until just now). I’ve learned the value of a good flannel for cleansing and a good eyelash curler for opening up your eyes. Hughes addresses the essential difference between concealer and highlighter pens (something which many of us, myself included, confuse and the latter of which can lead to that all too familiar panda-eyed look in photographs, when the light reflecting elements flash white while concealing under-eye dark circles). I’ve learnt that there are five types of foundation – sheer foundation, better for women with clear skin and freckles, mineral foundation, for women with rosacea or acne, cream foundation, for dry or heavily blemished skin, powder foundation for oily and combination skin and liquid foundation suitable for anyone, particularly those buying their first foundation – and that toner is largely just nice-smelling water and not as essential to our daily skincare routine as we may have been led to believe.

With Hughes’s advice under my belt I headed to Oxford Street, armed with a list of ideas for products and determined to book in for some make-up lessons at department stores.

A couple of weeks later and I’ve purchased my first serum, an investment from Clarins which leaves my skin feeling like silk and, when used overnight, counters the grey, tired look that comes from inadequate sleep, replacing it with a dewy glow. I’ve also bought my first foundation from Bobbi Brown along with a foundation brush and fixing, finishing powder, all chosen with the help of the really lovely Bobbi Brown staff at John Lewis.

After make-up lessons at both Bare Minerals and Bobbi Brown there were certainly many more products I could have bought, from the Bobbi Brown sepia gel eyeliner and brush, to the moisturising primer and eye cream (both of which I was given free samples of to take away and try).

I feel like I’m slowly getting closer to my make-up goal but there are still more lessons to be had and more potions and lotions to try. While this new hobby is not the cheapest one, I have to admit that with every new product I am feeling terribly pampers and more confident that I’ll look how I imagined myself on my wedding day.

If like me you are a make-up novice I’d really recommend starting with Sali, either her book or blog, and then booking in for some free make-up lessons at department stores. It is great to have someone explain all of the products to you and to help choose the right colours and make-up combinations.

As for me, I’m enjoying the excuse to spoil myself too much to stop yet; next stop, MAC!


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