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Beauty Q&A: Wedding Makeup

I am a 30-year-old lady living in the Midwest and I’m about to get married. Cause for celebration!

I also have never really understood makeup.

I grew up doing community theater with my family, and so I was taught stage makeup, but never real-life makeup, and as a result I just kind of always assumed that makeup was for stages (especially foundation and blush). So I don’t wear makeup in real life, and I have some cheap drugstore compacts, but it all feels so piecemeal and half-assed. I don’t have any kind of skin care products, either, because I thought you only needed creams and such if you were a lady who wore makeup, which I didn’t consider myself to be.


I want to look phenomenal for my wedding day, which I realize is its own type of stage. However, I’d also like to learn how to wear makeup every day and incorporate it into my life so that all the world will be my stage.

I get the impression that I ought to just go to a makeup counter somewhere and ask for help. But … which one? Sephora seems way awesome, but so do Clinique and other counters I pass on my rare visits to Macy’s. A friend of mine has advised against a Mac counter visit, as that’s too dramatic for me (irony!).

Where should I start? And what do I ask the lady at the counter? Do I just lay out what a novice I am and hope she doesn’t sell me everything under the sun? What products do I absolutely need to start my life as a married woman who wears makeup (even though she works from home), and what products can I upgrade to later, once I’ve mastered the basics? Do I buy my makeup removal supplies at the same place where I buy my makeup? What various creams and elixirs should I start using right away?

I long for a beauty regimen.

Your letter is like a dream come true to me: total makeup newbie, game for whatever, not drama-averse, and also you sound like a totally normal chick. I love you? I’m sorry you’re marrying someone else, but also CONGRATULATIONS! Anyway, luckily I have a few answers for your questions. They’ll be part “general rule of thumb” things because you need wiggle room to play and figure out your very personal style, and part super-specific ideas so that you don’t feel as lost at the end of this as you might right now. OK, here’s some coincidental fun: Recently one of my besties who doesn’t wear makeup got married, so she asked me to do up her face. We did one trial run at my house and then it was on. Man, she was a real trooper and went a bit outside her comfort zone (eyebrows on a strawberry blonde!?) but looked like a fucking bombshell and everyone hit the in-person Like Button that day. The photos killed even harder. So, to answer the first part of your question, I’ll just rundown here what we did for her (again, remember, this is someone who doesn’t like makeup!):

– Eyebrows! Starting today, get your eyebrows done by a pro and practice creating a perfect brow with eyebrow pencil or powder on the regular, maybe even going out in public from time to time with this new feature. You cannot imagine what a difference a well-groomed and defined brow makes in person and in photos — they ARE instant beauty; the difference between a knock-out photo and a “meh, she looks pretty but something is weird?” one. The only hurdle is you getting used to them.

– Find a foundation or tinted moisturizer — possibly even one with illuminizers. (Did I just make that word up?) Just apply lightly and even to your whole face, making sure to blend into your neck (this is to avoid a line around your jaw, but a high quality foundation in the right shade shouldn’t show regardless).

– Blush! Everyone loves Nars Orgasm, but play around at the makeup counter (which we’ll discuss next!). Where to put blush? Smile cheekily and brush it lightly on the roundest middle parts of your cheeks. Then a dab on the forehead, temples, tip of your nose, and chin. And by “dab” I mean don’t even reload the brush with blush before doing those extra spots. Just a dab. This is so subtle but will look more like how your face looks when you naturally blush, sans the red splotches on your neck and chest. Ha.

– Find a shimmery neutral shadow that works for your coloring. Some really versatile options are Smashbox’s in Champagne or Shell. Apply this over your whole lid, then line your eyes with dark brown shadow just at the lash line (technique one here). Last, curl your top lashes and apply mascara on top and bottom. You may want to use waterproof if you catch my drift? That’s it for eyes!

– Finally, wear a glossy, shiny, light-colored but definitely colored lip gloss, no lip liner necessary. Think bee stung, flowery, sugary sweet-looking delicious fresh summer lips. I love this one in D14 and this Yves Saint Laurent one that has REAL GOLD IN IT JUST LIKE GOLDSCHLAGER (remember?) in Golden Satin. (This is the color we used for my friend, and it was purrrfect. If you’re worried about the big kiss being goopy at the altar, kiss it off on a tissue just before you walk down the aisle; this will be the only time you spend far away from most people and cameras anyway. Except him, but he’s already signed on!

That’s my idea of the perfect spring/summer wedding face for a makeup newcomer. Everything can be picked up at Sephora, BUT! If you need real guidance as to how to apply or what specific shades work for you, I’d turn to the department store professionals at Laura Mercier. (RIP Prescriptives.) I am one of those ladies who is ALWAYS asking for a makeover at the makeup counters, like after two Bloody Marys on any given weekend, and Laura Mercier is consistently the only one I leave thinking, “They really coulda put on a lot more, I totally recognize myself.” Which disappoints me, makeup ho that I am, but I think would be perfect for someone a li’l more reserved and less tipsy. Laura Mercier has pretty, muted colors, a very modern look, and they don’t even create a single product that a pageant queen could find a use for. So yes, just be honest with them. I hate this phrase most of the time but it’s helpful here: remember, they work for you.

And you don’t have to buy anything at a makeup counter ever. Aside from the stuff I listed above and the tools you’ll need to apply it — a nice eyeliner brush, eyeshadow brush, and blush brush oughta do — everything else is optional, and you can work your way up to all of this as you get more comfortable. Optional, and fun! If it will cost you your whole paycheck and you’ll never wear it, that’s not fun, so don’t feel pressure to buy it. (This goes for everything in life: Practice saying “No thanks!”) If you’re in a buying mood, setting a spending limit before you show up really helps. This can change depending on how often you go, but I’d say I do one good $200 blow-out makeup purchase per year where I replace old gunky stuff and maybe a brush or two. Other purchases are very specific little one-offs like a tube of drug store lipgloss or a $2 nail polish here and there.

Lastly, regarding cleansers and other skincare products: I use Almay eye makeup remover. I hate their makeup because it’s so “natural” which is exactly why I love their makeup remover. Ha! For moisture, try good old Oil of Olay; it comes in Sensitive Skin and SPF formulas. And I personally really love an indulgent serum at night; maybe look at Philosophy’s When Hope Is Not Enough while you’re at Sephora. That’s about as far as I’d push you right now; you’d know if you need a serious skin care regimen. Let’s talk at your one year anniversary about next steps!? Congratulations!!!

Previously: Short Cuts and Magic Tricks.

Jane Feltes produces the radio program “This American Life,” and no makeup companies pay her to say any of this. Do you have a question for Jane?


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