Beauty Q&A: Makeup Brushes and the Pains of Being Appropriately Layered

I’m trying to be more of a grown-up lady about makeup application, and was wondering if you could provide an overview of the types of brushes I should be using? I have a fluffy one for blush, and one for applying eyeshadow as eyeliner (thanks to your tutorial!), but other than that I pretty much just use the applicator that comes with the makeup. How much should I expect to spend? And how often do you need to clean them?

Whoa, maybe you need to give us a makeup tutorial. You can use those applicators? Impossible. I refuse to believe it. But pretending it is true, one option is to stick with your current method. It’s free and there is no rule saying you must use fancy brushes.

That said, I don’t know what I would do without my five favorite, most often used brushes. Die? Unfortunately, this will not be a one-stop-shopping tidy list because it’s taken years of trial and error to figure out what brushes work best for me and they are from all over the place. But, this should give you a general rule-of-thumb to work from. They are:

Honestly, you don’t have to spend that much. These are my very favorites of all time, but I think the bottom-of-the-line lines from Sephora or MAC are wonderful, and they’ll run you maybe $10–20 a pop. If you take care of your brushes, they can literally last for years. Years! About that: I wash mine whenever it occurs to me, which is maybe once every few weeks, or anytime I dirty them with some dramatically different color than I usually wear. Wet the brush and pump a little liquid hand soap into your palm, swirl the brush around for a minute until the soap is totally disgusting and murky, then rinse. Smooth the bristles back into place and lay flat to dry overnight.

I live in Alaska. It is so cold, and I realized that I hate this cold not so much because it’s cold, but because in order to stay warm I always feel… well, like, a Macy’s Day parade balloon. I wear all of these layers and I wear pants over leggings over tights with snow pants and wool socks and blah blah blah SO MANY LAYERS. I have an office job, but I have to leave it and run errands often, and would prefer not to spend a jillion hours suiting up for the cold. I know! I know! I should be able to dress myself for the cold. And I can, but I always feel like that kid in the snowsuit who can’t put her arms down because there’s too much coat between her arm and her body. How do I stay warm, not feel like a weeble and not spend an extra 20 minutes putting on pants?

Alaska! WHY!?!

Okay, I’m over it. Have you heard of this new HEATTECH heat-generating clothing from Uniqlo? I saw an ad for it on the subway and just looking at that word made me feel all humid. You don’t have Uniqlo up there, so maybe one of our wonderful readers in a city that does will pick up a piece or two for you in exchange for cold, hard, cash. There are leggings and body warmers and and camis and long sleeve tops and so on. Wonderful.

Aside from that, I have always been a fan, ever since waaay back in the ’70s when my mom sewed her own with a kit that came from some weird company, of the super long puffy down-filled coat. It’s a classic for ladies in ridiculously cold places. And don’t forget about leg warmers! They are the cute alternative to an extra pair of pants.

Or you could just move? You should probably just move.

I’ve been a CVS makeup kind of gal all my life — not even Revlon, more like Wet ’n’ Wild. I asked a friend of mine what mascara she uses, and blah blah blah I ended up at Sephora where I actaully bought fancy mascara, and it has totally changed my life. It’s amazing. Totally worth $16.50.

So, what’s next? I have very little money, but am slowly coming around to grownuphood, or, to the concept of spending more money on a thing once that will last, rather than buying cheap things that are shitty and I have to replace. Maybe a good shampoo? I have kind of oily hair. I’ve been using Herbal Essences, which is fine, but boring. This is an entirely separate question, isn’t it?

At first I thought, no, not shampoo because that’s quite an investment seeing as how you go through it so quickly, but then you said Herbal Essences and *RECORD SCRATCH.* (Are you old enough to know what a record scratch is?) Throw it all away or give it to a teenager. I also suspect you have a Victoria’s Secret body spray laying around. Goodbye!

Then, yes, upgrade your shampoo, not just because I’m being a snob and a bully about it, but because a salon formula will just be better for your hair and you can afford to be better to yourself now. Isn’t being a grown up awesome? I don’t pretend to know the science of it, but there are detergents in cheaper shampoos that strip your hair of moisture and color and can even break down the proteins in your hair. Once I went to a salon to have my hair lightened and the lady sent me home first with an unmarked mystery bottle of shampoo and told me to use it on my hair for 20 minutes a day for a week and come back. I did and it took the black out of my hair. I asked my hairstylist aunt what it probably was because the hairdresser was too fancy to tell me and she said, “Pantene. I don’t think Pantene will admit to it though.” So, just sayin’.

As for what brand to switch to? Pick a price first and decide from there. You can go ultra lux with Frederic Fekkai, one of my faves, though I usually can only afford travel sized items to indulge in on vacation. Also, most drugstores carry a limited selection of salon brands nowadays, and many, like Rusk, Biolage, and Redken, have shampoos for your hair type. If you’re still confused and overwhelmed, and this will sound stupid and materialistic but whatever, just pick a bottle you think conveys the kind of woman you are. Like, if a lover stepped into your shower and saw it, they’d be like “____” (fill in the blank with whatever you want them to be like).

Other answers to your question: department store eyeshadows, in my opinion, kick the ass of drug store ones as far as texture and pigment. Try out a new palette. Also, Dior Addict is your new bff. And if you wear foundation, get ye to a Makeup Forever counter forthwith!

I am, for Hairpin purposes, an older lady (in my 40s). Whenever I run into distant relatives/old acquaintances from high school, the reaction is always: “You look EXACTLY the same!”

I appreciate that this is meant as a compliment — I’ve always looked young for my age (even when that was not a good thing). But it’s true in less fortunate respects, too. I have basically the same preppy/nerd style I’ve had since my later teens, and I’ve also had the same hairstyle (shoulder-length/layers/bangs) for most of that time. I have mostly the same kinds of clothes I had a couple of decades ago, and in some cases the same ACTUAL clothes. I am rarely required to look presentable: I’m married (no kids) so I don’t date, and I’m a freelancer who works from home most of the time. I live in the city and get around mostly on foot/bike/public transport, which complicates my occasional efforts at stylishness, as does the fact that I am only 5’2″ tall, so I have a terrible time finding clothes that fit me. Is it too late?!

Too late for what? To go shopping? To try a new hairstyle? Never! Sure, change is scary and requires a lot of effort, but it’s really the only thing that makes yesterday different from tomorrow, and unless you are already The Most Contented Woman on Earth, it’s the only path to happiness. Go down the path and see what’s there. And try to have fun; being “required to look presentable” shouldn’t be the only reason to look presentable. Look presentable for the good feeling it gives you.

You remind me a lot of my bestie Lisa, except for one part: she’s stylish. She’s your age and short-ish like you and fun and young looking and a city dweller and busy, and yet somehow she manages to dress well and keep up with trends. How does Lisa do it?

Before we get to that, allow me to take a left turn and address something you mentioned in passing. I’m going to declare my stance on bikes: if the choice is between riding a bike and looking/smelling/tasting good, I always choose looking/smelling/tasting good. You can get a workout at the gym or dance class, but showing up to work/dates/a meeting all sweaty and in “sensible” bike-ridable clothes has just never been an option for me. Just say no to bikes! Haha, JK. But only sorta JK.

Alright, back to your conundrum, first, get a new hairstyle. There is no more immediate and dramatic way to update your style and it will inspire you to give the rest of your look an overhaul. Why not try highlights or grow out your bangs or go short? Bobs are very hip and ageless, too. Just pick something new, commit to it, and don’t be afraid. Say it with me: “Hair! Grows! Back! (Usually?)”

Now pick a style inspiration or signature piece. You’ve done this before, when you chose “preppy/nerdy” all those years ago. For Lisa, and I’m putting words in her brain here, her “thing” is black boots. She has practically every kind of black boot and, most importantly, every winter she picks up a new pair of the latest, trendiest style. From there, her wardrobe is pretty simple: skinny jeans or a skirt with tights, some kind of feminine top with details, and a cardigan or blazer. Very hip! In the summer, it’s black high-heeled sandals. What is a piece that you see on other people that you’d like to emulate? Is your thing oversized tunics? Maybe wrap dresses? Maybe you like embellishments like rhinestones or sequins, but done tastefully? Are you secretly longing to be The Red Shoe Lady? If nothing comes to mind, read the third question here where I discuss finding a style inspiration. All you need is a starting point, and you should be able to build a new look around it pretty easily by browsing The Outnet, In Style, or Lucky. I’m not kidding, they are pretty thorough in their coverage of All Possible Outfits.

Finally, do not dismiss the petites section. I know they’re usually only found in stuffy, business-attire type shops, but if you want tailored items like that perfect pencil skirt or fitted blazer, petites sections exist solely to satisfy women like you.

Photo by Aleksey Patsyuk, via Shutterstock.