Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

In what's probably the best article I've read about Lindsay Lohan, The Fug Girls place odds on the the party queen's future.

I'm hitting up Target this weekend to find the fantastic $23 espadrilles that She's a Betty features in this post.

The Makeup Girl
raves about Tarte's Rise & Shine lip stain and pumper and recommends a universally flattering color.

Gala Darling has great advice for anyone looking to adopt a new skincare routine.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Met Costume Institute Gala Fashion Best Dressed List

On Monday my boyfriend called me with a question.

"If you were invited to both the Met's Costume Institute Ball and the White House white tie dinner for Queen Elizabeth II, which would you choose?"

I thought for a second and made my decision.

"Costume Institute, hands down, no question."

He thought I was being ridiculous by choosing Anna Wintour over THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND, but let's be honest here... there's no question which party is going to be more fun. Sure it would be amazing to be in the presence of so many legitimately important and influential people, but who's going to shell out better gossip, Condi Rice or Andre Leon Talley? And who would I rather run into in the bathroom, Lindsay Lohan brushing coke off her dress or Lynn Cheney reapplying lipstick? I may be superficial, but I'm not stupid.

And while it's not very likely that I'll ever have the opportunity to attend a Costume Institute gala, I'm fascinated by the concept and can't help but be glued to the coverage of what New York Magazine called "a beyond-ostentatious union of Upper East Side money, Hollywood glamour, fashion and fine art." The only comparison is the Oscars, which only features Hollywood stars and fashions that lean on the boring side. But the Costume Institute gala's got it all- the actresses, models, designers, socialites, billionaires and the entire focus is on what they're wearing. It's the perfect event for anyone who watches awards shows just to ogle the dresses.

And in this day and age, where it's acceptable to wear jeans and t-shirts to the fanciest restaurants, you've got to admire an event where the punishment for not dressing to the nines and acting appropriately is getting on Anna Wintour's bad side, also known as the 4th circle of social hell. Everyone puts a ton of effort into choosing outfits, and unlike the awards shows, people are willing to take real fashion risks, so that even the worst dressed attendees are fun to watch.

But let's get down to business and talk about the fashion. I have to say that I was totally disappointed by the frocks at this year's gala. As always, there were a few gorgeous gowns, but overall the dresses leaned more toward the kooky, frumpy variety. I'll leave the worst dressed gowns to the Go Fug Yourself girls, but here are a few of the highlights of the best dressed attendees:

This is how you wear couture. Camilla Belle looks truly heavenly in this Jean Paul Gaultier gown (here's a close up of the bodice). I like that she kept her hair, makeup and jewelry fairly minimal, so as not to compete with the dress. Maybe I'm harboring some secret Cinderella fantasies, but this is my favorite gown of the night.

You might think that it's impossible to make a supermodel look bad, but Petra Nemcova took a risk with an unconventional gown and still outshone Giselle, Kate and a number of other A-list faces. I love that it's a little futuristic yet totally glamorous, a hard combination to pull off.

Life isn't fair when a woman who owns a famous candy shop can stay this thin and gorgeous. And don't you wish you could just call up your dad whenever you need a beautiful gown for a black tie affair? Dylan Lauren's dress is simple and chic, her hair looks amazing and she just looks very natural and happy.

Regular readers may be shocked to see Cam Diaz on any of my best dressed lists, as I normally HATE her style and think she looks like a mess at most red carpet events, but I gotta give her props for this outfit. This fuchsia gown is just a hair away from "over the top," but for an event of this magnitude, it really works. I'm ambivalent about the messy updo and turquoise jewelry, but she gets bonus points for looking better than we've seen her in years.

I was surprised to see so many jewel-toned gowns at a spring event, but I thought Christy Turlington's dress was totally spot-on, from the color to the shape and the graceful drapery. She looks stunning, but not at all like she spent tons of time trying to look perfect.

Who cares that Lucy Liu hasn't been in a good film since Kill Bill? If she's spent the last 4 years cultivating a relationship with Zac Posen, her hiatus was worth it. I don't remember her ever looking this good, hopefully the attention she's gotten from the event will help her get better roles.

Rose McGowan is not exactly a style icon (anyone remember this dress?) but I admire that she's a risk taker, and in the case of this ethereal gown, the risk paid off. I wouldn't expect a white gown to look good with her super-pale skin and black hair, but the contrast is dramatic and beautiful.

Narciso Rodriguez is one of my favorite red carpet designers, as he always knows how to make the most of any woman's body. In Julia Louis-Dreyfus's case, he creates a take on the ballerina dress, which looks soft, feminine and beautiful but still very grown up.

There were other gowns I liked that just didn't make my "best" list, such as: Ellen Pompeo, Lindsay Lohan, Jennifer Hudson, Idina Menzel, Liv Tyler, Kerry Washington and Jessica Stam. To check out images of all the stars on the red carpet, check out Pop Sugar's coverage of the gala here.

Who were your favorites?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Swimsuits for Every Body: Part 3

One of my biggest pet peeves about swimsuit shopping is that 98% of suit bottoms seem to have been designed for women who are happy to have an entire beach full of people inspecting their butt. Finding a cute suit that doesn't morph into a thong after walking five steps seems nearly impossible, as everything is cut to cover the middle 3/4 of your behind. If you're even the slightest bit self conscious about your butt or upper thighs, swimsuit shopping can be a nightmare. Luckily, there are at least a few attractive options for swimsuits that provide better coverage, and you can always go the cover-up route, perfect for time spent outside of the water.

I've always read that if you have larger hips or thighs, it's more flattering to wear high cut bottoms, because your leg looks longer and leaner. This makes sense, but it forces large-hipped women (like myself) to choose between exposing an area you're uncomfortable showing and appearing slightly thinner and taller. If you're brave enough to wear high cut or string bottoms, I say go for it, but go with what you're most comfortable with. You want to spend your time at the beach or pool swimming, playing and relaxing, not tugging on your swimsuit or feeling self-conscious about everyone staring at your cellulite.

Urban Outfitters Damsel Solid One Piece, $88

This vintage style has really made a comeback in recent years. When the ladies of Desperate Housewives wore versions of the suit on the cover of Vanity Fair last year, I was seriously craving one of my own. The great thing about this style is that it has great coverage all over but it's still very sexy, in an old school Hollywood kind of way. In a post last week, Daddy Likey recommended Esther Williams as a great brand for this style of swimwear. One final word of advice- if you're going for more coverage on your hips/thighs, try to offset it with a top that shows off your bust and shoulders (halter tops are especially great). It'll draw attention to your upper body and face and you won't look like a nun.


Urban Outfitters Sunset Maryanne Boyshort, $38 (top is also $38)

If you're comfortable showing your stomach, a boyshort bikini is a great option. If you go to the beach or pool with the intention of actually getting exercise (whether it's swimming, beach volleyball or going for a walk), boyshorts are nice because they're not going to slip down or ride up when you're moving. The key to a flattering boyshort is choosing a style that does not cut straight across (see photo under bad styles, below). This has a softer, less severe shape due to the contrast piping, so it doesn't cut straight across the widest part of your thighs.

W Swim Rain Forest Triangle Top and Side-Tie Swim Skirt, Macy's, $50 for top, $48 for skirt

Swimsuit manufacturers finally caught on to the idea of merging a suit and a cover-up, and it's nice not having to change when you're getting in and out of the water. It's a cute style that's more feminine than a boyshort, with the added coverage of a cover-up.

On to cover-ups...

Body by Victoria Cover-Up Swim Skirt, $28

The only difference between this skirt and the one above is that this isn't attached to your swim bottoms, so you can pair it with any suit that you'd like more coverage from. It's also made out of swimsuit material, so you can go in the water with it. A skirt like this is great for mixing and matching with the suits you already have.

Portocruz Skirt Cover-Up, Macy's, $28

A skirt like this is wonderful if you're not totally cool with showing your thighs when you're not in the water. A flowy, comfortable skirt is easy to throw on or pack in a beach bag, and it "dresses up" a suit for those situations when a swimsuit alone isn't appropriate (walking to and from the pool, eating outside, etc).

Carol Wior Slimsuit 10-Way Pareo, Nordstrom, $38
Though I have yet to master the art of wearing a pareo multiple ways, I know that it can be done. Pareos and sarongs are really useful in their versatility; they're easy to pack and you can wrap it in a way to give you as much or as little coverage as you'd like.

Now that I've gone over styles that work well for covering and minimizing your butt, hips and thighs, let's move on to a few styles that are worth avoiding.

As I mentioned earlier, a boyshort that cuts straight across at your waist and thighs will make your hips appear wider and your legs shorter. Try something more forgiving, like the boyshort I featured above.

A ruffled bottom like this is essentially a wide horizontal stripe across the widest part of your hips. It's great if you want to add curves to a thin frame, but if your hips are on the wider side, you should go for bottoms with a longer skirt bottom (one that covers your butt or longer).

This wraps up my series on swimsuits, I hope that you'll have an easier time finding a swimsuit that flatters your body and makes you feel great. You can read my earlier posts on minimizing/maximizing your bust and flattering a large stomach, and if you have any comments or suggestions for tips I've forgotten, leave them in the comments!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Celebrity Moms

We live in a society that is obsessed with celebrities and motherhood. From the initial "bump watch" to the first published photos of "baby makes 3" and heated discussion of the post-baby weight loss, we can't seem to get enough of celebrity mothers. It may come as no surprise that our celeb-crazed culture would become fascinated by something as (seemingly) unsexy as Liv Tyler in a sandbox, but the extent to which the media covers this topic is incredible.

I have a few theories about why we're so fascinated by celebrity motherhood. First, the main audience for celebrity and fashion magazines and blogs are women, and we love the idea that we can finally relate to an otherwise gorgeous, rich, perfect woman. Pregnancy doesn't discriminate based on beauty, wealth or fame- everyone gains weight and experiences physical and emotional changes. I think the gaining weight part is important, because even as our idea of beauty has shifted to acknowledge pregnant women as sexy and feminine (the prime example being Demi Moore's famous Vanity Fair cover), to many people, a pregnant woman is still not as sexually appealing as she was when she wore a size 2.

I also think we're glued to this coverage because, perhaps secretly, we're curious how becoming a mother will change a famous woman. Will it change who she is and how she's identified? Angelina is a good example of this, Kate Moss is the opposite. And importantly, how will her femininity, beauty and sexuality be perceived after this?

We also know that once she has children, the celeb still has to through the process of losing weight, starting work again and raising children (even if nannies are doing most of the work). Just as we identify more with celebs who are victims of a bad breakup, like Jennifer Aniston, Louise Parker and Sienna Miller, three actresses who enjoyed a spike in attention after getting dumped for other women, motherhood makes even the most untouchable woman more human. Both experiences are major, often difficult, events that affect most women, whether or not they're famous.

Another possible theory is that the creation of "MILF status" has extended the sex-sells doctrine to celebrity mothers. Once they've had the children, celebrity mothers are judged by the media on their ability to lose weight quickly and get back their old jobs, like Heidi Klum, who walked in the Victoria's Secret fashion show just 34 days after giving birth. In response to this pressure, most celeb moms are back to looking like their super hot selves within just a few months, with a new and improved image softened by their new role as mother. A great article in last week's New York Magazine discusses the MILF phenomenon, though I think the writers, sexperts Em & Lo, underestimate the important role that sexy celebrity moms have held in popularizing this idea.

In response to this flood of media attention on celebrity moms, the celebs and their publicists have taken advantage of the coverage to use their children to remake their images. One needs to look no further than Angelina Jolie, who was previously known for cutting herself, drinking her husband's blood and making out with her brother (among stranger things), but has recently become a figure of international motherhood. Bragging about her goal of having ten children of many different races and nationalities, Angelina has used the media to ensure that she's associated with the positive qualities of motherhood, instead of her risque past. She's saving the world's children, one adoption at a time... how can anyone criticize that or question her intentions?
Personally, I'm conflicted when I see celebs using their children to manipulate their public image. In a lot of cases, it's hard to determine whether it's the fault of the media by fixating on the topic or whether the celeb and her publicist is pushing it non-stop. I tend to have a lot more respect for celebs who (at least attempt) to keep their private lives private, but I really don't know when to blame the celebrities for exploiting their children to boost their image. Why shouldn't they want to show off and talk about their children, just as any other mother would?

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Beauty Industry: Who Owns What?

Aside from recognizing that they're all beauty brands, you probably don't often link Kiehl's, Maybelline and La Roche-Posay. Or Olay, Covergirl and SK-II. Or La Mer, MAC and Clinique. Each of these brands has a very clear, unique identity that is defined by what kind of products they make, where they're sold, how they're priced, what kind of person buys them, how they're packaged, and a number of other factors.

But that's only because the marketers behind these major brands have been so successful in conditioning consumers to think about the brand in these terms. What we're encouraged to ignore is that each of these brand groupings is owned by the same corporation. Kiehl's, Maybelline and La Roche-Posay couldn't be more different brands, but they're all owned and produced by L'Oreal. Same goes for Olay, Covergirl and SK-II, all Proctor & Gamble brands. And if you thought that Estee Lauder was only a department store makeup brand, you might be surprised to learn that the company owns 27 beauty brands, including La Mer, MAC and Clinique.

The beauty industry is dominated by a few key players, all multi-billion dollar corporations with ownership over multiple major brands. Here's how it breaks down:

L'Oreal: 2005 revenues of $19.78 billion U.S. dollars. Only owns cosmetics, haircare and fragrance brands (29 in total).

Brands: Kérastase, L'Oréal Professionnel, L'Oréal Technique, Matrix, Mizani, Redken, L'Oréal Paris, Garnier, Maybelline New York, SoftSheen-Carson, Biotherm, The Body Shop, Cacharel, Diesel Perfumes, Giorgio Armani Parfums and Cosmetics, Guy Laroche, Helena Rubinstein, Kiehl's, Lancôme, Paloma Picasso, Ralph Lauren, Shu Uemura, Victor et Rolf parfum, Dermablend, La Roche-Posay, SkinCeuticals, Vichy Laboratoires, Innéov, Ombrelle.

Proctor & Gamble: 2006 revenues of $68.222 billion U.S. dollars (this includes all brands). Beauty sales alone equaled $21.1 billion. P&G sells many different kinds of consumer products (their brands range from Tide to Gillette to Pampers to Iams to Tampax and many, many more). You can read the entire list here

Beauty brands: Gillette, Head & Shoulders, Olay, Pantene, Wella, Aussie, Clairol, CoverGirl, Herbal Essences, Infusium 23, Ivory Soap, Max Factor, Natural Instincts, Nice'n Easy, Noxzema, Secret, SK-II, Vidal Sassoon.

Estee Lauder: 2006 revenues of $6.746 billion U.S. dollars. Only sells cosmetics, haircare and fragrance products.

Brands: American Beauty, Aramis, Aveda, Bobbi Brown, Bumble and bumble, Clinique, Daisy Fuentes, Darphin, Donald Trump The Fragrance, Donna Karan, Estée Lauder, Flirt!, Good Skin, Grassroots, Jo Malone, Lab Series, La Mer, Kiton, MAC Cosmetics, Michael Kors, MISSONI, Origins, Prescriptives, Rodan and Fields, Sean John, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach Fragrances.

Unilever: 2006 revenus of $53.97 billion U.S. dollars. Sells food, beverage, cleaning and personal care consumer products.

Beauty brands: Caress, Degree, Dove, Lever 2000, Pond's, Suave, Sunsilk, Vaseline.

Johnson & Johnson: 2006 revenues of $53 billion U.S. dollars. Manufactures consumer packaged goods, pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Beauty brands: Aveeno, Clean and Clear, Neutrogena.

Avon: 2006 revenues of $8.1 billion U.S. dollars. Sells cosmetics, fragrances and some clothing and jewelry.

Beauty brands: Avon Color, Anew and Solutions, Skin So Soft and Naturals, Avon Fragrances, mark.

Certainly there are other important corporations that stand alone, such as Revlon (2006 revenues of $1.33 billion). But when you consider just how many brands are controlled by a few companies, it's pretty mindboggling.

So what good is this information and how does it useful to you as a consumer?

I've always argued that the more you know about beauty products and the beauty industry, the smarter your purchases will be. When you consider that the huge team of people doing research and development for L'Oreal are developing formulas that can be used in Garnier shampoo ($3.99) and Kerastase shampoo ($29.99), you realize that it's a good idea to start comparing products at different price points. Often two products from two different brands will have the same patent number (Pantene and Herbal Essence conditioners, for example). The difference is in the non-active ingredients, which give it a unique texture, scent, color, etc.

To double check on this, I e-mailed my two favorite cosmetics scientists, The Beauty Brains. They said that major companies (like the ones I've listed above) often save money by using the same formulas in multiple brands, which allows them to get price breaks on raw materials. Sometimes companies will use more expensive or better active ingredients in their luxury brands (the fact that they're active ingredients is key... they can spend all the money they want on fancy extracts and organic ingredients, but they won't make a difference in how the product works), but the truth is that more expensive formulas do not cost companies much more to create.

The price comes from the fact that you expect to pay a high price for a luxury brand. Don't you often automatically assume that a gorgeous bottle of $60 eye cream sold at a Saks counter is going to work better than the $1.99 tube on the clearance rack at CVS? It's all psychological.

So before you go and splurge on an expensive product, take the time to compare it to a similar product from one of their sister brands. Usually an online store (like Drugstore.com) will list the ingredients. You can then check out a site like The Beauty Brains or cosmetics cop Paula's Begoun, who has an ingredient dictionary and reviews of products. Makeup Alley is also a great resource, as you can read tons of reviews or ask questions to the extremely knowledgeable message board posters.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Of Brands and Bags

Like many confused and overwhelmed preteens, I stumbled through my middle school years trying to figure out just what and how much I needed to do to be viewed "acceptably cool." I knew that being the most popular girl in school was out of the question (these things are preordained, and once you realize that you haven't been chosen, you recognize there's no hope for rising above a certain point of popularity) but I figured that as long as I was just cool enough to not be picked on, and generally regarded as an okay person by the popular crowd, I could slide through my awkward, uncomfortable years relatively unscathed.

My parents were never the type to indulge me by buying the "must have" item of the month. Try as I might, I couldn't convince them that that pair of Old Navy sandals paled in comparison to the $100 pair of Birkenstock sandals, and that every single person in school would not just notice the difference, but would also see me as a social outcast, forcing me to transfer schools and taking away my every reason to live. A tad dramatic perhaps, but to a 13 year old, every action takes on such epic proportions.

As a middle schooler, the brand names that you advertised on your shirt, shoes, sunglasses and purse went a long way in determining your social status. Abercrombie, Nike, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Birkenstock, North Face (this was the late 90's, people)... the more you had on, the cooler you were. Bonus points were given if you had a more expensive brand name item, like a puffy vest instead of a basic t-shirt, or a backpack instead of a baseball cap. Even being able to wear a pair of socks with RL in little blue and red letters to gym class gave you an added boost, small as the gesture might be. This is what had me rummaging through the racks at my local department store, searching for the Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt with the largest logo imaginable that I could buy with the $20 my parents gave me.

It's been years since I've given this phenomenon (which thankfully became far less important in high school) much thought. That was until I was browsing through the mall a few weeks ago and I couldn't seem to get away from purses that screamed out their brand name from every possible surface.


My only theory as to the popularity of these logo bags is that the people who buy them follow the same logic I did as an 8th grader in an Abercrombie store: if I'm going to be paying a premium for a recognizable brand name, it better be obvious to everyone who sees me that I spent a lot of money on this item (which a humongous logo ensured). As with all logo clothing and accessories, it's not like these bags are any more attractive than ones from the same line that aren't plastered with the logo. So I'm guessing that if people are going to shell out $300, $800 or $1500 on a handbag, they want to squeeze out all the prestige they can out of that brand, which a bag with a small, nondescript logo just can't provide.

Marc Jacobs says: "This is the only Marc Jacobs bag you'll ever be able to afford! HA!"

I've also noticed that the trend toward logo bags is most prevalent at the low luxury level, bags priced between $150 and $400. If you have enough money to buy a regular Marc Jacobs or Chanel bag, you're probably able to advertise your wealth in many other ways. But for people without that kind of money, spending $250 on a Dooney & Burke or Juicy logo bag is a way of "testing the luxury waters." If you've saved for months to splurge on a luxury bag, you're probably more likely to want to advertise it. A number of companies that are capitalizing on this fact by making an unprecedented percentage of their bags in the logo style. Check out the Coach store. I'd estimate that between 1/3 and 1/2 of their bags are logo.

You'll also notice that a lot of brands charge less for their logo bags than other styles. This hooks people for whom an extra $100 makes a big difference. The consumer gets a luxury bag for less and the company gets free advertising. Everyone's happy.

I know that I'm going to get responses from people who insist that they bought logo bags simply because they like the look of one logo style or another, that it wasn't about the brand, etc. If this is the case, I'm just curious what it is that led you to purchase that bag over another, and what kind of responses you get from friends/family/strangers who recognize the bag (my guess is that people spend more time oohing and ahhing over the fact that it's that brand than the style and design of the bag itself, though I could be wrong).

And before people get angry, I want to say that I'm not here to look down on people; it's your money and you can spend it the way you like. But I do find this to be a curious phenomenon, and I know I'm not the only one who finds logo bags to be tacky (whether or not the purse beneath is attractive).

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Mineral Makeup Comparison: Lumiere Cosmetics Loose Mineral Foundation

I brought my samples of Lumiere mineral makeup foundation to Florida with me, knowing that any product that could stand up to heat, humidity and sweat as I spent my days frolicking (okay, more like lounging) in the sun could handle anything. Incidentally, my best friend and vacation partner Jess had forgotten her makeup bag at home, so I had a co-tester to compare results with.

My problems with Everyday Minerals were mainly that the coverage wasn't heavy enough for my skin (which tends to get blotchy and break out occasionally) and that it didn't keep me from getting shiny within a few hours. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Lumiere's coverage and oil blocking ability was much stronger than it's predecessor.

The coverage isn't heavy by any means, but when paired with a few swipes of a good concealer, it covers blemishes, blotchiness and discoloration very well without appearing too heavy or powdery. Jess isn't much of a makeup girl, but even she loved how easy it was to get even coverage and that she never felt like she was wearing anything on her face.

I was especially impressed by Lumiere's lasting power. We were out in the heat and humidity essentially all day long, and my makeup looked no worse for wear by the time we went out for dinner. As an added bonus, my hyper-sensitive skin wasn't irritated as it often gets when I have makeup on all day and night.

Lumiere makes three different foundation formulas, Flawless (best for dry skin), Veena Velvet (best for oily skin) and Luminessence (works on all skin types). We used the Luminessence, which is basically a takeoff of Bare Escentuals' loose foundation, which gives a nice "glow" with medium coverage. If you prefer a more matte look or are very oily, I'd recommend trying the Veena Velvet, though I often wore the Luminessence over other oil-controlling products so I still had that nice glow.

They also have a wide selection of colors, from very pale to dark, organized by undertones (cool, neutral, beige, golden, warm), and it's easy to choose which colors would be closest to your own. If you're buying a foundation or concealer online for the first time, I definitely recommend buying the sample sizes in a few shades before you go for the full size, unless you've tested it in person. Like many other online mineral makeup companies, Lumiere has sample sizes and starter kits so you can try before you buy. I was extremely impressed by the helpfulness and professionalism of the customer service reps I spoke to, so if you've ever got a question about color, application or formulas, feel free to send them an e-mail or give them a call.

My favorite thing about Lumiere is that their products are very affordable, even cheaper than the drugstore mineral makeup brands. You can order in increments of 1/2 gram ($1.00), 2 grams ($4.00), 4 grams ($7.00), 6.5 grams ($10.00) and 12 grams ($16.00). I ordered the 2 gram jar and it's lasted me 12 uses, and the jar is still over 50% full.

Overall, I was very impressed by Lumiere, and would likely by refills of their foundation in the future. Due to it's recent popularity, mineral makeup has gotten quite expensive, especially department store brands like Jane Iredale and Bare Escentuals. Though it isn't a well known brand name or widely available in stores, I thought that the product quality was comparable to these better known brands, and you definitely can't beat the prices.

I know that a few of you are Lumiere fans (your recommendation is what encouraged me to try them in the first place), do you have any other observations to share about the brand, or recommendations for other products worth trying?