Saturday, May 19, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

Racked has the scoop on Topshop hitting the States later this year.

The Budget Fashionista gives great advice on finding flattering dresses for "apple" bodies.

Fashionista finds celeb-worthy vintage sunglasses for under $20.

The Beauty Brains discusses the findings of Consumer Reports' latest comparison of wrinkle-reducing creams.

And while this isn't a blog post, The Daily Mail has photographs of the hat milliner Philip Treacy created for fashion icon Isabella Blow's coffin, a fitting, beautiful tribute to a fabulously eccentric woman.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Finds: Espadrilles

Every year when May rolls around, I tell myself that I'm going to find the perfect pair of espadrilles. They're the ultimate in summer shoes, a little funky, a little feminine and perfect for pairing with an airy sundress or shorts and a tee. And assuming it's not sky high, the wedge heel is easy to walk in, making them very practical for people like me who live outdoors in the warmer months.

Unfortunately, I have yet to find a pair of espadrilles that works for me. At 5'9 and very clumsy, I don't like to wear heels over 2 1/2 inches or so, partly because I feel more and more like a drag queen as I approach 6'0 and partly because I love the comfort and ease of flats, which don't threaten my sense of balance in the way that high heels do. Espadrilles are now being sold in all heights, but I find that the cutest pairs are still in the 3"-4" range. I've also had a hard time in the past finding a pair that wasn't clunky, as too many cheap espadrilles are.

But this year will be different, because I'm renewing my mission with greater enthusiasm and dedication to finding my dream shoes. There are so many outfits hanging in my closet crying out for an espadrille to complete their look for summer, and I will not let them down. Here are a few of my favorite pairs out there, in order of price.

Isaac Mizrahi for Target "Gabriela" Rope Wedge Sandal, $29.95

Restricted "Sand Castle" Espadrille, Zappo's, $45.95

Boutique Nordstrom "Tropez" Wedge, $59.95
Banana Republic Ticking-Stripe Peep Toe Wedge Espadrille, $68

Zinc "Ruby" Espadrille, Zappo's, $81.95

Banana Republic Ticking-Stripe Peep Toe Wedge Espadrille, $88

MICHAEL Michael Kors "Cabana" Sandal, Nordstrom, $97.95

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mineral Makeup Comparison: Meow Cosmetics Foundation

Let me start off by saying that I was so turned off by Meow Cosmetics' cat theme that I went in expecting their products to suck. The cheesy feline-inspired names, the bad cat puns, cat eyes on the packaging...and they expect people to take them seriously?

But I learned my lesson about not judging a product by its package when I started testing out Meow's (I still shiver saying it) mineral foundations. By this point I've tried five different brands of mineral makeup, some of which I've loved, others which left a lot to be desired, but this was the only brand that exceeded my expectations (which were admittedly low to begin with) enough to compel me to buy the full-sized products.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I received free samples of Meow's Pampered Puss foundation a few weeks ago, in 6 different shades. Like a number of other online mineral makeup companies, Meow has a huge selection of shades, which are broken down by undertone. Each undertone (there are 12 for some reason) has a selection of seven shades, from very light to very dark. I had a hard time figuring out which undertone and shade best matched my complexion, and it took some time testing and comparing colors to finally find what worked. For this reason, I recommend ordering at least 3-4 sample shades ($1 each) before you buy.

But when I finally found the right shade/undertone, I was incredibly impressed by how good the product looked on my skin. The coverage of the Pampered Puss is medium to heavy, but unlike most other powder foundations with good coverage, it doesn't look cakey or powdery. Unless you apply it with a VERY heavy hand, no one will be able to tell you're wearing makeup at all. I also needed less concealer than usual, which was a plus.

As someone with oily skin, I've often complained that a lot of mineral foundations do a poor job of controlling shine. Of the brands I've tried, Meow did the best job of keeping me matte, though it was by no means perfect. When I decided to buy a full sized jar of the foundation, I went with their "Flawless Feline" formula, which is the heaviest and most mattifying. This stuff is the real deal- when I wear it I don't need to apply a layer of my beloved MAC Blot powder over it, and only occasionally use a mattifying lotion underneath. It's the best foundation I've ever used for oily skin.

Aside from the ridiculous cat theme, I only had one other complaint about Meow Cosmetics, and that's the lack of options when it comes to their foundation jars. Namely, there's only one option and it's about 1/4 CUP of product. Seriously, this thing is like a hockey puck. The three foundation formulas are priced $16.95 (Purr-fect Puss, least coverage), $23.95 (Pampered Puss, medium coverage) and $26.95 (Flawless Feline, heaviest coverage), all of which are reasonable for the obscene amount of product. Hopefully eventually Meow will start offering different sizes for those of us who don't want to commit to a lifetime supply of foundation.

For those of us with allergies to many of the ingredients in many mineral makeup brands (this is a problem for me as well), you'll be happy to know that none of Meow's foundations contain Bismuth oxychloride or silica (usually the culprits if you experience an allergic reaction to mineral makeup). Here are the ingredients in the 3 formulas:

Purr-fect Puss: Mica, Titanium Dioxide, Iron Oxides
Pampered Puss: Mica, Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide, Iron Oxides
Flawless Feline: Mica, Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide, Boron Nitride, Iron Oxides

According to Cosmetics Cop Paula Begoun, none of these ingredients are known to irritate skin, and as someone with ultra-sensitive skin, I haven't had a problem with any of these formulas.

And that wraps it up for this year's Mineral Makeup Comparison! If you have any other recommendations for products I missed, leave a comment!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mineral Makeup Misconceptions

I like to think that I'm pretty impervious to cosmetics marketing BS. I pride myself on not getting suckered into buying products that make dubious claims to eliminate cellulite, lengthen eyelashes and "reduce the appearance of" anything. It's not that I'm not tempted, or that I wouldn't pay up if a tube of cream would actually make my thighs resemble Heidi Klum's, but I know that just isn't going to happen, so I generally just walk on by and waste my money on Us Weekly instead.

So, last week when a reader anonymously commented to let me know about a number of misconceptions concerning mineral makeup (which I've been reviewing), I was shocked to see that I'd been duped by cosmetics marketers, who'd led me to believe that mineral makeup was a totally natural, healthier alternative to "regular" makeup.

In fact, just about any liquid or powder foundation could call itself "mineral makeup," since nearly all foundations contain some kind of mineral ingredients, like talc, titanium dioxide, iron oxides, mica and silica. While some mineral makeup is great for women with sensitive or allergy-prone skin, other brands will irritate or cause reactions, just like regular makeup. And as mineral makeup companies tout the sun blocking qualities of mineral makeup, it turns out that you'd have to apply an unattractively thick layer of foundation to get any significant sun protection.

These companies have led us to believe that chemicals are bad, and by turning to "natural" ingredients, we're doing something good for our skin. But there's no reason why the naturally occurring chemicals in mineral makeup are better than man-made chemicals contained in regular makeup. Bismuth oxychloride, a common ingredient in mineral makeup, can create microtears in the skin, causing irritation and acne. Other popular ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (the chemicals that provide sun protection) cause breakouts in some people, even though they're touted as being non-irritating.

This doesn't mean that mineral makeup isn't a great option for a lot of women. Most mineral makeup brands contain only a few ingredients and are fragrance and preservative-free, which means they're far less likely to irritate sensitive skin. For a lot of skin types (especially women with normal to oily skin), powder foundations look more natural and last longer. And once you get the "swirl, tap and apply" part down, I find that it's easier to get even coverage than with traditional liquid foundation.

If you're interested in trying mineral makeup, I think it's really important to sample a few different brands and compare ingredients before you decide whether it's right for you. L'Oreal's Bare Naturale foundation gave me such a strange reaction that it sent me to the dermatologist (I've since found out that I'm allergic to bismuth oxychloride), but brands that don't contain this ingredient have worked wonderfully. As with all things, it's best to keep your expectations reasonable when you're trying mineral makeup. Despite what the advertisements and websites may claim, it's unlikely that mineral makeup is going to dramatically transform your skin... it's still just makeup, after all.

For more information about mineral makeup, check out these resources:

Makeup, Excavated From a Mine
, New York Times, August 24, 2006

Is Mineral Makeup Better For Your Skin?, The Beauty Brains, May 2, 2006

Mineral Makeup: A Special Report by Paula Begoun and Bryan Barron, 2007

And big thanks to the reader who alerted me to this! I always appreciate being respectfully corrected when I'm wrong about something.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Victoria's Secret's Awful Marketing

One of my biggest pet peeves is when a product that's made for women and purchased primarily by women is marketed to appeal to men. Victoria's Secret has always been guilty of this practice (it's time that VS stops insisting that their "fashion show" is anything more legit than a Maxim magazine spread come to life), but their latest commercial takes it to a whole new, entirely icky level.

Even though this model is (a very young-looking) 24 years old, she could easily pass for a sexed-up 16 year old. Add onto that the ditzy limerick, cutesy-innocent poses and look of perpetual amazement and it seems a bit suspicious that VS is appealing to certain male fantasies that exclude women over the age of 18.

Victoria's Secret understands that women buy their lingerie when they want to appear sexy and impress their partner. You don't wear those lacy little thongs and balconet bras on days when you've got a date with Ben & Jerry and TLC reruns of What Not To Wear. So the assumption is that VS needs to appeal to men primarily, since women are buying their products for the purpose of appearing desirable to men. If the men don't find it sexy, the women will buy their lingerie elsewhere.

I think that's fine. But I don't see why you have to alienate women to appeal to men. Victoria's Secret is pushing a fantasy that alienates their primary consumers, women who don't want to be expected to act like ditzy, desperate teenagers in order to appeal to their partners. As much as fantasy is an important part of sexuality, I don't understand why companies like Victoria's Secret can't endorse a more sophisticated, empowering idea of sexuality. The models in their commercials always conform to the most stereotypical male fantasies, whether they're dancing around in sexy Santa suits or strutting in angel wings. Even their most intelligent commercial, in which the models are sitting on director's chairs discussing why they like the bras, they still act like giddy schoolgirls at the hottest slumber party on earth, comparing their breast sizes, touching each other and preening in their underwear.

Aside from the fact that I think their bras and underwear are overpriced and of poor quality, I don't shop at Victoria's Secret because I find it impossible to identify with the "brand" of femininity and sexiness that they're promoting. I certainly don't expect any lingerie model to look or act like me, but there are plenty of female sex symbols who appeal to both men and women because of their visible self-confidence, strength and total ownership of their sexuality. Someone like Angelina Jolie, who is the embodiment of a sexually empowered woman- she does what she wants and she does it to please herself and no one else.

For many people, Victoria's Secret is synonymous with sexiness, but I think they're passing up on the opportunity to promote more progressive, empowering ideas about what's sexy. Instead, they just play to traditional stereotypes and encourage women to define sexiness by what men want.

Monday, May 14, 2007

First Job Fashion Woes

I received this e-mail from Jen last week:

Hi Meg!

My question for you is this: I'm graduating from college next week and starting a job as a reporter with a local newspaper. I love taking fashion risks but I'm afraid I'll be stuck in drab, conservative outfits because of the job. Is there a great way for a young working girl to express her fashion personality without being it being "too much"? Are trends better left for the weekends - or can they be taken to work too?

Thanks so much, I'll be looking forward to you answer :)


First, congratulations on graduation and your new job! I know how exciting and nerve-wracking it can be starting your first big job. You know you're the new kid, but you want to be treated as an equal, and gain the respect of your co-workers without sacrificing your personality. What you wear plays a huge role in this, as people will make judgments about you before they get to know who you are. In your situation, this is doubly important, as you're not only trying to impress your colleagues, but also the people you interview for articles. It can be scary trying to give the right impression to so many different people, but I definitely don't think you have to throw your fashion personality out the door to achieve this.

One of the biggest hurdles when you're young and starting a new job is being taken seriously. People will look at your age and inexperience and assume you don't know what you're doing (which you might not, but the whole point is getting people to believe that you do). If you're already young looking for your age, you're at another disadvantage.

To combat this, you're going to want to build your outfit around clothes that convey the image of a capable, professional adult. This includes staple pieces, like a basic pair of dress pants, a suit jacket and a modest knee length skirt, all in neutral colors. Since you'll be meeting and talking to all kinds of people, you'll want lots of pieces that you can dress up or down, depending on how formal a situation is. For your job, it's unlikely that they expect you to wear a suit to work on a regular basis, but you can mix and match these pieces with more fun items and still look professional. Invest in a suit that looks good and fits well (and get it with pants and a skirt, so you have more options) and you'll find that you can put it to use many different ways.

But the fact that you have a basic black pencil skirt doesn't mean you have to pair it with a white button down and boring black pumps. Because you're still in a creative profession, you do have a fair amount of leeway when it comes to dressing. Tops, shoes and accessories are the items to have fun with and explore trends (to a certain extent, I'll get to that in a minute). Don't be afraid to add color or prints to your outfit, like a bright blouse or sweater.

Because you're likely to be on a tight budget, you probably want to spend your money on a couple of bags and a few pairs of versatile shoes (at least one pair of flats and one pair of pumps) in black or brown that will go with anything. But if you have shoes in other colors, I think you can wear them as long as they're not too flashy (no leopard print, no hot pink patent leather, etc). Just be sure that you're not wearing 12 bright, competing colors at once.

As far as trends go, try to stick to trends with longer shelf lives. For instance, nautical styles are listed as trends, but they never really go out of style. But skinny pants and high-waisted pants both fell out of style within a few months. The fashion magazines are raving for sky-high platforms right now, but instead of a leather sandal with a 5" chunky wooden heel, you can scale it down with a 3 1/2 inch peep toe slingback wedge like this. Or if you love the 60's mod look, go for a cropped jacket instead of a Sedgwick-esque mini shift dress. And if you're dying for a bubble skirt, go with a fuller skirt, like this one. The key is taking a detail from a trend and applying it in small doses to a professional outfit.

There are a lot of ways you can incorporate your casual wardrobe into your professional one (especially when it comes to jewelry and accessories), but there are a number of things you must avoid. One of the best ways to lose the respect of your boss, co-workers and subjects is by dressing too provocatively (it'll also encourage office gossip, never a good thing). You want people to think of you as the whip-smart, hard working new kid, not the girl who's always showing her boobs in too-tight, low cut tops. If you're worried that that shirt might show a bit too much cleavage, throw a cami underneath. Before you leave the house, make sure that you can walk, sit and stretch comfortably without exposing a lot of skin. And finally, I think that tank tops are always inappropriate for a professional situation. You'll have to be the judge as to whether a sleeveless top is acceptable, but it's never a bad idea to bring along a cardigan, wrap or jacket just in case.

When it comes down to it, you want people to associate you with your skills and ability and not your clothes. Save the crazy trends, sexy outfits and wild accessories for nights and weekends. But don't feel compelled to totally stifle your fashion personality, just try to adapt it to the professional world. And good luck with your new job!

Have any other tips or suggestions for Jen? Leave them in the comments!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mineral Makeup Comparison: Alima Satin Matte Foundation

You know you're dealing with bad foundation when you find yourself frantically applying layer after layer because you can't seem to get any coverage. Finally you look closely enough to realize that you look like you've dipped your face into a thick layer of flesh colored chalk, but that your blemishes, circles and imperfections are still totally visible.

This is what happened to me when I gave Alima's Satin Matte Foundation a try. It looked like the makeup particles were so offended to be sitting on my skin that they refused to blend, preferring to sit in thick layer on the top of my skin in protest. Was my skin too oily in places? Too dry in others? What did I do to deserve this?

In my experience, many powder foundations need a little time to mix with your natural oils and blend naturally with your skin tone and texture, so I gave myself some time for this to (hopefully) kick in. A few hours later, it looked like I hadn't applied any foundation at all, and my skin was shinier than usual. I'm not sure where it all went, but it certainly kicked my oil glands into overdrive.

My problems with Alima began even before I'd even applied any product to my face. With my cool toned pale skin, I ordered samples in the three lightest cool shades. I normally wear the lightest or second lightest shade in foundations, so I was sure that one of the three would match my coloring, but they were much paler than I'd expected, and none of them looked right. The lightest shades, Lily and Gardenia, are truly Casper pale, and combined with the chalkiness, I looked sickly.

Of course, I can only speak for myself when it comes to colors, so they could very well match other skin tones, but I'd recommend trying more than 3 shades before you buy. Samples cost $1.50 for 1/4 teaspoon of product.

I don't want to totally hate on Alima, as my experience with them wasn't completely negative. First, their customer service is very friendly, prompt and helpful, always a plus when you're dealing with an online-only company. Second, their foundation doesn't contain bismuth oxychloride, talc or fragrances, all of which are known to irritate sensitive skin, and I was happy not to have an allergic reaction from the product. Finally, the prices are reasonable ($18.50 for 10 grams of product), comparable to drugstore mineral makeup brands.

Of course, when it comes down to it, who wants to spend any money on a product that sucks? I know that some readers have had good experiences with the line (I can't speak to products other than the foundation), and I'm curious to hear what you liked about it, and why it's worked well for you. And if you totally hate it... well, I can sympathize.