Saturday, September 15, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

The New York Times examines at the downsides of "Masstige" collections, and the loss of artistic freedom that many designers must swallow if they want to collaborate with a major store like H&M, Target or Uniqlo. Also, they get paid a whole lot less than you'd think...

The Non Blonde reviews "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style," and I couldn't agree more with her observations.

I'm sick to death of widespread rumors about beauty products causing cancer. The Beauty Brains not only debunk the myth about antiperspirants causing breast cancer, they go on to explain the science of why it's totally impossible for the aluminum in antiperspirants to cause any form of cancer.

Afrobella reviews makeup removers.

Totally overwhelmed by all the fashion week coverage? Me too. That's why I was so excited to see that Omiru simplified the clothes into a list of the five most wearable trends and least wearable trends.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fall Trends: Grays

Gray is huge for fall and I couldn't be happier. It's a versatile neutral, looks good with every color, and pairs beautifully with fall's heavier fabrics like tweed, flannel and wool. I like combining different shades of gray within the same outfit, and "the more gray, the better" is my philosophy. And unlike a lot of other color trends (I'm looking at you, neon), you can be almost certain that this one will never go out of style.

Here are a few of my favorite gray pieces, all for under $100:

Banana Republic Funnel-Neck Top, $44

Old Navy Women's Suede Keyhole Flats, $19.50

Gap Military Mini Skirt, $78

American Eagle Vintage Cardigan, $49.50

Sparkle and Fade Sold Sweaterknit Tights, from Urban Outfitters, $18

Jessica Simpson Barke Pump, from Nordstrom, $88.95

Forever 21 Gathered Sleeve Cardigan, $17.80

Isaac Mizrahi for Target Merino Turtleneck Dress, $44.99

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Product Review: Trish McEvoy Protective Shield Concealer

If I've learned anything in my many years of shopping for beauty products, it's to research before you buy. How many hundreds of dollars I could have saved if I didn't cave into buying products the starry-eyed sales associates promised would change my life... now I never go into a Sephora, department store or hair salon without a list of products that come highly recommended on Makeup Alley and my favorite and most trusted beauty blogs.

A few weeks ago I realized that I really needed a new concealer, and began to do my research. The two concealers I've had for years are woefully insufficient and often cause more problems than they correct. I first bought Clinique Line Smoothing Concealer in early high school, and have repurchased for the same reason that I believe most women using Maybelline's god awful Great Lash mascara repurchase- we believe the first product we've tried is the best we'll get. And with nothing to compare it to, it was. Yet the coverage was far too light for my under-eye circles, breakouts and red patches induced by late night study sessions, stress and allergies, respectively. I'm pretty certain the non-hygienic wand applicator was spreading bacteria all over my face and the pink undertones clashed with my yellow undertoned skin.

Last year I bought MAC Studio Finish Concealer SPF 15, because I was impressed by the fairly heavy coverage, the SPF rating of 35 and the fact that it matched my skin just about perfectly. Sadly, I soon found that it dried out my skin and emphasized my drier areas, cracking and caking and making me look far older than my 21 years. No amount of moisturizer underneath would keep it from caking within a few hours of application, drawing attention to all the flaws I sought to conceal.

So I was in the market for a concealer that wouldn't dry my skin, but was also oil-free and wouldn't exacerbate breakouts. It needed to have yellow undertones and conceal under-eye circles as well as redness and pesky breakouts. It had to last all day and not melt or smear. A little high maintenance, you may say? If I'm going to be spending between $15-$25 on a product, it better be amazing.

According to Makeup Alley, Bobbi Brown's Corrector was the product I was looking for, matching all of my requirements. On a trip to my local Nordstrom, I approached the sales associate nearest to the Bobbi counter, described my concealer conundrum and asked to try it. "Are you sure about that? I don't think it's the right product for you." she replied. "Uh, well I've heard a lot of good things about it..." I said. She went on to tell me that the corrector, unlike almost all of Bobbi's other skin products, is pink, not yellow toned, and that she's heard a lot of people complain about cakeyness from it. She picked up a brush and applied a bit of product to my hand, in a few different shades. None of them matched.

At this point I was kicking myself for not writing down a list of products to try as backups, but she asked me if I'd consider another line, or if I was absolutely stuck on Bobbi. "Have you tried Trish McEvoy's products? I find that my 20-something customers adore her line." she asked. I hadn't, and she went to find a few concealers for me to try. She returned with a tin of the Trish McEvoy 'Protective Shield' Concealer and began applying it to my face with a brush. When she was finished, I checked myself out in the mirror and was floored. Everything was so... concealed! And the shade matched my skin perfectly.

I, of course, was skeptical about whether it would cake as the day went on, or dry me out, but she assured me otherwise. With Nordstrom's generous return policy, she told me that if I wasn't happy with the product for any reason, I can return it (even without a receipt) to any Nordstrom store and get a full refund. That sold me.

We began discussing application tips (as I've said many times before, my makeup application skills are seriously lacking). I told her about my concern for spreading germs and bacteria with my makeup, and said that I've always applied my concealer with my fingers. She pointed out that, unless I was my hands every time (I don't), I'm going to be spreading some germs. Additionally, some of the cakeyness problems I've been experiencing could be caused from applying too much product, and a basic concealer brush would fix the problem. Thinking of the return policy, I caved on the cheapest concealer brush on the floor- MAC's 242.

Much to my surprise, the Trish concealer (with brush) has totally exceeded my expectations in terms of performance (looks totally natural, lasts all day) and ease of application (the brush makes it a breeze). I set it with my mineral foundation and a quick swipe of MAC Blot Powder and I haven't experienced any cakeyness or dryness in the weeks I've used it.

What's your favorite concealer? Least favorite?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Britney Spears at the MTV VMA's 2007

Like thousands of other college women, at 8:55 on Sunday night, I was crammed into a dorm room with my girlfriends, anxiously awaiting the opening act of the MTV Video Music Awards. I stopped caring about MTV or their stupid awards show years ago, but this year would be different. America's favorite trainwreck, Britney Spears, would be performing for the first time since she fell from grace, married trashbag Kevin Federline, spit out two kids in two years, stopped wearing underwear and shoes, went on a diet of Cheeto's, vodka and cigarettes and limited her bathing to once a week. Would she make a triumphant comeback or would she fall flat on her face? Either way, we knew it would be incredibly entertaining.

When the camera panned to Britney at 9:01, we all gasped. And then a funny thing happened. One of my friends said, "Oh my god, she looks so fat!" A few people murmured in agreement. I said, "She's lost so much weight recently, she looks great! But bad choice of outfit, she should've worn a corset." Another friend said, "I don't care what you guys think, I'd die to have her body." There we were, six self-identified feminists from a progressive women's college, dissecting every aspect of a woman's body. Our biggest complaint about the performance was that she was clearly hammered and wasn't giving an ounce of effort into dancing or pretending to sing, but the discussions about her body (along with her hideous weave and ugly costume) lasted far longer.

I didn't think much of it at the time, but the next morning when I read the headlines ("Lard and Clear," "PORKY POP–TARD BORES AND JIGGLES LIKE JELL-O") and heard people around campus talking about how awful Britney looked, I started getting depressed about the whole situation. Why was Britney's weight (which, to anyone familiar with paparazzi photos from the last year, was way down) the topic everyone fixated on? By most objective standards, her body looked pretty damn good, especially for a woman who's just had two babies in the last couple of years.

Maybe it's because Britney's career has been based entirely on her status as a sex symbol, with her looks and provocative outfits, dancing and lyrics pushing her to pop stardom. We've never discussed her in terms of talent, so why change the standard by which she's judged?

It might be because many of us (particularly women my age who reached adolescence during Britney's reign) always felt that we had to look or act like her to be considered sexy or beautiful, and we're relishing the turning of the tables, now that she knows what it's like to be judged on impossible beauty standards.

Perhaps women really are just as catty and competitive as the stereotypes suggest, and we'll jump on the opportunity to bring another woman down.

I'm not really sure which of these answers is correct, but I think it's probably a mixture of the three. What upsets me most about this situation though is the hypocrisy of it all. As women, we so often complain about the double standards placed on us by society. We resent that the world judges us based on our looks and that we're compared to the perfect bodies of Hollywood starlets, who have the advantage of unlimited time and money to spend on looking good. We're aware of the sad fact that being thinner, taller and more beautiful would give us a leg up in just about every aspect of our lives, and that if we were men, things would be different.

Yet it's often women, not men, who can be found judging other based on looks, making snide remarks about another woman's body and holding all other women up to the same unrealistic standards of beauty. Laughing at Britney is one thing, but how often have you said or heard someone else say, "She really shouldn't be wearing that outfit with her body," "Looks like someone put on a few pounds this summer," or "He is way too good looking to be dating her." If we're going to rage against society for judging us based on our looks, we've got to stop judging each other, whether it's Britney or the girl next door. The concept of sisterhood is an outdated one, but I think that our society's standards for women won't begin to change until women themselves stop contributing to the putting down of other women.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

First Job Fashion

I've gotten a few e-mails recently from recent college grads starting their first jobs this fall with a closet full of casual clothes and a very tiny budget to shop for a professional wardrobe. I can sympathize with their dilemma, as I've had to build up a small collection of interview and internship-appropriate clothes in the last year. Shopping for professional clothes can be a humbling experience if you're a college student or recent grad on a budget, especially if you're in a major city and have recently realized that 80% of your income will go toward renting a shoebox apartment in a dumpy neighborhood. Thank you, liberal arts education.

The first step to building a work wardrobe is to find out what clothes you need. "Work-appropriate attire" can vary greatly between industries, and even between similar companies. You want to make sure you have a good feel for what's acceptable within your company, and don't start shopping until then. I bought a lot of button-down shirts, conservative heels and dress skirts before I started my internship at an advertising agency this summer, only to get on the job and find that most of the people I worked with wore jeans and casual shoes every day. The exception was when they met with clients, when suits were the norm. I also found that people in different departments or on different brands dressed differently.

My suggestion is to talk to someone at the company or in the industry and ask for advice about what clothes you'll need, but only buy a few items before you start working. Once you've been there a couple of weeks, you'll get a better feel for what you need, and you're less likely to waste money on items you won't use.

Assuming you aren't lucky enough to have a job where you can wear whatever you want every day, you probably need a lot of business or business casual clothes. Those Theory suits hanging in the windows of Bergdorf's are gorgeous, but they probably cost as much as your weekly salary. My advice is to stay away from the department stores, as they'll tempt you to spend outside of your budget. So where do you go for work-appropriate clothes you can actually afford?

Outlet malls: If you have access to a car and there's an outlet mall within a couple hours of your city, take a day trip with a couple friends and hit the outlets. I've had great luck at finding huge discounts on really high quality pieces (if you find a suit marked down from $500 too $100 and it's just a little big, buy it and tailor it), not to mention good discounts on already reasonably priced clothes.

Target: The Isaac Mizrahi line is great for reasonably priced work clothes, and you can find other staples for less (nylons, bras and underwear, socks, belts, etc). They also have a great selection of purses (though this varies by season).

Loehmann's/TJ Maxx/Marshall's/Filene's Basement: Digging through racks of discount clothes can be exhausting, but the work pays off once you score a great piece for close to nothing. The turnover is really high at these stores, so if you don't find much on your first trip, check back in a week or two and you might have better luck.

H&M: Though the quality can vary a ton, I've generally been impressed by H&M's selection of work clothes. You'll find solid basics (pencil skirts, dress pants, suit jackets) and trendier pieces to accessorize with. The big city stores get picked over quickly though, so try to find out when they're getting new shipments and shop early in the day.

Thrift stores: There are a lot of great thrift stores out there, and a few minutes of Googling will help you find the best and biggest ones in your area.

When budgeting, spend the most on pieces that you know you'll wear a ton and that won't go out of style by next season. But as I stated earlier, make sure you know for sure what those pieces will be before you buy.

Anyone else have advice for building a work wardrobe on a budget?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Beauty Standards in Magazines and Advertisements

Here are some random thoughts I've had recently about some of the photos I've been seeing in magazines.

I have the following problems with the pictures of women in magazines (both advertisements and editorial spreads):

First, these images are extremely powerful, setting the beauty standards of our society, yet the women featured very rarely reflect the looks of real women. Part of this is genetic (being naturally tall and skinny with large breasts makes you a genetic oddity), but I don't think anyone can deny the huge influence of plastic surgery on beauty standards. These days, starlets with small/normal breasts are the norm, while it's hard to find an actress over 40 with laugh lines and a full range of expressions.

Second, only certain types of beauty are considered acceptable. I wrote about this in an earlier post on women of color adopting traditionally white features through hair and skin processes (straightening and whitening) and plastic surgery. In a society as diverse as ours, it's still not common to see Asian or Middle Eastern models or spokeswomen.

And of course, plus-sized women are viewed in a totally separate category, relegated to the Lane Bryant ads stuffed in the center of the book, despite the fact that most American women are plus-size. There's no doubt that America Ferrera is a gorgeous woman, but Glamour felt compelled to airbrush 24 lbs off of her figure for a recent cover photo.

Third, corporations and magazine editors take already unrealistically beautiful bodies and make them impossibly perfect with a heavy dose of photoshopping. By this point, they become almost totally unrecognizable in comparison to their un-madeup selves.

And people wonder why women have warped body images?

You can imagine my delight last week to come across the following ad for Agent Provocateur, featuring one of my favorite actresses, Maggie Gyllenhaal (you can see the full series here):

What? A waist that hasn't been whittled down to 14 inches? Thighs that look like they could actually support a body? Smallish breasts on a non-anorexic frame? A woman with more than 3% body fat? I imagine it would be pretty shocking to flip through an issue of Vogue and come across this photo, as her realistic (and totally beautiful) body is such a stark contrast against the stick-thin models and plasticized starlets featured on every other page.

While I'm sure that they airbrushed her skin and took out cellulite (Maggie just had a baby last year, after all), I love that she still looks like herself, a real woman who hasn't succumbed to the Hollywood pressure to stay unhealthily thin. She has a very distinctive look, with her heart-shaped face and dark features, and she resembles no one but herself. Kudos to Agent Provacateur for recognizing Maggie's beauty and choosing a non-traditional spokeswoman for their brand.

While this is a good step forward, I think the America Ferrera cover proves that advertisers and editors still aren't ready to embrace a wider range of beauty, and that "natural" is still a frightening concept. Will non-traditional beauty types still sell issues and products as successfully as the flawless, airbrushed women we're used to seeing? It all comes down to the bottom line, and unless marketers believe they can improve their brand image and move merchandise with different models and spokeswomen, we won't see any large-scale shifts in beauty standards. Still, I do believe that women around the world are longing to see more images that reflect their own appearance, and that consumers will respond positively to brands that use more realistic models.