Color Wars: Finding Your Shade

From Rose:

I would love to see a post about how to find the right shade of makeup- I swear I’ve bought eight red lipsticks that I thought would look good and when I got them home realized I looked terrible in it.

I don’t subscribe to any hard and fast rules about this, myself. Some people will tell you “Oh, you’re an autumn, only wear warm colors,” or “If silver looks best on you, you should only be looking for cool tones,” but I don’t buy that stuff. You may find that you’re drawn to one color family or another, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wear whatever you want. There’s another theory that you should go with your natural lip tone, but a few shades darker (Bobbi Brown is a big proponent of this theory). That’ll rarely steer you wrong, and is a great rule of thumb for interview makeup, impress-a-guy-on-the-beach makeup, and omg-she’s-totally-born-with-it makeup, but who wants to look natural all the time? Red lipstick is a powerhouse makeup decision and a birthright. Every woman should have a go-to red lipstick in her makeup drawer that she can swipe on when she’s feeling blah or femme fatale. The one one-size-fits-all tip I’ll throw out on red lipstick? Try MAC Russian Red. I’ve yet to see it look bad on someone.

I’ll admit it: a great deal of my BtVS-watching involved silent praise of SMG’s makeup artist.

And side note: I will wear any lip color. I am a total undiscriminating cosmetics slut and have absolutely no shame — and I think a lot of makeup-obsessed women are like this. It’s as if pretty, natural shades are our gateway drug and we start only being able to get high by upping the craziness factor on our shadows and lipsticks from time to time. So yeah, give me a Barbie pink gloss and I’ll sport it for a while. Vampy dark purple? Shit, I’ll try it. The only color family I avoid like the plague is nudes. I think it makes pretty much everyone look dead. Seriously, if you ever see me wearing it, I probably am; and depending on my state of consciousness you should either call 911 or Buffy Summers.

So unfortunately, since there are no hard and fast rules, there is no magic equation that will work for all women. What I can give you are tips for finding it on your own.

As always, you can shop at drugstores or you can shop at more high-end stores like Sephora or a beauty counter. The benefit of a drugstore is that lipstick is cheap and you can buy a couple and not feel the sting quite as badly. The benefit of shopping at the latter is that you can try them on and take them back if you change your mind.

Start with the swatch test: pick out some colors that you’re drawn to. Nine times out of ten you’ll be drawn to the colors you look best in. If you’re not, you just need more practice (and like I keep saying, that’s what makeup is all about). Swipe ’em on your hand, pay attention to the undertones and what you like about each. When you find two or three you’d like to try on, you can ask the person behind the counter to disinfect them for you, or do it yourself (Sephora has stations on each end-cap for just this purpose). You’ll need to spray a generous amount of alcohol into a tissue and wipe — really get at that sucker — then shave a little bit off the top with a Q-tip before applying. Do NOT apply without doing this — it’s unhygienic and everyone will look at you like you were raised in a barn.

All these shades were in my purse. Sad or AWESOME?

If you’re unsure about the color you like, walk around the mall with it for a while. Get comfortable. See how it wears. See how you like the formula.

Finally, if you do get it home and you change your mind after wearing it for a few days, you have a couple of options. You can blend it with colors you already have to get the perfect shade (I always have a neutral lipstick, brownish lip-liner, and a few bright colors on hand for this reason). Jean Godfrey-June, beauty editor at Lucky Magazine, says that a universal beauty truth is that “Any two random lipsticks you’ve ever bought – any – when combined, will always be flattering, no matter what your skin tone.” Go ahead and try — it’s pretty much foolproof. I know you want to find your lipstick holy grail. We all do. But sometimes life isn’t perfect, and you have to work with the universe to get what you want (pretty deep for a makeup blog, huh?).

If you still can’t stomach it, take it back. Sephora and almost any department store will exchange your product for you, even if you’ve already used it — and if you’re feeling truly hopeless, their salespeople will help you find a better shade. I’ll be honest — helping someone pick out a lipstick shade is only slightly above watching paint dry for any salesperson (seriously, there’s only so much “I want a red, but not too red. Kind of brownish, but not like a woody color, something more, I don’t know, pink? No, not pink…” one person can take), so use this option as a last resort. You should be able to figure this one out on your own.

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