While most people can’t wake up without their morning jolt of caffeine, my day doesn’t start until I apply my first coat of mascara. I know it sounds funny, but my eyes just don’t feel truly awake until their lashes have been curled and lifted out of the way of their droopy, sleep-laden lids.
Yet while I am religiously loyal to the god of mascara, I am otherwise somewhat minimalistic when it comes to my beauty routine. I’ll wear eye shadow once in awhile, especially when dressing up. But otherwise, I live the typical busy life of a college gal, so I like my look to be elegant yet simple. As such, I usually won’t leave the house without wearing my two makeup essentials: mascara and foundation. But you’d be hard-pressed to see me in extreme makeup on any given Sunday.
So when I got the assignment to explore how to achieve the following tricky makeup looks—smoky eye, red lips and cat eyes—I was excited to explore these daring looks and step outside of my comfort zone. I realized that since I don’t wear pounds of makeup on a daily basis, I was indeed the ideal candidate to accept this mission.
Since I wasn’t particularly daring in my makeup sense before going into this assignment, I was a member of an ever-growing tribe: women who don’t think they can work these daring makeup looks that celebs rock on the red carpet. But that was about to change.
Rather than simply learning about these looks and relaying some dry tips you could find elsewhere, my dear reader, I decided to start a little competition with myself.
My mission: Achieve three tricky makeup looks in three days without spending a dime.
My method: Hit up well-known makeup chains and department stores in search of a free makeover, without revealing my identity as a reporter. After a bit of preliminary research, I learned that a few select stores offer free makeup services and/or host occasional events with free consultations, so I decided to hit them up.
Turns out that most store employees can’t speak to the press without permission from the head of public relations, so I decided to make this fun and go undercover (hence why all stores I visited and all employees I spoke to will remain anonymous).
On top of that, I would talk to a professional makeup artist to get some expert tips along the way. Tune into the end of this article for some expert advice from nationally acclaimed makeup artist Dani Wagener.
Did I succeed? How did I look? Come along, dear friends, grab some popcorn and get ready for some red carpet-worthy looks!
Day 1: Smoky eye…not for the faint of heart
I was pretty excited to try out this look. I’d always seen smoky eyes on the red carpets and in magazines, and they always looked fabulous—especially when worn with edge and confidence. But I was also a bit unsure of the end result: Would I look like a raccoon gone bad or a vivacious vedette (that’s French for star, my dear)?
I walked into the makeup store—which shall go unnamed—and told the consultant, Laura*, I wanted to experiment with a smoky eye. “What kind of smoky eye were you thinking?,” she asked. Uhh, a smoky one?, I thought to myself. Who knew there were so many different kinds? We looked at the options: varying color palettes in shades of black, purple and grey, and after some contemplation, the purple spoke to me, so I chose accordingly.
At first, I was a bit intimidated by the harsh look the makeup was creating on my normally clean canvas. The smoky eye always looks a little scary before it’s done being applied, Laura reassured me, and started to work. And it’s certainly not a look for the faint of heart, she mused.
She started by brushing cream shadow onto my lids, and I felt a new me emerge. This was a bold, daring me who would go for this kind of look; not the boring plain Jane whose everyday look rarely varies.
“So is the smoky eye a really popular look for your clients?” I asked casually. Laura said this is the most popular eye look because you can get so much variety out of it: You can choose the traditional black smoky eye or a more unique color like the purple I’d chosen.
Laura continued to brush on eye shadow and explained that she was gently patting on the darker colors so they wouldn’t bleed into the others. She topped off the look with some waterproof liquid liner and a heavy coat of mascara on my top and bottom lashes. As she stood back and admired the effect the mascara had on my lashes, Laura jokingly informed me that I have “bi*chy lashes.” Bi*chy in this case turned out to be a compliment, meaning my lashes really stood out and possessed that extra bit of ‘va va voom.’
When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t know what to think at first. I definitely looked different. But was that good? I’m usually resistant to change, but decided I was going to like it. Sure, it was different than my normal look, but my eyes were so defined, their green color simply radiant, and I looked like I meant business.
So I took on a character; I became what the makeup wanted me to be. I was confident, and I walked through that mall with a bit more pep in my step than usual.
The verdict: The look is better worn at night when done dramatically, but I still liked it. It made me feel edgy and helped me stand out. Sure, it took me 15 minutes to wipe it all off that night, but it was worth it!
Day 2: Cat eyes…oh my!
I set out in search of a cat-eye look. I’d read about a Laura Mercier cosmetics event going on at a local department store so I set up an appointment and headed on over to the mall early afternoon. Another day heading out sans mascara; another day feeling naked.
Before heading out, I had a chat with Boston-based makeup artist, Dani Wagener, who told me the cat-eye looks great in a number of ways. Wagener recommended trying a neutral lid and black liner, so when my makeup artist Monica* asked me if I wanted lots of shadow or if I preferred the liner as the focal point of my look, I opted for the latter. I wanted my cat-eye to take center stage, after all.
Monica started to apply a plethora of makeup to my face. There was loads of eye liner, a few smatterings of shadow and lots of mascara. Throughout the process, Monica expertly outlined a winged liner and adjusted it as needed. We decided to take it in a bit because it looked a bit too dramatic for daytime. She topped it off with lots of mascara, and a little extra pampering. Turns out I was about to get more than I had bargained for today, no pun intended. Not only did she create my cat-eye look, but she applied some bronzer, blush and lip gloss to top off the look.
When the moment of revelation arrived, I was pretty excited. I looked in the mirror and liked what I saw. I felt polished, pretty and less dramatic than I had with the smoky eye. I had a nice glow and I walked away happy, pampered and confident, off for a day of running errands. Check the video demonstrations below for more help with the whole cat-eye look.
The verdict: I felt less out of place with the cat eye than the smoky eye. It was a bit less dramatic and made me feel elegant yet mysterious.
Day 4: Voulez-vous le rouge?
Another day; another look. Today I psyched myself up to go into the red…lips, that is. I’ll admit it, this was probably the look I was least excited about. I’m not one for bold lip looks and typically stick to my glosses or tinted balms when I want to add a splash of color. But I was up for the challenge.
I told makeup artist, Tina*, I was looking to spice things up and wanted to experiment with red lips. I decided to go with a darker red than Tina had originally suggested because I wasn’t up for that drastic a step. Baby steps, my love.
To start, Tina had me rub on some glossy balm to prime the lips, helping to remove any potential flakes of dry skin. After I dobbed the balm off with a tissue, Tina proceeded to outline my lips with a pencil to make it easier to fill in the color, then started to apply Nars “Red lizard” lipstick to my lips. To help ensure a long-lasting finish, she blended it with a brush.
Before I knew it, I was done! I looked in the mirror and was a bit taken aback at first. But it looked pretty good; different from what I normally go for, but good all the same. Tina said the bright color helped make my eyes pop and she was right. It really is amazing how highlighting one feature can really make the others look more pronounced.
The verdict: This was the quickest of the three looks. I liked that—it was the kind of look I could do fairly quickly on my way to school or work. I felt like I stood out in a crowd with this look and it gave me a bit of je ne sais quoi. Sure, it wasn’t really a look I’d wear every day, but if I was feeling a bit spicy, I’d go for it.
So what did I learn from this whole experience (besides how much fun it is to get free makeovers)? I learned that edgy makeup is a lot like daring clothing: If you don’t have the confidence to match the raw materials, you’re going to get drowned out by the bold white noise. But if you wear the look with confidence, you start to own it, not the other way around. As an experienced makeup artist, Wagener has more than a bit of know-how in this field. She suggests having fun with your look and not taking it too seriously: “I don’t really believe in any rules in makeup.”
And don’t be afraid to work a dramatic look during the daytime. “Makeup that’s done well should work at any time of the day,” Wagener says. But if you’re trying a new trend in makeup, similar to clothing, remember one key thing: keep it simple.
Here are Wagener’s tips on making all three of these looks work for you, followed by some product recommendations:
Contrary to popular belief, you can make this look work for the daytime, and to do so, Wagener recommends trying a modified smoky eye. With the modified smoky, you’ll want to opt for a cleaner lid and try some deeper color in your lash line.
Nars Duo Brousse or Cordura, $32, Sephora
Wagener recommends combining this look and red lips for a more signature look à la the ‘30s and ‘40s. To make the winged eyeliner the focus of your look, go neutral with your eye shadow.
shu uemura Painting Liner in Night Blue, $24, shuuemura-usa.com
Always stick with a rich color and stay away from shades that head into the orange territory.
Fair skin: Nars Jungle Red Lipstick, $24, Nordstrom
Medium skin: MAC Amplified Lipstick Dubonnet, $14, maccosmetics.com
Dark skin: shu uemura Rouge Unlimited 295, $23, shuuemura-usa.com
Rule to live by in general: In order to balance out your look, always wear makeup on each of your features when you’re trying one of these bold looks.
Want to recreate these looks at home? Check out these tutorials:
*Name has been changed
Dani Wagener, Boston-based makeup artist