Stealth and Statement Makeup
While doing colour analysis, I spend a lot of time around makeup. While I was swatching, testing, and applying makeup, I started to wonder. What separates normal, average, seen-it-everywhere makeup from totally great makeup? My perspective on what makes the difference.
Before we begin: please don’t think makeup for PCA is obligatory in any way. It’s not. You’ll still look great without it. But when a client tells me ‘I don’t wear makeup, so I don’t need to try’, I always ask ‘But don’t you want to see what’s possible?’ After all, it comes with my service. This is your chance to try things that we know will work. And if you still don’t like it, no problem. We can wipe it off.)
Of course, the first answer is the right colours. When makeup products are made of the colours belong in your face, only then can they make believable additions to your face.
Knowledge about the shapes and planes comes into it too. Knowing where to put colour accents, place highlighter or concealer – ultimately, great makeup is just customization. This takes skill and practice. Liquid liner can be tricky, but you’ll get it once you try it a couple times. And blending is not nearly as hard as it’s made out to be: everybody can take a clean fluffy brush and go over until the edges are no longer visible. The hardest part is bringing up the patience to do it for long enough. If blending still isn’t something you seem to get right often enough, it’s probably because you apply makeup in low and/or yellow lighting. What looks blended in your bathroom mirror can still look unblended in daylight.
But there is one more thing that elevates makeup from everyday to great: knowing the difference between stealth and statement. This is the secret to balanced makeup.
Some aspects of makeup are naturally stealthy. Eyebrows, for instance. When overdone, whether because they were made too dark, too thin, or too ‘Instagrammy’ (= too square), they start to overshadow the face. I don’t want to have a conversation with your eyebrows. I want to have a conversation with you.
Yet you don’t want to leave your eyebrows out of the game. Accentuating them can do wonders for your face. Underdone brows cannot frame the face and the eyes. They tell us too little about where to look, like the guiding lines that direct the viewer’s gaze onto our eyes, not unlike the lights at the either side of a landing strip. They need to be accentuated just enough to guide our gaze without us realizing they are there. Only those that are aware of what makeup can do, will recognize it for what it is. Stealth makeup.
A statement needs context, otherwise it becomes meaningless
which is why this quote is a bit of a joke
The most obvious example of statement makeup is a bold lip. No stealth here – everybody can see it’s makeup. But in the case of lips, that’s not a bad thing. As long as the colour is good and the shape belongs into the face, we’re only that much happier to look at you. You cared about yourself, and you made an effort for us. It’s positive and interesting.
As with everything about your look, you can decide how much, or if any, of a statement you’d like to make. The no-makeup makeup look is the perfect example of stealth makeup only.
Going with statement makeup only has less practical value, because it looks like, well, (unskilled) drag queen makeup. By the way, nobody can beat the drag queens on YouTube for technique – they are among the highest skilled people I’ve ever seen. If you want to learn more about makeup technique, I recommend checking them out. But unless you are going for that particular drag look, don’t overstate your makeup.
Good candidates for stealth makeup are: base (foundation and whatever else you use, primer, powder etc.), bronzer, contour, highlighter, blush and brows.
Good candidates for statement makeup are: lips, eyeliner, eye shadow, and lashes. Like I said above: you can apply all these as stealth makeup too. Minimal liner and a tinted balm are practical, and easy and can definitely have a place in your makeup looks ‘wardrobe’.
But if you like to make a statement: pick lips or eyes, and go for it. Take it as far as you like. But don’t choose both. This is where the old advice comes from: wear only bold makeup on your eyes, or your lips. Never both.
Personally, I both agree and disagree. In principle, yes. One statement at a time works best. Going for two or more will just result in noise. On the other hand, you will want to have a balance between your stealth and statement makeup. A statement needs context – otherwise it becomes meaningless.
So the bolder your statement makeup, the more present your stealth makeup needs to be to still have that balance. The dark smokey eye + nude lip is the perfect example of taking the ‘one-statement only’ rule too far, and losing that balance. We get eyes at a thousand volts – and nothing else too look at. Like losing the backup vocals in a song, it’s a step back. The context gets lost. The eyes become disembodied (‘Caspar the friendly ghost’) and all other features are hard to focus on.
When you want to go for that eye statement, which could just be heavy lashes, heavy or winged liner, or dark eye shadow, or a combination, opt for a modest colour on your lips instead (along with the other usual suspects of stealth makeup). It will support your face, and help to direct the viewer’s gaze easily and comfortably onto your eyes. Which is just what we want when wearing makeup.
Personally, I like to wear heavy lashes (my natural ones, no fake) for a statement. To be frank, that look started out as an accident. Whenever I put on mascara, I could never make it work as stealth makeup, unless I wiped off three quarters of what I had just applied. My lashes are long, straight and they sort of lean down – when covered with mascara, they look heavy. Normally, you’d say curl your lashes, and indeed that helps – for two minutes. They just uncurl themselves. So I decided to work with it instead, having my lashes be a statement, and all other (eye) makeup in stealth mode.
Likewise, a bold lip will require some support from stealth makeup, including the eyes this time. On a side note: a bold lip, when within the limits of your Season, will not claim all attention and overpower your eyes – this holds true for all Seasons, whether you are Bright Winter or Soft Autumn. It’s the magic of colour-analyzed makeup: when the lip colour fits right into your face, the eyes are only enhanced.
Being aware of stealth and statement effects of your makeup, gives you more control over the impact your makeup has. Balanced makeup looks intentional, intellilgent, and self-aware, and a big step up from copying everybody else.
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