This Book Gave Me A Style Crisis!

DO I look expensive? I don't look expensive, do I?
Publish date:
September 7, 2012

One of the great things about my job is that PR people are always sending me books to read. One of the terrible things about my job is that I have a huge pile of books in my office, shaming me, staring me down. I love to read, of course, but sometimes, spending endless hours scrolling through Pinterest feels like a better use of time.

Maybe I'm exaggerating when I say this book gave me a style crisis. It was a bit of a perfect storm: I've been in the death grips of what I like to call a "style malaise" for months. I turn 29 next Thursday, and then this book came along and really rattled my cage.

"How To Look Expensive" is a title that, truthfully, I don't care for. Probably just because I've watched every season of "Australia's Next Top Model," and "expensive" was judge Alex Perry's favorite adjective. The book was written by Andrea Pomerantz Lustig -- what a great name! -- beauty editor from Glamour (and former beauty editor at Cosmopolitan). The chapters range from haircut to hair color, from skincare to make-up to maintenance, and it's packed with information. It's a pretty serious beauty bible, if you ask me.

I think the thing that really pushed my buttons, though, was the breakdown at the end of each chapter. There are two lists. On one side, "___ that makes you look like you don't have a dime." On the other, "____ that makes you look like a million bucks." Here are some examples.

Hair color that makes you look like you don't have a dime:

* Streaky, striped highlights

* Highlights without lowlights (the giant highlight syndrome)

* Solid, shoe-polish hair color

* Over-the-top, look-at-me hair color

* Hair color so perfect it looks fake

* Platinum, overbleached blonde

* Hair color too far from your natural hue, with obvious roots to prove it

* Red hair that's dull and faded

* Ashy, mousy brown hair that doesn't enhance your skin tone

* Color that clashes with your skin tone

Makeup that makes you look like you don't have a dime:

* Foundation that doesn't match your skin tone -- it's too orange, too dark, too light, too pink, or not blended

* Powder overload -- there's no radiance left

* Streaky eighties' style blush

* Bronzer that makes you look orange or muddy

* Harsh eye shadow that's not blended

* Warpaint -- dark eye makeup surrounding your eyes actually makes them look tinier

* Clumpy, spiderlike lashes

* Porn-star lip gloss

* Visibly lined lips

* Lipstick on dry, flaky lips

OK, so I really don't like the "This is WRONG" vibe, but if you can detach and not take it personally, how many of these things apply to you?

I have to raise my hand on a lot of these. "Over-the-top, look-at-me hair color"? Yeah girl, my hair was pink-violet-raspberry-fuchsia for YEARS. "Platinum, over bleached blonde"? Yes. In fact, the only reason my hair is back to its natural-ish color is because my hair kept breaking from years and years of abuse. Let's not even get into "hair color too far from your natural hue"!

As for the make-up section… Well, "powder overload" sums up my daily look. My skin is so oily that I definitely tend to err on the matte, and perhaps a little dry-looking, side. "Warpaint" and "clumpy, spiderlike lashes"? Yes. A trillion times yes.

Some of these things can be chalked up to habit. I feel naked without the blackest liquid liner I can find, extreme eyelashes and some kind of dramatic hair statement. That's just how I've always done things. But it's important to evolve and evaluate our choices, whether they're a habit or not. And as much as I loathe the idea of "being too old" for something, there are some things that I feel I've simply grown out of. Pink hair, for example.

I went back to black in February of this year. Before that, I had been rotating between raspberry and white hair for as long as I can remember. But one day in February, I walked in the front door, pointed to my head and said to my husband, "I don't need this anymore. The attention I get from my pink hair… I just don't need it. I'm done."

Maybe some of this stuff is a hangover from my goth days, when it was always about looking DIFFERENT. It was so overwhelmingly important to me that people would immediately know I was not like them. I don't know why this was an issue for me. Maybe because I felt so alienated that I decided if I was going to be "weird," I'd do it on my own terms. My piercings, my tattoos, my platform New Rock boots, my stripy stockings… Even though at the time I had my reasons and my justifications, I can look back on it now and honestly say it was mostly about looking different.

So as much as I love a black cat-eye, maybe it's time to try using another color. How would it look in brown or plum? Maybe I don't need to do full-on nighttime makeup during the day. As much as I adore blue-black hair dye, maybe I could mix a few different shades to give my hair more dimension. Maybe I could try a foundation with a more "natural" finish, even though the idea kind of grosses me out.

My style evolution is in full swing. I just had my hair cut into a lob (a long bob) and I'm rocking the hell out of a bright pink lip on a daily basis. It feels good. I have the urge to sell 95% of my wardrobe and start again, but we'll see what happens. I bought clothes at J.Crew the other day, guys! J.CREW!

J.Crew or not, I will never have cookie-cutter catalogue style. (Yeah, in a lot of ways, I still need to be "different".) I'm not trying to cram myself into a box, or become more conservative. Really, this is about a truthful exploration of my style, and how it's changing over time.

I'm getting older, and I think it's important to continue to evolve. In some ways, I'd love to stay 23 forever, or at least have skin that looked that way, but I know that is an impossibility. I am starting to get creases at the corners of my mouth from smiling, and my eyes crinkle when I laugh.

I probably won't be giving up my bunny ears anytime soon, though.

How has your style changed over time? Or do you stick steadfastly to what worked for you when you were 18?