In Which I Compare Shopping for Makeup Palettes to Attending Music Festivals

Palette-palooza is something I can get into.

Some of you are aware that I have feelings about "festival season" when it comes to the commodification of a non-beauty, non-fashion event as a marketing Disneyland for beauty and fashion brands. Music festivals are just so overwhelming and expensive, despite hosting bands I do enjoy and would like to see. However, one cannot deny their cultural imposition is a thing that is indeed happening and will probably continue to happen until people start developing a dislike for binge drinking while watching live outdoor music en masse. (So... not soon).

Until recently, I felt similarly about makeup palettes as well. Why do I need all those colors? Will everything I could feasibly need actually fit in one "kit"? They're expensive and I'm only going to use maybe two of the things in it! The parallels are endless! (Work with me here.)

And then I decided that makeup palettes aren't necessarily supposed to be entirely utilitarian in terms of practicality (much the way makeup isn't supposed to be entirely utilitarian or practical). They can be enjoyed for their usefulness or their pleasing aesthetic — it all depends on where you want to throw your money. But throw you will, since so many are often a few Jacksons and Lincolns above the impulse-purchase category.

However, the great thing about makeup palettes is that you use them over and over again — and music festivals are generally a day or two of sweaty, muddy, dehydrated sonic bliss as you are perpetually looking for some friend.

But let's run with this analogy anyway.

The Three-Band Bill

I love a three-band bill. Four is customary for a local show at a bar/club, but three is great because you get just the right amount of going-out without being fatigued and deafened by at least one band you don't really care to listen to. The Hourglass Illume Sheer Color Trio face palette is like that.

This is probably the least-intimidating palette. Why? It's barely a palette. It only has three things! But they're three crucially minimal things. You've got your bronzer, blush, and highlighter — all the bare necessities to take a standard complexion from Visa Student card to Amex Black.

Yes, it's on the pricier side, but here are the pros: incredible cream-to-satin formulas. It has that velvety texture that looks vaguely eggshell-finish on your skin while feeling like you're wearing nothing at all. The pigments pack a punch, but they're so blendable plus buildable, so you really cannot fuck this up. You can contour in the car! But I don't recommend that because safety.

The one con: it only comes in this shade group seen here.

The Day-Festival as Billed by Genre

Sometimes if you like one thing very much (like indie pop or post-punk) you wish to be immersed in it for perhaps a whole afternoon and evening, but you don't really want to have to take vacation days just to attend. Like this Flawless Contouring Palette by Laura Mercier. Most of these creamy contour shades are ones that you'll interchange seasonally, never touch, or else use them on friends and loved ones.

The three-shade contour offerings and two-shade highlighters are amazing for creating different depths on your face. You can mix the contours together for warmer or cooler tones. I like using the deeper contours around my eyes for depth and the bronze highlighter as a bronzer. The creamy formula is well pigmented, blending seamlessly into skin with your fingers. I'm all about contouring with hands because you really get a feel for where the actual hollows and peaks of your face are.

If you're contour-phobic, this palette is a great ice breaker since Laura Mercier, being all about that French girl beauty, prizes discreetness with this "everyday" contour kit. There are even handy tip sheets permanently in there that you can twist out to learn different techniques.

The Glitzy Mega-Comeback Tour

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and it also happens to be so hot right now — case in point, those "package" tours from popular boybands from 20 years ago. It's got all the glitz and can seem like a bit much, but it's all things you love, so why not? All shine all the time. The cool thing about having a highlighter palette is that — much like a contouring palette — you've got enough variation to do a whole look just with one "thing." The highlighting creams in the & Other Stories Luminising Quad are totally great for brightening pretty much anything, PLUS with a bit of bronzer for... OK, for a tiny bit of contour, but the luminizing kind!

Seriously though, the bronze shade under cheekbones, the pink in the inner corners of my eyes, and the white/champagne cream on the high points of my face are a pretty damn good stand-in for when I don't just want to conceal — I want to distract. Is there a makeup trend for distracting yet? Well, whenever Chris-Angel-technique becomes a trend, you can include this compact palette in it.

Some Sort of Electro-Fest with a Bunch of International DJs You're Not Familiar with but Have Been Told Are Good

Electronic music festivals are, in my mind, a techno-colored futuristic rave party with super-rich people with tastes in music exclusively made by machines. It seems very "neat" in a tactile way. Kind of like this totally professional Cheek Studio Palette from NARS.

Dishing out $65 on seven similar cheek colors seems a bit much, right? BUT have you ever considered that a pro palette like this NARSissist one puts your cheeks leagues ahead of other pleb cheeks with one — maybe two — different blushers on them? (When did we stop calling blush "blusher"?) If you are serious about having luminescent flushed cheeks or perfectly bronzed and sculpted face skin, this is a pro's pick.

I remember having a compact or NARS Orgasm Blush back when every magazine ever was saying it was the most "universally flattering" cheek color out there. And yes, it looked nice, but it was glitter city. The four peachy-pinky shades on the bottom do have shimmer in them, but I find that using the sheer, matte bone-colored contour shade in that upper left corner works well as a damper on that shine.

See? Look at how pro I already am. As I always say, you want your cheeks to enter a room before you do. Or something.

The Highly Sponsored Celebrity-Attended Festival with Every Band On The Radio — Even the "Cool" Radio Stations

Maybe you've not been one of these music fests, but you have most likely been inundated with the ultimate hype from all angles for weeks prior (and sometimes after) the fact. Maybe you swat it away because hype is obnoxious, but then you dip a toe in and it turns out they were not kidding about this.

Fun fact: I've been a beauty editor for many moons now and have JUST come into possession of Urban Decay's famous Naked palette — actually three of them (I skipped Naked3 because rosy eyeshadow makes my golden/olive complexion weirdly jaundiced-looking). I've been a single-shadow person forever, preferring grazing on different shades from different brands, thinking "I'm probably only going to use, like, three shades in these palettes so why bother?" Not so. Perhaps it's that presentation of choice, but having options means I'm actually doing more shit with eyeshadow than I ever have. Come for the headliners, but stay for those opening bands that you didn't expect would blow your mind. Any palette, honestly, is probably versatile enough for an eyeshadow newbie to get going on building up looks, plus gives makeup junkies a lot direction to work with. These are basically the Bob Ross of palettes, who incidentally I imagine would slay at blending these into a magnificent landscape of the eyes.

The OTHER Fest That's Kind of an Offshoot of the Aforementioned One but You're OK with It Because It's Still Got a Great Line-up and Is Slightly Cheaper

Too Faced's Chocolate Bar Eyeshadow Palette was released a couple years after the first UD Naked palette, but the concept — which includes a chocolate box theme and scented cocoa powder-based shadows — is pretty damn kitchy and clever. If you prefer your eye makeup unscented (which most of us do, I think?) this is not for you, being that it smells deliciously of cocoa powder. I don't hate that.

The shades themselves are great for that person who's super into "natural-looking" eye looks but also thinks a slightly plum-tinted brown eyeshadow constitutes a wild look. It's a classy lot of colors, y'all. For 16 shades (two of which are really big and I don't understand why) you get a lot of bang for your buck, but honestly, when makeup gets too concept-y I mentally file them as "gift territory" and never quite envision them as something I would need to buy for myself. Subsequently, someone gave this to me. BUT it's worth noting, considering it's massively popular.

It also reminds me of a time when everyone had "candy bar" cell phones. Why anyone would categorize a mobile phone that doesn't flip open as a candy bar and NOT an open-faced sandwich phone frankly is beyond me if we're insisting on food-descriptors here.

The Radio-Station-Hosted Local Fest with Some Impressive Headliners

Sometimes you don't have to budget for a great palette, same as you don't have to save up to see a few bands you really like (especially if you win tickets). In fact, just go. It's not too spendy and you're bound to have a great time. Plus, a bunch of your friends are going, and FOMO. These drugstore-level beauties are a cut above the rest in terms of lovely color and a bevy of choices and quality shadows. I'd ditch the sponge-tip applicator in favor of proper brushes and primer and you're good to go.

  • Do you guys ever analogize your makeup for other totally unrelated things? Am I over-wringing makeup here (no)?
  • Any of you feel palette-pressure because literally every YouTube makeup tutorial has them? Or are you pro-palette to the max?