Legendarily lauded as the pinnacle of “chic,” the so-called Parisienne version of effortless glamour engulfs fashion’s fancy. But does this maybe-mythical creature exist? And what does she mean to fashion? The meticulously drawn line of a cat eye may be easier to spot than the one that separates effort from effortless, especially in an industry all about the illusion, but there’s something more important to consider when debating the “taboos” of beauty—what can makeup do to change this culture of empty critique? From articles villifying the “try-hard” and praising the seemingly effortless, the intentions behind style and it’s relationship with the person are hardly highlighted. Generally when arguing against or for a particular beauty look, most will focus on the separation and conflict between fashion and style, but in actuality the best indicator resides in the interaction of both. Through fashion’s history and the debate of beauty, the effort for effortless proves itself warranted and valid—even valuable—to discovering the greater purpose of fashioning a face, and that’s making up your own.
Through The Looking Glass: Beauty’s History and The Past of Primping
To completely understand today’s beauty landscape, we need to dust off the powder on the surface and delve deeper into the pores of fashion’s history with makeup. In the late 19th century, the Victorian era focused on the heights of hair and constriction of clothes. No easy feat to crush bones laced up in corsetry and miniscule gloves, the arduous task of getting ready was a full-time job. For beauty, this era emphasized nude, alabaster skin and a freckled complexion or rouged cheeks signified lower status. While most may criticize makeup as superfluously superficial, the styles speak volumes of social hierarchy and especially, of women’s place within society. Not only do the layers of petticoats and corsetry boning cover and cage women’s ability to exert control over their role, the prize of pale skin also highlights the inequalities of social categories based on skin color and class difference.
Progressively, while women took over the workforce during the first World War, lost those jobs afterwards, and gained the right to vote in 1920, the popularity of makeup inflated as well. The reddened pout and darkened lid no longer read as trampy, but did the freedom from corsetry and the freedom to vote equate to the free woman? In some ways yes, but concurrently the trap of advertising set an inescapable approach commercially shifting from aspirational to the insecure. Madeline Marsh, a beauty historian, explains the 1930s advertising “rather than saying buy something that will make you feel ‘pretty’ and ‘dainty’ (1920s key advertising phrases), the ads literally say, ‘Are you smelly? Are you hairy? Do you suffer from unsightly sagginess?’” This tone shift in advertisement digs further into the rift between the creation of individualized beauty and the homogenization of faces; even in the explosion of freer makeup, the concept of one-version beauty persists. The mixture of both historical social separation and further perpetuation from advertising campaigns may explain the culture that surrounds makeup currently, exposing the source of beauty’s penchant for conformity and shame.
The Current Fashion Landscape and “Effortless Beauty”
In relation to fashion’s historical journey to now, most critics interpret the present day as lacking in a definitive “look.” In reality, that conclusion is a misrepresentation. With today’s abundance of new technology, fashion allows more choice and specialization than ever, but the established expectations of fashion—from bargain bin to haute couture—prove to be ease, versatility, and simplification. Maybe we’re in a period of aesthetic confusion, soon to reign back in and experience austere decisiveness. Not necessarily a clear vision, this criterion of ease still permeates throughout the construction at the very essence of a garment. On the grander mainstream scale, comfort will most likely not be sacrificed for fashion. Now, with the rise of “new modesty” or “new minimalism” (be wary of the fashion buzz word), there’s an increase in designers who provide clothes that have relevance in reality that still retain the fantasy.
But what is “reality” and what does that mean for makeup? In recent beauty trends, the most popular look is the “effortless” makeup and it makes sense for relevancy, due to both the ease and the allure. For a fast paced, modern lifestyle, quickness is essential. The allure lies within the name, “effortless chic”connotes a carefree spirit. She’s cool and low maintenance, and her look reflects that. The Kate Moss effect. So beautiful, she doesn’t need to try.
Popularized in the 1990s, the nude makeup look was experimentation on texture and used darker browns to emphasize and contour the face from an overlined lip to a chiseled cheek. From then to now, there have been multiple interpretations on the nude makeup from pastel frosted additions to a sultry brown smudged eyelid. More recently, “effortless chic” means something polished and undetectable. Formed by an amalgamation of makeup from street style stars, the Vogue Paris woman, and the runway’s romance with the fresh face, the minimal product-look takes skill to apply. On paper, “effortless chic” sounds like a goal everyone can desire but it actually creates many limitations when expressed in the way fashion presents it.
If used intelligently, fashion and beauty can be tools in the kit of expression and help further individuality. But, as it is often criticized for, the fashion and beauty industry also present us with ideas in ways dictation, hidden through the subtleties of those fashion catch phrases: “Effortlessly Chic/The It-Bag-Coat-Hair-Face/How to Look Your Best.” The descriptors mean well, and often offer up interesting and new concepts to aid in experimentation, but ultimately alienate the different.
Where “effortlessly chic” fails is that it ignores the effort in creating a person and doesn’t truly define itself. Most likely, the term describes “nude makeup,” but even then, that has so many different definitions. Seemingly about the “effortless chic” look, the source of desire lies within the ability to offer the multifaceted actualities of a person in physical representation. Minimal smudged eyeliner, a clean face, and slightly slouchy outfit still seem incredibly polished and beautiful juxtaposed with a sophisticated lip, delicate heel or structured coat, both mixing to portray the contrasting elements of a person. Not all perfect, not all undone.
Still, the mixtures expressed depend wholly on the person, and how her contradictions manifest. Many times the non-makeup wearer will scoff at the winged liner and bold red lip, slandering her sillyness. And vice versa. It’s a cycle that aids no one in progressing past the Victorian era. Accepting that makeup has a valuable in culture and validity in practice, starts first with understanding the variation of choice. A choice that only fails when oppressed by the influence and control of higher powers. In order to escape from the harsh, rigid lines of separation, we need to blend away the social divisions that force beauty into one definition.
Illustrative Insight into Fashion as Imagery
In fashion, the customer often forgets that the image exists as illustration. The glossy photo or runway image doesn’t depict an image of everyday reality. This heightened version involves complete calculation to be the complete vision of a designer or most importantly in this case, makeup artist. The no-makeup makeup look exemplifies the effortless chic, employing clever artistry to conceal blemishes, emphasize contours, and highlight the desired areas. The application of makeup doesn’t relate true to life, where the close up camera lens will pick up what the human eye would usually ignore.
Specifically, the human doesn’t exist as a still image, whereas fashion photography does. What is a healthy glow in reality reads as greasy sweat in a photo, and makeup solves those technical problems while contributing another facet of personality to the overall tone. The makeup can emphasize, detract, or contextualize the clothing, creating an even more specific idea of the woman that a brand wants to create. An Alexander Wang nude face looks different from a Jil Sander nude face, which serves a completely different purpose to a Versace nude face. The nude face can be accompanied by an animalistic bleached brow, bronzed cheek bones, ethereally highlighted skin, or a grungy glossed eyelid. Effortless, and Nude, mean so many different things in beauty and can be customized to clarify the subtleties of a brand, and even further, a woman.
Fashioning a Face
The aforementioned history of fashion and it’s effects on today resonate in the greater purpose of makeup as a tool in painting the new faces of feminism. The assembly of the history, the present, and the social implications of beauty expose the limitations placed on acceptance, and experimentation. Maybe it’s a matter of words, fashion’s oversimplified buzz phrases are rarely truly descriptive. When alienation masquerades as beauty, it disintegrates the makeup into nothing more than a symbol of anti-feminism pretending to be femininity. While this style of makeup may look effortless, we prefer “deceptively simple.” It’s important to realize that fashion is a matter of facades, and that no matter how it looks on the outside, it took some bit of effort to get there. Whether the physical act or the psychological confidence, the effort in “effortless” is duly appreciated. The enforcement of one type of beauty, whether “effortless chic” or not, has held power historically but in the modern age of a myriad of choices, the subjugation of the off-trend can be stopped. Take back the makeup brush and paint a creation solely sourced in self, whether explored through a bit of lip gloss or everything on the counter. Where women and makeup meet, it’s about face. A militant determination to remove the constriction and insecurities of make up. Legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath said it best in 2010 to V Magazine, “makeup looks that express your personality, your style, your attitude. The only rule is that there are no rules.” Beat sexism with a beat face. World War Werk.