Throughout the pandemic, my makeup routine has taken a real back seat and I know I'm not alone. This past year, 55% of women have reduced how frequently they wear makeup, according to Mintel, and a whip-round my friends confirms they've binned the contents of their makeup bags. We have shifted our focus onto skincare (sales of which rose to £1.19 billion in 2020) and DIY hair products in lieu of our trusty hairdressers and colourists. Personally, the initial lockdown made me feel lazy and deflated; fashioning a feline flick or an Instagram-worthy cut crease was the last thing I wanted to do. I suddenly had more thinking time on my hands, too, and I began to question who I really wear makeup for.
Last summer, I even penned an article on how, when restrictions eventually lifted, I would never go back to heavy makeup. As a beauty obsessive, it was a big deal. I discovered that I can be au naturel without disliking what I see in the mirror. I learned to properly take care of and even accept my acne-prone skin, and I realised that absolutely no one was bothered I hadn't filled in my eyebrows on Zoom.
But I'm about to do a total 180.
The thing is, while I haven't been wearing makeup, I've also ditched proper clothes. What are jeans if not modern-day shackles? I won't get into bras. It has felt silly, not to mention uncomfortable, to get dressed properly to sit cross-legged on the floor with my laptop perched precariously in my lap. I felt the same about makeup but now, into our third nationwide lockdown, makeup feels like an escape. Talking to my friends, I'm not the only one who thinks the pandemic has almost rendered us a shell of our former selves or even diluted our identity somehow. I want all of those things back. For me, makeup is an obvious place to start; it's the easiest and most enjoyable mode of expression, and I'm going to use it as a tool of self-rediscovery.
There's a box under my bed filled to the brim with out-there eyeshadow palettes, gothic lipsticks and pots of glitter I've never touched. I squirrel them away with the intention of breaking into them one day, perhaps on New Year's Eve or another special occasion. But if the pandemic has taught me anything, it's that it's foolish to save things for best. Atop the mountain of makeup products is the Urban Decay Naked Wild West Eyeshadow Palette, a new favourite among makeup artists and beauty lovers. This week, I picked the most obnoxious two shades out of 12 hues: a matte green cyan and shimmer-packed turquoise. I'm notoriously afraid of colour (what do you expect from a former emo kid) and usually only wear black winged liner. The highly pigmented tones were entirely out of my comfort zone but wearing them felt like putting two fingers up to the past year – a year which has played out in greyscale.
Cruelty-free makeup artist Gabriella Floyd is known for her bold beauty looks on Instagram. Like me, she thinks that more of us will use daring makeup post-quarantine as a way of colouring over the gloomy year we've had. "A lot of us have spent so much time in lockdown rocking the no-makeup look and living in pyjamas every day, so it's no wonder people are so excited to both look and feel like their best selves," she tells me. "Personally, I never cleared time for my own makeup but now I'm making the effort to wake up early and give myself time to self-glam." While classic golds and smoky kohls are going nowhere, Gabriella predicts we'll fall for luminescent shades (she rates Fenty Beauty's Shimmer Skinstick in Unicorn) and opaque pastel tones, like lilac, inspired by Dua Lipa. With face masks a firm fixture in our day-to-day lives for the foreseeable future, it's all about the eyes. "I know lots of people have been practising their eyeliner at home, too, so I think we'll see lots of fierce looks after lockdown," says Gabriella.
Scrolling through Instagram, I've noticed that popular makeup artists like Katie Jane Hughes, May and Nikita Baffour have also dialled up their looks recently, with two-tone lips, graphic eyeliner and intense blush reigning supreme. It's the same on TikTok, where Abby Roberts is the app's makeup OG and boasts an impressive 16 million followers. From eyeshadow lipstick to flamethrower eyeliner, no makeup look has been too creative in lockdown. I can't help but think this audacious makeup is a physical rejection of the boredom and monotony we've pretty much all felt during the pandemic.
Leaning towards bolder beauty looks in the face of adversity is not new, though. The 'lipstick effect' proves that people tend to buy more beauty products during a recession, as makeup is typically seen as an affordable luxury. The psychology behind the phenomenon makes perfect sense. Not only does makeup help many of us feel a little more 'normal' in difficult times but it has a very real effect on our self-esteem, personality and attitudes. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that the notion of wearing makeup to be presentable to the outside world is outdated. Wearing or not wearing makeup is a personal choice. But god, does it make me feel optimistic.
I'm not as skilled as the talented makeup artists in this feature (the graphic eye look took me around 40 minutes to perfect) but I've made a promise to no longer save striking makeup for momentous events. Provided everything goes to plan, from June onwards the box under my bed will finally see the light of day. Going forward, each and every one of my makeup looks will complement my newfound freedom.
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