Developing a Signature Make up Look
IMAGE CREDITS: Shanina Shaik by Casey Brooks, Ming Xi, by Richard Bakker, Kate Moss via AnotherMag, Emma Watson by Martin Schoeller.
Your signature make up look, whether it is bare skin + a red lip, a full face including highlighting and contouring or no make up at all, is the beauty equivalent of your signature look - the key representation of your personal style. Just like defining your own personal style, developing a signature make up look is a very individual process. I don’t believe in ‘style typologies’, and I’m not going to prescribe you a certain look because of your hair, skin, even your wardrobe - your unique signature make up look should depend entirely on your own definition of style, your aesthetic preferences and also your daily routine. This post is a collection of points to consider when developing a look - you can do them in the below order, or just pick and choose your own program.
To see my current signature look, click here. The title of that post is ‘My Everyday Make up Routine’ because your signature make up look is essentially your daytime look. Unless you are a hardcore night owl, you spend the majority of your time wearing your everyday make up, so don’t save the best for special occasions! Just keep in mind that, like a uniform, your signature make up look should not only express your personal style but also be low-maintenance and simple enough for your everyday activities.
Step 1: The time factor
The first thing to think about when developing any aspect of your beauty routine, whether it’s your skin care regime or a make up look, is how much time you are realistically able and willing to spend on it. If you are always pressed for time in the morning, don't aim for an elaborate routine. And: Unless you truly enjoy the process, there is no point in planning to complete a 15-step routine every single day - even if the end result expresses your style concept perfectly - you will eventually give up and be back at square one. Consider how much time your sleepy morning self would be happy to dedicate to applying make up, on top of your skin care, body and hair routine. For me that is almost precisely 7 minutes - after that I get super bored and might just skip mascara or whatever last step I had planned, just to get out of the bathroom.
Step 2: Find a skin solution
The most crucial step of your make up look, and more often than not the trickiest one to get right, is the base. Before you start choosing any other products, spend some extra time finding the perfect base for you skin type and colour. Try to pick the lightest formula you can get away with, i.e. don’t go for a heavy full-coverage foundation if you have good skin except for the occasional breakout (use concealer to cover those). Another factor to consider is the application method of the base: Do you prefer powder foundations that you can pat on or liquid formulations that you need to work in using your hands, a sponge, etc? If you have a limited budget, always prioritize your base: you can get decent versions of every other make up product at the drugstore, but if you can’t find a close match for your skin tone, it pays to spend a bit of extra money on high-end brands, which usually have a much greater selection of shades and allow you to try them on before buying. I’m super picky when it comes to choosing new base products and will usually spend about a month comparing, swatching and making lists before I settle on a product.
Click here for a summary of my typical decision-making process.
Step 3: Translate your style concept into a beauty look
After sorting out your base, you can start working on the ‘visible’ aspects of your make up - lips, cheeks and eye make up - the products that shape your look and should enhance your wardrobe and express your personal style. Essentially, this step is about creating a visual concept, so you can approach it in the same way: collect inspiration, identify main elements, create an overarching theme and fine-tune. If you have already defined a style concept for your wardrobe, look for ways to translate its main elements (e.g. classic, edgy, fifties, etc.) into a beauty look. Alternatively, instead of creating a whole new look, you can also use your current everyday make up as a starting point, by figuring out which aspects you like about it and which ones you need to tweak to better represent your overall style. The great thing about make up is that is washes off easily and you don’t need a ton of stuff to create lots of different looks. Once you have gathered a few ideas for possible make up looks, try them out one-by-one and see how they work with your uniform and perhaps also a few other of your favourite outfits (borrow make up or buy a cheap drugstore palette if you don’t have all the colours you need in your stock). After test-driving a few options you will have a much better idea of which elements complement your wardrobe and which don’t. Keep re-mixing them until you come across that one perfect look (e.g. dewy skin, highlighted cheekbones, defined eyes and bare lips or rosy cheeks, brown mascara and lined berry lips).
Step 4: Choose products and optimize your routine
Once you have developed a loose visual concept of your ideal look, the next step is finding the right products to implement it. Always keep your aim in mind: to create a fuss-free make up routine using a minimum number of steps and products, that optimally enhances your style concept and complements your wardrobe. If you are starting from scratch, write down every step you need to create your look. I also recommend that, before you start your hunt for products, you clearly identify what kind of qualities you are looking for (e.g. a long-lasting cream blush or a warm, medium-brown eyeshadow with a satin finish that blends well and doesn’t crease). Then, feel free to be a bit anal when it comes to choosing products: Read reviews, check swatches online and, if you can, always try stuff out before buying. You will be using those products close to every single day, so regardless of whether they are high-end or from the drugstore, make sure they all fit your criteria and do what you want them to do (last long, apply smoothly, give your lips the exact shade of red you were going for). If you already follow a loose routine of steps, figure out ways to optimize your process: Maybe you can use a lip and cheek stain in place of a powder blush, lip liner and lipstick. Does your everyday eye shadow have the perfect colour but take a lot of effort to blend? If you reach for it every day, it might be worth it to invest in a higher quality version.