A reader asked:
I saw your recent blog post on style essences. I am having a really hard time figuring out how my facial essence comes across. Do you have any tips?
The best way is to try out the different style essences—to see your face in the context of each style essence—take photos, and compare the results.
So basically, step one is to do your hair, makeup, jewelry, and outfit according to each essence. But how do you do that?
In this post, I’ll describe a sample look for each style essence.
Hair: Parted in the center and tied in a smooth, low bun. (Clear eyebrow gel is handy for taming flyaways.)
Earrings: Simple, with a round shape, moderate size, and precious materials—like pearls, silver or gold knots, or solitaire stones. Must be “proper”-looking: the kind of jewelry sold at a high-end store like Birks. (Not handmade or artisanal-looking.)
Makeup: Lightly applied mascara, and medium pink blush and lipstick. Groomed, moderately arched brows.
Top: Round-neck, button-front cardigan in a fine-to-medium weight and light color—blue or beige.
Think Grace Kelly.
Do you look confident, classy, elegant, subtly wealthy (“old money”), and ladylike?
If yes, you might be a classic.
If you’re not a classic, you might look: plain, boring, constrained, grandma-ish, hyper-conservative, and/or out of place (because your most prominent features are being exaggerated).
Hair: Parted in the center and slicked back into a low, completely straight ponytail.
Or, any length of hair, but blunt-cut—ends all the same length.
Earrings: Large, bold, abstract shapes in silver, gold, or bronze.
Makeup: Smokey eyes and nude lips, or winged black eyeliner and red lips. No blush. Dark, bold brows.
Top: Sharp, hip-length (or longer) blazer over a deep v-neck top—with colors either highly contrasting, like a light blazer over a dark top, or monochrome (all one color).
Think Kim Kardashian.
Do you look bold, striking, stylish, and powerful?
If yes, you might be a dramatic.
If you’re not a dramatic, you might look: washed out, like you need “more” (bolder makeup, bigger hair) to stand up to the outfit; tired, drained, and plain, as if the clothes are wearing you; plump and doughy, and/or short and squat.
Hair: Any length and style, but neatly groomed and with a headband or hair accessory. (Even better if it has a bow on it.)
Earrings: Small, round earrings (like the classic pearls or gemstones, but smaller), or bow-shaped earrings.
Makeup: Mascara, sheer pink blush, and pink lipgloss. Delicate, slightly arched brows.
Top: White or pink lace top with a Peter Pan collar.
Think Zooey Deschanel.
Do you look sweet, innocent, dainty, and youthful?
If yes, you might be an ingenue.
If you’re not an ingenue, you might look: like a grown woman playing dress-up as a little girl; inappropriate; silly, fussy, and infantile; older and plainer than you really are; and/or large and mannish.
Hair: Curled hair with a side part.
Earrings: Dangly, expensive-looking drop earrings.
Makeup: Slightly soft/smudgy dark brown eyeliner, and mascara. Deep pink-red lips with lipgloss. Lightly applied blush or bronzer. Dark, moderate- to high-arched brows.
Top: Red or purple halter top in a luxurious fabric, like silk.
Think Marilyn Monroe.
Do you look womanly, glamorous, sexy, and in control?
If yes, you might be a romantic.
If you’re not a romantic, you might look: like you’re trying too hard to be sexy; plain, like you need “more” to measure up (more hair, more curves, more makeup and jewelry—when really you just need a different outfit); awkward and gangly; sharp, and pointy; or broad, large, and/or mannish.
Hair: High ponytail with some texture, or a short bob or pixie cut.
Earrings: Medium hoops, or fun plastic shapes (fruit or lightning bolts could work).
Makeup: Colorful, graphic* makeup: Turquoise liquid liner, glitter, glossy purple lips—go wild. Bold, blunt, low-arched (somewhat straight-across) eyebrows.
*Graphic means defined and sharp-edged. Winged liquid eyeliner is graphic; smudged pencil liner is not.
Top: Striped boatneck sailor top.
Think casual Audrey Hepburn.
Do you look modern, high-energy, trendy, and youthful?
If yes, you might be a gamine.
If you’re not a gamine, you might look: plain, casual, basic (like you just picked these clothes out of a magazine or off a mannequin, because they’re trendy right now); soft and wide (because these lines don’t accomodate your curves); like you’re trying too hard to be youthful/edgy/cool.
Hair: Loose, “undone” hair.
Earrings: Large-scale drop earrings in natural materials and colors (wooden oval shapes, semi-precious stones and suede, or feathers could work).
Makeup: No-makeup makeup: brown mascara, lightly glossy nude lips, and lots of bronzer.
Top: Loose, peasant-sleeved cotton shirt with some folk-embroidered, fringed, or tasseled detail.
Do you look boho-chic, cozy, relaxed, down-to-earth, and completely comfortable in your own skin?
If yes, you might be a natural.
If you’re not a natural, you might look: Sloppy, underdressed, and way too casual (like you’ve left the house in pyjamas); extremely large and wide (because the clothes billow over the widest curves of your body); and/or like you’re playing dress-up as a hippie (and trying too hard to fit in at Coachella).
Think Stevie Nicks.
Hair: Long, loose waves.
Earrings: Long and dangly, but also thin, delicate, and gently curved. Silver with translucent semi-precious stones. Slightly antique or artisanal.
Makeup: Delicately sparkly eyeshadow, blush, and/or lipgloss. Light mascara and brows.
Top: A white camisole with a pale blue translucent shawl or scarf (or just a piece of fabric) draped across the front shoulders. Or, a somewhat loose top embroidered with iridescent sequins (must be a light color or white).
Think Cate Blanchett as an elf in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Do you look gentle, magical, otherworldly, and like an angel or mermaid?
If yes, you might be an ethereal.
If you’re not an ethereal, you might look:… Alright, I don’t have a good description for this one. You won’t look particularly “anything”; you’ll just look not ethereal. (I’ll come back to this if I think of a better way to describe it.)
- You can’t look at your face in isolation. You have to see it in context. That’s why it doesn’t work to look in the mirror and wonder “Is my face cute and innocent, or sharp and powerful, or balanced and classic (whatever that means)?” You’ll probably think “I have no idea.”
- When I talk about colors, I mean your palette’s version of that color. Since I’m a true summer, I would choose deep fuchsia lipstick—which gives the impression of a dramatic red lip, on me. Otherwise, I might mistakenly rule out the dramatic essence just because the color red looks wrong on me.
- You can probably rule out a few essences without trying them. For example, I didn’t bother trying the natural essence; I knew it would look dreadful on me. I also skipped ingenue and gamine, because I’ve always looked mature for my age, and I get a visceral “ahh get it away from me” feeling when I look at those clothes.
- When I talk about specific items, like pearl earrings or a striped boatneck top: What’s important is not the item itself, but the lines, colors, shapes, fabrics, and culturally ascribed significance—and how those factors come together in the overall look, on you. But this is hard to see without understanding the art principles, which I’ll explain later.
- You’re most likely a combination of two or three essences. (Theoretically, it’s possible for one person to have all seven essences.) So don’t expect any of the “pure essence” looks described here to be ideal on you. Your best look will require adjusting for your unique blend.
For example, here’s how I would adjust the recommended classic top/neckline.
Dramatic blend: Swap the cardigan for a collared button-down shirt (for a crisper neckline).
Romantic blend: Undo the top few cardigan buttons (for a softer and more open neckline).
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