how to skip makeup

my small vintage earring collection

Having lived in Portland for almost six years now, I'd long wondered and only lately figured out how women here—and I'm talking many, many women, more than in any other place I've lived or traveled, outside of Walloon Belgium—get away with wearing no makeup. And I'm not talking about what some call the French way of wearing makeup—"Le No Makeup Look"—so it only looks like you haven't graffitied yourself every morning. I'm talking zero makeup, nada. That's what I see most often in Portland among women of all ages. And I'm also not talking about the McMansioned, SUV-loving, no-way-in-hell-I'd-walk-all-the-way-from-the-edge-of-the-parking-lot-into-Costco suburbanites who buy their makeup in bulk at the mall but residents of Portland proper, best city for cyclists in America.

Is Portland particularly feminist compared to the rest of the West coast or East coast? I doubt it. The Northwest is known to attract granola types more comfortable on their road bikes than in high heels, but the same is true for much of the West, so that can't explain why I see so little makeup here other than perhaps the locals getting tired of looking like raccoons after the rain washes it off.

Frankly, all these fresh, clean faces humble and shame me as I unzip my eyeliner and mascara from my bag in the bathroom at work at a quarter to eight each morning, like someone about to load up with drugs, having saved myself those five precious minutes at home in the rush out the door to the bus. I don't wear much makeup compared to many women, certainly not a full face, and I use natural products rather than those laden with bunny-blinding chemicals but would still rather not wear any. It's extra time, expense, and effort, with that not-so-subtle implication that one is far less attractive and acceptable in bare face. But the biggest reason for chucking the whole practice is that men, other than drag queens and rock stars, don't wear it. For the record, I wear eyeliner and mascara because when I don't, people ask if I'm sick. Plus, I have low-grade environmental allergies that make my eyes continually bloodshot, so the warpaint helps me look less like I have pinkeye.

No, the secret to avoiding makeup as a professional woman—beyond undeservedly good skin, bone structure, and facial symmetry—is . . . great earrings. But they must be striking earrings, preferably sexy, dangly ones: handmade, vintage, estate, I-paid-a-lot-for-these-on-Etsy-and-you-won't-find-them-at-Target earrings. And they should be the right size for your frame and shape for your face. I'm petite, for example, and so can't wear gigantic earrings without looking like I'm playing dress-up. It also helps if you grew up here in the Northwest where your vampiric skin rarely sees sun and is dew-moist eight months of the year, but we all can't hail from Portland, Seattle, or Vancouver.

vintage earring collection

So here are some great places to find virtually one-of-a-kind earrings that may save you from the annoyance and ethical controversies of makeup:
  • your deceased female relatives' jewelry boxes
  • Etsy
  • eBay
  • local antique malls

The places you won't generally find good vintage jewelry unless you're extremely lucky are thrift stores and garage sales. I've tried, and jewelry is the secondhand item I always find least of. So don't bother.

Do take time developing your collection. Mine's small but, like everything else, I'd rather have a few pieces I love and wear often—each with a story—than many I care little about and never use.

(Note: Striking necklaces or head scarves also work for the same purpose if you don't like wearing earrings, but for the head scarves, at least, you'd need a large, nicely shaped skull, a broad forehead, and non-slippery hair, unlike mine.)

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