My first impressions of makeup were formed in the early ’90s, which is probably why I’m so afraid of it. It wasn’t a great time to be too young to understand trends, but old enough to know when a look is too much: a violin teacher with aggressively permed hair gathered in banana clips, a neighbor whose heavy-handed approach to mascara made her eyelashes look like winter trees. It was a bad era for beauty, at least in the Midwest where I grew up. Dark blue eyeshadow was big for the better part of a decade, and I assure you that it looks good on almost nobody — especially not when it’s spackled from lashline to browbone. I decided at a tender age that makeup made most people look worse, and not better.

kelli no makeup

Now I think makeup is great… on other people. But when it comes to my personal get-ready routine, it’s rare you’ll find me reaching for brushes, powders or creams to enhance my perfectly-good-enough face. Sure I OWN mascara, foundation, highlighters and the whole lot. I happen to know my way around a brow pencil too. But most days, I leave the house with nothing but a layer of moisturizer and some lipstick. If I’m going out, I might sweep a coat of mascara over my lashes, magnified to great effect by the ’80s granny glasses I’ve been wearing since my teens. I’ll wear a product or two but rarely more at once; unless it’s a special occasion, you can bet I’m leaving most of my makeup bag far away from my precious punim.

But since I just turned 30 and Father Time is beginning to make me look like a tired mom (even though I don’t have kids, wtf), I figured there was no time like the present to try something new. Specifically, a full face of makeup on a normal workday. In the daylight. For all to see.



Brit + Co news editor and makeup whiz Kimberly Wang instructed me to bring my supplies to the office so she could take on my transformation. I used to work for a media company that also housed a number of fashion magazines, so I happen to have an okay-sized cosmetics collection made up of industry freebies that I don’t really know how to use.


Once I arrived at the office, Kim had me wash my hands and apply primer “so that your makeup doesn’t slide off your face.” Then I put on a layer of foundation — also with my hands, since I don’t really have appropriate brushes or sponges (shrug). Kim washed the two brushes I own (sidenote: you need to clean makeup brushes?) and had me suck in my cheeks while she applied bronzer to the hollows. Then she dabbed liquid illuminator to the tops of my cheekbones and coral blush in between.


Then it was time to do my eyes. My eye pencil sharpener was broken, so Kim hacked a solution out of a weird little eyeliner brush I forgot I had and my blunt-tipped charcoal liner. She drew on cute cat eye flicks before patting bronze and plummy shadows onto my lids and filling in my brows with powder. I put on the one mascara I own (that pink tube with the green cap, you know the one) and Revlon Super Lustrous lippy in Berry Haute. My transformation was complete.

hello chase bank

Though my day-to-day look is fairly androgynous, a full face of makeup didn’t make me feel as much like a pageant queen as I thought it would. My friends on Instagram were pleasantly surprised when I selfied my “new” face; Brit + Co associate style editor (and makeup savant) Beth Wischnia noticed the makeover immediately during our cross-country video conference chat later that day. Later when I went out on the town to meet a friend for dinner, I didn’t even feel self-conscious.

But it still didn’t feel like me, either. This might sound weird, but I feel uncomfortable looking “pretty.” I don’t mind looking “weird” or “edgy” or even “boyish,” but “pretty” makes me sad… it’s a word for other girls, and connotes a softness and feminine-ness that doesn’t jive with the way I see myself. The older I get and the more the roundness of my face gives way to sharp angles, the more I realize I feel at home in a kind of beauty that looks less put together and inviting. Less girl, more woman and, yeah, occasionally boi.

oh look a building

But I won’t deny that I photographed better with this makeup look: brighter, more awake. And I liked looking like I put an effort into my appearance, which I probably don’t usually. I don’t know whether I have the patience to attempt this kind of maintenance on a regular basis, but Kim did a great job and I’d be open to trying a similar look for my next big event (hello, wedding season). Makeup, maybe we can be friends?

Have you tried a dramatic new look lately? Tell us about it @BritandCo!