WFH culture has zapped the mojo out of make-up routines

In my youth, I was experimental with make-up, but as an adult, I settled – as most people do – into a pattern.

Everything was anchored around red lipstick. I wore foundation, two different concealers, brow gel, mascara, blusher and a touch of highlighter and shimmering eyeshadow every day.

As a staunch feminist, I was confident that I did all this for myself, not anyone else’s pleasure, so I reasoned that working from home would not change my relationship with make-up. It did not quite work out like that.

After just a few days, I had abandoned everything but the lip.

It wasn’t that no one saw me except my nearest and dearest. In fact, I was more visible than ever, thanks to seemingly endless Zoom calls.

And it wasn’t that my skin was markedly better as a result of staying home. The stress and lack of sleep were causing eczema, hormonal breakouts and dark circles that a raccoon would envy.

A lot of it came down to the explosion of usual routines – not least, having nowhere to go.

Applying a full face of make-up to commute three steps to my desk seemed faintly ridiculous and, anyway, what did time even mean?

An Influenster survey suggests that most people have changed their make-up habits due to the pandemic.

Fifty-seven per cent of its more than 1,000 respondents were consistently wearing less make-up and 21 per cent ditched it entirely.

“I truly didn’t touch my make-up for three months. In fact, I put them all in the fridge in the hopes of extending their shelf life,” says writer and digital marketeer Faz Gaffa-Marsh.

And public relations maven Diana Ong says: “I missed my make-up. I had such a sense of guilt when I looked at them – like, ‘Oh poor babies. I’ve been neglecting you.’

“I liked wearing make-up sometimes for happy hour sessions or meetings over Zoom, or put on a lipstick for no reason other than feeling like it. But the amount of make-up I used definitely went down.”

Conversely – as with 8 per cent of survey respondents – make-up artist Andrea Claire increased her usage of cosmetics while working from home.

“This time hasn’t affected my relationship with make-up because make-up and I have always been best friends,” she says.

During the circuit breaker, she even started an Instagram project called Covid Self-Portraits in which she experimented with products to showcase her skills.

“Creative minds need to create,” she points out. Within her circles, make-up sales went up with plenty of clients reaching out for her beauty shopping lists, she adds.

From a consumer’s point of view, the biggest change lies in where people spend our dollars: online.

Net-a-porter reported a huge increase in make-up sales for May, with the biggest growth coming from foundation – sales were up 109 per cent from last year.

That makes intuitive sense – pre-pandemic, there were not many people who would have confidently tried on foundation without swatching it on skin. Now, they have no other option.

It is also hard to see how IRL (in real life) make-up retail will survive the pandemic.

While it is both practical and pleasurable to go into a store, see how something shimmers on skin and take it home immediately, who will risk dipping their fingers into communal pots and palettes in the foreseeable future?

To that end, as Sephora reopened its stores, it figured out smart ways to replicate swatching with in-app services such as the augmented reality Virtual Artist, a Scan-toInteract function that allows customers to learn more about any product and complimentary Zoom consultations.

All that said, the Influenster survey suggests that 24 per cent of people will not be returning to IRL shopping. That goes up to 30 per cent if sampling and swatching are not allowed.

What about whether people will go back to wearing make-up as they did before once they have somewhere to go?

Ms Claire points out that after major crises, lipstick sales typically increase – a much-studied economic phenomenon known as the lipstick effect.

Ms Gaffa-Marsh is not sure what will happen when things go back to normal – whatever that means.

She does admit: “When I do get my face done up like I did last weekend for a shoot, it feels like a treat.”

All of which brings me back to my pout: Why did the red lip remain while everything else vanished?

For me, it is a symbol of everything good that the pandemic has brought – the chance to assess what people value and what they do not.

I don’t care much about mascara or elaborate eye make-up, but red lipstick is a joy – part of my identity even.

This is the make-up I wear for myself: a flourish and a frivolity, completely unnecessary, but oh so enjoyable. And couldn’t we all do with a bit more of that these days?

• This story originally appeared in Female magazine. For more on the next big names and ideas in fashion and the local creative scene, bookmark, follow @sfemale_singapore on Instagram and pick up the August 2020 edition out now on newsstands.

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