The Cost of Looking Natural, Vol. I

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Image via Glamour FR

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by Leandra Medine
November 12, 2013
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How much do you spend to look like the purest version of yourself?

My gauge of what constitutes natural is probably very different from yours. This is chiefly because I am not a makeup person, which isn’t to say that I can’t use the aid of a thick, black mascara or an expensive contour brush – believe me, I can – and often, I do. But if I’m going to get really honest with myself, I’d far prefer to withstand dark under eye circles and perpetually chapped lips if it means saving twenty of those precious morning minutes. Especially when that time can be applied toward improving the outwardly seeming minutiae bound to my outfit.

As a result of my lackadaisical beauty approach, most days I am mistaken for a teenage boy. It’s kind of great though not necessarily intentional, so if and when I decide to rectify the variables that feed that misconception, I probably wrongly never approach my makeup cabinet. It’s always right back to my closet, where the identities of 50+ different individuals sit quietly, sometimes languishing, waiting to assume their roles, using me as the performative vessel.

The thing about my closet and the comprehensive list of roles that it encompasses is that all of those identities have one ingredient in common: they’re always supposed to look natural.

That word, “natural,” is an interesting one to tether to fashion. If you consult a thesaurus about its synonyms it might divulge a list of terms that will include the likes of “quotidian” and “commonplace.” Or, in pointing to the alternate definition of natural it might suggest ones like “innate,” “instinctive,” and so forth. Though the latter certainly fares better, neither really make for a spectacular dressing formula. Where Merriam-Webster is concerned, to be natural is to be fifteen different meanings. The most accurate ones for the purpose of my life include begotten, growing without human care (like my bikini line), true to nature, and “an off-white or beige color” which is eerily on point when considering my skin tone right now.

Where these definitions fail is in my liberally replacing the context of nature with effortlessness. So what I’m really wondering when canvassing the cost of looking natural is actually the cost of looking like I didn’t try at all. And ultimately, that figure wavers.

Today for example, I’m wearing a denim mini skirt from Zara which cost me $49.90. My sweater is a men’s black cashmere crew neck from Uniqlo which retailed for $89.90, my black tights are by Hue, which I bought as part of a double package for $18 (that makes them $9) and my boots are navy blue patent leather wunderkinds, also from Zara, which cost $159.90. My jacket is from H&M’s Isabel Marant collab and retails for $149 so that’s a total of $457.70 to look “natural.”

But what about on another day? When I have been thoroughly blinded by the label and therefore tricked into spending upward of $1,000 on a pair of theoretical Isabel Marant boots because they were so French I’d have been an ass not to buy myself that sense of citizen — and proprietor — ship. That already doubles my personal cost of looking natural and I haven’t even gotten to that sweater, from Yoox, which was 75% off but still considerably more expensive than its Uniqlo-branded counterpart.

While the effect remains the same, the dollar amount escalates and when I’m forced to think about it, that seems disconcerting. If I can spend $450 or $4500 (budget limitations aside) to look natural-as-mandated-by-me, I can easily reduce or inflate that cost, which brings up a more important question: is the cost of looking effortless even measured in dollars to begin with?

I do believe that once again, it all boils down to swagger.

REPLIES
  • Anne

    yes,..indeed, the great irony,.. “effortless” requires the most effort

  • http://sarahbolton.net/ Sarah B.

    My favorite quote from I-don’t-remember-where is “I don’t wear makeup to look beautiful. I wear makeup to look interesting.” I’ve never developed an ability to spend money and time to make it look like I spent no money or time. I bought a “neutral” eye shadow palette once and ended up giving it away because I still just looked like I wasn’t wearing any makeup. I thought, wow I could save those 15 minutes in the morning and use them for sleep.

  • Loser

    great point leandra! the amount of resources that has gone into making me look “natural” is cukkoooooooo like youuuuuuuuuu suckkkkkkkk

    • Liz

      I’m confused.

      • Lana

        troll–dont feed it

  • http://www.fancyalterego.wordpress.com/ Heather P.

    Add to all of this the amount of time I spend at the salon, in the gym, in front of a magnified mirror plucking my brows, and polishing my nails with the latest “I don’t give a damn” shade…and it not only costs me in money…it costs me in time, too.

    It’s a twisted game we play, isn’t it?

  • Liz

    All of my efforts to be more like a French girl are making me less like a French girl.

  • Perry

    Question: do you still work with Naomi Shon?

    • Leandra Medine

      I do! Not as often though

  • kristina

    The lack of interest in makeup and “natural” look will drastically change with age.

    • Sandy

      Why?

      • Anna Louise

        Actually, no. I was a real make-up freak in my teens and early twenties, tapered off, and then realized I really liked the look of actual skin on people. Once you get to middle age your eyesight starts to go and then you can’t see the flaws as well and if you can’t see it yourself, you really don’t give a damn. The great actress and director Liv Ullman at least once stated in an interview that she didn’t wear make-up in her films so people could truly see her emotions, blushes and all. Now creams and lotions…..can’t quite get past that, but I have eczema, so applied skin care has always been kind of a part of what I am (my pitiful attempt to justify the extensive investment in wrinkle, anti-sag and anti-puff creams!)

  • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

    Well, I’m supposed to wear some make up to go easy on other people’s eyes out there – so I do (pushing 41 does that to you). There’s this thing called “natural make up” which makes my face look better (more evenly colored) but not really wholly plastered (the eye bags don’t disappear). On a good day, I may use some mascara and a lip balm and that would be it – I become a better natural version of myself (maybe). :-)
    The reason I don’t do more is I have never learnt to in a professional-looking way, but that’s OK …

    What I will never get used to is wearing so called “natural” colors (which are basically just beige) to express the naturalness of one’s looks … Don’t like them at all. In my humble opinion, simple shapes, strong monocolors and good materials suffice to convey that natural feeling – that’s how I like my tall, unskinny body to look like, anyway.

    And to put a twist to it, I love to play with tiny silver jewellery …

  • Maral Halliyeva

    You are such a great writer, I look forward to my bloglovin feed every morning so I can read you posts! You do a brilliant job of making people laugh, and thats not even mentioning your style.
    http://www.northerlybreeze.blogspot.co.uk/

  • https://www.etsy.com/shop/amatoriaclothing Amatoria Clothing

    This need to look… no FEEL natural is why I never wear a lot of accessories. When I start throwing on necklaces and earrings, I just feel like I am trying to hard. I think the whole key to “French” or “European” style is that it is effortless. A stylish person doesn’t have to stress about what to wear, because it is in their nature. The reason why those Parisian girls look “Cool” is because they authentically don’t give a shit. They wear what they want, not what they think others will like.

  • Ivana Džidić

    once could debate forever what natural really means…

  • Cecilie Elizabeth Løvaas

    My “effortless, & natural” look at 43 takes up most of my spare time… My Norwegian, “amazonian” (a more flattering word for tall & broad-shouldered) frame suddenly needs more effort to be “tight & young”, my skin needs more help to look “natural & youthful” -every kind of serum & Cream that promise things going north instead of south has been used – twice a day, every kind of rejuvenating, oxygenating and whatnots Treatment has been tested, every vitamin thought of has been Taken, every facial and body hair has been zapped – and every kind of workout; yoga, pilates – you name it – has been done. My closed is now carefully planned with natural, effortless & classy clothes – yet youthful (at my Age “youthful” is used a lot..), my blond long hair is neatly kept with careful highlights to cover the yet again “lightblond” (read: grey..) – and my daily calorie inntake is met by One serious under-nail Cleansing.. All for the natural, effortless & timeless Scandinavian beauty…..

    • Anna Louise

      I hear you cousin.

  • brunetteletters

    my ‘natural’ look consists of only mascara and a little blush… also, a little red lipstick never hurt anyone!
    http://brunettelettersblog.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.believebeautonomy.com/ Asia Monique Mays

    Its interesting how attaining a great natural look takes time to primp. Me natural means that my eyebrows are still done, primer is still applied, face still contoured and lips flushed with a “natural” hue.

    I can’t help it.

    -Asia Monique
    http://believebeautonomy.com

  • http://www.farandwildjewelry.com/ abigail lind

    does effortless really even exist anymore? i think that with the constant barrage of social media and the editorialization of the blogosphere effortless has become the minion of chic and therefore some degree of effort. there are billion dollar beauty and fashion industries built on the idea that we are willing to expend a fair amount of time, money, and effort to look effortless. that said i’d pay good money for my effortless to be a little more daria werbowy and a little less daria.

    abigail
    http://www.farandwildjewelry.com

  • Laura Mitchell

    Looking effortless is a measure of taste, quality and swagger.

  • (BAD) Blog About Design

    Me too! My favorite looks are from Singles Korea, Vogue China, and Glamour FR :)

    Check out the BAD blog…

    http://design-bad.blogspot.com

  • http://www.lezu.com/ L’ezu

    Minimalism is so it right now! Phoebe Philo gets it. These leather ballet flats totally fit into this trend. Get them now at lezu.com!

    • Cat

      No they don’t. Go away.

  • Teddy

    to die for, i’m loving the new balance shoes

  • http://www.lezu.com/ L’ezu

    Those Reed Krakoff booties are amazing! Love innovative shoes. http://www.lezu.com

  • CDJ

    I spend a lot of money on makeup to make it look like I’m not wearing any.

  • ayşe

    simple and a bit of masculine look makes all women so cool.

    pastelizyum.blogspot.com

  • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

    Aside from feeling “natural” by New Balance sneakers make me feel “smarter,” like I contribute to the Paris Review or something. Sorta sad, but true.

  • http://wittyfashionista.blogspot.com/ Witty Fashionista

    I love reading your posts! You always look great the way you are, even though some people are trying to troll here and say the opposite lol
    Having perfect skin and taking caring of your body is a lot harder than putting makeup on. I always admire the girls that have no need to wear foundation since their skin is perfect. Mine is far from it :)

    xoxo
    Victoria

  • Emily

    I’ve been wearing “natural-looking” makeup and “effortlessly-styled” outfits for so long now that when I go bare-faced or opt for flats and basics, people don’t recognise me. If you take natural to mean “typical” or “ingrained” then natural for me is makeup and heels. Sure it takes time and money, but it gives me a sense of pride and motivation.

  • Ariana Estrello

    Swagger seems to always be the deciding factor, doesn’t it?

    And since we are talking about natural swagger….what men’s denim jacket do you recommend? The women’s section seems to want me to look like a ‘teenage dream’ with their tight denim jackets that are not long enough to cover any womanly figure I might have hidden under all of the natural-ness of layering.

  • dorothy

    As always, to look effortless, pretend like you’re French and wear the same outfit repeatedly (which itself is truly effortless!)

    http://www.coveruncover.com

  • 33

    the basic pieces can be quite expensive. I thought about why the basic knits, shirts, and pants can be so expensive. the only thing i can come up with is to emulate men’s price point. guys don’t buy non stop. most just buy what they need to replace a worn out one. so they justify spending $200/$300 on an item.

    maybe you can conduct a survey in your office or among your girl friends. If you have to leave everything behind, like in an emergency mandatory evac situation, that you can only have what you wear and a single handbag, what would you take with you, assuming everything you leave behind will perish?

  • Ai-Ch’ng GB

    I like this article.

    It made me stop and think… and realise that one’s “natural best” is another’s under – or over- maintenance. I have noticed, though, that the least time I spend fussing with my hair and clothes, the more people have complimented me…. Not that I posses any nonchalant style – that’s not it at all!

    For me, I feel like my “natural best” happens when I have:
    (1) had a great night’s sleep (not nearly often enough – my own fault)
    (2) squeezed in my morning exercise routine
    (3) tied my hair up in a top-knot
    (4) moisturised my face arms and legs (the only parts anyone sees) and any itchy dry areas with the same cream for everywhere
    (5) applied lip-balm or a bright lip, and
    (6) enjoyed a good breakfast and talked to and watered my plants.
    Without all of the above rituals, it doesn’t matter what I wear – makeup/no make-up/new or old clothes/comfy clothes – I feel horribly “bleuchhh” and incomplete – totally NOT my natural best. With just those six rituals completed, the day ahead is always good.

    “Natural” – for me – is doing those things that invigorate me. Fortunately, in terms of money, it’s not as much as when (in my twenties and early thirties) I relied on clothes or make-up much more to bring out what I thought was my natural best.

    However, in terms of time – it’s a whole different story! 6-8 hours for sleep, 30-40 minutes for exercise, 20 minutes for breakfast and 20 minutes for the plants, 5 minutes for the hair and “beauty” things: that’s almost 10 hours spent to feel my natural best… but now I’m 45, it feels exceptional.

  • http://newbornfanatic.wordpress.com/ Newborn Fanatic

    Definitely can’t be measured with dollars. I know many people that have the dollars to do the natural look but in some way, ends up looking frumpy instead. Definitely need some of that swagger you mentioned and a serious understanding of our body shape. :)

    https://newbornfanatic.wordpress.com/

  • http://valentinaduracinsky.blogspot.com/ Valentina Duracinsky

    very interesting… never thought about the cost of looking natural!

    Valentina

    Valentina Duracinsky Blog

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