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.