Privilege Blog

On The Tyranny Of The Cosmetics Counter, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:00am

I have red, swollen, chafed, eyelids. And I blame it on my High WASP upbringing.

As I have said before, my ilk live in deeply ingrained fear of behaving “inappropriately.” Now, this doesn’t mean acting in a “ladylike” manner per se. The full definition of “appropriate” would require terabytes of data storage, since it’s replete with “If/Thens.” More fully described, “If this is true, then that is appropriate. If this other thing is true, then that other thing is also appropriate.”

The problem is that we don’t always know, even we who wrote the sometimes silly code, just which behavior applies where. And occasionally we make mistakes with lasting consequences.

I have recently learned that it is appropriate to raise one’s voice in department stores.

The other day I was dawdling in Saks San Francisco, killing some time. This is also known to the cognoscenti as buying eye makeup. Poppy Buxom’s posts had gotten me interested in lilac eyeshadow. Like mom used to wear. I asked the nice lady behind the Chanel counter if I might give it a whirl.

The next thing I knew a tall, slender, Eastern European man was shaking his head at me in disapproval. “You cannot wear purple,” he said. “No one is USED to you in purple.” Aiyeeee! He was telling me I risked the inappropriate! How did he know my deepest fears?

He began to apply pale, pale blue to my eyelid. He applied it for a LONG time. He applied it with force. Then brown, for contouring. Which again, went on for a LONG time. With force. Sort of like he was attempting to shove the color into my skin, removing a layer of cells in the process. I have had people do my makeup many times, over the years. It’s my secret compulsion. I’m rational about clothes and wholly irrational about face painting and its potential for beautification. And I am telling you. This was not normal.

I sat there. I said nothing. The implanting of pigment into my eyelids went on so long I realized I’d be late for my dinner appointment. High WASPs hate to be late, but not, apparently, as much as they hate to offend tall Eastern European men at Chanel counters. I sat there some more. He put blush on my cheeks and very shiny gloss on my lips.

I stood up. I thanked him. I actually thanked him. I wiped my lips off, and my cheeks, in an act of supreme defiance.

Then I bought the damn eyeshadows. I cannot deconstruct this behavior. Evidently it runs too deep.

Have a wonderful weekend. If you see a woman wandering about the San Francisco Bay Area with A&D ointment on her eyelids, that’s me. I’m pretending it’s a trend. “The neutral eye, in a matte gloss, restrained, but hinting at celebratory depths. Oxymorons are SO on trend. An end-of-recession, post-millenial look….” Feel free to participate. I have recovered my impunity, just a little too late. And I still want lilac. Tarnation.

*For those of you similarly afflicted, the blue was Lagoon. The brown, Trace. Highlighter, Beige. All in the Ombre Essential line. Highly rated by Allure Magazine. Sigh.

**I hope the A&D isn’t left over from someone’s long ago diaper rash. Then I’d be in even bigger trouble.

42 Responses

  1. What is it about those cosmetics counters that turns me into a sniveling lemming? I would go with the lilac!

  2. I agree with Belle de Ville. If you asked for Lilac he should have let you try it so that you could see for yourself if you liked it or not.
    I love that you wiped your lips off and your cheeks!

  3. You should run to Walgreen's or (shudder) Wal-Mart where you could buy any damn color you want and no one would say "boo". Not only that, you would be able to buy it cheaply! A WASP trait if ever there was one!

    Happy Weekend!

  4. I am definitely not done with this adventure. In all honesty, I thought it was funny when I woke up with bad eyelids. Served me right. And the guy had better eyebrows than me, so I listened to him.

  5. feel your pain, yet laughed at the line about how he was trying to redesign your pigmentation. I am so scared of cosmetics people and their alchemy, they are true Harry Potters!



  6. You are so funny! I do have to say that aquaphor often works wonders that A&D just can't! Lilac is my FAVORITE color for walls, chairs, clothes, makeup!

  7. I forgot to share my own awful cosmetic experience with a Lancôme sales rep. She promised to try the Smokey eyes look on me…and left me looking like a raccoon! She kept insisting that I looked "mysteriousç2, and all I could think of was that I just looked like a blue eyed raccoon ;)

  8. Ha! Marcela, blue-eyed raccoons are pretty mysterious, no? Queen Bee, I swear the next time I get intimidated I'm going to use the Harry Potter line. Henley, thanks for the tip on Aquaphor.

  9. Hi LPC,

    I cringe when I hear stories such as this. They are very common. Might I suggest, that you form a relationship with an esthetician that you trust or one that you can relate to age-wise/style-wise. A good esthetician is trained in make-up application in addition to skincare. In the safety and privacy of a treatment room you can experiment with lots of different looks that best suit you. Many of my clients are timid about make-up and feel much safer in this environment. It takes a while to build a relationship but I've seen women seriously blossom with the right care. I, myself am far too shy to have make-up applied on me in a public setting. Just an idea for you to ponder.


  10. There is a Catch-22 with purple-toned eye shadows. On one hand, there is a shade for everyone that looks beautiful on them. On the other hand, purple pigments have more of a tendency to irritate skin than any other. Not only have I read that, but I've experienced it too. The only two times I've had an allergic reaction to an eye shadow was when I wore a purple shade.

  11. Oh you do make me smile = buy the lilac if you want though PLEASE… I have a lilac eyeshadwo from Laura Mercier and it is really great – only I can't for the life of me remember the name and it has rubbed off – sorry! x

  12. Too funny! I just, for the first time ever, allowed someone to try out foundation (Lancome — they're doing a great gift promotion right now) on me while I perched on a swivelly chair in front of the world. And she was Eastern European as well (and definitely had better eyebrows than mine, 'tho hers were mostly pencilled on) — told me quite confidently that the colour I've been wearing (sold to me not too long ago by one of her confederates) was wrong, just wrong. Sounds as if I got off easy, though (and at least I went home with a pack of useful samples and the ubiquitous gift makeup bag).

  13. LPC, Hilarious. We are oftentimes mystified by Eastern European men. BTW did he have a ponytail? This is probably Chanel's secret sales weapon. LOL! Try tea bags on the eyelids. They are soothing. Loved your post. The fourth canary.

  14. Ouch…I'd be annoyed if he used force, and a rash not good…and lilac…so pretty with your colouring.
    I'd complain to Saks…they'll listen.
    If you have a MAC counter they usually are very gentle and have an "eye" for what works…take care and rest your eyes.

  15. Ha. This is so funny. Today I can up you tho. Moved my daughter from her dorm at McGill into an apt. (Flew in from California to do this!). The apt was FILTHY and the girl in her room called TODAY to ask if she could stay 5 more days. She hasn't moved out! Then the landlord came and said do WE want him to ask her to leave? AND can I give him a check for 4 months and oh he was LATE by an hour and only came because we called and REMINDED him of the appointment. Thanks I feel better now. I guess this is more than fear of being inappropriate…..

  16. I'm sorry but your post made me laugh. I wanted to see a picture… I was really hoping for one! I hope your eyes are better soon. As one with extremely dry skin I apply vitamin E oil all over my face. Nothing else feels as good. I remember my grandmother telling me the secret to her youthful appearance was her oily skin. I'm hoping this will be my secret!

  17. Three years ago I developed an allergy to all frosted/shimmer shadows. Hope your reaction is just from the overly enthusiastic application of shadow and not a true allergy. Next time, stand your ground and at least try the purple!

  18. Oh, this made me laugh! I, too, am intimidated by those commissioned people behind the cosmetic counter. If they try to get me to buy something that I don't like, I tell them I have to go outside and see it in the natural light. Then I run for it. Remember that you CAN return cosmetics.

  19. LPC, I'm so sad that you have been in bad hands. It is inappropriate to use force for a make up application. Avene skin care may help to soothe your irritated eye area
    Take care.

  20. Thank you for this sad, yet funny post! Chanel has lovely colors. There is a very pale, frozen-like powder pink I just bought. You might like it too. You are very brave to let someone put makeup on you in public, I would not allow anyone to touch my face, not even behind closed doors. Maybe I´ll have to work this through in therapy too ; )!

  21. oh jeez – I've been lurking too long and this post did it for me. Your stories are so familiar even though I have never been High wasp – instead, I was raised mid-wealth-new-england-wasp-lost-in-small-town-midwest (yeah, not easy). And yet, many of your stories about things just like this are awfully familiar. I, too, have bought makeup I had no plans to ever wear … bronzers (?!!), blue eyeshadow (a huge mistake for a brunette), something called an eyeshadow transformer (which works as well as water with said eyeshadow for $22 more than tap), because … well I really don't know but somehow you nailed it.

  22. 'Fraid I've never had a 100% good experience at department store cosmetic stands. Drugstore make up does me fine and no one gets to intimidate or abuse me in any way. Even if I don't raise my voice.

  23. Last time I had my makeup done, I looked like Tinkerbell with a bad case of pink eye. It was horrible.

  24. Ugh, I cannot tell you how many times I have politely endured stuff like this because of manners. And then thanked the person who inflicted whatever it was upon me.
    Get the lilac; it will be beautiful.

  25. Time to slice up a cucumber and rest with a slice on each eye, my dear.

    I feel for you – I'm naturally a "don't rock the boat" type – but a combination of living with my in-your-face spouse for 11 1/2 years, along with age (and probably my mother's genes, who would NEVER have just sat there), I'm getting better. I like to think I would have told him to stop and certainly wouldn't have bought the makeup. Which irritates my face under the best of circumstances – I'll have to tell you about my close encounter with some Elizabeth Arden sometime.

  26. Gardener's cottage – Good idea. I am not shy, just terrified of people who are cooler than me.
    Sunshine – Thanks for the tip. I will watch out.
    Semi – Shhhh. I went back today and exchange it all:).
    Mater – Yeah, can you believe I didn't even get any samples?
    Anon – Tea bags. OK.

  27. Hostess – I would up at Nars, an old favorite:).
    Anon – He was asking you to do the landlord work and you had to pay him? Eek.
    EntertainingMom – Your laughter redeems the experience somewhat….
    DocP – to all shimmer. Oh lordy. I hope not.
    Lindy – You made me laugh really hard. The thought of one of us making a dash for it out of the glamorous Saks entrance in SF. Ha!
    Anon – Thank you.
    Bumby – Thank you.
    Anon – Got it.
    Metscan – Come to California, you and I can work on your therapy together:).

  28. Alexandra – Oh don't get me started on bronzers. I so don't get the point of them! I hope you have made your way out of the small town, if that's what you decided. Thank you for delurking – this also helps redeem my eyelid horrors.
    Shelley – Yes, it's funny how that works. But I had found a guy called Robert who was fantastic, who had been at the Chanel counter. Found out they kicked him upstairs to the Fifth Avenue personal shopper club…
    Jill – Ha! Wings and all?
    Maureen – Yes. Well. We don't want to be rude…
    Jan – Do tell. My bet is the combo of you and Elizabeth Arden made for a good story…

  29. I would much rather wear A&D ointment on my eyes than wear blue eyeshadow. Lilac would be lovely on you. I love lilac and aubergine shades and yet purple pencils turn my eyes bright red. I must be allergic.

  30. I love browsing the cosmetic counters. I can relate to your experience. I don't know how I can go from "Oh I'm just looking" to pulling out my credit card and making a regretful purchase.

  31. My skin is so sensitive … which is why I rarely wear eye shadow. I'd need to borrow the A&D if I did …

  32. I'm allergic to Chanel eyeshadow – the only brand that bothers me. I use MAC, Smashbox and Laura Mercier without difficulty. Try using Cortaid cream on your eyelids. The irritation is probably allergic dermatitis, and the cream should take care of it quickly.

  33. I recently tried a different Dior mascara from the one I had been using. For some unknown reason, I developed a terrible allergy to the new mascara – red, swollen eyes and the skin around then became flaky. All in all, very unattractive. In addition to ceasing use of the offending mascara, going sans mascara for a few days, I also used some all natural allergy eye drops. I don't have the name with me but they should be easy to find. At my Walgreens they were with all of the other eye drops and are clearly identified as the "all natural" ones.

    Good luck!

  34. I just had a rather aggressive make up application experience at that exact Chanel counter. Odd! And like you, I will be going back tomorrow to exchange all that I bought.

  35. Practice this, "Paint me, don't faint me, big boy. Mitts off the lids." I think High WASPS can do Raymond Chandler noir very well.

  36. *Why* is it we are so intimidated by the individuals staffing beauty counters? Is it a weakness or personal failing that we might not feel perfect as we are sans makeup? That we might want to actually purchase something to enhance our exterior?

    This really details precisely the emotion many of us experience, it would make an *excellent* article for one of the lady's mags or online sites. Just a suggestion Miss LPC.

    Grins & Giggles,

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