It was the announcement of the Sewing Bee broadcasts that tipped the balance. Tuesdays, 9pm. Eight weeks. Slap-bang in the middle of my weekly SwimFit sessions. I like my exercise; it keeps me happy and energetic. That swim session is a particular favourite; we cover more than 2K in the space of an hour and I get to eat cake with impunity after work on a Tuesday.
What to do, then? Our trainer directed me to the swimming club’s ‘Masters’ squad. And what a find. A group of ‘old farts’ (as described by our coach) that range from late teens to 70+, we enthusiastically plough up and down the lanes for 90 minutes twice a week. Brief conversations are held in instalments as panting, pink-faced, we try to make out the instructions for the next set. Half of us can’t see the whiteboard without our glasses and those of us with earplugs and Blu-tac stuck in our ears can’t hear a thing either but it doesn’t stop us. I’m loving it, and will be carrying on even after the resumption of my usual session now that the Bee’s over for the year.
All of which was just fine until I looked in the mirror a couple of weeks ago. I might be buzzing with a sense of increased strength and energy but the reflection told a different story. My hair was beginning to resemble a distressed Brillo pad and I looked like an insomniac raccoon, red eyes peering out from goggle-induced bruised shadows. Even I had to concede that action was required.
I’ve never been very successful at being groomed; as I’ve explained before, it’s not something that comes easily. I know I need to look half-decent when I’m being photographed for ClothSpot but as my hair greys and my face ages it gets harder to avoid looking somehow faded. Colours that once worked for me, don’t any more. And while I’m happy to give up the hair dye and roll with the silver, the ‘in-between’ stage easily looks dishevelled, especially when wired up with regular doses of chlorine. Face and hair, then.
The hair bit…
In search of ‘fresh eyes’ on the hair front, on the recommendation of my friend Gina, I booked in with her hairdresser while visiting a couple of weeks ago. I arrived nervous, confessing that I’d probably prefer a visit to the dentist.
“Yes, other people tell me that, too” my stylist Mihai reassured – before we embarked on a brutally frank discussion about the state of my thatch, its thinness and thickness in different areas and my tatty hairline.
“You know, you can get these bits waxed off at the beautician” he suggested in reply to a request to get rid of my neck-fuzz.
“What is this ‘beautician’ thing of which you speak?” I wanted to ask, but instead enquired about best way to combat chlorine (a ‘hair mask’, apparently) before heading to the sinks.
One wash-and-head-melting-massage later, Mihai made short work of strimming my borders. He then whipped out a cut-throat blade and set about an amazingly swift and skilful razor cut – real 80s old-school. There then followed the kind of blow-dry that only hairdressers can do. I glanced warily at the hair straighteners he plugged in, but continued to trust. Which I was right to do, as he used them to conjure soft spirals that lifted my (now bouncy and swingy, no longer wiry) hair away from my face. With my curly casual bob I looked and felt like the inner ‘me’ and said so as I hugged him. My new BHF (Best Hairdresser Forever)! I don’t care if it’s a lengthy commute for a trim in a couple of months. Hair? A breeze, apparently. Now for the face.
It’ll come as no surprise that I’m a bit of a make-up slowpoke. I do have a little drawer with some once-decent pieces but they’re mostly well over a decade old; some far more. Even disregarding recommended use-by dates, what might have worked in my early forties, probably isn’t working for me now. I do have a recent lipstick or two of which I’m quite fond. However ‘friends’ have a habit of greeting me after I’ve posted blogs with “We saw you with your lipstick on, Alice” followed by gales of laughter. So yes, it’s an area of concern, yet I run scared of the made-up ladies on the make-up counters in John Lewis.
Di was the first (but not the only) reader commenting on my Style Crisis posts to suggest that I get some make-up guidance from the online tutorials produced by Look Fabulous Forever (LFF). A UK-based make-up line aimed at older women and run by the elegant Trica Cusden, LFF have received glowing reviews in their five years of existence. I’d taken Di’s advice and had indeed tried to glean some tips from their excellent videos but was stumped when it came to figuring out which colours and facial products might work best for me.
Last month I was on their website and noticed that they were offering make-overs in the pop-up shop they’re running in Wimbledon. Which happened to be just where I was heading for my haircut. What better sign could there be? Without further ado, I bravely booked myself in (£50 for 1 hour, cost refunded against purchase, FYI). The morning after my haircut, I pitched up on time to be greeted warmly by Tricia herself before being handed over to Julie, my make-up artist.
Despite my twitchy gabbling, Julie put me completely at my ease; sympathetic to my lack of confidence and patiently explaining every product she applied.
Gradually my skin was smoothed, my raccoon eyes removed and my eyebrows rejuvenated – all with a very light touch.
She explained how to make my eyes light up and also reassured me about my colour confusion.
“If we haven’t worked out whether we can wear warm or cool shades by this age, then it’s probably because we’re in-between and can cope with bits of both – just trust your judgement of what works.”
Julie then gave me a run-down of the shades of different products that worked for me. And they did! Despite my general inexpertise in this area, I did retain a few key points about the LFF approach to make-up. Two big take-aways for me were:
- Eyeliner is a ‘no’ – instead I learned to use a chiselled eyeshadow brush to press a soft line of colour into my lashlines.
- There wasn’t a molecule of face powder in evidence – and yet the look isn’t in the least shiny. (LFF aims for a ‘dewy’ look, they say).
I felt very much as if the process was working with my face to make the most of it, rather than trying to obliterate or change it. Each stage Julie stepped through was documented on a diagram together with a product list. Obviously an excellent sales tool – but also genuinely helpful.
My ClothSpot budget spent (no freebies – this isn’t a product promotion I promise) I headed off for my day out.
Back home and planning a Mother’s Day excursion I set aside an hour to wash my hair, style it and do my face. Given that all this usually happens in about ten minutes, I figured I was doing quite well.
Working even to that deadline however, things didn’t go quite as planned. That clammy ‘just got out of the shower and now I’m rushing around’ thing struck. I had a sweaty face and floppy hair before I knew it. Open the windows. Breathe. Dab. Turn the hairdryer to cold. Start again…
It was probably too late for my hair. Sadly my straighteners, in my hands, did exactly what they said on the label. I’ll need to practice that curling technique to do Mihai and my hair any justice as you’ll see from the pictures below.
The make-up seemed awfully complicated and despite my handy pictorial guide, confusion reigned. I discovered that my purchase hadn’t included the ‘Colour balance neutraliser’ required to eliminate my dark eye-rings so I improvised with concealer. I got there in the end, all in front of a mirror moved to a window as per LFF advice for maximum daylight.
I then returned to my bedroom and gave myself an enormous shock as I caught sight of my dramatic face in the dim light of my dressing table mirror. I will confess that cotton wool pads were deployed to knock things back a little. I think this was probably due to the bright sunlight where I made-up, combined with inexperience as well as not being used to seeing myself in make-up.
My second attempt for the purposes of this post went a little better. Here’s the ubiquitous before-and-after. (Look – no gurning! Imagine my restraint).
Another kind of reflection
Feedback from youngest daughter suggested I could have done with a bit more blusher colour and perhaps my lippy is a little strong. Comments invited, dare I say?
This is clearly going to take time and research – which is where those video tutorials come in handy. Lots of friends family and blog-commenters alike, have said how helpful these clips are. And they really are. LFF have a fabulous ‘pro age’ ethos as well as lovely products that seem to work well. However there is a part of me that rails against the need to bother about all this when I could be reading a book, watching a film, seeing a friend, swimming…
I’m reminded of Zadie Smith’s advice to her daughter not to spend more than 15 minutes in front of the mirror:
“I explained it to her in these terms: you are wasting time, your brother is not going to waste any time doing this. Every day of his life he will put a shirt on, he’s out the door and he doesn’t give a shit if you waste an hour and a half doing your make-up.”Zadie Smith, Edinburgh Book Festival, 2017
And yet – this is Zadie Smith speaking, the epitome of assertive style and a woman with a fabulous line in headscarves and lipstick.
The point is, there’s a balance to be struck. Since I’m in the business of finding fabrics for people (including me) to dress up in, I can hardly exempt myself from the notion that appearance matters. There’s no doubt that the attention I’ve paid to my hair and face in the last couple of weeks has boosted my confidence more than I had anticipated. And I obviously can’t take pictures wearing my latest make with a bag over my head. (Although now I mention it…)
So right now I’m doing some remedial work. It’ll take me longer than usual while I’m learning the new stuff – but hopefully it’ll be much easier once I’ve practiced a bit. Then I can get back to that book…
Skip this bit if you don’t swim!
On the basis that prevention is always better than a cure, I’ve also followed up my remodelling sessions with some research and purchases.
It turns out that my usual style of swimming goggle is notorious for bruising the eyes as they sit firmly on the orbital bones around the eye. I know that some of you swim, so let me introduce you to my Big Discovery: swim masks. (No! Not the kind that you snorkel with!) Often used by open-water swimmers for increased visibility, they’re much more forgiving than goggles as they cover a wider area, creating a gentler suction away from the eyes.
I purchased a mask to try last week and can report that it works brilliantly. My eyes are much less bruised and it withstood a 180-length session without leaking.
My second breakthrough was to buy a tube of ‘Swimcap’ cream from Philip Kingsley. All you need to do is wet your hair, apply before putting your cap on and then wash out after your swim. This, combined with a good post-colour shampoo & conditioner to take out any chlorine, has given me properly swingy hair. ‘Thrilled’ would be an understatement.
Finally…the sewing bit
Apologies if all this seems rather off-topic. I know that really, it’s an everyday tale of going to the hairdressers and getting some new make-up. Somehow though it seemed more than that – whether due to age, a forced change in habit or the arrival of spring. Does this stuff bother anyone else to the same extent? I’d love to know.
Just in case anyone was wondering, there is a sewing point to this story. It’s a very simple one but to do it justice, I gave it a ‘Part 2’. It’ll be up in the next few days. Have a great weekend!