Open up Instagram right now, and it isn’t necessarily clear that ‘no make-up make-up’ was the beauty trend of 2018. From the ubiquitous summer festival panic over non-biodegradable glitter, to the classic ‘Love Island’ look –hair extensions, a tan, and in some cases cosmetic surgery – looks that deviate from ‘natural’ are clearly here to stay.
So why have the mysterious phrases ‘glass skin’ and ‘serum layering’ crept into both our vocabularies and our feeds, to compete with the triple-cut-crease and the art of the contour? Why did designers from Brandon Maxwell to Tibi head for minimalist makeup on the Spring 2019 runways?
It could be a backlash against extensive, hour-long make-up routines. Not likely, though, when achieving the healthily-oily, luminescent ‘glass skin’ takes at least half an hour. Indeed, many skincare influencers, boasting cupboards overflowing with Mario Badescu, Glossier, and Egyptian Magic, have routines just as extravagant as many make-up gurus – Google ‘rose quartz facial roller’ for some simple evidence.
Some have suggested it’s about individuality –brands which sell the minimalist make-up look, such as Glossier and Flesh Beauty, both frequently refer to the consumer directly in their marketing: Glossier’s perfume is simply called ‘You,’ whilst Flesh Beauty, launched only in June 2018, boasts the tagline ‘Our favourite colour is you.’
In contrast to contouring kits and lip plumpers, these strategies promise us that we’re good enough just as we are. They help us not to build a new version of ourselves, but rather to make what we already are just that tiny bit better.
But there’s a catch. Sure, brands themselves are catering to diverse audiences – 40+ foundations is more the norm than the exception now, and I was overjoyed, as I expect many were, to finally find a drugstore foundation that actually matched my skin tone last summer.
I worry, though, about the nature of the minimalist make-up trend in general. Google is somewhat coy about what a trend actually is, defining it simply as a ‘fashion’, and the latter as’ a popular or the latest style of clothing, hair, decoration, or behaviour.’ But it seems to me that the defining feature of a trend is that it is something concrete, something we can point to and say ‘That’s it, that right there is what I want to have, to look like, or to do.’ There’s a sense in which this is always going to be exclusive. A trend is necessarily one thing, not everything. And in the case of minimalist make-up, this trend is still encouraging us to look one particular way.
In the bigger picture, this is no better or worse than any other trend – simply, something that, for a time, if fashionable. The minimalist make-up trend, just as much as the full face, is an invitation not so much to come as you are, but to come as you would rather be. That’s something which, in today’s perfection-demanding world, we ought to remember.