It’s 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, and I’m covered in blue eyeshadow. Tiny glitter flecks sparkle in wings that extend from the corners of my eyes and into my hairline. Were I headed out to dinner or a party, this RuPaul’s Drag Race–worthy look would be considered a lot, but my schedule is clear for the foreseeable future. Trapped indoors with Zoom meetings and Skype sessions as my sole connection to the world beyond my apartment, I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go—but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Some people have devoted their quarantine time to brushing up on Mandarin or perfecting their tree pose. I have chosen to take my makeup further than it has ever gone before.
Long before self-isolating, I was a beauty junkie. My Instagram feed is an endless stream of candy-colored eyeshadow and bejeweled lips thanks to the dozens of makeup artist accounts I currently follow. Each day I check up on the latest releases via Trendmood and tune in to lengthy tutorials from my favorite gurus like Tati Westbrook, Jackie Aina, or Mel Thompson. Even offline, my addiction is apparent; my sisters jokingly nicknamed my bedroom closet “Sephora” considering the wealth of goodies and gadgets I’d stockpiled over the years. But despite being unable to resist a new makeup purchase, my actual routine has always been relatively low-key. I can’t pull off the effortless perfection of the no-makeup look preferred by several of my colleagues, but when I get dolled up, it is never over the top. Whether I’m experimenting with a wash of bright liner or an extra-sparkly shadow topper, subtlety is key. As anyone who works in fashion can tell you, the colorful cosmetic eclecticism seen on the runways rarely translates into real life. A glance around the Vogue offices pre-pandemic would have revealed plenty of outré fashion—fuzzy Saks Potts coats, vintage Gaultier covered in optic patterns, Chopova Lowena tartans—and fashionably bare faces.
As someone who frankly does not fit into a lot of designer clothing, makeup has always been my primary form of fashion expression. I can be wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, but if I’ve got a Pat McGrath or Norvina palette at my disposal I can fill my world with color and magic. Previously, I’d attempted to keep things subtle during work hours, but ever since virtual meetings became the new normal, I’ve thrown caution to the wind.
At first, I was motivated by the anxiety that comes with having to open up on video chat. It took me four years of having an Instagram to post my first selfie, so the idea of continually being visible on the internet required an adjustment on my part. Zoom makes me wish I could redecorate my entire space and hire a Roger Deakins–level cinematographer to camp out in my apartment with me. The video renders everyone flat, grayish, and overexposed. Still, after a few days of relying on the audio-only option in our morning meetings, I decided to get over my reservations. A little foundation and some blush later, and I felt a bit better about appearing onscreen.
The makeup was a confidence boost, but why stop at feeling good when you can go for great? After a few days of “normal” makeup, I decided that I would use my time indoors to try out all the techniques and tricks I’d been absorbing online. The ritual of getting ready each morning has always been important to me (read: I take forever to get ready), but now it was amplified. I wasn’t just gearing up for a day at my desk at 1 World Trade Center; I was pushing myself to get out of bed and stop wearing the same pair of polar bear pajama pants I’d been stretching out for a week. My mission called for high-drama beauty, the kind that would test my talents and keep me invigorated. Suddenly I was re-creating a pastel purple eye I’d seen on makeup artist Nikki Wolff’s social media to chitchat with my colleagues, and testing out an orange lip inspired by Hung Vanngo. A Skype call with an interview subject called for metallic liquid liner flicked into a space-age cat-eye. On a particularly bold day, I looked to Euphoria’s in-house magician, Doniella Davy, and started drawing vibrant lines across my eyelids.
The only people who have gotten to see me are my coworkers, all of whom have been complimentary about my increasingly outlandish transformations. Positive feedback is good, but the most striking development has been what these looks have brought out in me. Like nearly everyone else on the planet, I’ve been terrified, anxious, and upset the last few weeks. The news keeps getting bleaker, and it’s hard to be motivated to do anything but mope. Beauty products aren’t a cure-all, but they’ve given me a distraction that lets me feel creative and empowered. When even stepping outside my door has felt heavy, I’ve found happiness in the perfect shade of pink lip gloss or the chromatic sheen of a highlighter. Is it frivolous? Absolutely, but it’s also one of the few things that has given me a sense of normalcy. When it’s safe to resume social activity, and everything returns to routine, I may not need to wear bright colors to pep myself up, but right now, it’s helping.
Originally Appeared on Vogue