Sunday, 29 May 2011

Cosmetics Contemplations: being the belle of the ball

With the summer drawing in and exams coming to a close, the party season has found its natural partners. Balls, barbecues and parties will now start to roll in with gay abandon, but there's arguably one type of party that is harder to dress for than any other: the fancy dress ball.

Regular parties can require any sort of dress from shorts and a t-shirt to a full ballgown or tux, but these are all easy enough to achieve, even if you don't have hundreds of pounds to throw at the thing: you only have to walk into Monsoon or Moss Bros and you'll be set. But the fancy dress ball requires costumes, or masks, or for you to do something to your hair or your face, or maybe even all of the above. So much thought! So much effort!

Fear not, though. Whether you require a Supergirl costume or a cowboy suit, most fancy dress shops will be able to help you. And even if you're not into dressing up, you can always put something together from what's in your own wardrobe with a little help from your friends, and tart it all up with extra wigs or accessories. For some, being invited to a 60s,70s or 80s themed party can induce a state of panic or catatonia. But it needn't: see below for plenty of helpful hints and tips on how to get your hair and makeup just right for the occasion.

Firstly, whatever party you're headed for, get yourself down to your nearest branch of Savers, Wilkinsons, Boots, Superdrug, or whatever you have, and find yourself the biggest, cheapest makeup compact you can find, which will usually contain insane numbers of eye and lip colours. Whether you are male or female, this will be guaranteed to be able to make over your face in the wildest, wackiest and messiest of ways for fancy dress parties for years to come. While you're there, get yourself a cheap bundle of hair elastics and grips. If you're going to splash out on anything, make it hair gels and spray-in colours; unless you work in certain industries you probably don't want to still be going into work on Wednesday with purple hair.

For the 60s fancy dress party, you can probably breathe a sigh of relief. Girls can get away with a loose plait, while for guys it's the perfect excuse to grow a beard and not cut your hair for six months. Makeup for males is just not required in this scenario, although should you want to write "flower power" across your cheeks with an old lipstick, be our guest - nobody's stopping you, man. Makeup for girls will be very simple: think sunkissed glow and a hint of lipgloss. Girls also have other options: go for the Mary Quant look and you can make things more edgy with black eyeliner and a pale base (but don't go too Gothic, now). The internet is also replete with videos showing you how to get the Holly Golightly look from 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's - like this one, for instance:
In short, the 1960s philosophy seems to revolve around playing it cool: keep the look simple, and you'll wow the room (or possibly blind them with all those tie-dyes you're presumably planning on wearing).

If you've been invited to a 70s fancy dress party, don't be deterred: all you have to do is break out a pair of platforms from your Spice Girl days and make yourself a dress or a pair of trousers from your gran's old curtains. Bold patterns and flares were the order of the day back then, and fashions always come back round, so many shops will still be stocking similar things today depending on where you look. You could even just raid your own wardrobe (or, alternatively, your mum's). Abba fancy dress costumes are also not that hard to come by, and if disco's your thing, there's always glittery tat aplenty to be found in Claire's or Poundland or other equally fine establishments. Hairstyles were getting bigger and bolder (try an afro, or a burst of Farrah Fawcett style curls), so get yourself a decent hairspray that will brush out easily when you decide you no longer want to look like a Charlie's Angel. If the rollers just aren't tempting you, break out the straighteners and a forehead band for another classic 1970s look. (Boys can carry on growing their hair long, by the way - looking like a Bee Gee was all the rage, as evidenced by the photos of my father's haircut at his wedding to my mother in 1979.) 

Makeup was mainly a continuation of the tanned natural hippy look, with big smoky eyes and natural eyebrows but nude and matte elsewhere on the face. So if you're not a great makeup aficionado, you can still get stuck in: create a neutral base with concealer, foundation and powder (including on your lips) before using an eyebrow pencil the same natural colour as your brows to pencil in and accentuate what you already have. Use a brown eyeshadow all over the lid and onto the brow bone before going over the lid again with a black or dark grey shadow. Emphasise again with black liner and mascara. Feel free to use a nude lipstick or gloss if you must. (Guys: glam rock had not yet arrived, so no need to nick your girlfriend's eye makeup just yet.)

For an 80s fancy dress party, however, you can really go to town: the time of Mr Motivator, Michael Jackson, Madonna and mullets meant that big hair, bright colours and lots of glitter were all the rage for men and women. As well as going wild with the eye makeup, blush was another big fashion statement. Electric blue eyeshadow, usually with a completely opposing contrasting colour (see below), is synonymous with the Eighties, so feel free to slap it on.

Luckily, in the 1990s and beyond, we seemed to calm down a bit in our dress senses - but that's probably what makes our bodies and faces so much fun to dress when it comes to a fancy dress ball. We can become something we're not, and even something we would secretly like to be (yes - we all know just how much you wanted to dress as a member of the Village People), just for one night. Such powers of transformation, as well as being fun, can even be liberating as well.

So throw that masquerade ball mask away and get stuck into these various fancy dress themes with abandon and enthusiasm - for it's amazing, really, when we put our minds to it, what we can make ourselves become with just a little bit of innovation and creativity, and a lot of cheap glittery eyeshadow and hairspray. Follow a few of the tips above, and you too can be the belle (or indeed beau) of the fancy dress ball, walking out of the door for the night with a sense of anticipation and excitement rather than awkwardness.

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