Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by makeup—one sniff of my grandmother’s Estee Lauder fragrance and I am instantly transported back to her dressing table, bashing myself in the face with her pink talcum powder puff and sniffing her Clinique moisturizer with glee. As a teenager I veered between wearing no makeup at all and delighting in experimenting with every glittery, gothy eyeshadow and liner that came my way. Despite this fascination, I have struggled in my relationship with wearing and enjoying makeup. Some like to claim that to wear makeup is a betrayal of our feminism, others suggest that to have an interest in one’s appearance is a sign of stupidity or a lack of emotional depth. Listening to these arguments as a vulnerable and impressionable teenage girl made me wonder if I should use makeup as much as I did.
Luckily I have finally reached an age where I can happily try not to give a flying monkey about other people’s opinions on my appearance. I don’t always succeed 100% but when it comes to what I put on my face I am unflappable. My politics, my intelligence, and my feminism have nothing to do with my makeup choices, unless it comes to ensuring that I am free to do whatever I want with my face.
There is nothing I enjoy more than spending a leisurely hour lining up my makeup in front of me and slowly, meditatively painting my face. Sometimes I do it for work, sometimes I do it for going out, and sometimes I do it just because it is Sunday afternoon, I am still wearing pajamas, but I need to do something creative.
Wearing makeup has been a way in which I can express my creativity when I don’t have time to indulge in my other crafty hobbies, it has been a way for me to prepare myself for difficult days, and it was the armour I needed to confront my bully at work. I wore bright red lipstick to work every day for three weeks when I needed to build my courage to raise a grievance against my gaslighting manager.
Over the past few years I have amassed a small collection of well-loved makeup books that I have enjoyed reading, learning from, and being inspired by. They’re not all books about how to do your makeup better, or how to take better care of your skin. However, these makeup books are all inspiring in different ways and have helped me become the super proud makeup nerd that I am today.
Pretty Honest by Sali Hughes
Sali Hughes’s clear, practical advice is a highlight of this book; the fact that the tome is a delight to hold and look at is an added bonus. Hughes’s tips have helped me perfect my day-to-day face and encouraged me to spend my money wisely on low-cost hero products and a few higher-quality products that are worth the outlay.
Teenage Beauty by Bobbi Brown
This was the first beauty book I ever owned, purchased for my sister and me by our mum. It isn’t the most adventurous of books, but it contains good, solid, and practical advice aimed at encouraging young people to enjoy makeup, take care of their skin, be creative, and wear as much or as little make-up as they want. The youth club I work in recently had a pampering evening with our young people and this book was still a hit, 15 years on.
Face Paint: The Story of MakeUp by Lisa Eldridge
I particularly love the beautiful pictures of older products and packaging that can be found in the pages of these books. Eldridge’s easy to follow YouTube videos, in which she shows you how to create a wide range of different looks, are a justifiable hit. But this book, where she indulges her epic beauty product nerdery and explores the historical and social significance of makeup, is a beautiful joy to read.
Easy on the Eyes: Eye make-up looks in 5, 15 and 30 minutes by Lisa Potter-Dixon
This is a great book with practical and accessible advice for creating effective eye makeup for both everyday and fancy nights out. This has helped me loads as I try to explore more creative uses of the eleventy million eyeshadows I own.
Pretty Iconic by Sali Hughes
This is a love letter to makeup and beauty products that is both nerdy and moving. Hughes perfectly captures the link between the touch, feel and scent of these products and our own memories. So many of them are instantly familiar to me from the shelves of my grandmothers, my mother, sister, and me, while others were new favourites I didn’t know I wanted to discover. I devoured this book and I think you will love it too.
Face by Sam and Nic Chapman
The sister duo who are the team behind Pixiwoos created this great makeup manual that links directly with the looks they create in the videos. I really like the Chapman sisters’ approach to makeup: they demystify the processes and techniques, and, like Sali Hughes above, have a really affordable approach to the brands they recommend. This would be a great gift for makeup-loving friends of all ages.
Art and MakeUp by Lan Nguyen-Grealis
I’m not suggesting that these looks are the most practical for day-to-day, but the skill and vision of Nguyen-Grealis’s creations entranced me. This book highlights some incredible looks and then unpicks the work done and techniques used in creating them. Gorgeous!
If I had to pick one of these makeup books to buy as a gift, then it would definitely be Sali Hughes—Pretty Honest. Her advice is trustworthy, clear, and kind. But all of them are beautifully-written and -designed love letters to the power of makeup to transform, support, excite, and enthrall.