I blame Cinderella. While feminists bemoan the fact that, thanks to films and fairytales, every little girl grows up waiting for her prince to come, I submit that they are wrong: every little girl grows up waiting for the right party invite.
Personally, ever since Cinderella, I’ve been building a wardrobe fit for a red carpet, only to find that my life, my friends and my work just can’t compete with my expectations. There I am, at cocktails and holiday galas, invariably over-cleavaged and over-cosmetic-ed. Where’s a fairy godmother when you need her?
Turns out I am she, at least when it comes to party prep and helping others. I can do it in weeks, days, or even minutes. Consider, for example (not to brag) my lateral pre-party thinking when I’d mistakenly left my make-up bag at home prior to a big art happening and had only 20 minutes to spare. What to do?
Well, thought I, arty people like a bold lipstick, because art is all about self-expression, right? (They also like flowers in hair, piercings and those really short, ugly fringes that only suit 20-year-olds and obscure tribes in South America, but that’s a whole other conversation.) Solution: the department store make-up counter. MAC and Shu Uemura are hands-down the best for complete party makeovers, but for the time-poor, this is not an option.
Bombing into Fenwick, I spent 15 minutes in the chair at Blink’s brow bar getting my brows tidied (euphemism for cheap and instant face lift, a bargain £17), then picked out the perfect red lipstick by surveying all the girls on the counters (scrolling through each brand’s entire lipstick library is for wimps). There she was: Vanja at Shu Uemura, who introduced me to the joys of Shu Uemura’s RD 165M (£19), a new creamy matte lipstick that’s not as drying as, say, MAC’s Ruby Woo, but still packs a punch in its overtly bright redness and lasts.
Beautiful-people parties are similarly a cinch, with two caveats: First, never – repeat never – attempt to compete with the models. You’ll just end up looking like Mother of Model, which, unless you’re Jerry Hall, is not a good look. And second: don’t try too hard.
If you always wear red lipstick, for example, switch to burgundy. By Terry’s Carnal Attraction (£31) has a satiny texture that can be blotted down if at first it’s too strong, (though usually I find a glass of champagne sorts that issue out). Or take Aerin’s The Mini Lipstick (£24) in Dahlia – it’s the perfect size for an evening bag. Stella McCartney’s spring/summer 2013 look (it’s always a good idea to work one season ahead) is also worth trying: a simple line of jade eyeliner on the lower lids – use Max Factor’s Masterpiece Glide and Define Eyeliner in Smoke; Tom Ford’s Eye Defining Pencil in Exotic Teal; or YSL’s Long-Lasting Eye Pencil in Deepest Green – and neutral lips.
Thankfully for most of us, the days of having to get ready with a gaggle of girlfriends are over. Apart from the fun of those cheap sachets of face mask (Superdrug still sells them for 99p), which I’ve upgraded to the rather fabulous GlamGlow (from £22.50) and Sisley’s divine Black Rose Cream Mask (£90), I’m not remotely nostalgic about lending my mascara and being given back conjunctivitis.
As for hair, if everyone else is doing the pristine blow-dry, either wash and dry it yourself or be brave and do something different: a fake fish-tail plait always works, but get a professional to do it unless you’re a dab hand (in London, Hersheson’s Blow Dry Bars are good). Also worth trying is a chignon with artfully drooping strands for a freer, more modern look. (It’s deconstructed, if anyone asks.)
Meanwhile, if you’re tempted to do one of those instant inch-loss treatments for when even the Spanx don’t work, may I suggest some exercise instead?
Steve Mellor, a personal trainer with Freedom2Train, recommends downing a coffee 60 minutes before cardio or weights – it increases lipolysis (the process by which we burn fat) and the caffeine buzz will make you feel more alert. Plus working out two hours before your party will increase the dopamine and serotonin rushing around your system, thus rendering you a magic conversationalist about anything.
If all that sounds like too much hard work, remember: sometimes standing out in a crowd means being the only one playing it down.
As I write, I’m staring at a bottle of LCN’s Nail Candy in turquoise, which features hundreds of small beads. They look like the kind of thing you should sprinkle liberally on a cake, but they’re meant to be artfully placed on top of perfectly polished nails, where they meld into some sort of artwork. That’s quite a lot of effort, though, when I also know that next season, it’s all going to be about opaque nude nails.
Now, where’s that pumpkin?
www.esteelauder.co.uk (Aerin stockist)