In beauty – as in fashion, food and politics – there’s no such thing as an original idea. Makeup is just an assortment of coloured powders and waxes to smear on your face in a decorative manner; innovative formulations aside, that’s all it will ever be.
Depending on your point of view, this is either an extremely depressing or totally freeing way to look at makeup, and I fall into the latter camp for sure. Recreating iconic looks with stuff I already have is fun and makes me focus on technique. Of course, iconic looks can be a bit much for wearing out in the real world, so I usually just steal bits and pieces that work for me.
There is no look more stealable than Marilyn Monroe’s – everyone who wears makeup, from lifelong devotees of red lips and winged liner to lip-balm-and-mascara types, can learn something from Marilyn’s extensive beauty routine. Here are the ones I’m the fondest of, all of which I learned from Lisa Eldridge’s incredible video on Marilyn’s look.
Get A Little Greasy
Marilyn narrowly avoided the days of foundation made from actual animal fat, but the complexion products of her day were still waxy, greasy, and heavy – which is likely why she wore Vaseline under her foundation.
Before you close this tab out of disgust, hear me out: Vaseline is an excellent substrate for base makeup. Stiff products practically melt into it, even over crusty zits; when set with loose powder and fixing spray, my foundation looks beautiful all day. Best of all, unlike many common foundation ingredients, Vaseline doesn’t break me out; it actually protects my sensitive, oily, acne-prone skin from heavy makeup.
The Vaseline trick works with most foundations, but avoid super-watery formulations and apply powders with a puff or sponge rather than a brush. Other than that, it’s as simple as working a pea-sized glob of Vaseline across your entire face before applying your foundation; I find that really pressing my foundation into the Vaseline with my fingers works best. Don’t forget to set everything with powder when you’re done – again, a sponge or puff works best.
Enlist Some Mild Trompe L’Oeil Trickery
Not one to mess with perfection, Marilyn lifted her entire eye look straight from Greta Garbo – and it’s surprisingly straightforward. However, the particular eyeshadow placement Marilyn used completely disappears on my eyes, so I don’t bother with anything except winged liner, mascara, and the niftiest damn lower lash-line shading trick of all time.
You don’t have to wear winged liner, but use a pencil if you do; Marilyn wore brown pencil eyeliner, not black liquid. The one step you should not skip is drawing an “inverted wing” toward the outer corner of your lower lashes – this is what made Marilyn’s upper lashes look lush and heavy enough to perpetually cast a shadow. I’ve used everything from powder to gel to my eyebrow pencil for this trick, and it always looks amazing.
Bathe in Highlighter
Every single facet of Marilyn’s makeup was designed with a youthful glow in mind – so naturally, highlighter was hugely important to her look.
I’ve always enjoyed an aggressively shiny cheekbone, but I didn’t branch out until I studied Marilyn’s look more carefully. She highlighted nearly her entire face: her cheek and brow bones, of course, but also the very center of her cheeks, the bridge of her nose, the center of her forehead and chin, and around her tear ducts.
As a human oilfield, I worried that applying shimmery highlighter anywhere besides my cheekbones would make me look extra-greasy. Incredibly, the opposite is true – generous highlighter catches the light in a way that looks completely intentional, rather than the Crisco-esque free-for-all that happens when my skin is left to its own devices. The moral of the story here is to go nuts with the highlighter; it’s what Marilyn would have wanted.
Contour With Blush
God, I love blush. I used the top center shade in the Beauty Treats matte blush palette, which cost all of $US8 ($10) on Amazon and is legitimately great. Use any shade that looks great on you; this one is a pretty intense mid-tone coral.
The two techniques most likely to strike fear into the heart of a makeup lover are contour and blush, and here I am encouraging you to combine them. I promise that if you tap off excess blush on your wrist before putting it on your face – and have a little patience – you’ll find that it’s not so scary after all.
My secret to blush, actually, is starting with highlighter. I usually blend a cream or liquid highlighter on my temple and the tops of my cheekbones, then use blush to further blend out the lower edges of that highlighter – it’s a foolproof guide for blush placement. For a Marilyn blush shape, apply most of the blush just in front of your ear, and blend the colour up towards your cheekbones and down towards the corners of your mouth. Swirl some on your temples for good measure, and add a dab of powder highlighter to the very tops of your cheekbones if you like. (I certainly do.)
Exaggerate Your Lips
Say hi to my peach fuzz, everyone!
There’s no lip in history more iconic than Marilyn’s signature fire-engine red, and, like all the best ones, her look is all technique. If you have a satin or cream-finish bullet lipstick and a matte pencil in a darker shade – I often use my eyebrow pencil – you have everything you need to recreate a Marilyn-calibre lip.
Doing your lip liner in segments is the easiest. I start with my Cupid’s bow, then trace the outer corners of my lips, then the fullest part of my lower lip; from there, it’s a game of connect-the-dots. Feather the lip liner inwards slightly, then apply a cream lipstick in the center of your lips, working outwards to meet the liner. Blot well, re-apply the lipstick, and repeat to your heart’s content; Marilyn’s lips appeared so full and smooth largely because her makeup artist physically filled them with lipstick.
Take a step back and assess; if you need some more blush here or liner there, apply it at an arm’s length from the mirror. Dot on a beauty mark – the final, optional flourish – and go about your day looking extremely, devastatingly, ridiculously good.
If I have one regret, it’s not turning that rogue acne scar on my left cheek into a beauty mark.