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There's an Art to Wearing Glosses--but With This Season's Shimmering Hues, It's Worth It

February 04, 2001|Hillary Johnson | Hillary Johnson last wrote for the magazine about spas

Until recently, the only lip gloss I owned was a tube of cinnamon-scented Bonne Bell Lip Smackers filched from an 8-year-old girl's dress-up kit-- she much preferred the Watermelon and Cotton Candy flavors that I left behind. This product stayed in my purse for years, something to grab when lipstick would have been overkill but a glance in the rearview mirror told me I bore the bloodless, chalky-lipped look of a 19th century tuberculosis patient, a look that I can't bear to perpetrate on the world even if it's just to toss a video in the drop box at Blockbuster. When the little tube finally ran out, I sorely missed it. Rather than run out to Toys R Us for a replacement, I decided to look over the new crop of grown-up lip glosses--some frosty and moonscapy, others that look like vinyl (and feel like flypaper), and still others so dark and gelatinous that they're almost sinister.

The first thing I learned was that wearing these new, heavily pigmented lip glosses is a skilled, high-maintenance undertaking, one best suited for formal occasions--and preferably those that take place in relative darkness. Lip gloss, even when applied correctly, is fickle. Dare to eat a grape and that deep-purple Nars Rollerina with the sheen of patent leather is gone. Wear that darkly iridescent Glossimer Galaxy lip gloss by Chanel out to dinner, and you'll be running to the restroom for touch-ups so often that your date will think you have an eating disorder or a crack-cocaine habit. Not that Glossimer Galaxy isn't gorgeous, but it's best worn to an awards ceremony where you won't be eating or kissing anything besides air.

Regular old lipstick requires a steady drawing hand, but otherwise it's forgiving. Colored gloss, on the other hand, must be applied in a uniform thickness or else it looks splotchy and streaky. The margin of error here can't be more than a micron--remember, these are some viscous little molecules we're talking about--and the lips themselves are soft and uneven. Application can be as frustrating as spreading peanut butter on a slice of soft bread. Wand applicators are useless. Worse still are the pots you must dig around in with a brush or finger. Neither is suited for putting on in public, which eliminates one of my favorite ladies lunch rituals: the moment when all present pull out lipstick and compact and pout, smack and blot in symphony, followed by composed smiles and nods all around. It's the ultimate female power gesture, and it can't be done with lip gloss. Alas.

The frosty glosses are just as aggressive as the dark ones, yet more forgiving, and they can be worn all day. If you want to look like Angie Dickinson in "Police Woman," with silvery, orange-Creamsicle lips, try Chanel's Glossimer Volage or Bibo's Tattle Tale, and throw on a buff trenchcoat and lots of hairspray. Other glosses are light enough to be worn almost anywhere. Bliss cosmetics has come out with Blissgloss, a "pot" of gloss that is flat like a compact, and hence does not get under your fingernail. Their Nudge is a color that less imaginative companies would call "raisin," and which slides on in a light, even layer. Another find was M.A.C Lipglass in Greed, a vinyl-glossy, intense mauve that is glamorous without being melodramatic and works for day or night. Lipglass is one of the best of the high-end products, tacky enough to stay on for an hour or so-- this is a long time for lip gloss--yet not so densely pigmented as to be impossible to get right. Another daytime favorite is Speak Easy from Bibo, which is fairly opaque and high gloss but flesh colored, resulting in a particularly dignified and finished look. You can't wrangle either of these products from a wand onto your lips without using a mirror, Kleenex and your finger, but they're still awfully pretty.

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