Lisa Kogan takes a look at the dos, don'ts, and honey-how-could-you's of beauty etiquette.
So I'm on an elevator, minding my own business, when I hear a series of quick metallic clicks behind me. Incongruous...yet somehow familliar. It's the sound of fingernails being clipped! I can think of only two circumstances in which clipping one's fingernails on an elevator might be socially acceptable: if said elevator is located in the privacy of your own bathroom (a place where the clipping of any number of things should be encouraged), or if there actually happens to be a very tiny nail salon in the rear of the elevator. "Perhaps I lack a certain devil-may-care, live-and-let-live mentality, but I don't feel like spending the rest of the morning wondering if a stranger's discarded pinky nail is clinging to the back of my sweater," I complain to a like-minded colleague. "I know," she says. "I once witnessed a woman attempting to pluck her eyebrows while hailing a cab on Lexington Avenue."
What's with all this public preening? How did it get to be illegal to drive using a cell phone, yet perfectly okay to go 60 miles an hour applying mascara? My pal Arlene swears her mother once gave herself a Toni Home Perm while ferrying the Sunday-school carpool. Since when has riding the subway become our special time to check for split ends—and, yes, on a particularly memorable trip to Union Square, an opportunity for one highly motivated passenger to wax her legs? Am I exaggerating? Only a select group on Manhattan's downtown N train knows for sure. I think my friend David put it best when, upon witnessing a woman at the farmers' market with an upper lip covered in Jolene cream, he posed this simple question: Are women nuts? I wanted to defend us, but there she was, plain as day, publicly bleaching her mustache while tapping a canteloupe for signs of ripeness. Have we no shame? Shouldn't there be a few guidelines where this stuff is concerned? Allow me.
1. There are two schools of thought on that lipstick-at-the-dinner-table question. According to The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette, by Nancy Tuckerman and Nancy Dunnan: "Many women instinctively reach for their lipstick at the end of a meal. Whatever you do, resist the urge." Frankly, I can go either way on the lipstick issue. Retiring to the ladies room is certainly more gracious, but I'm not especially offended when someone discreetly (no liner, no blending six shades, no topcoat of gloss) touches up her lipstick as the table is being cleared. Incidentally, you may also feel free to steam open your pores using an entrée of salmon en papillote, but remember that it is never okay to follow up with toner and moisturizer.
2. Let's say we're at the gym and you need to borrow a little shampoo. Fine by me. I'll even throw in a couple tablespoons of my Frédéric Fekkai conditioner for color-treated, dry, or damaged hair. Really, go ahead and ask—but for crying out loud, do your asking with a towel on. Here's the deal: We change our clothes quickly in the locker room, we frolic naked leisurely in Sorority Sex Kittens Part Two.
3. Which brings me to another point: You know how people are constantly saying, "Don't be shy"? People are wrong. Be shy, be very shy. Take, for example, that whole lingerie-as-outerwear look. Unless you happen to star in Sex and the City, kindly keep all underwear under your clothes, the way God and your mother intended.
4. Food and hair are a nasty combination. It sounds like a no-brainer, but I've hosted dinner parties at which otherwise civilized women take the arrival of dessert and coffee as an opportunity to run a quick brush through their hair. Now, ladies, do I come to your home and whip out my curling iron just as you're flambéing the bananas Foster?
5. When out and about, please refrain from combing, brushing, blushing, pinching, poking, weaving, lining, coating, frosting, pushing, pulling, plumping, nipping, and tucking. Bottom line: You look fabulous—and if you don't, it's too late now. Leave yourselves alone.
More O Beauty
From the December 2001 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!