One perfect trick will make all the difference between come-as-you-are and wow. To show you how it's done, we asked the brilliant (down-to-earth and utterly low-maintenance) makeup artist Pati Dubroff to create three different, but equally stunning, holiday looks. Whether the dress code is black tie, cocktail, or casual, you'll look (and feel) like the life of the party.
The Dress Code: Black Tie Optional
The Focus: Lips When you want your face to look dressed-up but not made-up, color your lips a rich shade of plum; it's bold but has a cool elegance you won't get from a candy-apple red (and still works beautifully with vibrant shades like the orange our model is wearing at left).
A matte finish is more glamorous than high shine; Pati recommends simply tapping a creamy lipstick over bare lips with your finger. Then tidy up the outer edges—and create a barrier against bleeding—with a pencil (for the most natural-looking line, use the side, not the point, to draw short strokes); the pencil shade should be as close as possible to the lipstick without going darker (Benefit Silk Lip Pencil in Sangria, $18, is a good match for many iterations of plum).
A strong mouth brings out the flush in your cheeks, so go light on blush, but do take a couple of minutes to define your eyes. Run a rich brown liner pencil (like MAC Eye Kohl in Teddy, $14.50, which has a touch of iridescence) as close as possible to your upper and lower lashlines, then finish with two coats of black mascara.
3 Pairings for 3 Skin Tones
A perfect match between your lips and nails can be a little much. But two pretty variations on the same shade create a sophisticated symmetry.
If you have fair skin, try blue-based berry colors with a bit of translucence.
Prescriptives LipShine in Black Cherry, $17.50; SpaRitual Nail Lacquer in Impression, $9
If you have olive/medium skin, try creamy, succulent, red-tinged plums. Clarins Joli Rouge in Plum, $23; OPI Nail Lacquer in Bastille My Heart, $8.50
If you have dark skin try deep, saturated raisin hues. MAC Cremesheen in Hang-Up, $14; Essie Nail Color in Wicked, $8
The Dress Code: Cocktail
The Focus: Eyes
Dramatic eye makeup can be rock 'n' roll or rebellious or (as we prefer it) beautifully refined. Just look at our model: When a healthy dose of black liner (Clinique Kohl Shaper for Eyes in Black Kohl, $15.50) is paired with a sheer yellow gold shadow (Nars Eyeshadow in Silent Night, $22), the effect is sumptuous but not too smoky. And it's a good look if you've been having a holiday season that's heavy on activity, light on sleep: "Playing up the eyes makes any shadows underneath them less noticeable," says Pati. Coat your lashes with mascara, and define brows with a pencil that's a shade lighter than their natural color.
Keep the rest of the face simple: Even out redness or discoloration with concealer, and warm up your complexion by blending a golden bronze blush over your cheekbones. A creamy nude lipstick (try Lancôme L'Absolu Rouge in Rich Cashmere, $29) topped with a couple of dabs of golden gloss on the center of the mouth completes the look. If you have time to paint your nails, a light gold polish is festive but not so flashy that you have to take it off before work the next day. Try Essie Nail Color in Shifting Power, $8.
3 Steps to Stunning Eyes
1. Line the upper lid with a thick black pencil; start just above the pupil and concentrate the color on the outer corners. Smudge it out a bit with a Q-tip or your ring finger. Lightly trace the outer corners of the lower lid as well.
2. Blend a gold shadow over the center of the lids but no higher than the crease. (Lids can look puffy with a pale shimmery shade on the browbone.) To open up your eyes, add a touch of gold shadow along the lower inner corners, too.
3. Coat the upper lashes with mascara. Pati loves the orb-shaped brush on the new Givenchy Phenomen'Eyes ($27). Hold it vertically and brush it underneath the lashes to cover every one without leaving any stray marks on your lids.
The Dress Code: Casual Chic
The Focus: Cheeks
If you want to look polished enough for a party but perfectly natural and fresh faced, rev up your radiance. Rough or flaky skin won't reflect light (and can leave makeup cakey), so prepping the canvas is key: Gently exfoliate, then apply an oil-free lotion and let it soak in for several minutes. Blend a light liquid foundation (or a tinted moisturizer—Laura Mercier Illuminating Tinted Moisturizer, $42, creates a beautiful dewy finish) over any blotchy areas.
To create a translucent flush like the one you see on our model, choose a creamy rose-tinted blush—it will melt into your skin. Then, to illuminate your whole complexion, apply a sheer shimmery powder or pearly cream to the areas of your face where light hits (the cheekbones, temples, and the bridge of the nose).
Keep your eyes bare, except for the softest silver accent (line upper lids with Dior Intense Liquid Eyeliner in Silver Light, $30) and mascara. Choose a lipstick shade similar to your lip color (try American Beauty Luxury for Lips Lipcolor in Spring Flower, $12.50) or a subtle pink gloss (like Victoria's Secret Heidi Collection for Very Sexy Makeup Lip Gloss in Cupcake, $14).
The Makeup Kit for Luminous Skin
Velvety pink blush: Revlon Cream Blush in Berry Flirtatious, $10, complements most skin tones (if your skin is dark, intensify the shade by layering on more).
Synthetic-bristled brush: After dabbing blush on the apples of your cheeks with your finger, gently blend it out with a makeup brush to ensure the color isn't too concentrated. Wet 'n Wild Beauty Benefits Blush Brush, $8, has synthetic bristles, which don't soak up a creamy blush the way natural hair bristles can.
Softly shimmering highlighter: A dusting of Estée Lauder Shimmering Jewel Powder, $32, leaves a subtle sheen (not flecks of sparkle).
The 3 Keys to Making Your Party Face Last
1. Keep foundation sheer and light, and use it only where you need coverage. Anything too heavy will settle into lines as the night goes on (and is more likely to end up transferred onto fellow revelers' cheeks and suit jackets if you're the kissing-and-hugging type).
2. Apply makeup in thin layers, whether it's concealer, eyeshadow, or lipstick. Two or three light coats are more likely to stay put than a single thick one. Tap or press (rather than brush or swipe) the product onto your skin, and you'll be less apt to overdo it.
3. Tread carefull with powders. On your lids, a powder shadow is preferable to a cream—it's less prone to creasing or fading. On your face, though, powder can look heavy after a couple of hours and often accentuates wrinkles. If you get super shiny, dust a translucent loose powder over your T-zone; otherwise skip it completely and mitigate shine with blotting tissues (they won't disturb your makeup).