Jamiroquai, A Funk Odyssey, 2001
This blog is all about the make-up products and brushes that I use on a frequent basis to transform myself into my female form. For those dear readers who are paying attention, I did promise in blog number one that I would never venture into the area of how to apply make-up; there are many MUAs far more talented than myself who have already posted wonderful videos online to help us all.
However, a dear friend requested that I share a list of the products and brushes that I use with a view to buying said items and then teaching themselves at home. In truth, I think this particular friend is starting to go stir crazy without the access to professional cross-dressing services that so many of us have enjoyed. So, I decided it might be fun to try and help out and if nothing else, it might be of interest to some other dear readers. So, if you like my blogs but make-up is not your little love as it is for myself, then I apologise in advance. That said, if you stick it out and read my whole blog you will be rewarded with the normal degree of silliness, past anecdotes and daft photos that will hopefully see you happily through to the end of this rather long write-up.
But before we get into make-up, how is lockdown going chez Stephanie? Well, the answer is in two parts and let us start with the master of the house. So, for Freddie Kitten it turns out that lockdown is brilliant. There is no reason in his mind why he cannot be petted and fed roast chicken 24/7. With the addition of a new fluffy blanket from Tescos, Freddie is undoubtedly one very happy puss. Lcckdown is a cat’s best friend.
And what about myself then? Well, I am doing okay. I am keeping myself busy and am now merrily employed working from home as Stephanie. Fantastic you might think…surely this is a big goal accomplished? True indeed, it is a big achievement and I am very pleased to have continued my professional career as I progress with transition. And yet, Covid has really let the air out of my balloon on this one. The inability to progress with hair removal and other such transition activities leaves me feeling that apart from work I am not going anywhere fast in 2020 and maybe 2021. As if it was not bad enough that for years, I have made every excuse in the book not to transition, now mother nature has now waded with a global virus to stop me in my tracks. Talk about heavy handed!
So, in general terms I am doing okay but like so many, looking for signs of light at the end of the tunnel. Even accepting that bars, clubs and all other forms of group entertainment may remain shut for some time, it would be great to even get a view towards when we will be allowed to travel and meet with friends again. I am sorry but I do not accept a ‘new normal’ for another year that involves very little contact with other human beings. It is totally contrary to the social nature of human beings and simply surviving is not enough. Besides which, we all have ‘needs’ and what is life with no quality or joie de vie? Not worth living in my opinion.
Anyway, before we disappear into the murky depths of my ‘needs’ let us move swiftly onto the reason for this blog. Yes, let us talk about one of my major loves of all time and that is make-up. Yes, indeed, the daily make-up routine is not a chore for me because I simply love playing with it all and have done for years. And that is actually a bit of a problem because if I took a picture of my bedroom and all the make-up on display you would probably be appalled. So, I decided that for this blog I would use my travel or emergency make-up bag as the basis for discussion. It contains everything that I need when I go away on one of my adventures and fits nicely into my suitcase. I kind of view it as my minimum set of things for transforming myself from boy to girl.
Before we launch into the main part of the blog, I would like to make a general statement on my views towards make-up products. In summary, I do not care about the product brand, marketing, who models it, or where I buy it. I only care that the product is good to my skin, looks good when applied, was produced in an ethical manner, and is a reasonable price…because I use a lot of it.
As a result, there are make-up products from some of the biggest fashion house names that I simply will not use for one or more of the reasons above. It is also the case that a product from one brand may be great, but other products from the same brand are rubbish. In fact, how many of us have eye shadow palettes where some shades are great, and some are chalky and patchy when applied? So, like just about everyone else who uses make-up frequently, I have learned what a good product looks like and what is not.
Now, when I am packing my travel make-up bag, I do tend to take cheaper products to avoid too much upset if either my bags disappears on a flight, or anything is damaged or smashed in transit. It does not mean that I never take my nice products with me, but I certainly leave the very high value items at home such as expensive perfumes or compacts that are easily smashed.
So, pictured below is my standard travel make-up bag. Whilst I do have nicer make-up bags at home, I really like a clear plastic make-up bag for travel. The reason for this is that when I have a complete make-up set in one bag, I can see what I am rummaging around for inside without stabbing myself with scissors, tweezers or other sharps. I seem to recall a night out in Manchester where I spent the evening complaining about the pain in my middle index finger having just stabbed the nose of a sharp pair of tweezers under the nail bed…whilst trying to retrieve something from a make-up bag. Ouch! That memory still makes me cringe every time I think of it.
Moving on…I will now tip out all my products and show you the minimum set that joins me on my travels. So, in the picture below I have arranged my make-up so that the make-over process goes anti clockwise around the sink in order of the things that I use. Whilst it may strike some dear readers as being more than a little OCD, I always organise my make-up this way when I am getting ready to avoid doing silly things like being halfway through my make-over before I realise that I have forgotten to put any concealer on. The result of which is not a pretty sight, I might add. Think surface of the moon and bags under my eyes you could lose a babe in.
Next to the make-up I have also shown the brushes that I use for each step as I thought this might be handy. Okay, so let us step through the make-over sequence and I will talk about things I think are relevant.
Create the Mood
So, before starting to apply any make-up it is a great idea to create the right mood. I always shower first so I feel clean and get in a place where there is good lighting for make-up. I have pictured my LED make-up mirror that I bought recently as it is brilliant for defeating poor lighting or lack of natural day light should you find yourself regularly in that situation. I have to credit Jen White for this recommendation as she had a similar mirror when we went out in Liverpool and she spoke so highly of it that I decided to get one myself. So, my ideal scenario for getting ready for a good night out is to have a bath and shave legs in the afternoon and then put on my slap whilst listening to some tunes on my Bose mini link. Girls Aloud? Perfect!
Start with Disaster in Mind
I always smile when people leave comments saying my make-up is perfect. Well, here is a revelation…I regularly make mistakes. Even after many years playing around with make-up I have bad moments, particularly now as I start to face into the realities of age and increasingly hooded eyelids. Yes indeed, I make mistakes ranging from “ugh that is annoying but easy to repair” through to “OMG I hate this eye make-up and need to start all over again!”
As I am sure most girls will agree, mistakes can be super irritating so I always have a wipe, cotton buds and make-up remover to hand so that I can quickly fix whatever has gone wrong. Girls new to dressing or with less experience often focus on looking perfect before going out and I agree, it is important for confidence and passing to look your best. However, I think it is equally important to learn the skills to correct errors and do running repairs when out and about. In my case, this usually involves trying to affect repairs whilst laughing with the other half cut girls in the ladies’ toilets of some nightclub or other.
So, it is nearly time to start the make-over properly. But before doing so, it is a good idea to take one last good long look at your face and make sure it is ready. Make-up is double edged in that it hides flaws but can also massively expose others. So, for example, if you leave hairs between your brows or your brow line is wrong, it can be guaranteed that your foundation and concealer will make them stand out a mile. For that reason, I have shown tweezers in 6 but my basic point is that before starting to apply any make-up, take one good long last look and correct anything that is not right before any make-up is applied.
Prime and Foundation
Okay, so on my sink picture let us talk about items 8 to 15 which include moisturiser through to completing base foundation. So, moisturiser is a super personal thing depending on your skin. The only certain way to get the right products for your skin type is to go into the shops and talk to the ladies at the counter, trying out different products. For myself, I really like Clarins and rate their skin care products highly. I have never had any break outs or issues with dry skin whilst using Clarins products and I regard this as quite an achievement given how much heavy make-up I have used over the years. Clarins is not cheap, I grant you, but we are talking about the protection of the skin on your face, so it is worth spending money to protect it.
And now we get into the make-over process and we start with foundation. Right now, I am using MAC studio fix foundation, NW20, along with Kryolan Ultra Foundation in Fair Olive for the ‘triangles’ under the eyes, along with Urban Decay All Nighter concealer for around the eyes. These products I have found work okay together and give me a good balance. In addition to MAC, I also use Illamasqua in 6.5 and 9.5 depending upon the time of year and if I am tanned or not.
If you are looking for a new foundation, then I always recommend going into make-up shops in person to get a good colour match as it is nearly impossible for anyone other than a MUA to guess the right shade. The other cunning trick when visiting the big-name brands is to always ask for testers before you buy. This will invariably result in the lovely ladies in MAC, Morphe, Bobbi Brown and the like giving you little pots full of foundation to try at home. This is super useful as there is normally enough product in these pots to do your foundation 5-6 times, which is great for travelling or taking in your handbag.
When it comes to applying foundation, I use beauty blenders specific to each product and then a Morphe buffer brush (M439) for blending it together. OMG This Morphe brush is gorgeous and simply my favourite brush in the world; literally I hug it in bed at night. Buy one of these brushes and you will be very happy with your blending. Now, because I am quick it is possible for me to apply my foundations and concealer in one go and then fix it all with translucent powder. If you are less experienced, then it is a good idea to powder after each product is applied. If not, then you run the risk that the MAC will dry out before you get powder on, and your face will end up looking like a drought stricken riverbed.
When it comes to translucent powder, my staple product of choice is Ben Nye after being introduced to it last year by Cindy at Boys Will Be Girls. I tend to use Ben Nye for everyday application or when I know my makeup will not be on for long (15). When I want a really good finish, I use my MAC prep and prime as it has finer grains and gives a really polished look (16). And finally, when it comes to removing loose powder, my travel bag powder brush is quite a cheap ELF brush. This is because things get wrecked travelling so I will not risk my really poufy big brushes because I love them too much. That said, the Elf brush is actually very soft and works very well when held at the end of the shaft. And by pure coincidence, that is a description that could also be readily applied to a number of people that I know lol
Okay, so I do my brows next for the simple reason that I use the outer edges as a guide for my eye make-up. Some may do the whole Kryolan wax and gum business but my word, it is laborious carry-on and not practical for an everyday make-up routine. So, instead I shave my eyebrows and must admit that more than once, I have accidently shaved off an eyebrow completely. Now, all the females in my life continually tell me off when I shave my eyebrows so, as per normal, do as I say and not as I do. Pluck your eyebrows if you have time and only shave if you really need too. If you want to do the whole wax and gum business, then good for you and hope it works out okay!
So, for my eyebrows I have used everything from powder to pencils and all sorts of other rubbish in-between and yet nothing gives the quality of finish that you get from gel pomade and a brush. Right now, I am using Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow Pomade in soft brown, applied with a Morphe brow brush. I really think that Anastasia has the edge on creaminess and shelf life once opened. I have tried many different brands in this type of product and Revolutions and NYX gel are cheaper and work okay but I found that these products dry out badly in the pot once opened.
It is now time for eye make-up to get applied and this is where the options and variety of products explode. There are thousands of palettes, brushes, pigments, glitter and good knows what and all to stick on your eyes. I cannot tell you how many palettes of eye shadow I own (no literally I cannot!) For everyday use, I have moved to wearing neutrals like most of the sisterhood, but that is not typically what I take with me when I go travelling on an adventure. So many exciting shades to choose from!
In recent months I have been wearing a lot of Morphe eye shadows and pigments as they produce the same results as MAC, but at a much-reduced cost. This is especially true right now as Morphe have a lot of great deals on in response to so many shops being closed. For travelling, I often take eye shadow palettes from Revolutions as well, and the one shown is Immogenation which I like a lot (19). Whilst a few of the shades are chalky, this is a great palette for £10 with a big mirror that is super useful. My point of showing this palette is that you do not have to be a slave to MAC or expensive brands when many drugstore brands are okay, if you are selective.
When it comes to eye make-up brushes, I have many different brands but my favourite is definitely Zeova. If you are starting out, I recommend just taking the hit and buying the complete Zeova set - you will never feel disappointed and they last a long time. That said, I have moved to using Morphe for blending brushes and they are really good. And another favourite is my Real Techniques brush which was purchased in a Boots in Stansted airport at 11pm at night after realising that I had somehow managed to travel without packing any brushes! The point of this story is that there are good options in brushes across the price ranges and drugstore brushes are fine, if chosen wisely.
Okay so this is the point at which I can get quite huffy and the reason is simple: I do not like doing eye liner. I have always been able to do my right eye perfectly, and I mean MUA level of perfection, but if I am going to cock up my make-up on any given day, then it will be doing eye liner on my left eye. Yes, for some reason that cannot be explained by modern science when it comes to my left eye, I am like a child with a 3” paintbrush. Interestingly, I have done make-up for other people and done both of their eyes perfectly confirming that it must be some visual impairment issue I have when working on my own left eye. It must be because when I shut that eye all I can dream about is shoes and dresses :D
Anyway, life definitely improved once I understood a few basic tricks to avoid eye liner crime. Firstly, I never use a pencil having concluded that they are all rubbish. All that jabbing yourself in the eye with bits of half shaved wood and eyeliner is silly, especially since the make-up industry moved past the need to do that a long time ago. So instead, I start with a liquid eyeliner to create the overall winged shape that I am looking to achieve. Right now, I am using Maybelines precise eye liner for this purpose and for a cheapish product, I think it is really good for everyday use (21).
When it comes to perfecting the eyeliner look, say filling in the wing shape, I go for a fine brush and eyeliner gel. So, in the picture above I have NYX gel eyeliner mousse which at £5 is very reasonable and does a decent job (22). At home, where I keep my better make-up, I am currently using Illamasqua Precision Gel liner. It does last a long time and gives a good finish but at £21 this product is a bit on the steep side, and I am not even sure I can justify the difference.
Mascara and lashes
When it comes to Mascara, I only ever use MAC and have a love affair with extended play gigablack. Yes, I know that the thin blue and black packaging is not that exciting as the branding for other products. But here is the trick; the brush is really thin making it virtually impossible to get mascara transfer onto your face unless of course, you have no hand to eye coordination at all. In my humble opinion, all the big brush designs are total nonsense and for those less experienced, difficult to use without putting mascara all over the place. I do have a travel sized MAC extreme which has a bigger brush, but I only use it for my outer lashes as it is very good at extending them (23).
The next big question is to put eye lashes on or not. So, for going out at night I always wear eye lashes because there is no doubt, they enhance the look. The false eye lashes shown in the picture are lovely but have never actually been worn (24). Instead, I normally wear mink eyelashes that I bought in a tray of six pairs from Amazon for $6. Now, if you are clever it is also possible to wear your lashes again and again. It just involves carefully peeling off the glue from the lashes after wearing them, so that they are ready for next time. I still have a fantastic set of eye lashes that Cindy put on me at BWBG last October and I have lost count how many times I have worn them since. Thank you!
That said, as I continue to transition, I am looking at other options to get away from wearing false eye lashes. In addition to the time required to apply them properly, they are simply too much when going out in daytime. They attract the wrong sort of attention and give the wrong impression. Sure, if you only have very few small lashes, or maybe none at all, then maybe it is appropriate to wear lighter styles of false lashes. However, even then they need to be chosen carefully. For myself, I am no longer wearing false eyelashes on a daily basis. I have instead decided to focus on getting a good wing and my mascara just right to bring shape and impact around the eyes.
Contouring, Blusher and Highlighter
There is no doubt that contouring is one of the most (if not the most) important element to get right when doing male to female make-up. Learning how to apply contour and blusher correctly is super important and I would strongly encourage you to watch many of the great tutorials available online, of which, I think Patrick Baston is a brilliant teacher and takes the whole business to another level.
When it comes to products, the market is awash with options for contour and blusher, both as individual shades and in larger palettes. In my experience the brand is irrelevant when it comes to contour and it is about finding what shades are right for you. In my travel set I keep a favourite NYX Sweet Cheeks palette, along with Benefits for dark forehead contour (not shown) and Illamasqua Beyond powder for highlighting. When it comes to brushes, they get quite fun at this stage and I always use an angled brush for contouring, a fan brush for highlighter, and a narrow eye makeup brush for contour down the sides of the nose.
Now when it comes to nose contouring, I really think it needs to be subtle for dressers who want to go out in public. As Archie McGoldrick says about nose contouring in her wonderful video on youtube "it can go one of two ways.” Indeed, many talented girls ruin their lovely looks by applying too much or badly placed contour that results in a ‘muddy’ looking nose. The other look I do not care for is the Concorde-esque nose that results from having harsh lines too near the leading edges of the nose. Whilst I appreciate that a sharp conk is a specific style appropriate for drag, it is not one that I would ever use when presenting as a female in everyday life.
I am fine with admitting that I have a shopping addiction when it comes to lipstick and lipstick pencils. If you ever have the misfortune to go shopping with me, for the love of god do not take me past Charlotte Tilsbury or I will disappear for hours on the lipstick counter. In fact, I have so many lipsticks that they can regularly be found in the most bizarre of places including down the sofa, in cereal cupboards, in my car glove compartment, and under my sleeping cat!
But to keep it simple for now let us focus on what I take with me on my travel adventures. So, I typically have 4-5 different shades with me including neutrals for daytime, brighter and sparkly options for night-time, and lip gloss. Being a child of the 80s I simply love red lips so wear a lot of red shades, often with lip gloss on top. In the picture shown I have MAC lippy (27) along with NARS lip crayons (28). Despite the obvious con of having to purchase a specific sharpener for lipstick crayons, I absolutely love the NARS lipstick product. For starters, you need to be a complete idiot not to be able to draw with a crayon, given that it is one of the first things that most of us learned to draw with in life. NARS lip crayons are also creamy and do not go all dry on the lips. And finally, the shape is actually convenient for taking on a night out, being slimmer than a standard lipstick. This is good if you are going out with only a very small clutch handbag and every mm inside is a prisoner.
Lipstick pencils are quite useful to create the outline of the lips, especially if you are going for overdrawn lips which I tend to do myself on my top lip. For photos and special occasions there is no doubt that lipstick pencils help to create perfection. However, I have not shown any pencils in my sink picture because in truth, I do not tend to use them when I am going out. When you know you are going to be re-applying lippy in a lady’s toilets of some nightclub later on, does it really matter? I guess this is a question of what level of perfection you want to achieve, but for myself I have better ways to use my time when I am going out.
The art of transformation for myself is not just looking good, but everything that goes with being female. So, I always use my favourite female deodorant and perfumes so that I am always fresh (in all senses of the word hehe.) I have many perfumes but right now I am really into Good Girl, having bought this really nice travel size version shown in the picture. The travel versions are great, funnily enough, for travel but also for putting in a handbag on a night out. When it comes to applying perfume please remember it is not necessary to have a Greek shower in Lady Million. Smelling nice is important yes; but you should not leave the impression on everyone you meet that you have put your perfume on with crop duster.
Now is the time for big decisions. If I am wearing a low cut / more revealing top, then I may choose to tape up and show boob cleavage. To achieve this, I tape up using the 2” thick version of 3M blenderm tape (31). This is a medical grade product so is safe on your skin and is ideal for a night out as it is designed for taping medical items securely to people’s bodies for extended periods of time. I will admit that it is not the easiest product to buy in the UK, but it can be purchased through Amazon. After years of sticking all sorts of nonsense to myself I really think Blenderm is the best product for achieving boob cleavage and would strongly advise against buying expensive nu bras or using less wise options such as gaffa tape. Oh my! Gaffa tape...it is an industrial tape that was designed as a last ditch 'fix-it-all' product for say, taping a hole in your stove flue, not for wrapping around your body!
So now it is time for hair and getting dressed. If dressing happens to involve pulling a tight top or dress over your head, then it is a top tip to always put your hair on first as it helps protect both your face and your clothes from getting covered in make-up. Good friends joke about the brown paper bag on the head approach and indeed, I seem to recall seeing someone actually do that once…but it is not advisable. Found dead dressed as a woman with a paper bag over your head is not how you really want to be remembered…unless of course you are a Tory MP in which case it will be regarded as de rigueur.
And finally, we come to the nails. In my case I have my nails painted most of the time, but I have included my favourite OPI nail varnish for completeness (32). Nail varnish quality can vary significantly and some last a lot better than others once opened. For myself, I like OPI because I can trust the quality, it dries really quickly, and I love a number of the red and glittery shades. From experience, if I need to apply (or reapply) nail varnish as part of my make-over then I leave it until the very end when I am dressed and calm. Doing nail varnish before getting dressed has the potential for chipping newly applied nail varnish on zippers and jewellery so, for that reason it is best done after all other makeover tasks are completed and you can watch tele whilst your nails dry.
What do I take on a night out
So, earlier in this blog I talked about the importance of being able to make running repairs on your make-up when out and about. And why is that? Because squiffy friends or random females might suddenly grab you with the kind, but ill judged, intention of kissing you, or quite often to tell you how much they love your make-up. Oh my god! You have just ruined the target of your affection! You are females…you of all people should know NEVER TOUCH THE FACE!!!
So, what do I put in my handbag so that I can make running repairs on a night out? Well, in addition to keys and money (Pornstar Martini tokens), I will take concealer, translucent powder, lippy, perfume and a cheap make-up brush I am happy to throw away, if used. If I have space, I will also have my tangle teaser brush. I can normally fit these items comfortable in my quilted Moschino bag without it look like an overstuffed hamster.
It is slightly off topic but another really useful tranny hack is that if someone gets make-up on your hair, it is possible to recover the situation on the run. A slightly tipsy girlfriend tried to give me a friendly kiss on the head last year forgetting that she was wearing red lipstick, and I was wearing a champagne blond wig. Argh! The easy way to recover from this situation is to act immediately and wash the lipstick covered area with mildly soapy water. This works a treat and if you act fast enough, you can stop the wig becoming permanently dyed a shade of pink.
So, that is a little tour through my basic make-up products and brushes that I hope you will have found useful. As I write a blog typically once a month, I am hopeful that my next one will be in a time of less Covid restrictions and will therefore contain more jolly content. Alas, I fear that even if the restrictions are moderated, they will not support travelling to meet up with many of my wonderful friends around the country and Sweden.
Therefore, I will sign off now by wishing you all well for the weeks ahead. Keep thinking about a happier time at the end of isolation and before you know it, we will be back together singing, dancing and making merry. Just mind the make-up okay? :D