Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Personally, I hate a DIY. Crafting? Not happening. Pinterest? Frustrating. I like to outsource the things I’d never be able to do myself—thanks for the perfectly roasted vegetables, Seamless!—but putting on my own face? That’s something I don’t quite need help with.
I've been playing around with makeup for upwards of 15 years, and besides some wrinkles, this canvas hasn't changed at all. So, when New York makeup salon Rouge offered up an all-you-can-wear makeup membership, it seemed either too good or too insane to be true.
So, in the name of testing the beauty waters, I set out to find if it's totally normal — or completely crazy — to pay one monthly lump sum to get your makeup done every day. (And hey, maybe learn how to do a liquid liner once and for all.)
"We're vain, people. We're hella vain. And getting our makeup professionally done, when, frankly, we have nowhere important to go will be the final frontier of it all"
These days, It's commonplace to pick up coffee in sweatpants and a matte purple lip. The objects of Instagram envy are no longer avocado toast and hot dog legs; they're waist trainers and Kylie Jenner-esque lip plumpers. Not since our grandmothers spent afternoons with their adorable little heads cupped in hair dryers has our commitment to outside-of-the-house beauty been matched.
Sure, everyone has a secret pinboard filled with step-by-step photos on how to achieve Lauren Conrad's perfect beach waves and a YouTube beauty vlogger they prefer above the rest. (Wayne Goss, you my boy!) But with tiny cartoons meticulously painted onto our nails, $150 balayage appointments to look like your color just grew out like this, and at least one co-worker you can grill for an honest review of hair lasering, the jig is up. We're vain, people. We're hella vain. And getting our makeup professionally done when, frankly, we have nowhere important to go will be the final frontier of it all.
Rouge is, in many senses, a studio rooted in reality, not fantasy. Opened by makeup artist Rebecca Perkins and actress Stephanie March in 2013, the SoHo salon is the culmination of many discussions the two had while Rebecca prepped Stephanie for episodes of Law and Order: SVU. They believe that personalized professional makeup application shouldn't be limited to people who happen to know good artists—and their newest offering, a $250 unlimited-appointment membership called The C-Suite, is the utmost expression of that belief.
"It's hard to have a stranger take control of your face without leaving you looking like a first-round hopeful on The Bachelor: airbrushed, smokey-eyed to all hell and so very far from your actual self."
Considering the runaway success of Classpass, the lengthy waitlist for blow dry all-ins, and GlamSquad's on-demand service booking up well in advance, endless makeup is likely the next big thing. Even still, I began my week of endless beauty near-laughing over how bonkers it is to spend $250 on makeup services. By day four, I was actually laughing, directly at the owner Stephanie, about how C-Suite is priced much, much too low.
I've been against professional makeup application for a while. The world of makeup application is a costly, stressful crapshoot. Stores and counters have a bottom line that's more pressing than you looking good at a party, and the natural inclination to do it up! if you're putting money towards your face leads to disaster more often than not. I got my prom makeup done at a suburban Sephora; the purple eyeshadow matched my dress in a way that paralyzes me upon recollection. When I went to an awards show in LA, I fell into a panic spiral when the Saks Fifth Avenue saleswoman transformed me into a beauty pageant contestant. It's hard to have a stranger take control of your face without leaving you looking like a first-round hopeful on The Bachelor: airbrushed, smokey-eyed to all hell and so very far from your actual self.
Yet, it's different at Rouge. Everyone on staff is like the grown-up version of the one girl in your overnight camp cabin who is giddy about makeup and can't wait to start on a fun new canvas. You know how sweet and accommodating Carmindy is towards everyone on What Not To Wear? Rouge is made up entirely of Carmindy's. It's just that getting makeup professionally applied feels a little too intense for meeting a friend for lunch.
And then I tried it.
I visited for one full week, expecting to be changed into a human Bratz doll, but simply wound up leaving as a shinier version of myself every time. My friends didn't freak out when they saw me after a Total Polish appointment, because I didn't look so different. I had false eyelashes one day, a brown glitter liner the next, and a futuristic blue cat eye...and it didn't shake anyone. It's because Rouge didn't make me look like the sad clown maniac we're used to seeing in that hand mirror at the end of an appointment. I simply looked like I'd been blessed with one of those rare, perfect makeup days — right before you self-apply the last bit of blush that blows the whole thing.
I cannot explain how many times I ran out of the house that week, hit by panic that I looked like a ghost, and remembered that, no, I took care of that this morning. It gave me one less thing to worry about, and the relief washed over me each time like the shower I still hadn't taken. (Hey, a well-contoured Rome wasn't built in a day!)
It was time consuming, of course, but if you blow your adult allowance at Sephora like I do, it's going to take twenty minutes to squeeze BB cream from a bottle and look halfway decent anyway. Rouge's standard service, "You...Only Better" ($50), takes just thirty. Their two other main options—Bold Choice ($60), a 40-minute appointment that emphasizes a certain feature, and Total Polish ($75), a 45-minute, customizable red-carpet look—provide more dolled-up-ness. (Pro tip: the photos on Rouge's website are not indicative of the experience; I nary saw a crazy lipstick or neon shadow throughout the hours I spent there.)
"They speak not in terms of going out to dinner or looking hot on dates, but of feeling good at your scary meeting or office portrait shoot."
Their tightly-curated makeup kit makes you feel like you're walking through a magazine in real-time, too. Never have my eyes been primed by a boutique foundation, lined by drugstore gel liner, and curled with a heated eyelash wand that appears only to be sold in America via Amazon.
Rouge will sell you any of their cult favorites, sure — like moisturizing lipstick from up-and-comer Julie Hewitt, or the Kimiko brow pencil staffers literally shrieked over—but they won't even really bring it up unless you do.
They speak not in terms of going out to dinner or looking hot on dates, but of feeling good at your scary meeting or office portrait shoot, because you have more to worry about than your eye makeup looking good. And, for what it's worth, Rouge is right—I was confident that whole week. I felt pretty, and more importantly, I felt like me. I didn't panic before a passport photo, and a barista even beelined over to ask me about my lashes. (My boyfriend, though, did compliment me on how good I'm getting at makeup. Breaking that news was not easy.) The C-Suite membership does apply to much more than the occasional face, too. I got my very first lip wax ($15), my halfway-grown-out eyebrows cleaned up ($10), and had a one-on-one tutoring session with an artist, who taught me step-by-step how to make incredible looks using my very own makeup. ($125).
If you're like me, checking your monthly budget for $250 worth of wiggle room while yelling to the sky, "who has this much time and money to commit to this?!", you've swallowed the one and only bitter pill about the service. While in the studio, I did overhear other C Suite members—the one with the book tour, the fashion blogger who stops by before shoots—sputter "excuses" for why they came so often. That stigma's still there, too, swirling around my brain, all judgy: What kind of woman would spend this much money for makeup when she could rightfully could do it herself?
I've asked myself that question a lot since going to Rouge. You know what else I've asked myself? Why I would pay someone blow-dry my hair when I own a hair dryer. Why I would fork over $120 a year for a small box of makeup samples I could get at the department store for free. And, most notably, why I would make salon appointments to wax anything when Duane Reade sells boxes of it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Why do I, you, or anyone else need an excuse to feel good about ourselves every day? It's not just endless makeup being piled on. That $250 could be tuition for finally learning how in the hell to contour, no matter how long it takes. It could be your $250 price-per-use of having good makeup for summer weddings while getting every hair on your face pulled, plucked and tinted to your liking. It's not just a false lash free-for-all. It's you...only better.