Believe it or not, I'm something of a girly girl. I like high heels, makeup, and loving rituals involving gentle exfoliants and moisturizer. Having been told that this makes me look unserious, I have refrained from putting up this sort of guide in past years. But applying makeup is no more unserious than playing video games, and, one might argue, is at least as much fun. So: the official Megan McArdle guide to girl stuff. If nothing else, the trolls will enjoy sniffily declaring that this doesn't belong in the same magazine that published Mark Twain, (you know, the one who wrote lengthy essays about serious topics like cigars).
Makeup is probably my area of greatest expertise. [Insert obligatory comment on how badly I need it] Makeup is interesting stuff; some of it is worth paying for, and some of it you might as well just buy from the drugstore. Unfortunately, the latter category doesn't make very good gifts; people tend to look at you strangely if you hand them a plastic snap-box of Max Factor eye shadow. Save that for yourself and pick from these:
Foundation: The Bare Escentuals Get Started Kit. Do not pay any attention to the founder's blathering about the miraculous properties of the earth, which she seems not to realize is, like all other makeup, composed of chemicals. This makeup nonetheless works really well, particularly for people with (like me) extraordinarily sensitive skin. I'm allergic to chemical sunscreens, so this makeup, which is based on one of the metal oxides, is the only thing I can wear on my face for sun protection.
This foundation works best, however, with a decent exfoliator and a lot of moisturizer, because it plays up rough skin more than liquid. On the plus side, it doesn't streak, doesn't run, and doesn't look caky. Overall, almost everyone gets great results with it, but make sure you're properly moisturized before you start.
Lips: Never buy lipstick for anyone; you simply can't judge what it will look like. Even women don't have a very good idea of what will look as good on their lips as it does in the tube, which is why most of us have a drawer full of once-used drugstore lipsticks. What you can buy, if you're of a mind, is a set of lip gloss. Because they're sheer, almost all lip glosses look okay on almost everyone, and chances are she'll find a few she really loves. The great gloss trend is over, and gloss is on its way out, but you're still safe this year. This Stila set provides really good colors in small sizes at a really good price.
Cheeks: I just don't see the sense in paying good money for expensive blush. The stuff from the drugstore is the same damn stuff at half the price. If they must have their blush in a pretty, expensive container, buy them a gift card and let them pick it out themselves.
Eyebrows: Eyebrows make a dramatic difference in a face, but almost no one pays attention to them, and when they do, it's to draw horrible thick lines through them. For those who have had to cut back on the eyebrow waxes, a brow kit is a nice gift, and Sephora has a very affordable one. It includes stencils and tweezers, and more importantly, the right kind of brow color. Brow pencils are a travesty; what you should use is powder, wax, and gel to get gentle color and to hold stray hairs in place. The Sephora kit has them all.
Mascara: Another product that is just as good in the drugstore. However, right now there is a reason to trade up. Mascara should be used for a maximum of three months, because of the risk of eye infection, and ideally much sooner. The tubes we all buy last much longer than that. Sephora currently has a kit composed of best-selling mascara samples, which will last just about as long as they should before being thrown out. They give your giftee an opportunity to try out a bunch of different styles to see what she likes, and also a way to vary her look.
Eyeliner: You simply cannot beat Smashbox cream eyeliner, which combines beautiful color with flexibility, accuracy, and staying power. For a green-eyed girl, you can't beat this set, which has three green-friendly colors and an applicator brush. Otherwise, I suggest this mini starter palette, or a neutral brown. It's important to get a set that has the right brush in it, because the applicator makes a big difference.
Eyeshadow: This is the kit I'd recommend hands down. It's got a solid breadth of colors, both subtle and strong, which is the important thing when it comes to eyeshadow; if you're locked into one combination, you're boring yourself and not looking your best. As I said elsewhere, drugstore eyeshadow is just fine, but most people wouldn't give it for Christmas.
Perfume Most people don't realize just how intensely personal scent is. It interacts with the chemicals in your skin, so perfume that smells divine on one person (or in the bottle) can smell horrid on another. I have a friend who swears by the Philosophy line of scents, which make me smell like I've been ripening for decades in a nursing home.
My personal favorites are the Ralph Lauren scents; any of his perfumes smell good on me. But unless you have that kind of intelligence, you can't hope to guarantee a good match for your darling, because she won't even know whether it really works until she's worn it around for at least twenty minutes.
This year, Sephora has a great scheme: you buy a box with eight or nine samples in it, and your giftee can try them all, then bring in the enclosed voucher and get a full sized bottle of whichever one of the eight she likes best. There are three kits: the new classics, the trendsetter, and the best sellers. (There's also one for him) My personal pick would be the classics, which contains several of my favorites, but it's also $20 more than the other two. How to choose between best sellers and trendsetters? The name sort of suggests it. The best sellers tend to be lighter, somewhat more girlish fragrances; the trendsetters are edgier, and IMHO, sexier. You know better than I which your lady would prefer.
Bath For my money, if you want to give a lovely bath gift, you really can't beat L'Occitane en Provence. Their products are beautifully formulated and last forever, and the fragrances are light and classic. I suffer from hideously dry skin in the winter, and their shea butter products really do do a superior job of banishing dry skin. I can't afford them all the time, but I often get a gift box for Christmas, and I love them to death. Top picks are their Verbena bath salts, the Shea body cream, and this Verbena bath kit.
Face My pick for face cleaning and moisturizing is the Philosophy line, which is gentle and effective. Their "Makeup Optional Kits" come in different formulae; I use sensitive skin, but they also make a regular version, as well as one for people with breakout problems. This should be paired with an exfoliator, but you're better off letting your loved one select this, as they can go very wrong if not picked carefully. About all my skin can stand is a gentle rub with baking soda. Everyone swears by this new gadget, which apparently really does produce superior results, but I can't bring myself to invest; as it is, I still get carded in DC.
Hair I don't believe in expensive shampoos. Don't buy at the very bottom of the market, but the Nexxus, or Infusium, or for that matter, Pantene, all do just fine. Plus, you don't know whether your loved one wants color protection, maximum volume, or bouncy curls.
Tools One lovely gift that's almost never given is a really good set of makeup brushes. Those really do make a difference, and they're available in nice kits. In my opinion, Smashbox and Bobby Brown make the best brush kits, but Sephora makes good ones; I like this one for mineral makeup (aka Bare Escentuals) and this as an all-rounder.
Sorry to put you through that, but I've been wanting to gush about makeup for a long, long while.