For many women, navigating the beauty counters is about choice. Do you want a makeover? Some new lip gloss? How about a concealer? The options seem endless. Unless you’re at the darker end of the black scale. The brush-wielding makeup artists don’t even approach. No need to. They don’t have my shade anyway.
The thing is, I’m a beauty person. I’ve been getting my hair and nails done since I was 9; brows started in high school. I tried every god-awful makeup trend as a teen. All of this is to say I’ve always been a consumer in the most obsessive sense. My taste is more sophisticated now, and I can usually afford to buy what I want, but the ability to spend still doesn’t grant me the access to items I want.
I’m also, obviously, a beauty editor, and the lack of cosmetics—particularly the basics, like foundation and concealer—for my skin tone has always bothered me. When I ask companies about extending their lines for women of color, I’m usually told some version of “we’re working on it,” or shown one or two dark shades. Counterside makeovers can be humiliating; I end up in whiteface or am told point-blank they don’t have my color. And it’s great that former supermodel Iman has developed a makeup line for women of color, but I want variety.
I decided to test the current situation. Without identifying myself as an editor. I spent a few days in the stores, scanning the offerings and telling the counter people that I was looking for a foundation, some concealer, and a few new spring colors. I also asked for makeovers.
At the Bloomingdale’s Giorgio Armani counter, the darkest shade is 12.5; the woman tries it on me. It’s too red. She goes down to 11; it’s so-so. And what about summer, when I have a tan? “We can fix any problem,” she says, mixing bronzer into the 11. Which makes it lighter.
I go to Yves Saint Laurent Beauté at Barneys. The man at the counter swabs me with a few options; again, I think I look too red. He says it’s perfect. Even for summer? “You don’t need anything in the summer,” he says. Well, I think I do. But he says I don’t.
At Chanel, I pick up a bottle and ask, “Is this the darkest shade you have?” The counter woman nods and says, “Unfortunately. I’m sorry.” She calls out to her colleague at the Shiseido counter—a dark-skinned black woman—to see if that line has anything. The woman looks up, sees me, and laughs in a friendly way. She suggests Armani (been there) or Nars.
I walk by T. LeClerc; nothing. At Bobbi Brown, the makeup artist takes out the company’s four dark tones, but seems skeptical. So am I. I thank him and walk away.