Beauty enthusiasts are throwing caution to the wind, embracing a playful aesthetic full of vivid hues and glittering adornments.
Taking cues from the anti-beauty movement, which challenges the cookie-cutter ideals of traditional beauty standards, and the euphoric beauty movement (see trend #51 in The Future 100: 2020), which celebrates makeup as a form of jubilant self-expression, a groundswell of experimental beauty is capturing consumers’ imaginations.
At the outset of quarantines and lockdowns, the novelty of not going out in public had people zipping up their makeup bags and unplugging their hair tools, relishing natural, low-maintenance routines. Makeup sales were down 22% in the first quarter compared to 2019, according to market research firm NPD; E.L.F. Beauty reported a “significant decline” in retail sales during the last two weeks of March; sales at Estée Lauder Companies dropped 11% in its fiscal quarter ending March 31; and in Japan, lipstick sales fell by over 20% in April, according to findings from Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs.
But as the weeks turned into months, people have begun to pick up their makeup brushes and flat irons again. With extra time on their hands and limited access to salons and professional services, beauty enthusiasts are leaning into DIY forms of self-expression, trying out new hairstyles and reaching for vibrant, eye-catching makeup.
Ebullient and inventive, this rising experimental beauty movement revels in the playfulness and vivacity of beauty, while offering an outlet for dreamy escape.
Consumers are stepping out of their comfort zones, transforming their manes with self-executed “quarancuts” and a rainbow of hair colors. Sales of hair clippers increased 166% and hair coloring products rose 23% in the first quarter compared to 2019, according to Nielsen data. Virtual try-on for L’Oréal Paris hair dye increased by 336% between March 1 and April 12 compared to the same time period between January and February, while L’Oréal-owned Color & Co. saw consultations increase from an average of 100 a day in March to over 1,000 as of April 29. Lulu Lang, CEO of DTC hair extension brand Luxy Hair, told Glossy that, “after the stimulus checks went out in April, we had a bigger sales day than Cyber Monday, which is typically our biggest day of the year.”
Salons and stylists are offering virtual consultations, guiding people through cutting and coloring at home. Launched in early April, You Probably Need a Haircut is a website that connects visitors with world-class stylists and barbers for appointments over video chat. Other independent stylists are teaching people how to create edgy cuts using whatever tools are on hand—with some of the more daring using nail scissors, X-Acto knives and even lighters.
Style icons, too, are using this time to experiment with their hair. Miley Cyrus debuted a mullet at the end of May, cut by her mom; Dua Lipa’s kaleidoscope of hair color has gone from bubblegum pink to peachy orange to neon strawberry since mid-April, with the help of her boyfriend; and Hillary Duff unveiled a deep aquamarine ’do in April.
The canvas doesn’t stop at the crown; when applying makeup, consumers are diving into the deep end of color, going bold in favor of muted neutrals and subdued minimal makeup. On May 15, 2020, Euphoria makeup artist Kirsten Coleman led a sold-out makeup tutorial on Zoom, taking attendees through a step-by-step recreation of looks from the show using rhinestones and saturated rainbow palettes. At the end of May, 2020, Urban Decay announced its next eyeshadow palette, called Ultraviolet, which will feature a range of colors from holographic lavender to glittery magenta to iridescent sea green.
On May 9, makeup artist Erin Parsons shared a tutorial on Instagram for how to recreate the flower lashes she applied on Kendal Jenner in February for a Garage Magazine feature, which has garnered over 66k views as of June 3. “After a period of minimal makeup, I could see a resurgence of the ‘Euphoria’ makeup—people trying things that are a little weird,” Parsons told The New York Times.
Makeup artist Nick Barose agrees. “Our reality is so uncertain that I can see people getting experimental,” Barose told The New York Times. “It’s a scary time, so it’s a time when you want to dream more, too.”
Main images courtesy of Sunwink