She wants "makeup" for her birthday. What should I buy her?
August 14, 2011 7:41 PM   Subscribe

She wants "makeup" for her birthday. What should I buy her?

My roommate, who will be turning 25 this month, replied "makeup" when asked what she wanted for her birthday. I'm male and unfamiliar with makeup, what she uses, what she'd like, etc.

I'd love to give her something that she hasn't tried, but will like when she does. Failing that, I'd be happy to give her something that she would have been buying anyway at some point.

How can I best approach this? Take a picture of her face to a cosmetics department? Rummage creepily through her drawers to see what she has already (no, I'm not actually going to do this)? Pick out things that I think would look good on her?

She's petite, Hispanic, dark skin, dark eyes, dark hair with blond highlights. She wears makeup everywhere and won't leave the house without it.

I don't want to give a gift card. Price isn't particularly a concern. Online or brick-and-mortar sources are both OK.
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (49 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Rejecting a gift card is totally unreasonable in these circumstances. You have to figure out where she shops / would shop and get her a gift card for that place. It's not even close; getting her actual individual products instead would be a huge mistake.
posted by Perplexity at 7:43 PM on August 14, 2011 [17 favorites]

Take her to the makeup purchasing place of her choice, and stand there cheerfully while she picks out what she wants, then pay.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:44 PM on August 14, 2011 [12 favorites]

...Women can be very particular about which specific colors do and don't work for them. Even women who don't wear much makeup at all (points to self) can get fussy about what colors of things work. If you purchased something, your odds of getting the wrong color/type/brand/whatever are HUGE.

Get a gift card. Seriously. This is something that's hard enough for a woman do to for herself, much less anyone else to do FOR her.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:44 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gift card to MAC or Sephora. As a non-makeup-wearing person myself, I wouldn't touch this one with a ten foot pole. Color, ingredient preference, etc selection is way too subjective.
posted by phunniemee at 7:44 PM on August 14, 2011 [31 favorites]

Possible long shot: if she's really into makeup, she might be a member of Makeup Alley, and if she's a member of Makeup Alley, she might have posted a wishlist or reviews of products she already loves.

Looking for her there is the 21st century somewhat less creepy version of rummaging through her drawers.
posted by telegraph at 7:46 PM on August 14, 2011

Yeah, do not give her products. Think she looks good in red lipstick? Whoops, you bought her one that leans blue instead of orange and it looks terrible. Or that is matte instead of shiny. Or that has terrible wear. Eyshadow? Oh turns out she hates glitter. Or hates it when it's matte. Or hates neutrals. Etc.

If you REALLY don't want a giftcard, Sephora does have an EXCELLENT return policy, but still, I implore you: just give her a MAC/Sephora giftcard. Really. Seriously.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:47 PM on August 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Price range? The Urban Decay 15th anniversary palette is new and fun; if she doesn't have it already the UD Naked palette is great too. Both may be more than you want to spend, though (around $50). But yeah, gift card.
posted by lysimache at 7:47 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take a look at the brand(s) of her existing make-up. Google it or report back, and likely we can tell you where to get a gift card for it. Seriously, make-up is WAAAAY too personal unless she tells you what she wants (down to the item number, maker and color code).

I'd just go with a Sephora card, because as make-up clueless as I am, I find they have some great stuff.
posted by smirkette at 7:47 PM on August 14, 2011

My sister likes makeup, and for her birthday this year I bought her a six month subscription to Birchbox (you can also do three-month or full-year subscriptions. It's ten dollars per month, the recipient fills out a questionnaire about her skin and hair type and color, and each month you receive a beautifully packaged box with samples of luxury cosmetics (including makeup, face/hair/body care products, and/or fragrances).

I'm a beauty product dork myself so I've been getting this for a few months now, and it's pretty exciting to "unbox" my box each month. Not every product is a winner but I've gotten some pretty great things I'd never buy for myself and it's a really fun way to try out new things, plus once or twice I've gotten a full-sized product along with smaller samples.

So that would be a fun alternative to a gift card, and less pressure than trying to buy a product in hopes she'll like it.
posted by padraigin at 7:47 PM on August 14, 2011 [63 favorites]

Definitely a gift card. There's no way you're going to be able to make a good selection. The only other option is to bring a decent picture of her - giving a good idea of her skin tone, eye color, hair color, and personal style - to a really good cosmetic counter person, give that person your budget, and take her recommendation, making sure whatever you end up withm you have a wide open ability to return/exchange. And let your giftee know of this wide open return/exchange.

Makeup is really individual. It is best if the person picks it out themselves. Second best is informed professional consult - so get that.

Third option: I have gone to places like Aveda for a "free" makeup/makeover and consult. The expectation is that you buy something at the end, but in the process you get great coloring/makeup advice. Ask at a counter about a makeup consult - if they do it for free, offer to take your friend to the appointment and buy her one of the items from her makeover.
posted by Miko at 7:48 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing the gift card idea. If you want to give her something to unwrap, get a small but decent set of makeup brushes and wrap the card with those. Sephora has some nice basic ones.
posted by corey flood at 7:54 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Good call, brushes are always good and not as individual as color.
posted by Miko at 7:55 PM on August 14, 2011

I love love love makeup palettes, and would love (and have loved!) to get them as a gift. And everyone who commented above that makeup is tricky is correct. However, cross-marketing is a beautiful thing. Does she also love True Blood? Go for this. What about Hello Kitty? Or Wonder Woman? (I have and would recommend all of these, but of course it depends on what your friend is into.)
posted by ferociouskitty at 8:00 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you really want to buy her a product (and for the record, I think the gift card thing is much better), you could get her a Burberry mascara. It is the shit. I would also recommend a MAC angle brush and/or the kabuki powder brush.
posted by Go Banana at 8:01 PM on August 14, 2011

Along the lines of Miko's suggestion of brushes there is always a nice freestanding makeup mirror, you can get all sorts with nice daytime toned lights in and magnifying on another side for not too much money. Bed bath and Beyond has some pretty good ones at an OK price. Also a good makeup bag or 2 or some sort of storage for her makeup. I know that always goes down well with me.

I'd be very careful with makeup as not only are tastes personal, but if you get the wrong brand or ingredients she can have reactions or breakouts. So I'd nth the gift card. Or maybe pay for her to go have a nice facial or make over. If you don't want to go the gift card route take her out shopping to Sephora or the like and pretend to be interested for half an hour while she looks around and then buy her something while she's there.
posted by wwax at 8:03 PM on August 14, 2011

Okay, so yes, the giftcard would be the safest option. But . . . if she loves makeup, and has dark eyes and dark skin, chances are she would use a black eyeliner, at least once in a while. Given Sephora's return policies, you could walk in there and ask them to show you their absolutely top end luxury black eyeliner. Then it's up to her to recognize how awesome you are to do this, and be an all-round gracious recipient of such generosity.

(on preview - Go Banana's ideas sound pretty good too.)
posted by synapse at 8:07 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

You know, I tend to think that anyone that suggests make-up as a present isn't particularly picky. I'd go with an eye shadow palette in some fun colors, nail polish, or any of the pre-selected kits that most of the major brands has. Mascara is pretty safe, too.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:08 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not hispanic, but have similar coloring, and yes, you can't go wrong with a nice black mascara/black eyeliner. But I'd also heartily recommend a brush set, or if she already has a ton of brushes/accessories, a nice "train case" ( to store makeup). But back all this up with a Sephora gift certificate, because that is an awesome gift.
posted by sweetkid at 8:11 PM on August 14, 2011

A lot of bigger department stores have huge sections devoted to makeup, with each brand in its own little pavilion. I'd recommend a gift card for one of these stores, so she can pick and choose amongst brands as she pleases, and maybe also get her a makeup consult - walk around the booths and see which ones have pictures of women with her coloring - MAC is always pretty awesome and suits a wider range of skin tones than most, and is always in the department stores.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:14 PM on August 14, 2011

Gift cards, brushes, anything else is a world of pain.
posted by mleigh at 8:17 PM on August 14, 2011

You're being set up to fail here. Is there a Nordstrom's in your town? You can do your best with someone at one of the makeup counters, and when you are inevitably wrong, she can return it. Nordstrom has ridiculously liberal return policies.
posted by Gilbert at 8:28 PM on August 14, 2011

You know, my first thought was "IT'S A TRAP!" and I was going to tell you to get a gift-card. But the girl asked for makeup, that's what I would get for her. Makeup is a very individual thing, yes, but maybe she's looking to be surprised, knowing that places like Sephora have generous returns policies.

I don't have any specific recommendations but taking her photo to Sephora is a good idea, or: a nice presentation of a black eyeliner and a small set of sparkly eye-shadows, perhaps with a gift-certificate to bump up the amount level to whatever you feel is appropriate. Girls like to open stuff on their birthday, especially when it's the exact thing they asked for.
posted by bleep at 8:34 PM on August 14, 2011

Birchbox! Do Birchbox! I got my first one this week and I'm in looooove. I've been telling all my friends about it and I'm already dying for the next one. Plus, I read on one of the makeup blogs that their next box (September) will be really awesome since it's their one year anniversary. So make sure to sign her up before the end of the month if you go that route.
posted by sugarfish at 8:35 PM on August 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Can you ask her this question? "Makeup" is a pretty broad category, and it seems to me that there should be room to chat with her about things like color/brand/product preferences or skin sensitivity considerations without straight-up asking her to say exactly what she wants (I guess some people might consider asking her to pick out her own present gauche or something). Maybe she could give you some extra guidance.

That said, this Birchbox thing sounds pretty awesome. I'm off to check it out myself right now...
posted by ootandaboot at 8:39 PM on August 14, 2011

oh my gosh you're making this complicated! she wants makeup? she wants a gift card. absolutely. shopping for makeup is fun. mac, sephora, walgreens, whatever - she wants a giftcard.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:08 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Urban Decay Naked Palette. High-end enough to be a good gift, but chock full of neutrals to avoid hated-color gaffes.
posted by delight at 9:10 PM on August 14, 2011

A second comment: there's nothing wrong with a gift card. Your feelings - be they romantic or platonic - should be written in the accompanying note. If you're scared to write your feelings out, show her how you feel by taking her out that night. But spending money on surprise makeup is a waste. Gift card!
posted by moxiedoll at 9:16 PM on August 14, 2011

I got some sparkly Sephora eyeshadow as a present that I love. For someone with dark skin and eyes, I think a bronze or coppery color, or a subdued purple, would look nice. Eyeshadow is something that doesn't have to match your skin tone as perfectly as blush or foundation, and it's fun to get something you wouldn't have bought yourself. I would give the Sephora salesperson the same description of her that you gave us, and see what colors they suggest.

*If you've ever noticed that she wears bright colors of eyeshadow or nail polish when going out, it could also be fun to pick a brighter color (I like green, myself), but I wouldn't do that unless you're sure you've seen her wear stuff like that.

Another suggestion might be to look at some celebrities or models that look similar to her (any girly magazine will have tons of ads to look at) and see what colors they are wearing.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:23 PM on August 14, 2011

Here's the best make-up gift:

1. Look at the makeup she has, notice which brand name crops up most.
2. Call the biggest, nicest department store in the area and ask to talk with that brand name's makeup counter rep.
3. Ask to schedule a consultation (at a time when both you and roommate can go).
4. After the consultation purchase as a gift roomie's absolute favorite item she tried on. Or two favorite items, etc.

Bonus steps:

5. Don't say anything about all the makeup she's wearing after the consultation. They're not exactly trying to make her look gorgeous with all that stuff on—it's more of a run-through of lots of products.
6. Froyo after.
posted by carsonb at 9:33 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

The only problem with the Naked palette is that it is immensely popular--Sephora and UD couldn't keep it in stock--so if she's a makeup fiend, she either wants it (good), has it (bad), or has enough Urban Decay products that she doesn't need it (bad).
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:54 PM on August 14, 2011

Well, you can't go wrong with an Urban Decay 24/7 eye pencil, in my opinion. The best eyeliner I've ever used and so, so worth the expense (they're about $20 each, which sounds insane for an eye pencil, but I can't speak highly enough about these things). I am not a shill, I just love these things.

Does she wear really interesting, bold eye makeup? If so, one of the funkier colors would be great, like Ransom (blue) or Electric (another blue, this one lighter), Eldorado (gold), or Graffiti (green).

If her makeup is more staid, Stash is an amazing go-to color for any eye color; it's a nice army green and is interesting without being wild. And you can't go wrong with Zero, a matte black, although she probably already owns a black pencil (it's not as nice as this one, unless it is this one; this might be too safe a choice). Gunmetal is good, too; it's a silver-grey color.

You can buy these at Sephora, which is in most malls; from the Urban Decay website; or even on Amazon. They also sell Urban Decay at some of the higher-end department stores. Ooo! They have a store locator on their website.
posted by k8lin at 10:21 PM on August 14, 2011

Eh, all these high-end suggestions...I dunno if that suits a person who actually asked for just "makeup." This sounds more like she wants to have fun than like she wants to have the world's most astonishingly wonderful $50 black eyeliner or whatever.

This is $200, but -- Make your own Mineral Makeup Kit. Yeah!

The same people make giant palettes with a zillion colours, which get pretty good reviews (many colours are purported "MAC dupes," that is, duplicates) despite the cheap prices. I'm betting anyone who likes makeup enough to just ask for "makeup" would find something like Combo Set 7 a hella fun birthday present.

(If not -- Nth the Birchbox idea)
posted by kmennie at 10:21 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you're looking for something a little more interesting, NARS makes an excellent blush in a color that is sure to be conversation-starting. Orgasm is a great color for any skin tone; The Multiple is a good option, because it can double as lip color or eye color. However, since you're roommates, this might be too racy. It's also a bit expensive at $40.
posted by k8lin at 10:25 PM on August 14, 2011

personal opinion...nothing says 'fancy' like Chanel. She will not be upset by a gift card from them.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:18 PM on August 14, 2011

What? Odd. Gift card, all the way, there's no way she's expecting you to pick out makeup for her.
posted by desuetude at 11:27 PM on August 14, 2011

Yes, asking for a gift card outright would be tantamount to asking for money, so of course she wouldn't put it that way. If there were a good way for you to pick stuff out on her behalf, we could probably think of it (and she would probably be happy with that), so I'm not trying to imply she's being disingenuous or anything. But the gift card is probably the best way to delight her in this case.
posted by tel3path at 12:55 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also recommend the gift card or Birch Box route, but.... if you are looking for specific product suggestions, Dior Diorshow Iconic mascara is pretty universally adored and high end enough that would make a nice gift. I'd squeal with happiness if I received it and I'm a makeup junkie and buy that myself regularly.
posted by like_neon at 1:39 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a different colouring to her entirely, but you really won't go wrong with Urban Decay's 'Naked' palette. Another product that seems near-universally liked is Urban Decay's primer potion - stuff that makes eyeshadow stay on.

Though you don't say what budget you have - I'd rather someone buy me one thing that I'd use than ten things I wouldn't, so if she likes the higher-end stuff, better to look at what you can buy there than go for something from your local drugstore. (A lot of drugstore make-up is great, but some of those into particular 'luxury' brands are loath to try it.)
posted by mippy at 2:56 AM on August 15, 2011

Someone asking for "makeup" isn't going to hate receiving make-up rather than a gift card for make-up. And I think you're right in this case to prefer getting an actual gift rather than a gift card (though a gift card would be fine too).

Go to Sephora. They have lots of palettes and boxed sets with a variety of products in them (lip gloss, mascara, eye liner, maybe bronzer and an eye shadow palette, that kind of thing). These are the most fun things to get as gifts because it lets you try a lot of things out that you wouldn't necessarily indulge in purchasing yourself. If you can figure out a brand she likes that's really helpful. Otherwise, I'd suggest looking for sets by Too Faced, Smashbox, Urban Decay, NARS, Make Up Forever or Stila. Put the receipt in with the gift. If she does hate it, Sephora will take back anything.

Have had a quick look through and here are some that look good.
posted by Polychrome at 3:33 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does she own/wear a lot of nail polish, too? Does she wear glitter, NOT a lot of glitter, or mixed?

Glitter: Pick a rainbow from Nfu Oh's Flakies/Victorian/Holo/Glitter series or Glitter Gal's holo/sparkle series (you might have to hit eBay for Glitter Gal if you're in the US).

Mixed: Pick from Nubar's The Painted Nail series or Deborah Lippmann.

Not glitter: Orly's Birds of a Feather collection, Nubar's Venetian Glass collection.

But really: Birchbox or gift card.
posted by anaelith at 5:05 AM on August 15, 2011

While I think that it's very strange for a woman to ask someone else for "makeup," especially when that someone else is a man, and that you will win here with a gift card, there are a few things that "work for everybody."

(I have similar coloring.)

Clinique Honey is a lipstick/lip stain that has been a bestseller for decades. It's sheer so it actually does look great on almost everyone.

Guerlain makes these powder compacts that are full of iridescent "pearls" that are supposed to make you "glow." It's supposed to work for everyone.

You can get her a primer, which goes underneath foundation, and usually comes in one-color-fits-all. Primer has become a big deal and they have whole displays in Sephora with the different kinds.

There are actually a lot of products around now whose colors allegedly work with all skin tones and people. Go to Sephora and say that you're looking for a gift for a woman who's Hispanic but you don't know mug about makeup so you'd like to go with one of these products that "work for everybody."

Unless you already know the specific product you want, stay away from the individual brands' counters at the department store. They have to be brand-loyal and you might not get the best thing for you, as opposed to Sephora where they sell all brands.
posted by thebazilist at 5:52 AM on August 15, 2011

Ex- BeneFit Cosmetics makeup-applier-bot here. I would probably do gift card, yes, but if you're dead set on surprising her with actual product, here's what I would do.

1. BeneTint Cheek and Lip Stain. It's a bright, liquid red, and looks pretty scary to use, but it's actually very sheer and is supposed to simulate the color of literal blood rushing to the cheeks/lips. I've used it on everyone—from the palest girl to the darkest. Seriously.

2. High Beam highlighter. Three little dots go right under the eye socket and up toward the temple. This is the stuff that makes us all jealous of celebrities' cheekbones. It does honestly look super weird on really dark skintones, but Latina? She's safe. If she does happen to be super dark complexioned, they have a product for that too.

3. Blinc Kiss Me mascara. This stuff is amazing. It creates TUBES around your lashes. TUBES! Doesn't smudge or cry off, but you can wash it off with a ton of water and then pull the TUBES! off with your fingers. It's SCIENCE.

4. Nthing Clinique's Black Honey lip stuff. My extremely pale friend zoomorphic just bought some the other day. Looks great. I, a bit tanner than she, tried it on. Looks great. The girl next to me, who is Latina, whipped some out on Friday. Looks great.

*Note: None of these companies pay me anymore. I just like these products.
posted by functionequalsform at 6:50 AM on August 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

for what it's worth, I never ask for money as a gift, but when I do ask for "makeup" I mean giftcard to MAC or Sephora. Shopping for makeup is fun, especially at higher end stores.

If you want to get her something, I might go with this Diorshow Iconic mascara in Noir. Personally, I love this stuff--I got it as a gift and it's way more than I would ever spend on myself.
posted by inertia at 7:36 AM on August 15, 2011

An eyelash curler is another very valuable tool you could buy. I recommend the Shu Umuera.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:18 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get her a Sephora gift card or Birch Box subscription. Most of the suggestions in this thread are for well-known, popular items that she may already have (and I have met people who hate Diorshow mascara, hate Black Honey, hate Nars Orgasm, &c. If it doesn't work for you you don't wear it.) Getting palettes that you don't choose yourself always sucked for me, and I was a person who looked totally washed out in any of the lowest-common-denominator "neutral" things that supposedly looked good on everybody. If she's already got brushes or an eyelash curler she'll just have to return them and get something else, which is essentially getting a gift card only with more awkwardness.

This is such a weird request to make of a roommate that I can't imagine she's thinking you'll buy her specific items or tools.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:05 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have to thank this thread for introducing me to Birchbox. WOW. And seeing as how someone like me who is only a little into makeup got so excited by it, I've gotta nth it for your friend.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 4:21 PM on August 15, 2011

Just as a data point, I love makeup but I do not wear eyeshadow or eyeliner ever. The only eye makeup I wear is mascara. So some things which may seem universal, aren't. Makeup is really a very personal thing.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:13 PM on August 15, 2011

Does she wear nail polish? A bottle of Chanel nail polish in a bright, fun color or bright metallic.

Or maybe a couple of really bright or really glittery eyeshadows from Nars or Mac? Something fun. That's if you don't go the gift-card route - sometimes it's fun to have a bottle of ridiculous polish or eyeshadow but you don't want to spend the money yourself, but if someone else buys it.. hey! awesome!
posted by citron at 5:21 PM on August 15, 2011

I would say gift card. Otherwise, I'm kind of a low-maintenance makeup lover and usually go for the palettes because I can experiment with different colors and don't have to buy new makeup very often. One of the Urban Decay palettes would be great, and sometimes comes with a small tube of their eye shadow primer which is AWESOME stuff. Otherwise definitely gift card to Mac or Sephora.
posted by fromageball at 4:45 PM on September 6, 2011

« Older 21st Century Optometry & Eyeglasses?   |   How can I watch a MLB game for free? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.