Drugstore Cowboy: Redux


You may remember Irina—writer, fervent vintage/eBay shopper, Brooklynite—from her ITG profile, in which she admitted her love for cheap bronzer and CoverGirl eyeliner and also that she never washed her face (for this, she took a lashing in the comments).  In the last installment of Drugstore Cowboy, she indulged her discount-beauty fantasies, to mixed results. When we finally found time to make another run for this column, Irina said she didn't have any specific needs. But the minute we walked into the Duane Reade, she rattled off a shopping list: a Nineties-style brick-red lipstick, shampoo, a razor...Were these just things she'd run out of? As it turns out, no. Below, we discuss her haulincluding lipsticks, a razor, blonde-ing shampoo, and white eyeliner—after two weeks of trial and error. 

 —Nick Axelrod

Nick: Since we last did a Drugstore Cowboy run, how’s your beauty routine changed, or has it stayed the same? What are your new wants and desires?

Irina: As we discussed last time around, the upside of buying makeup at the drugstore is that the stakes are, generally, lower. You're investing less (time, money, commitment) and therefore have a greater incentive to experiment. If you need the perfect red lipstick, you go to Nars. If you don't know what you need, you go to the drugstore. I think of it like the impulse buy at the register—I don't NEED a pack of marshmallow Peeps, but there they are and I should probably have them. Which is all to say that I had no particular wants or desires preceding our trip, until I got there and certain questions arose: what is an eye highlighter and do I need it? Could a shampoo make me blonder? Should I upgrade my razor to something more…serious?

Nick: Walking into Duane Reade, you said you didn’t need anything in particular, but you gravitated to ‘90s-era raisin-colored lipsticks—why?

Irina: A starter lipstick is kind of like a starter car—you associate it with your first makeout session and always wish you still had it. The first lip color I ever bought was a reddish-brown Revlon, because my favorite movies at the time were Empire Records, Chasing Amy, Can't Hardly Wait, Scream, and Hackers. If Drew Barrymore or Liv Tyler wore it, I wanted it. So, in middle school I bought this lipstick the color of bricks at a drugstore in Coney Island, and applied it so often—I was 14—that I wore it down to its stem. Back then, the shade felt moody and cool and very grown up, and lately I’ve been wishing for an updated version of it. So when we walked into Duane Reade, I thought, ‘Of course! Of course it still lives in a cheap cosmetics aisle.’ 

Nick: Which of the four shades we bought were your favorites?

Irina: I don't understand the decision to name a lip color after the saddest of snack items: the raisin. That said, L'Oréal's Resilient Raisin and Revlon's Rum Raisin are tied for the win. I can't choose one because they are completely identical, which I didn’t think was possible until I applied them side by side—Resilient Raisin on the top lip and Rum Raisin on the bottom—and honestly couldn't tell the difference. Each one is rich and saturated. I also quite liked Revlon's Mink, which is a bit more understated and elegant and the perfect shade for daytime, I think. (I blame you, Nick and Emily, for making phrases like “the perfect shade for daytime” part of my vocabulary.) L'Oréal's Spice, however, was disappointing, since it made me look somewhat goth; it was less Katie Holmes in Go, and more Katie Holmes in Pieces of April.

Nick: Moving on, you switched to men’s shaving accouterments. How are they different fom the Venus' and Intuitions of the world? Always wondered. Do you get a closer shave?

Irina: A few years ago, I switched to men's razors and shaving creams for several reasons: they are cheaper, work better, and have less offensive scents than the women's ones. (Seriously, who wants their legs to smell like Kiwi fruit?) I usually use Schick Xtreme3 disposables for men, but at the drugstore, Emily handed me a Gillette Mach 3 and said, "This will change your life." And it did. The blades are sharper, which means less work and no irritation, and it’s nice and heavy in the hand, which makes it feel like a Serious Shaving Instrument.

Nick: You made a big fuss about getting sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners, because you said the sulfates give you frizzy “Russian hair.” Can you explain?

Irina: I've always wanted to be one of those women who showers and leaves the house. You know the type? They get on the subway with wet hair, and in the afternoon, it looks flawless. My hair is wavy and frizzy, so if I do that, it gets really big and poofy. Like Grace Coddington’s hair but not nearly as cool because mine is long and dishwater blond. A few years ago, I learned that the culprit was sulfates. Sulfates! I don’t know what these are exactly, but any shampoo that has them makes my hair feel very ‘treated.’ When I switched to L’Oréal EverStrong Sulfate-Free Shampoo, my hair—always air-dried now—became light and silky. So, now I react to sulfates like a cat to water.

Nick: Good for you, but what about this John Frieda Go Blonder Shampoo we found… All of a sudden, we stopped worrying about the sulfates. This shit promised to make you blonder and perkier and happier. So, does it work? Is your hair any lighter/happier/frizzier?

Irina: I admit I was intrigued, but I’m sad to report that the marketing is beauty quackery. For starters, the color of the shampoo is a disturbing acid-yellow and it smells like bad perfume. But more importantly, my hair immediately became big, brittle, and heavy. Maybe it would have lightened in color eventually, but I quit after three washes. If you want your hair to be blonder, you should dye it. Duh, I know. But these products prey on the weak.

Nick: Another idea you had was that a white eyeliner would help "open up" your "small eyes," i.e. make them look bigger. Who told that? Also, why do you want bigger eyes? They seem adequately sized.

Irina: My mom once declared one of my ex-boyfriends to be untrustworthy after seeing just a photo of him. “He has small eyes,” she said. This theory came up again a few weeks ago after watching the Oscars, when my boyfriend told me that actors must have big eyes or else the audience doesn’t believe them. (We were discussing Anne Hathaway, I think.) All of which made me nervous that my eyes are too small for anyone in the world to ever trust me. :-/

Nick: How did the Almay “Wake-Up” Eyeliner and Highlighter help in the eye-widening/trustworthiness department?

Irina: So, the liner, which has brown eyeliner on one end and white highlighting liner on the other, promised to open my eyes with “hydrating cucumber, anti-oxidant rich green tea, and energizing caffeine.” The packaging instructed me to “sweep cooling highlighter below the brow bone and in corners of eyes to instantly awaken tired eyes.” I was awoken—or alarmed, rather, to find that my eyes were essentially lined with white glittery smudge. Unless you worship at the beauty altar of an angsty tween, I don’t recommend it. Try it for yourself, if you don't believe your persistently-small-and-tired-eyed tester.

Irina Aleksander is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic, the New York Times, the New York Observer, and Elle, among other publications. She was photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on April 2, 2013.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • http://twitter.com/Alouette_Jolly Ada

    Revlon is a drugstore brand which (next to Nyx) broke the mould on good lipstick. And L'oreal has more than a few winners too!

  • sashi

    Raisins- the saddest snack! Hilarious.
    As Daria off MTV said (in the 90s in fact) "If raisins are nature's candy,why do they have to cover them with chocolate to sell them at the movies?"
    More on point, why is the color of lipstick called raisin anyway, because to me actual raisins are dark brown, not red at all....maybe mahogany, but it's a stretch.
    Less on point, but still on the same fruit- why is the flavor grape called grape, in candy or juices, when it tastes nothing like an actual grape, not even a little bit. This came up when we were chomping on leftover Easter candy at the office snack counter last week. The purple jelly beans - what is that flavor? Children's Triaminic, that's what. Certainly not a grape. Awful. They should at least be wine- flavored!
    Anyway, Irina is charming and reminds me a little of Jessa of Girls. She sounds fun.

  • http://twitter.com/valentina_novo Valentina Novo

    Love the photos and I don't think the dark lipstick shade makes her look goth at all, I think it looks great!

  • http://glitterandgapske.blogspot.com/ Alyssa Gapske

    I'm a huge fan of the Go Blonder conditioner. It takes away brassiness and leaves my hair shiny. The shampoo however, is a disaster. I don't recommend it for a second.


  • Jen

    I happen to love raisins.

  • Guest

    "If you need the perfect red lipstick, you go to Nars. If you don't know what you need, you go to the drugstore." Beauty words to live by.

  • hollygoeslightly22

    I laughed out loud and almost choked on my oatmeal @ Nick Axelrod: "This shit promised to make you blonder and perkier and happier. So, does it work? Is your hair any lighter/happier/frizzier?" Regarding John Frieda.

    The thing with drugstore products is that they are cheap and don't really do the job. The eyeshadow doesn't stay on and the lipstick can feel chalky. Sure, I'll pick up eye makeup remover, razors, etc. at the drugstore but the make up is usually disappointing. Also, I found that sulfate free shampoo weighs my hair down and I had to switch back to bubbly, frothy shampoo.

    I appreciate the 90s film references: Go, Empire Records, Chasing Amy. My youth!

  • http://nomadic-d.blogspot.com/ Nomadic D.

    Oh my god. Rum Raisin was one of my first lipsticks back in the 90s as well! And I had forgotten all about it until this post! Thanks so much for that great blast from the past. Actually can't even believe they still make it. Just goes to show you. Maybe I need to go out and repurchase it as well...


  • Lana Nasser

    Experimenting with high end brands can be pricey, but honestly speaking, playing around with low end drugstore products will never parallel the real deal stuff. I think everyone has different needs, some can be fulfilled with drug store finds, and some simply cannot.

  • Silvy

    Acure is the best sulfate-free shampoo! Cruelty-free too, and cheap

  • http://www.facebook.com/stelladallas Alice Dennard

    I am devoted to the regular John Fredia Blonde series- it's all I've used since I was 13 and they had those ads with the twins with cool bobs. Last summer I decided to try using Aveda shampure once and a while and it immediately made my blonde hair dark and brassy. I tried the "Blonder" to make it return to it's somewhat normal state and it helped quite a bit, I think the regular blonde series would have probably worked just as well though...

  • Harlowrose

    I can't have raisins in anything. Which is why I'll never have an English pudding at Christmas.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jennifer.monforton.79 Jennifer Monforton

    I have so much love for Revlon lipsticks. Nice to see them featured here :)



  • Soraya

    Irina is right, I wouldn't want kiwi scented legs, I would prefer mine to smell like pistachio instead.

  • thejulia

    Not to generalize on my part, but I'm pretty sure Asians would be upset to hear that having small eyes make them appear untrustworthy.

    • Lischelt

      Using "not to generalize" to qualify a fairly blatant generalization is redundant, don't you think?

  • Nina

    This is such a fun read, thanks. Now, my problem is that I'm experimenting with high end products instead of drugstore and that's an expensive habit...

  • Shirin

    If you want to open up your eyes line the bottom waterline with FLESH coloured liner, white liner is a bit ice queenish. Rimmel does a really good gel pencil version

  • murt

    Great post! My first lipstick - also when I was 13 and 14 - was Revlon Raisin (at least I think it was just called Raisin...) Like Irina, I wore it all the time. Maybe I should check it out again, if it still exists.

    I am also a fan of men's razors, sulfate free shampoos, and not washing my face regularly.

  • No

    Nooo! The ABSOLUTE best brick-colored lipstick is Revlon's toast of New York!

  • ModernGrace

    Lipsticks named ____ raisin is so 90's. Every single line had at least one.


L'Oreal Infallible Le Rouge
L'Oreal Infallible Le Rouge Lipcolor in Resilient Raisin
Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick
L'Oreal Colour Riche
L'Oreal Colour Rich Lipstick in Spice
Gillette Mach 3 Razor
Schick Xtreme 3 Disposable Razors
John Frieda Sheer Blonde
John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Shampoo
John Frieda Sheer Blonde
Almay Wake Up Eyeliner + Highlighter