In the Raw: The Makeup of HBO’s Girls


I remember watching the terrible soap All My Children with my mom after school and that was the first time I ever noticed TV makeup (and terrible acting). Heavy, lip-lined, glistening, cakey monstrosities. But at the time, I thought those women were goddesses. Husband-murdering, conniving, sexy goddesses. And not much has changed, if you’re watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians, The Bachelor(ette), or even the evening news. But then the heavens opened up and gave us Girls. Shit got real. Even if you don’t watch the show, you have to give it praise for its commitment to authenticity: Girls shows sloppy, disappointing sex, bodies that are soft and lumpy and wonderful—bad haircuts abound. Because women in their 20s make a lot of mistakes, from the men they try on, to the tennis shoes with unnecessary wedges, the jobs they think they want, and the credit cards they thought were bulletproof. But we’re here to talk about the makeup. And so we went straight to the source: the show’s lead makeup artist, Patricia Regan, who spoke to ITG about how she crafts each character’s look to match their personality, after-sex mascara, and what every 20-something should stop doing to their beautiful face.

—Marianne Harris

ITG: If makeup is a reflection of your personality, what does each character’s look say about what’s going on inside?

Patricia Regan: The show is raw and sometimes there’s very little makeup. I try to keep Hannah really, really natural for a lot of it, which is slight corrective makeup—which you’re not supposed to see, and I don’t think you do! When she’s kind of bummed and down and out, that’s not a time when Hannah would get dolled up. Hannah likes to wear makeup when she goes to a party or something like that, she’ll decide to throw a little lipstick on.

ITG: And speaking of which, tell me about Jessa’s red lipsticks.

PR: In the episode where she confronts her friend who she thought was dead—Season 3’s “Dead Inside” [5]—it’s Revlon Certainly Red, which is a true red, almost old-fashioned, a 1950s color. The other color that I would have on her is Medieval from Lipstick Queen, which is a real Jessa color. She likes those dark colors. She doesn’t wear a lot of makeup, but she likes to throw on a lipstick here and there; it changes her entire complexion. Lipstick changes [Jemima Kirke’s] whole face—it suddenly looks like it’s much more made-up than it actually is. Some faces do that.

ITG: A lot of women say that wearing red lipstick makes them more confident, powerful even.

PR: I think a red lip transforms most women’s psyche. It’s empowering and you can’t put on a red lipstick and feel shy about it. It makes you stand up and say, ‘Hey, here I am.’ It commands attention.

ITG: Right, and there are some women who will never wear it.

PR: They’re shy; they would feel so self-conscious.

ITG: Marnie seems like one of those women.

PR: [For Marnie], we do very soft, very gentle makeup. She’s so pretty. Initially we put a little more makeup on in the earlier run of the show, but we’ve dialed it back a lot.

ITG: Why the change?

PR: We thought she doesn’t really need it—her character is just natural, with a little bit of mascara. She has such an open, bright face. She’s inquisitive of what’s out in the world.

ITG: Tell me about Shoshanna’s makeup.

PR: Now, Shoshanna is pretty natural. This season, she goes through a little bit of exploring, but I don’t want to give too much away. There is a change. Every season, we see them going through transformations and growing up slowly—they’re all coming into their own lives, coming into their own person, finding out who they are who they want to be.

ITG: Her naïveté can be frustrating to watch.

PR: But you know there are so many girls out there just like that! By having her on the show, they have somebody they can identify with.

ITG: So how does that come across in beauty?

PR: In the first season, we had bright pink lipsticks, and choices that were a bit awkward, like too-fuchsia lipstick, or maybe too-sparkly eyeliner. That was really pretty, but it was a little much. She went from nothing to all the way! We would try to make the choices a bit awkward, so they didn’t look like they were made up by a professional makeup artist, but something she saw in a magazine and thought was so cool. ‘Oh I’m going to do that, too!’

ITG: Speaking of seeing things in magazines, do you think people can really replicate step-by-step tutorials or editorial beauty looks and have it work in real life?

PR: It’s like Beyoncé at the Grammys! People saw that opening performance, and now on the way to the train you see girls trying to wear makeup like that. You think, ‘You’re not going to the Grammys, you’re going to school! Where are you going? You’re going to the grocery store?’

ITG: Do any trends frustrate you?

PR: We have lots of tattoos on the show, and I live in Williamsburg, but I’m so sick of looking at tattoos. I see some work that’s beautiful and I totally get it, and then there are others, where you think, ‘Were you drunk? Were you stoned? How did that happen?’ [Laughs]

ITG: Lena has a lot of tattoos—does she know you feel this way?

PR: Lena’s tattoos are childhood stories, and they’re clearly intricate and beautiful, and very Lena. When I first started working on the show, I read the script and it talks about the tattoos, and they’re so intricate and I thought, ‘Wait a minute! I’m going to paint these tattoos on every day?!’ I was like, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! I’m a makeup artist, I don’t know if I can paint all of that!’ I had worked with [Lena] before but on [the HBO series] Mildred Pierce and she played a nurse, so I didn’t see any skin. So when I saw her I said, 'Do you really have those tattoos?' She looked at me with a big smile and said, 'Don’t worry, I have those tattoos.'

ITG: What about the after-sex makeup look? What’s the secret to that?

PR: Really, really smudge the eyeliner with a Q-tip or a sponge. Sometimes I get lucky and we didn’t get all the makeup off from the night before and I can incorporate that into my work. That makes it look really real because mascara travels, and it will, in some places, be totally off. After sex, people get a bit sweaty, so that eyeliner or mascara can travel quite a bit!

If I paint on the liner, I paint it on really sloppy, more like sketching or watercolors. There’s a lot of distressing, a lot of taking things down.

ITG: So what would be a basic makeup routine you’d recommend for someone in her 20s?

PR: A nice eyelash curler is a really great investment—the Shu Uemura one. You don’t want to crimp your lashes, you want to curl them. Then I go with soft mascara, just a little coat, especially for daytime. If you go to a party you can add more. Then, I would groom the eyebrows, just brush them so they’re not unruly. A little lip gloss, like a tinted Burt’s Bees rose one, and that’s it. I say: don’t try to wear any makeup that doesn’t make you feel good. The point of makeup is to make you feel pretty. If you put on makeup that doesn’t do that for you, why wear it?

ITG: How do you make sure the makeup on the show doesn’t look too ‘done’?

PR: Sometimes, when I want the lipstick to be a bit quirky, I’ll ask them to do their own—to throw it on really fast, because sometimes that makes it more real. Especially with red lipstick, when people wop it on really fast, it’s a little bit asymmetrical, which makes it real. Or I’ll try to do the eyeliner a bit sloppy, especially on Hannah. Those are the nuances that I love.

I don’t want it so perfect. I don’t want it to look like a magazine cover that’s been airbrushed. These are supposed to be real girls. What girls do you know who have absolute perfect makeup?

 Photos [1, 7] Craig Blankenhorn/HBO; [2-6] Jessica Miglio/HBO.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Clever Girl Reviews

    I love how "real" this is. They are looking like the very "girls" you see everyday!

  • Nicole B.

    I love Jessa's hair in that 4th picture. I've been trying for so long to perfect that dutch braid and I just can't!

  • Nina R.

    Yikes! Why all the hate on "All My Children" form Marianne? It was a classic in its day and took on many controversial social issues. Nothing better to watch on a sick day or snow day back in the day! Why be so disrespectful?

    • eastvillagesiren

      Agreed. The comments set a negative tone. Why? And then the makeup artist criticizes young girls who wear what she thinks is too much makeup on the subway, but then says the point of makeup is to make us feel pretty. Maybe those girls feel pretty, maybe even powerful, wearing dramatic makeup. Live and let live, you know?

    • Harlowrose

      I'm an MUA and I love the makeup from back then. Joan Collins on Dynasty, Susan Lucci on AMC, and all the girls on Dallas. We get that the look of 'Girls' is natural, but most makeup artistry takes more than a few products.

      • eastvillagesiren

        Great comment and observation!

  • corina

    So grateful for this show and it's approach. With all the over-done concealing and contouring a la Kim K (emphasis on over-done.. nothing wrong with softening "imperfections" or enhancing contours a bit) it's started to seem like that was "progress" and we all needed to keep up with it. Girls takes us back to our roots and reminds us who we really are, without all that gunk added on.

  • Bells

    I love Marnie's "no-makeup" makeup. Would love to know which highlighter and light pink lipstick she wears!

  • Lisa

    THANK YOU! Love the show and how realistic the girls are portrayed. Would love a top shelf on Lena or Jemima!

  • Victoria Larroque

    it would be so neat to know who styles their hair! All those beautiful braids :)

  • Harlowrose

    I prefer Jessa's makeup more in season 1. I wish I knew those shades of lipstick.

  • pamb

    I'm sorry, but every time I see one of Lena's tattoos, I do think "were you drunk, or was the tattoo artist high?" In person they may be intricate, but they photograph terribly. Either on the show or on the red carpet, it's not a good look. But I still love you, Lena!

  • eastvillagesiren

    I regularly see women (and men) with dramatic daytime makeup in NYC: Some look amazing, others a bit insane, but to each their own. If they like it and are having fun, making a statement, being inspired or copying the style of someone they admire, go for it! If you like no makeup, super. If you like a light touch, awesome. If you're full-on color explosion, enjoy.

  • Laure

    What about Hannah's lipstick in the funeral scene (Season 3 Episode 5)? Has anyone figured out what it was? The color was gorgeous.

  • Manouk

    I freaking love GIRLS! Actually watching an episode right now :)


Revlon Super Lustrous Creme Lipstick
Revlon Super Lustrous Creme Lipstick
Lipstick Queen
Lipstick Queen Lipstick in Medieval
Shu Uemura
Shu Uemura New Generation Eyelash S Curler
Burt's Bees
Burt's Bees Lip Gloss

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