If I talk about being a teen a lot, it’s not because I liked it. I actually hated it. But… that’s kind of the magic of being a teen, right? It feels just as good to hate things as it does to love them, because every emotion is a new discovery. Your favorite band can be your whole world; an unrequited crush can be your great love; a stranger who reads the same websites you read suddenly gets you, because being passionate about the same things was the whole reason you were friends with people.
I haven’t been able to throw away many of my things from high school, because every time I see them I remember just how strongly I felt back then. About everything! And so much of that was communicated with beauty. The downside is, now that I’m effectively living in my teen bedroom again, there’s stuff EVERYWHERE. So I’ve been taking some time to excavate the remains. These lipsticks, hair dyes, and nail polishes collectively made up my personality between ages 14 and 19! At the very least, they deserve to be properly cataloged.
A Gossip Girl Nail Polish, ca. 14 years old
Relevant interests: The CW, nail polish blogs, my diary
How it holds up: like seasons 3-6, kind of unnecessary
I think I saw my first episode of Gossip Girl on an airplane. But I’m sure that I watched every single episode afterwards on live TV. I was obsessed. Particularly with Chuck Bass, my favorite character's love interest and all around horrible person. But I didn't realize that at the time, so I dreamt of buying Chuck’s season one signature scarf, which was a real thing sold at Brooks Brothers. I settled on this Nails Inc Gossip Girl collab instead. Like shatter top coats and magnetic nail polishes, the oil slick glitter offered a little beauty alchemy: on bare nails, it was nearly clear! But layered over a dark color it turned into a duochrome rainbow. Unsurprisingly, it brought me no steps closer to the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite.
A Rusty Eyeshadow, ca. 15 years old
Relevant interests: All Time Low, summer camp, the senior boys
How it holds up: like a fine wine, baby
I got my learner’s permit when I was 15 (that's Florida for ya), but I hated to drive and, the most important place I could imagine driving to—the mall—was walking-distance anyway. The mall was an amazing place. I’d spend hours trying on everything at Urban Outfitters and Sephora, then, when I was through, I’d get whatever sample they were serving at Godiva, or a Mrs. Fields cookie sandwich from the food court, and walk home. I actually first saw this MAC eyeshadow in this editorial. It isn’t even an editorial, really—it’s just two photos of a model and one line of descriptive text. But it rocked my world anyway because I had never seen an eyeshadow the color of Saffron. Orange! For your eyes! I power-walked to the mall so quickly that I had speed lines coming out of my backside. Now, of course, burnt orange eyeshadow is everywhere—I’d say Glossier Skywash in Terra is a pretty decent dupe. I was onto something!
A Singular, Unlit Candle, ca. 16 years old
I was 16 when I learned that lighters don’t last forever—eventually, they die! And so was the fate of the small turquoise lighter I stole from the kitchen junk drawer and lovingly covered in Lisa Frank stickers, because I thought it was my forever lighter and wanted it to say something about Who I Was As A Person. Luckily I was already in my car… so I drove straight to Target to get a new one. I also bought a pack of birthday candles, some small votive candles, and a $3 apple cinnamon scented Glade candle, lest the person at the checkout counter correctly assume why I needed the lighter. I needed a lighter for CANDLES, OK???? So, now I have this candle that smells less like food, and more like my grandma’s potpourri. Maybe I’ll burn it some day, but it’s been seven years already, so probably not.
A Lipstick For The SAT, ca. 17 years old
I had to follow a very specific pre-test ritual in order for the test to go off without a hitch. The playlist: Beyonce’s titular 2013 album, only the sexy songs. The hair: braids, so I couldn’t fidget with it. The outfit: white platform sneakers and a sweater with, like, 10 moon-charged crystals stuffed in the pockets. And of course, this Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics Lip Tar in Rollergirl on my lips, which is purple. I hoped it would be intimidating enough to scare that test silly, and always figured that if I could muster enough confidence to wear a weird lip color in a room full of high schoolers, keeping calm for an exam would be a breeze. And Lip Tars were amazing—you’d only need a DROP of this creamy goo to fully saturate your mouth with color. OCC mysteriously disappeared for a bit, but if you want to try this glory for yourself they seem to be selling at Walmart now? If you have any information on this please drop it in the comments.
A Prom Investment, ca. 18 years old
Relevant interests: Hole, Ancient Aliens, going away to college
How it holds up: better than the prom photos
I did not love high school, but I LOVED senior prom—the lead up, the getting ready, the actual dance which was in our school gym… all of it. I had the dress (a vintage tea-length bias-cut slip with beaded straps and a flocked velvet overlay I found deep in my grandma’s closet) before I had the date. But when a boy showed up outside my window playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” a la Say Anything, it was really game on. I planned on doing my own makeup, and thought it was a good time to step it up. A salesperson at Sephora must have recommended this foundation to me, and when I found it in my bathroom the other day I just had to put it on in the name of science. It’s totally full-coverage, but thick and hydrating, like a gluey cream. It has the same dewy finish I still look for in foundations. Honestly, I’d buy this foundation today! But… it is five years old, and smelled terrible so I washed it off immediately.
A Rainbow Of Hair Dyes, ca. 19 years old
Relevant interests: Father John Misty, my fake ID, writing fiction
How it holds up: like a McDonald's patty left on the counter
To be fair, I had been dipping my gloved hand into Manic Panic since I was 16, but it remained a staple up until I went to college. Once, I went to a discussion section and the girl sitting next to me started asking about my hair, which was totally bleached. I said she could come to my dorm after class and help me dye it whatever colors she wanted, which she did a combination of peachy orange and pinks. We were roommates the next year. And then I had a friend for life! There’s nothing more fun than Manic Panic, they have the best colors, and it’s never damaging. I still love it, though I don’t buy it at Hot Topic anymore. Now I’ve passed on my stash to my brother, who’s currently bleached—I’m so glad I didn’t throw it away.
Photo via the author