I caught a BBC Radio 4 news item this morning, which said that UK consumers were being much more prudent nowadays where spending money is concerned. And the 'Lipstick Effect' was mentioned - meaning that women were still allowing themselves a little expenditure on cosmetics and beauty treatments, as an affordable way of feeling good, despite having to watch household costs in all other directions. (They didn't say what men were doing to keep their own spirits up. I'm guessing that they're just staying quiet, not wanting their wives and girlfriends to find out, and putting a stop to it)
No figure was put on what the average woman was spending on cosmetics or beauty treatments. It must vary hugely, and surely depends upon your age, the culture you belong to, your social status, whether you need to look good at work, whether indeed you go out much at all, and a host of other factors - the actual cash in your purse being just one of them.
You may for instance have overriding personal standards of appearance, and will put looking great ahead of eating enough food.
You may even have a psychological dependence on makeup, a terror of being seen in public without first 'putting on your face'. And really that's not something to laugh at. An awful lot of women might well feel horribly exposed if seen without at least the minimum of makeup.
Some may simply see it as an essential part of the persona they present to the world: and what indeed is a Goth girl, if she isn't wearing the proper amount of Goth makeup?
Speaking as a retired middle-class woman in comfortable circumstances, who likes to look well turned-out on both formal and casual occasions, but who can cheerfully slop around at home and in the garden without a qualm, I would say that my own spend in this area is as little as I can get away with.
For a long time now, I've spent cash only on lipstick, mascara for my eyelashes, and hand cream.
For me, that's all I really need. I have this theory, based on observation, that older women tend to use less and less in the way of cosmetics. It's something to do with the way the skin ages. Young girls, with their flawless elastic forgiving skin, can paint themselves up as they like, and the effect can look fantastic. But older women run the risk of looking like clowns - or female impersonators. The only way out of that, I think, is to look to endless beauty treatments, which if any good may put fresh life into tired skin, and allow a fancier cosmetic indulgence. And of course there are those lucky women who are naturally beautiful into old age.
I am not one of them. Nor am I willing to devote a significant part of my pension to a regime of rejuvenating treatments. So, not wishing to look like Co-Co the Clown, or Danny La Rue, I avoid excess where cosmetics are concerned.
What is my rock bottom line? Well, if I suddenly had to dash out at very short notice, I would still apply some lipstick, even if there was no time for anything else. That's my one essential item. I think it's the single most feminising cosmetic:
There, a shot from last January. An age-ravaged face redeemed just enough by a bit of lippy. Nothing else. No foundation, face creams, powders, etc. I think there may in fact be some mascara in the eye department - but who would really know, when you wear glasses?
Even in dim light, as illustrated in the next shot, the lipstick on its own pops obvious femininity onto a nondescript face:
Another thing about lipstick is that it defines the shape of one's lips, as the above pictures show. And - obviously - lipstick draws attention away from other parts of the face, such as a big hooter. And that's why I always wear it when out. Even when washing the car on my front drive! No kidding.
What will happen when I suddenly get a bit better-off in 2015 - when my State Pension begins to flop into my bank account every four weeks? Will I change my tune, and decide to treat myself to some beauty?
Ah, we'll have to see. I may have greater spending priorities. I think it's likely that I'd prefer to do more holidaying, attend more cultural events, and eat out more than I can presently afford. And many people would say that's putting sanity over vanity!