If you live and work in New York City, chances are you've attempted to fix your makeup on the subway. And for those who are more ambitious, some mornings include a full makeup application en-route to your job. However, the results of such an endeavor are inevitably mixed; most subway lines stop on a dime and lurch forward without warning, movement that is especially jarring when you're attempting to apply crimson lipstick that somehow ends up where it shouldn't. Glossy fuchsia lipstick as part of a smudged, smoky eye never works, no matter how you hard you try.
In the name of experimentation, I braved a ride on New York's most popular subway lines to figure out which trains are most conducive to makeup application, which trains will leave you with trails of shadow down your face and blush on your nose, and which makeup rituals you should never attempt on any subway car.
Before I proceed to rating the subway lines in terms of viability, I'll begin with a few general conclusions about finishing your makeup in transit. The texture of the makeup you're applying is essential to predicting the final product. For example, I discovered that particularly spiky mascara wands, sharpened eyeliners, lip pencils, or anything else that has the potential to impale you mid-commute is off-limits. I have an unsharpened eye pencil and a scratched eyelid to prove this.
Secondly, stick and cream makeup textures are best for application on a bumpy ride. If you have loose powder or a non-viscous liquid, it will end up on your neighbor, who may or may not be chill about being covered in glitter and talcum. Lastly, leave the elaborate statement makeup at home. This includes everything from deep aubergine eyeshadow to a creamy violet lipstick. Battles like these are best fought at home, with your preferred lighting and a steady tabletop to use for precise application.
Before venturing off into the subway, I quickly prepped by smoothing on a bit of SPF 50, some lightweight moisturizer, and a few dots of BB Cream to create an even canvas for makeup application. The results of my experiment? The rankings are below.
1. THE N
Surprisingly, the NQR provides a smooth ride for application — if you're able to find a seat. Luckily, I snagged one during my morning commute, and was able to smudge a bit of Tarte Cheek Stain on to enliven a dull complexion. To perk up tired eyes, I added a bit of luminizer and a swipe of mascara when we had stopped between stations. The luminizer glided on quite a bit easier than the mascara, but nevertheless, I ended up with a complete, if minimalist, look.
2. THE Q
During yet another successful ride on the Q train, I was able to not only apply a basic combination of concealer and mascara, but also a layer of my favorite deep tangerine lipstick by Le Metier de Beaute. The line tends to provide a smooth trip, and I've often found that snagging a seat is easier than on other lines.
3. THE R
Sure, my eyeliner was a bit lopsided after a a few bumps on the R train, but I was quite pleased with the end result: a simple pairing of vintage-inspired eyeliner and a bold fuchsia lipstick.
4. THE E
In my experience, the biggest issue with taking the ACE during summertime in New York (the E especially), is waiting for the train in station. During what amounted to a 10-minute wait in the humidity of an unair-conditioned portion of the station, I nearly perspired through the little sunscreen, moisturizer, and BB cream I applied before leaving the house. And once on the train, I was in such close proximity with other frantic New Yorkers that I was still losing coverage. And in the midst of attempting to sweep eyeliner on my lash line, the train braked unexpectedly and I was left with a jagged line of kohl in addition to a swollen lid. On the bright side, the effect gave me a somewhat smokey eye-adjacent look, which frankly appeared much more attractive from far away than up-close.
5. THE A
As you may be able to tell from my delighted expression, the A train was an ideal line to employ a simple, fresh-faced look with my cosmetics. A generous helping of tinted lip treatment by Clinique, a wash of peachy cream blush on my cheeks, and several dots of eyeliner (applied during the frequent stops made by the train), and I was left with a satisfactory finished product.
6. THE C
Much like the E train, the C train station in Midtown West appears to be lacking in air conditioning as well as airflow to the platform. Within seconds of standing in wait of the next C, I was covered in a fine film of perspiration. Unfortunately, the look was less radiant and luminescent and more akin to the result of placing an ice cube in 90-degree sunlight.
7. THE 1
Though the 123 provided a quite smooth ride, the heat in the station gave the coverup and fuchsia lipstick I applied a slick look which wasn't entirely attractive.
8. THE 2
I am consistently impressed with the air conditioning the 2 train provides. Though the lights flickered on and off several times during my ride resulting in a few unintended smears, the cool air proved a blessing in keeping my freshly applied makeup from sliding.
9. THE 3
Dewy and natural were the watchwords on the 2 train, which also boasted a relatively painless ride. Though commuters tend to stuff themselves onto the 1, 2, and 3 trains during peak hours, if you can snap up a seat you may be able to go above a bare minimum in terms of cosmetic application.
10. THE 7
Oddly enough, it seems that the 7 train is never overly crowded or incredibly jolty in terms of movement when I take it to work. And because the ride is predictable, a full face of makeup is easier to apply. Nevertheless, I attempted to precisely slick a coat of Giorgio Armani's Lip Maestro in The Red onto my lips, and ended up with an uneven Cupid's bow and an upper lip smudge which quickly transferred to my lower lip when I absentmindedly puckered. Altogether, I was left with an un-amusing look.
11. THE L
Don't do your makeup on the L train. If you can barely stand on train, then doing your makeup on that same vehicle is unwise, to say the least. Due to the L train's tendency to travel at breakneck speeds and stop on a dime, I'd suggest refraining from a full makeover mid-ride. After a particularly harrowing ride of my own during which I attempted to fix my face, I ended up with a look so hideous that I felt sunglasses were the only solution.
12. THE 4
Thank goodness New York City Transit is working on the Second Avenue subway, because the 4, it appears, is too crammed full of commuters to accommodate a 5-foot-4 girl with a miniature bag of makeup. Needless to say, the results of my makeup application wedged between hundreds of strangers were smudgy, overly lurid, sloppy, and altogether unbecoming. When traveling during rush hour on the 4, stick to a good gloss and blush stick.
13. THE 6
My cosmetic experiences on the 6 train rarely result in a pleasing outcome. Such was the case when I attempted to throw on a bit of deep, heavily pigmented green powder shadow under my lower lash line and add some color to my cheeks with a matte mauve blush. Rarely does the 6 offer anything but stuffed subway cars with little room to budge, and a packed car does not a beautiful cosmetics job make. However, one shouldn't cry over spilt eyeshadow, so I put on my most ingratiating smile and walked out of the station with confidence.
14. THE B
During my travels on the B train, I may have learned yet another trick to mastering makeup in transit: Go with rosy shades on lips and cheeks, and double up on the mascara before you leave the house. My ride on the B was relatively smooth, however, so I might chance a more complicated routine on my next train ride.
15. THE D
Through the incredibly unpredictable motion of the D train, I learned a new makeup trick: Coloring a hair outside the lines with a bold lipstick will make your pout pop. Sadly, the glossy, candy apple shade I learned this with was not an ideal choice for lip enhancement.
16. THE F
Despite a few unexpected bumps in the ride, I was able to apply a liquid pen liner around the outer corner and lower lash line. Sure, the liner had a smudgy, rock-n-roll vibe to it, but I feel the look had more personality than if the liner were straight and precise.
17. THE M
I attempted a more natural look on the M train, consisting of layer cream and powder blush, a light wash of silver shadow, and a swipe of pink lip color. Surprisingly, the train provided a perfect environment for application. This may have been due to the fact that I snagged a seat.
18. THE J
When you're crunched for time (and space) on the J train, it bodes well to choose earth tones in convenient, brush-free forms. I struggled with a long fan brush and mascara for the better part of my ride. Luckily, the result was a natural flush instead of something resembling a third-degree burn. Nevertheless, I wouldn't recommend carrying your brush set onto the J — or any subway, for that matter.
19. THE Z
The Z train, I found, is aptly named. It seems that the train is an afterthought, based on the fact that while all other lines appeared to be running during my first attempt at a ride, the Z was not. For this reason, though, it is less likely to be incredibly crowded, and therefore makes for a better makeup job. I was able to easily smudge on violet eyeliner, a bit of pink lipstick, and a wash of blush within the first few stops.
Final Verdict: Maybe just do your makeup at home.
Images: Tyler Atwood