A Bessie Smith Makeup Tutorial, Updated For Wearing To Non-Costume Parties In 2015
A story not known to many of the Kardashian-obsessed generation, Bessie Smith's incredible legacy was brought to our TV a few days ago on HBO, and along with it came awesome Bessie Smith makeup inspiration. Queen Latifah, who plays the role of Bessie, actually auditioned for the role over 20 years ago. Together with writer-director Dee Rees, she paid homage to the Empress Of Blues. Bessie was a badass woman: Even in a time when the world was dominated by Whites and controlled by men (not that it's 100 percent perfect now), she demanded respect and equal pay, something unheard of in her time. Her music is as transgressive as she is progressive. If you listen carefully, her music spills secrets about sex and violence, hinting about her hookups with both men and women.
While the movie was shot in a little more than a month, the project was a 22-year one in the making. Dee Rees said in an interview that Bessie was a part of her life from a very early age, "My grandmother would play compilations and this album, One Mo’ Time, that was a send-up of 1920s black vaudeville with people doing covers of Bessie and Ma Rainey songs. Also, the fact that she’s from Tennessee really spoke to me, and the fact that she was a bisexual woman, and that no one talks about that. Bessie was actually very radical in her time."
While there are heaps of reviews online about how amazing Queen Latifah is in the role, I'm doing what I know best: teaching you how to make the style of makeup of Bessie's heyday contemporary for today, so you don't look like you're five months early for a Halloween party. Let's do this.
Amped Up Nude Eyes
In the movie, the stunning Queen Latifah often look like she barely has any makeup on. She didn't need makeup to command attention or to set the stage on fire — Smith was the biggest-selling black female singer of her day, and even white audiences were spellbound. To pull off Queen Latifah's look with a little bit more pizzazz (because we can't all have her vocals), you can swipe some Vaseline on your lids for a subtle sheen.
If you're looking for a little more oomph, you can do a light smoky eye. I used my Urban Decay Naked3 Eyeshadow Palette, which I love to death, for this look. Mix the shades Liar and Trick on your lid, and, in your crease, a darker purple shade. I used Bondage from Urban Decay Vice3 Eyeshadow Palette.
Add Dark Lips
You know dark lips are basically a prerequisite for a flapper girl costume, but Bessie never went too dark with hers.
I used NARS Satin Lip Pencil in Palais Royale. I'd recommend MAC's lipstick in Dark Side too. Basically any creamy, sheerish magenta should do the trick.
Above all, no matter what you put on your face, it's that badass, feminist attitude that made Bessie Smith so rad — so don't forget to act your fiercest.
Images: HBO (2); Faz Abdul Gaffa