Sunday, 28 February 2010

Underground observations

picture from

One of the facts of life in London (and perhaps any major city) is that those of us who work in the centre of town spend a lot of time commuting. For my part, I spend over 10 hours a week sitting on the Tube on my way to and from work. The costs of living near the centres of business are prohibitive, so we make daily slogs on public transport to reach our places of work.

Because time is short and commutes are long, it's quite usual to see people saving a bit of time by doing their makeup on the train.

I am always totally fascinated when I see someone doing her makeup across the carriage from me. Even bleary from lack of sleep first thing in the morning, I can't help but sneak curious glances at this normally private ritual taking place in front of everyone in the harsh fluorescent light. The variation in technique, product choice and order-of-work is remarkable - truly no two women are the same in how they make up.

Some people start at the brow, pencilling on arches with a remarkably steady hand. Some bring out a whole brush kit from their handbags and cycle through blusher, powder, highlighter and bronzer. Some people flip open an endearingly battered old No. 7 palette and apply eyeshadow from lash to brow with a sponge applicator. Some slick on bright lipstick straight from the tube, others dab on a bead of gloss and spread it with gurning lip-motions.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is mascara. If you've tried to put on mascara on a moving train you'll know that it's no easy task. I see women who wiggle the brush in at the roots and zig-zag out like pro artists. Others who flick gently over the tips of the lashes, adding just a hint of definition. I watch with baited breath as old hands apply mascara as quickly and roughly as if they were brushing their teeth, swiping over and over again and risking a jab in the eye with each stroke.

I have applied makeup on the train myself, although I usually prefer to do it at home before leaving for work, even when time is short. I feel self-conscious, showing a random assortment of fellow Londoners what I cover up and what I accentuate when I do my makeup.

Have you ever done your makeup on public transport? How did you feel? And have you ever watched someone else doing it and learned from their technique?


  1. I saw a lady tweezing their chin on the district line last week and was shocked!! (though on one level impressed at the complete lack of inhibition). Me i leave it at powdering nose and lippy. If there's time (and space)then liquid bronzer for checks and eyes and cream blush

  2. I feel self concious doing it but sometimes just have to. Once i watched a woman putting on mascara because she was doing it so fastidiously. She took about quarter of an hour from start to finish, it looked like she was applying it to each lash separately.

  3. I can't help but observe women applying make-up on the tube either... it's fascinating watching other people apply make-up. I personally prefer to apply make-up before I leave the house - no matter how late I already am! Think I'd get into a mess if I tried to apply it on the tube. I'd also never be brave enough to pull the face contortions in public that some girls are happy to in order to apply blusher on the apples of their cheeks.

    Something that always makes me shudder a little though is when women apply foundation on the tube using both hands and all fingers at the same time. All I can think about when I see this are all the germs they must be rubbing all over their faces after touching dirt-ridden door handles, keys, public transport hand rails etc up the point they've sat down on the tube. Plus I'm sure that "breeze" underground has already deposited a layer of grime on their skin beforehand! I hate being a germ freak - this is the kind of thing that runs through my mind constantly...

  4. @Anonymous that is priceless. It brings to mind the woman I saw on the tube once with a full bristly moustache. Didn't seem to bother her, but it was an amazing and bewildering sight.

    @Lillian I love how careful some people are, even on the tube. I bet she was immaculately dressed too, and probably went to work to sit at a perfectly ordered desk...

    @Beauty Scribbler I hear you on the hygiene issue. It's really hard to ride the tube and not get a little bit OCD at the thought of all the grime and germs going around among all those thousands of people in such an enclosed space. I have put on makeup in the tube sometimes - I have a "starvation rations" regime which is just concealer, mascara and brows. I can do that on the tube, but I do still feel quite odd sometimes.

  5. I think I'd be too embarrassed to apply my makeup on the train or bus :X

    I wouldn't do more than apply lipgloss. Though usually I'll make time to put on makeup in the morning, even if it means getting up early, so that's another reason why I've never done it.

    Ugh I would cringe if I saw someone using sponge tipped applicators, I'd feel obliged to go throw some makeup brushes at them :P

  6. when i used to comute each day to university i mastered applying my makeup whilst on the train. Slightly easier than a tube as id get a seat with a tray so i could lay down what i needed to use. I can still apply eyeliner and mascara without smudging whilst on a moving vehicle!


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