Niche Looks Are the Defining Beauty Movement of the 2020s
For better or for worse.
“…but anyway — if you’re not in the mood to cry, here’s how to get the look with makeup,” says one of TikTok’s most popular beauty trendsetters, Zoe Kim Kenealy. With more than 4.8 million views on her Crying Makeup tutorial, Kenealy goes into detail and points out the desired results: puffy-soft lips, flushed cheeks, and glistening eyes. Even if the name gives a negative connotation, it's still glamorous — the outcome is blurred makeup and a serene glint we seem to only appreciate after a good crying session. As of today, videos under the hashtag #cryingmakeup have 141.7 million views.
Kenealy is known for not only giving an overarching vibe to each look but defining them as part of an overarching identity: ‘I’m cold’ makeup, white (and red!) wine looks, 90s icon edition, end-of-the-day makeup, grocery store hottie look, romantic-nostalgia inspired — even doing tutorials on makeup that reflects your Myers-Briggs type (I’m still waiting on ISFJ). Her newest series based on different birthstones already has commenters bursting with requests for Emerald and Opal; some of them add they need the versions for Ruby and Sapphire, when it’s highly likely that before Kenealy began this series, they had never thought of birthstones as inspiration for a look.
Makeup artist Bronte-Marie thrives on this approach as well. In her series The Wildly Beautiful, she breaks down ten looks that seem minimal, but all have a common throughline: perfect, effortless ethereality; a smooth, healthy complexion; and a timeless variety of blush and highlight placements. These looks are simple at first glance but contain distinct narratives. Bronte-Marie takes inspiration from modern phenomena, like Jennifer Lawrence’s recent appearances and fictional 70’s it girl Daisy Jones. The Movie Star Lips is another heavily sought-after tutorial — with 2.2 million views! — designing perfectly-kissable, naturally-structured lips usually found in period dramas.
“So, you want to look like you popped out of the most ethereal, fairytale portrait. That’s a makeup look! I can help with that,” Bronte-Marie says in another niche tutorial. That’s the essence of Bronte-Marie’s (and other makeup artists in her echelon) appeal: descriptions alone make a deep impact —even before any makeup is applied to the face. The words preceding the tutorial are the selling point.
The most important tool in any makeup kit today: energy. Pop culture, books, films, art, and even contemporary imaginary scenarios have always had the power to define beauty looks, and they’ll continue to do so. But as of today, the specificity of context is the biggest influence in how to craft a niche energy that prompts a reimagined look. VS Angel Makeup, Unapproachable Makeup, etc. It’s all in the energy, and naming that energy before doing your face adds a layer of imagined context — and an X factor that is deeply personal.
When discussing trends and the names that make them viral, the conversation around lack of individuality is always present. Tying these new inspirations to a piece of identity is not inherently wrong, but the crisis comes when no personal element is added to these recreations. The point is not to copy the look exactly how Kenealy or Bronte-Marie made it but to take that spark of inspiration and attach it to your own personal context. The rage comes when it’s so obvious that some attach themselves to a certain aesthetic while claiming originality.
The first niche look I consciously followed was the fertile edible amniotic fluid lip look originated by Nicole Rafiee (@nikkinasty) on TikTok. Even though the name gives me the ick, I loved the way this lip made me feel — and how attainable it was. I can see how these concepts could look flimsy and how this could add to the current online conversations about our collective lack of individuality. But niche makeup trends could also be a harmless evolution of the everyday contexts we know and love: first-date makeup, a look for a concert, fresh off vacation, etc. In a way, these looks are more honest and affirming — here are looks that can be adapted, personalized, and are more subjective to the applicant. When people find their niche, borrow esoteric elements, or modify steadfast beauty concepts, the search for a unique look becomes less daunting.
These imaginative looks are actually doing something radical: suddenly, beauty — through the creation of narratives — is available to everyone. A new beauty future could emerge, where people find a niche look to accommodate their personal features, style, and overall essence. Why not make up some context?
“There are ways you can do your makeup to make people feel things, like give them serotonin — like a Hallmark movie,” Zoe says in her "I’m Cold" tutorial. Her videos (as well as Bronte-Marie’s) already have comments asking for different, even-more-specific looks —the woman Hozier sings about, makeup to go to the museum, Aperol spritz energy, and looks for every other setting you can think of. Niche looks aren’t a generational lack of originality — they recognize that, in beauty, a story is always being told. 🌀