Like any good teen movie, the My Fair Millennial project had to include a makeover. I may not know much about what it means to be a lady, but I know that a leading lady doesn’t run around with split ends, and I hadn’t cut my hair since September. So on the morning before my first day of the project, I called my local hair salon and made an appointment for 3:00 that day. With that in the books, I turned to Pinterest to search for “elegant hair,” “chic hair,” and “ladylike hair.”
Most hair photos on Pinterest are absurdly aspirational. The hair is perfectly colored, coiffed, and just windswept enough to feel like the person behind it has somewhere important to go. My hair is never any of these things, in part because I don’t really know how to use a blowdryer and also because, frankly, I never have anywhere to go (my last big social event was a thirteen yer old’s birthday party a few weeks ago). But I had told my hairdresser when I booked my appointment that I’d like her to teach me how to style my hair, so the glossy photos felt somewhat within reach. I chose a few photos I liked — one of Emilia Clarke, one of Meghan Markle, and one of impeccable waves on the back of someone’s head — and saved them t0 my phone.
Getting this haircut right was important, because it would be the one and only project-related expense I could make for the next month. One of the issues I have with the word “ladylike” has to do with class — so often, the things that are seen as representative of elegance or grace are restricted to the few who can afford to acquire them, either through extra money or time. While a lot of the challenges I’ll be taking on this month are external, the greatest qualities I hope to gain from this experiment are internal. And if any aspect ladylikeness, whether internal or external, is worth its salt, then it should be theoretically accessible to anyone. Which means:
- No spending money on new clothes, accessories, or jewelry,
- No spending money on new makeup unless it’s to replace something that I run out of, and,
- No money spent on etiquette classes, pie-baking supplies, pantyhose, or anything else the internet tells me I need.
The haircut would be my last expense before starting the challenge, but after that, I’d be cutting myself off from buying anything I wouldn’t normally. Which brings me to the rest of the rules that I set up for myself.
I set up a few other guidelines to help myself along the next thirty days. Each week would have three components: a style theme, a focus, and a challenge.
I had asked the members of a Facebook group I’m in to let me know who they saw as “ladies,” however they that term. Of the 90 or so total answers, I got a list of the same 20 or so women, listed over and over. The women were easily divided into a few categories, so I decided to make each category a “theme” for one of the four weeks of the challenge.
- Week 1’s style theme will be Royal Ladies: women from various royal families around the world;
- Week 2’s style theme will be First Ladies: wives of American presidents throughout the years;
- Week 3’s style theme will be Leading Ladies: actresses who are known for their poise; and
- Week 4’s style theme will be Young Ladies: young female activists and artists who are redefining what it means to be a “lady” for a new generation.
Each week, I’ll be using five women from that week’s theme to inspire my daily “look” by styling my hair and makeup after her, as well as learning a bit about that woman’s accomplishments and skills.
For the learning focus, I’m hoping to expand upon my knowledge of etiquette by watching online videos, reading articles, and relying on my network of friends. I’m loosely tying the focus of each week to the style theme, and while the first two weeks will focus on traditional etiquette, weeks three and four will focus more on skills and character.
- Week 1’s focus will be posture, walking, and sitting (apparently there are four steps to sitting down — who knew?);
- Week 2’s focus will be table etiquette;
- Week 3’s focus will be social etiquette and conversation; and
- Week 4’s focus will be character — cultivating the qualities I personally admire in certain women who inspire me.
I’ve also asked a few friends to choose challenges for me based on what they learned about being “ladylike” when they were younger. Not all of the challenges have been chosen yet, so I can’t give them away — but I’ll tell you that I’ve already googled “how to have a beautiful laugh” twice today. The fact that there are more than two results for this search is already alarming me.
Of course, I couldn’t go at this process alone, and because I can’t spend any money on the project, that excludes books and etiquette classes that I have to pay for. So I did what any millennial would do: I turned to the internet. Namely, YouTube. A few searches led me to a wealth of information on everything from the contents of Meghan Markle’s makeup bag, to how to sit down like a lady (apparently it’s a four-step process, and I have to glide down like an elevator, not an escalator).
I made a YouTube playlist of about 30 videos and subscribed to a few channels with names like “Ladylike Etiquette” and “The Elegant Lady.”
With my long list of YouTube videos at my side, I did my best to apply a simple makeup look by Lisa Eldridge, a celebrity makeup artist. The look, however simple it seemed, took a 25-minute video to explain, and I had to watch it twice: once to prepare, and once while I was trying to achieve it myself. If nothing else, this project promised to cost me a lot of time. It didn’t seem like it made much of a difference, but to my surprise, I got a direct message on Instagram after posting a picture of me with it on: “I love your makeup in this photo!”
Maybe there was something to a longer routine, after all.
For my haircut, I originally decided to have a centimeter cut off, but changed my mind at the last minute, getting a few inches removed and adding some layers. The longest part of the process was having the stylist teach me how to blow-dry my hair with a roller brush. I had never learned how to do this before, and even in the salon, I felt like I just didn’t have enough arms to get the job done. But, 40 minutes later, my hair was sleek — if not quite colored, coiffed, and windswept. I was ready to begin.