I started My Fair Millennial bright and early, at 6AM on a Sunday morning.
Ken and I had booked train tickets to Cologne, where I would be meeting a blogger I followed online. After the meet-up, we’d spend some time exploring the city and its museums. Our train left at quarter past seven, which meant that he’d be waking up at seven. And I, who had to do my hair and makeup as a lady for the first time this month, would be waking up at six.
If you’ve never applied mascara the way it was applied to Princess Diana (with the tip of the brush to the base of the lashes, naturally), try doing it for the first time at six in the morning after five hours of sleep. I’d been planning to blow out my hair the way I learned at the salon, but the mascara application took so long that there was no way that was happening. Instead, I clipped it back, put on a pretty dress, and packed my backpack for Cologne.
Ken and I made our train, which led me to my next task. Since I would be meeting the blogger who was hosting the meet-up, and since ‘a lady always brings a gift,’ I was going to paint her something in the train. This, like the mascara, had mixed results. I enjoy watercolor painting, but am not skilled enough to do so well on a bumpy train ride. It would have to do.
I had a nice time at the meet-up, but my mid-afternoon I was facing the very un-ladylike inclination to lie down on the steps of the Dom cathedral and take a nap. This became e a theme for the first week of my experiment: it turns out that all the effort that goes into hair, makeup, and proper posture is pretty exhausting for someone who rolls out of bed and slouches through her day. And though a lady probably doesn’t complain constantly about how tired she is, it was only day one, so I let myself have this one in exchange for not taking a public nap.
The next day, back in my home country, was a little easier. Each week, I’d be emulating the style of five women in a particular category, and for Week 1, the women would be royal. Sunday had been a warm-up; on Monday, I went for a look inspired by Princess Diana. I’d gotten some practice with the mascara the day before, but today was the real deal.
Day 1: Diana, Princess of Wales (British)
This look was one of my favorites of the week, and to my surprise, I got several compliments on it, as well, including a few through Instagram DMs. I’m rarely, if ever, complimented on my makeup, so this was a big surprise to me. I followed a makeup tutorial by the woman who did Princess Diana’s makeup for her iconic Vogue shoot, and paired it with the closest thing I had to a ball gown — my red taffeta Christmas dress. In May.
Day 2 was a mixed bag for me. I was styling my hair and makeup after Kate Middleton, whom I never realized wore a lot of makeup. Whether she does or not, her look was very heavy on me, and I felt like a little kid playing dress-up.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (British)
This was the first time that I realized what a big impact makeup can have on how you come across to others. I followed this online tutorial inspired by Kate. I had a few things to do in the city this day, including a dentist appointment. The receptionists at the dentist treated me differently than the last time I came by, addressing me almost like they would my mom, instead of chatting with me casually like they normally would. I also noticed that more people made eye contact with me and smiled than when I walk through the city in my day-to-day clothes or gym outfits.
Day 3: Meghan Markle (American)
Day 3 was inspired by Meghan Markle, the fiancée to Prince Harry. I really like Meghan Markle for her elegant style and, more importantly, activism and advocacy for women. This was also the day that I felt most like myself — maybe because Meghan is also American, so her style and exuberance is closer to my own than the more formal and conservative British royal family members.
Learning to Sit, Stand, and Fall Over Laughing Like a Lady
Since I was mid-way through my first week of the ladylike project, it was time to work on my learning goal, and this week’s theme was etiquette and poise. I wanted to start with the basics: sitting, standing, and posture. All the resources I would use had to be free, according to the rules I had set up the week before, and after some digging, I found a very helpful YouTube channel with dozens of free etiquette videos — The School of Etiquette SA. Two hours later, I’d learned about everything from how to leave a conversation with a chatterbox to how to sit like a modern lady.
According to the school, sitting down is a four-step process:
- Begin in the ‘hesitation position.’
- Keep the upper part of your body facing forwards.
- Put your fingers together and your hands on your lap before you sit.
- Sit down ‘like an elevator, not an escalator’ (go down directly, instead of down and back).
For me, there were a few additional steps.
- Google the hesitation position because I have no idea what that is.
- Watch a video on how to stand like a lady, in which I learn that the hesitation position involves putting your front leg forward, back leg 20 degrees to the left, and hand hovering at your waist.
- Practice this in front of the mirror and feel like an oldtimey schoolmarm.
- Try to combine this with sitting down like an elevator.
- Fall over.
- Ask for Ken’s assistance.
- Let Ken laugh at me while I practice sitting down for 40 minutes.
- Call my mom to demonstrate this hilarious new form of sitting over Skype.
My mom, to my surprise, really liked this way of sitting: she called it ‘elegant’ and ‘flattering’ (as opposed to the adjectives I offered her, ‘complicated’ and ‘ridiculous’). But while it took me a few days to get used to it, I actually liked having the option to sit this way in a more formal situation, like when I went to Ken’s grandparents’ house for dinner the following weekend. Normally, I fall into whatever chair or couch is near me, and then don’t really know what to do with my feet or knees. Now, at least, I had the option of the formal choice.
Also, the whole process of me learning how to do this provided Ken with hours of entertainment, so I would chalk the whole experience up to a win.
Day 4: Queen Máxima (Dutch, Argentinian)
Day four was modeled after the Dutch Queen Máxima, who I’ve always been partial to because of her sense of humor, the fact that she’s fluent in four languages, and the fact that she’s been an adviser to the UN. Stylistically, this was the day that I felt least myself. I think it was the hair: I tried to recreate one of Máxima’s formal hairdos, which often includes a large bun at the back of the head and some poof up top. On me, it just looked stiff and over-the-top from the front, and to make matters worse, I couldn’t figure the back out…
It’s a look. I’m not saying it’s a good look, I’m just saying it’s a look.
Challenge: Create a “Low and Melodious Laugh”
I asked my friend Anne to give me my first ladylike challenge, and she chose for something she read out of an etiquette book from the 30s. (I have unique friends.) This particular book said that a “lady” should laugh in a low and melodious way, so at Anne’s insistence, I spent an afternoon trying on different laughs.
Faking a laugh is a bizarre experience, because it usually sounds so hilariously fake that you start laughing at yourself for real, and then try to correct yourself by using your fake laugh again. The benefit of this is that you get a side-by-side comparison of your “normal” laugh and your “new laugh.” The downside is that you will sound like a maniac to anyone nearby. And if that person is Ken, he will mock you mercilessly.
The closest I could get to “low and melodious” was a Santa-esque “ho ho ho,” which didn’t sound very ladylike at all (it was the ‘low’ that threw me off). But I finally got down a strange, kind of pretentious canned laugh that seemed to fit the bill, and to spare myself from more of Ken’s mocking, called it a day.
Day 5: Queen Rania (Jordanian, Palestinian)
The last day of Week 1 was inspired by Queen Rania of Jordan, who has been an advocate for education, women’s rights, health, and micro-finance since she became Queen Consort in 1993.
This was the day that I first tried to blow out my hair, which took about 45 minutes but turned out looking pretty good compared to my day-to-day look. Like the Diana look, I got a lot of compliments on this one, and I ended up doing something similar for the dinner with Ken’s grandparents.
Things I learned this week:
- Sitting down can take anywhere from 4-10 steps.
- There are multiple ways to apply mascara.
- I have a lot more clothing combinations than I’d realized (unusual pairings were a necessity in order to get the ~most ladylike~ options).
Things I noticed:
- Senior citizens were more likely to smile at or greet me when I was dressed in this way.
- Administrators were more likely to talk to me like an adult and less like a teenager.
- Daily hair and makeup looks take up a huge chunk of time (and by the end of the week, my skin really needed a break).
Things that still escape me:
- Not sure how to blow-dry my hair without a third arm.
- How to stand in the ‘hesitation position’ without looking like either a cardboard cut out, a schoolmarm, or a tour guide.
- The art of the royal bun is completely beyond me.
That’s it for week one. What did you think of the looks above? Which was your favorite? Ay advice for standing, sitting, or laughing without sounding like Santa? Comment below!