Prev Next

How to Clown-Proof Your Eyeshadow Colors

By Amalah

Hi, Amy.
First off. I love you.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, quick eyeshadow question. I am a color ditz. I totally have no idea what goes with what. So usually, I rely on my good friends, the makeup providers, to give me cute little bunches of two or four eyeshadows, guaranteed to compliment.
However, I have begun to doubt my friends, especially when they present me with duos such as “chartreuse green/cobalt blue” or “marigold/iris”.
Are these cruel jokes, planned by the makeup companies to point out the truly un-savy? (Like, ohmigod, look, someone actually bought that!) Or is it truly possible to combine some of the so-called “duos” and look like you belong among real people?
Thanks for any help!

When it comes to eyeshadow, I love me some neutrals. My signature colors are beige and boring. Mostly because I am a lot like you: I am really not super great at picking out colors. Especially multiple colors.
bysance.jpgratedr.jpgHilariously enough, I was all set to recommend the NARS duo shadows, when I noticed the crazy colors you mentioned are, in fact, actual offerings by NARS. I am sure there are some people who can pull off green and blue shadow. I am not one of them, so that’s why I use the All About Eve duo. NARS calls it “shimmering flesh and shimmering neutral.” Whatever. It’s brown and brown. I wear it every day, putting the darker shade on first, lid to brow, and then I brush the lighter color in a sideways V on the outer edge of each eye. A little brown eyeliner pencil, brushing to blend, some mascara and ta-da. Done. It’s clean-looking and understated and appropriate for the office that I no longer go to.all%20about%20eve.jpg
So what about when I do want some color? Well, I stay away from the duos, that’s for sure. I am clearly not a shadow expert, so I like to stick with ONE additional color. (I am all for recognizing your limitations in life and cosmetics.) And I don’t rely on my own judgment, since my own judgment will always send me home with another stinking shade of brown.
So I ask a salesperson for help, or I pick up a copy of Allure or InStyle and flip to one of those “Get This Look!” features. I look for a model with similar coloring and see what they’ve used on her. (Remember! Eye makeup should compliment your SKIN TONE, not necessarily your eyeball color or [oh God forbid] your outfit.) Even if I don’t end up buying the exact shade or brand, I make a mental note that hey! I could wear a nice peachy pink without looking like a clown. (Sephora has a nice online Get The Look feature, although I wouldn’t just go and order stuff without trying it out in the store first.)
garnet.jpgMy favorite shadow was a recommendation from a Sephora salesgirl — even though I hesitated to listen to her, as she was wearing a hideous yellow-green shade on her own eyes. I was getting my photo taken for a magazine, and I knew I needed to go beyond the beige if I wanted to actually show up on film. She picked out a LORAC shadow in Garnet. (Sephora describes it as a “shimmering garnet plum,” but I’d say its a little too coppery to be called a plum shade.) I swap the lighter shade of beige with this color, and sometimes dab a wet brush in it and line my eyes with it instead of a pencil.
So I guess, to really get back to what you asked about in the first place: Duos and palettes? Not as foolproof as you might think, unless you’ve got somebody to show you exactly how to apply the colors. Stick with the neutrals, and then go for the singles when it comes to adding color. And get your recommendations from your NEW best friends: salespeople and magazines.
And now a question for the peanut gallery: ages and ages ago, there was a makeup brand that included dummy-proof diagrams with their palettes and showed you exactly where to apply each shade. I’m pretty sure it was just a drugstore brand, but I totally loved that. (I still had a problem with buying colors that were completely wrong for me, but I’m thinking I could probably do a little better now.) Anybody know which brand this was? Or (oh glorious day) still is?

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • Becky

    August 1, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    I bought this back in May
    and it did have a nice diagram on the back of the package. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to keep it. I don’t know if that’s exactly what you had in mind, but it might work for someone who thinks before she throws things away.

  • Becky

    August 1, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    Yikes. Ugliest link ever. I’m sorry I don’t know how to fix that.

  • Kimmy

    August 1, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    I hate to do this again… but I defer to MAC.
    You have these palettes, so you know what colours they are. If you want to learn how to use them, go to your local MAC counter.
    Take your palettes with you, and then pick out the most similar MAC colours. Then get one of the gals (or guys) at the counter to show you how to apply them. (I say this because obviously you can’t ask them to show you how to apply another company’s makeup.)
    While I agree with Amy that neutrals are always a safe bet, absolutely everyone can wear colour on their eyelids and make it look fantastic. I own about 40 different colours (not kidding, not exaggerating) from MAC. Every different shade of green, purple, blue, mauve, copper, peach… and I use each of them on a regular basis. (I stay away from yellows because — bingo — they look horrible against my skin, no matter how I play with them or match them otherwise.) You can so totally change your look with just a bit of different colour on your eyes.
    And yes, matching to your skin tone is always recommended… but you can also play with wild colours and make them look totally normal and work appropriate, if you know how. Which is where the cosmetic counter people come in handy… ask, and they will totally teach you. After all, it’s their job!

  • elle

    August 1, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    And I would add to that: go gently on the colour. Ignore the horrible spongy things that come with the shadow, as they give you NO intensity control whatsoever. One dab and — whooops! — you’re Coco the Clown. But a soft brush (I have a gorgeous one from Clinique) will allow you to apply a thin shimmer of colour over your neutral base, which you can build up with an extra layer if it looks a bit insipid. Like the Almighty Amalah (may she live forever) I favour one colour at a time (though that doesn’t stop me buying duos/palettes — you don’t have to use every colour together) in a sweep across the front of my lid, after I’ve applied a light neutral all over and a darker one in the socket.
    And another (obvious?) thing: colour on lids or colour on lips but not both together for daytime, I reckon.

  • Janssen

    August 1, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    The “matching your eyeshadow to your SKIN (you dumb idiot)” advice has changed my freaking life. Even if I only do one color (pink! Because my skin is pink, even if my eyes are brown), I still look a million times better than I ever had with the eyeshadows I’ve been trying for years.

  • megan7673

    August 1, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    I don’t know if this is what you’re talking about, but back in the day with all of the Mary Kay party hype, the saleswomen ALWAYS had diagrams of where to put what shadow for each different kind of look. Don’t know if that helps any, but it’s all I could think of! 🙂

  • lepetitchic

    August 1, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    I’m pretty sure it’s Covergirl or Almay, as that’s what I use and I remember one of them came with that handy diagram on the back which I actually referred to and still use the same application process. Plus, those come with 3 colors, one for the lid, one for the crease and one for the browline. Pretty foolproof (for this makeup fool anyway!)

  • Kim

    August 1, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    I just bought a Maybelline quad shadow, which not only had handy ideas on the back – the placement area (brow, crease, corner) is imprinted on the color. Genius!! I love it.

  • the ass editor

    August 1, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    Amy, I think the diagrams you are talking about might have been on the Covergirl packaging. I don’t know if they still do it though, since I have finally upgraded to (mostly) higher quality stuff, like Lancome and Stila, although I still do have a few L’oreal and Revlon shadows I refuse to give up. Cassandra, I think eye shadow is one of those cosmetics that can acceptably be purchased at the drugstore, especially if you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing and want to experiment a bit without blowing a ton of cash. You can always go to Sephora after you’ve figured out what works for you and upgrade to better brands that carry similar colors.
    I love eye makeup more than everything except my cats and french fries (maaaaybe the boyfriend on his best day) and I get a lot of compliments on my “work” so I’ll put some additional advice out there in case you’re interested in going beyond neutrals. I seem to be able to pull off a lot of different colors and I like to switch them up often(I sometimes even commit the beauty crime of using my outfit as inspiration!) so I encourage you to try colors…they don’t always work out, but they’re fun!
    I start with my eyeliner (Le Kohl from L’oreal, cheap and freakin’ awesome), because I find it goes on more easily, sticks better, and appears softer than applying it over shadow. I blend the liner with a very thin slanted eyeshadow brush from Sephora. Then I apply a light neutral shade from the top of my eyeliner line to my brow brone with a fluffy eyeshadow brush. I use a darker color (plum, charcoal, deep brown, maroonish brown, for some examples)in a V on the crease and the outside corner of my lid and then a lighter coordinating color (pinky-purple, light brown, a golden neutral)on the lid. I blend these with the fluffy eyeshadow brush, touch up my eyeliner if the line has been softened too much by the eyeshadow. I know this probably sounds too complicated and time consuming for people who aren’t willing to show up late for work because of poor makeup time management (unlike me) but give it a try on the weekend.

  • JennyM

    August 1, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Okay, this all has me thinking maybe I can branch out beyond my own trusty beige/brown combo (occasionally with *two* browns, if I’m feeling especially saucy).
    But help me out with the “apply in a V” thing. A sideways V? A regular V? How big of a V? Where is the V, exactly? Maybe I’m doing the V thing already with one of my brown layers and just don’t see it that way. I’ve been more of “a little neutral here, a little neutral there, and blendy blendy” so maybe proper technique would demystify color for me.
    I need one of those diagrams.

  • MrsHaley

    August 1, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    JennyM — about the “V” … the way I was taught to do it is like this — it’s a sideways “V,” like if you made the peace/victory sign, then turned your hands so the tips of your fingers are facing each other — counterclockwise for your right hand and clockwise for your left hand. So the “V” is sideways, opening toward your nose on each eye.
    The tips of the arms of the “V” start at about the middle of your lid — just above your iris if you’re looking straight ahead. The top arm of the “V” (what would be your index finger if you’re picturing the rotated peace sign) starts at the crease — the spot where your eyelid folds when you open your eyes. The lower arm of the “V” is on your lashline. They are 2-4 cm. apart, depending on your personal eyelid acerage.
    The top arm of the “V” seems to angle downward a little more than the bottom arm angles upward for me. I apply the shadow in strips about half as wide (about 1 cm.) as the space at the widest part of the “V.” The point of the “V” should end up just a little above and beyond the outside corner of your open eye. When your eyes are fully open, you should be able to see about half the width of the top arm of the “V” above your lashline and about 1 sq. cm. of the point of the “V” just beyond and above the outside corner of your eye.
    The starting points of the “V” should pretty much always remain the same, but increased drama would call for the point of the “V” to be further out & up from the outside corner of your eye.
    I think Amalah and I use the same technique for shape, but I use the lighter color lashline to brow and the darker color for the “V.”

  • April

    August 1, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    Am I the only one who looks like a moron with the V-shape application of eye shadow? I always ending up looking like a total idiot.

  • AmyOH

    August 1, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    I have almost impossible-to-do-anything-fun-with (almond-shaped, no visible lids) Asian eyes, and the nice girl at the Benefit counter at Macy’s helped me with this shadow:
    It even has instructions! Yay!

  • Claire

    August 1, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    This is great! I’ve always been confused by eyeshadow (particularly all. those. colors), so I just didn’t wear it. Now, maybe I will. Thanks!

  • BaltimoreGal

    August 1, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Prescriptives always has good recommendations for what colors work with that skin tones. I am fair with red-to-pink skin and blue eyes so I use their “red” and “blue-red” colors to guide me when buying shadow. Most people are a yellow-orange but I would recommend getting “colorprinted” to anyone- it’s worth it just to learn about what flatters you.
    For applying colorful shadow, I like to keep it and a single color on the lid & crease- blend together in the middle (sweep up from dark to light, or sweep down from light to down to dark, depending on your preference). You can use any shade or color from with this process and it works without looking too “done”. If you want even more emphasis, you can always add liner or a dampened sweep of the shadow with a liner brush. This really works well.
    Here’s the image using black w/white (I don’t do under the eye- I think it’s too much for me) but I do it with purple, green, aqua, silver, etc.

  • Suzy Q

    August 1, 2007 at 10:03 pm

    Aziza! Was it Aziza with the diagram-thingy, or is my age showing?
    And Amy, you put the darker color all over and do the V with the lighter color? Um, that doesn’t make any sense to me.

  • Sally

    August 2, 2007 at 10:28 am

    Probably not what you’re thinking of, because this is NEW!! , but Bourjois are now doing these, which are adorable, and have the little diagrams:

  • JennyM

    August 2, 2007 at 10:45 am

    I’ll experiment when I have some time this weekend to fix it after I screw it up.
    Yay, colors!

  • linda

    August 2, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    I literally just received this in a promotional email from Maybelline: “NEW EXPERT WEAR™ EYE SHADOW includes tips on the back of every multi-shade pack for the perfect eye look–from subtle to dramatic.”. I sort of recall Maybelline doing this many years ago when I was a teen. Anyway, they are apparently doing it (again) now.
    Oh, yeah, thanks for the tips. *Love* the column!

  • psumommy

    August 3, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    Oooh, all great advice! I’m terrible at picking colors myself. I’ve stuck with brown for years and just branched out to purple at my cousin’s suggestion (my beautiful lawyer cousin who always looks put-together, I’m so jealous)
    I thought the general rule was to put the lighter shade all over (brow to lashline) with the darker color in the “V”, too? Have I been doing it wrong, or does it just depend on which colors you’re using?

  • andrea0418

    August 3, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    Lordy – after googling around for eye shadow ideas, I came across this site featuring instant eye shadow applications including LEOPARD PRINT. Rawr!

  • BaltimoreGal

    August 3, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    I LOVE those Bourjois shadows- I have two! Some of them are a bit shocking-looking but they go on pleasantly sheer.
    Also, in reference to the “Aziza V”- I really would only do this with neutral shadows, or at least shadows that are in the same color family. I look back at some of the things that makeup companies told me to do- and I did- and am horrified now.
    Try different things. See what looks good! That’s how I found what works for me.

  • Amy Corbett Storch

    August 5, 2007 at 9:48 am

    Wow, so many comments!
    Definitely wasn’t Aziza that I used — probably Covergirl, I’m guessing. I stopped buying drugstore brands more because I couldn’t ever pick out the right colors and needed guidance from a salesperson, not because of quality or anything. I like walking into Sephora and being all, “Help. Put things in my basket and then show me how to use them.”
    You get really weird looks if you do this at CVS.
    As for the darker/lighter color debate, I am talking ONLY about that NARS duo and ONLY that one. No general rules here, just telling you what I do. The two colors in that duo are pretty much identical, with the slightly lighter shade having some shimmer, while the other one is matte. I HATE all-over shimmer. Hate it. So I probably should have said this:
    I put the MATTE shade lid to brow, and the SHIMMER shade in a sideways V. (Exactly like Mrs. Haley described.) The shimmer sets off the area right around my eyes without being too much, while the matte shade has a slight peach tint to it that blends well with my skin.

  • BaltimoreGal

    August 9, 2007 at 9:37 am

    Last comment, I SWEAR- but there’s this other comment I saw on the BellaSugar site about the perfect smoky eye- it’s on DIY Life.