The Science of Fall 2011 Beauty Trends

Twice a year, style enthusiasts excitedly cram into the backstage tents of New York Fashion Week to discover what fresh beauty trends the season ahead will bring. But have you ever stopped to wonder why we’re so drawn to the allure of new beauty trends? Why even if you’re all thumbs when it comes to red lipstick, you still stop and gaze longingly over a close-up in a magazine, the model’s lips drenched in an impossibly perfect application of high gloss rouge?

It all comes back to psychology, science and evolution.

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Beauty is arguably the most prominent indicator of health and vitality, and even the top trends showcased on this season’s runways—no matter how exaggerated or out-of-the-box—can be traced to that common human experience of attraction, and wanting to feel desired.

1Trend: Pompadour Volume

Seen at: Missoni, Peter Som, Vivienne Tam, Ruffian, Luca Luca, Isaac Mizrahi, Adrienne Landau

Back story:

Backstage at Adrienne Landau where figure skater-turned-pop-star Johnny Weir debuted his first design collaboration, the star got to the heart of the hair-raising trend. “I love big hair because it communicates a sense of confidence and swagger,” said Weir, whose personal stylist, Eric Alt, teased crowns to new heights for the collection.

So why all the to-do about volume?

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Thick locks full of body are a sign of health, as nutrients like biotin are good for a crowning glory of hair. Voluminous locks also make it look like you’ve just taken a frolic in bed—and encouraging a potential mate to visualize you doing the deed is akin to a roar in the animal kingdom.

MORE: The Science of Hair

2Trend: Kohl-Lined Eyes

Seen at: Derek Lam, Betsey Johnson, Victor de Souza, Alice + Olivia, Catherine Malandrino

Back story:

From a thickly inked Cleopatra eye at Alice + Olivia to the abstractly drawn alien-like eye at Victor de Souza, one thing is clear: it’s all about the kohl. Makeup artist Gato for Maybelline smudged one of the smokiest renditions backstage at Catherine Malandrino. “The eye is the focus of the face, and it feels like Paris in the 70s, very feminine and romantic, but with an edge,” said the lead artist.

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It’s fitting that Gato refers to the city of love as a jumping off point; after all, it’s the amount of contrast we subconsciously detect in a face that rapidly allows us to discern whether we’re viewing a feminine (high contrast) or masculine (low contrast) face. By blending jet black kohl next to the whites of the eyes, you’re dramatically upping both the contrast and the accompanying sense of feminine sensuality. Is it any wonder black liner was Cleopatra’s signature seduction weapon?

MORE: The Science of Makeup

3Trend: Color Tipped Nails

Seen at: Jason Wu, Vivienne Tam, Ruffian

Back story:

Designers used reverse French manicure-like tips of color to lend a sense of luxury to shows. Backstage at Jason Wu where the gilded architecture of Versailles inspired the collection, cherry chocolate nails were carefully dipped in baroque gold. “Jason asked for opulence, so I matched the gold tip to the gold heels in the collection, and we went for a long oval shape, which is what high society women used to wear,” said CND co-founder Jan Arnold, who collaborated on the look.

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Historically, adorned hands have been a sign of higher-class value, soundlessly inferring that you can afford both the leisure of time and cost to luxuriate over your nails while others tend to the dirty work. Dainty hands are traditionally considered an indicator of aristocracy. The hand is also one of the only body parts continually exposed to the outside world, making it a major advertisement of beauty.

MORE: Hands & Feet, Explained

4Trend: Center Parts

Seen at: DKNY, Naeem Khan, Proenza Schouler, Marc by Marc Jacobs

Back story:

Healthy, face-framing hair took a front seat at shows like Marc by Marc Jacobs, where hair was done in an easy center part. At Naeem Khan, parts took on more drama. Stylist Laurent Philippon for Bumble and Bumble said, “The strength of a center part with a bun feels regal in its simplicity, and exudes femininity.”

At play here is the human preoccupation with facial symmetry, which is prominently enhanced when you center part your hair.

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“Studies show that perfectly symmetrical faces are typically rated more attractive than faces with low symmetry,” says Viren Swami, Ph.D., Reader in Psychology at the University of Westminster and YouBeauty Attraction Expert. But since most people (even models!) aren’t perfectly symmetrical, you can maneuver your part to help the illusion. Deeply parting your hair on the side can help visually balance features out.

MORE: Hair Tips for Symmetry

5Trend: Red Lips

Seen at: Nanette Lepore, Betsey Johnson, Cynthia Steffe, Lela Rose, Diane von Furstenberg

Back story:

They say it takes confidence to pull off a red lip, and that cherry-hued bravado was strutted over multiple runways. Backstage at Betsey Johnson, makeup artist Charlotte Willer for Maybelline credited the effervescent designer as a leading inspiration. “The in-your-face red lip captures Betsey’s bold and daring brand of girlishness,” said Willer.

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The red pout fixation can be tied to studies that show women’s faces are perceived as more attractive to both sexes during ovulation, when females are most fertile. A simultaneous increase in estrogen drums up blood flow under the surface of the skin, which flushes cheeks pink and lips more red. So by swiping that heady shade of rouge across lips, you’re boldly enhancing one of nature’s prime fertility signals.

MORE: The Science Behind Looking in Love

6Trend: Vamp Nails

Seen at: LAMB, Carolina Herrera, Rebecca Taylor, Naeem Khan

Back story:

Short nails dipped in glassy shades of midnight and granite oozed alternative sophistication at several shows. Songstress-turned-designer Gwen Stefani frolicked about with black digits backstage at LAMB, where manicurist Pattie Yankee for Dashing Diva said, “Dark nails are a statement. They’re a played-down way to look chic and cool…like Gwen.”

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Contrast is at the heart of what is recognized to be feminine, says Dr. Richard Russell, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Gettysburg College. Russell’s research has found that when women darken features like the eyes and lips, the exaggerated difference between the sexes makes them more appealing. By bringing the concept to nails, vampy shades act as an especially bold command to take notice—of me.

MORE: Why Do We Have Fingernails?

7Trend: Red Around the Eyes

Seen at: Thakoon, Honor, Ruffian, Yoana Baraschi

Back story:

This trend isn’t for the wallflowers; it was all about the shock value when makeup artists blended fuchsia pink shadow onto models’ lids. Makeup artist James Kaliardos for M.A.C. cited “Cyndi Lauper meets crazy rich 80s socialite” as the in-your-face inspiration for an especially unabashed magenta eye backstage at Ruffian.

Confident women throughout history have used makeup to make bold statements and announce their independent, rebellious intentions.

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In the Middle Ages, the Church declared wearing makeup immoral and sinful, but many headstrong women wore it anyway. In more recent times, wild punk makeup and dark goth makeup both took a stand against society. Intense, red eye makeup isn’t for everyone, but we applaud anyone who has the confidence to give it a try—being sure of yourself is the most attractive feature you can ever have.

MORE: The Science of Makeup Colors

8Trend: Braids

Seen at: Rachel Roy, Charlotte Ronson, Erin Fetherston, Carlos Miele, Halston, Nanette Lepore

Back story:

A hairstyle that dates back across centuries and countless cultures around the world, braids came back in a big way this Fashion Week, and often with fabric weaved through for adornment. “It’s romantic and very girly, it reminds you of fine baby’s hair,” said stylist Odile for Catwalk by TIGI backstage at Erin Fetherston.

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Strong, shiny hair is an indicator of youthful vitality, with brittle and thinning hair often a reflection of declining health, poor diet and high stress levels. Braids evolved as a practical style to preserve hair health and thickness by protecting it against environmental assault, allowing you to grow strands longer and healthier than you otherwise would.

QUIZ: How Healthy is Your Hair?

9Trend: No-Makeup Makeup

Seen at: Michael Kors, Erin Fetherston, Christian Siriano, Tadashi Shoji

Back story:

Leave it to the coltish young models to pull off the naked face look at countless shows this season—though it would be remiss to add that the industry’s most talented hands still worked to perfect that no-make look. “For a bare look, thoroughly blended concealer is essential, since there’s nothing to distract from flaws,” said makeup artist Polly Osmond for M.A.C., backstage at Christian Siriano.

With all the cosmetic tricks available to create a variety of believable illusions, it’s no wonder that men often say they prefer a woman without makeup, as almost a truth serum of sorts.

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Yet in spite of this common declaration, studies show that men still pick women wearing makeup as more desirable when given the choice. The no-makeup makeup look cleverly delves deeper, convincing the opposite sex that facial attributes are naturally that beautiful—even though they’ve certainly had a little “help.”

SCIENCE: Even Skin Looks Healthy & Attractive

10Trend: Pearl Eyeliner

Seen at: Carmen Marc Valvo, Elie Tahari, Anna Sui, Nanette Lepore

Back story:

This season, eyes glimmered and glowed with strategically blended pearl eyeliner. “It’s a mod 60’s girl,” said Pat McGrath for CoverGirl backstage at Anna Sui. “The eyes are dewy with pearl on the inner corners and waterline, which makes her look young, lively and fresh.”

Applying a brightening liner right next to the eyes makes the whites look lighter, which biologically signals that you’re well-rested and healthy.

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Studies have shown that observers routinely pick out individuals who have had ample amounts of sleep as more attractive than their sleep-deprived counterparts—no surprise, since those important overnight hours are when the body replenishes and regenerates, increasing the beauty of such reproductive health indicators as your eyes, and the surrounding skin.

SCIENCE: Sleep Makes You Beautiful