sealed with a kiss

Wearing Lipstick Is My Way of Resisting Los Angeles

Photo: Photo Illustration by Stevie Remsberg/Photo Getty

Here’s something no one tells you before you move to Los Angeles: you will no longer need clothing.

Let me rephrase: you will no longer need real clothing. When I moved to L.A. two years ago I was shocked to discover that grown women wore leggings everywhere — not just to and from yoga or the gym, or even just to walk their dogs, but IRL, as they say: to preschool drop off and pick-up; to the grocery store; to casual weekend gatherings; to coffee shops and restaurants. And I’m not talking about leggings with long blouses and knee-high leather boots. I’m talking about leggings as pants. With, like, a T-shirt and flip-flops.

I’d moved to California from Vienna, Austria, and had spent my 20s and early 30s in Brooklyn. When I taught yoga in Manhattan I changed into jeans after teaching, never leaving the building in my Lululemons. Yes, I’d occasionally walked to my local bodega in sweats. But even in my postpartum delirium in Vienna, I’d never once stepped foot — or, perhaps more to the point, seen someone else step foot — outside in what were ostensibly … tights.

The ubiquitousness of leggings seemed to be a microcosm of all the things I didn’t understand about L.A. And there were so many of them: Why was everyone so relaxed? Was I so hopelessly neurotic and uptight that I could never succumb to the West Coast way? Why did people stroll across busy intersections in the same way one might wander along the beach, without worrying about being late or pummeled by a car? What was wrong with me that I resisted the sun, the heat, the lack of seasons?

I would walk around (well, really, I’d drive around) saying to anyone who would listen, I just don’t get this place. Where’s the city? Not immediately falling in love with L.A. seemed to be my own personal failure.

In some sort of private and futile act of resistance — to the leggings, to the non-city city, to my own sense of isolation and inability to see what everyone else saw — I started wearing lipstick everywhere and all the time, putting it on quickly at red lights and while parked. This was not something I’d done in New York or Vienna. I’ve owned lipsticks since high school, but I only wore it for special occasions, like my wedding. In fact, the one I’d bought in 2012 for that very event was, four years later, all but unused.

First I started carrying that one around in my bag — it’s subtle; a warm dark pink just a shade darker than my actual lips. No one will notice, I thought, which is what I wanted. I don’t want to look like I’m trying too hard. But then I actually wanted people to notice that I’d made an effort. Even if my jeans had holes in the them, even if my hair was piled high on my head in a messy bun, I would look like an outdoor version of myself.

In New York and Vienna, so much of life is public — all those hours on the subway or walking across town. You arm up for your time out in the world. In L.A., this isn’t the case. Much of life takes place in the privacy of your own car, or in some natural habitat (beach, hiking trail) where makeup seems futile. So at first blush, it seemed useless to put on lipstick. Who is even going to see?

At a certain point, I realized it was for me. I could not handle that porous a relationship between my inside and outside selves. It felt like a terrifyingly slippery slope. Would I soon show up to school pickup in my bathrobe?

Daily lipstick was a way of short circuiting that possibility. No matter your outfit, it adds a certain level of class. Over the last year I’ve gotten much more adventurous. I once thought you needed one good color. Now I carry three in my purse at all times, ranging from rich maroons to hot pinks, and I take great comfort in knowing they’re there. I think of them all as experiments, mood setters, a little pop of joy. Sometimes, while driving, I’ll blindly stick my hand into my purse and grab whichever one my fingers find first. And on very rare occasions — I hate to admit this — I’m even wearing leggings while I do it.

California eventually gets us all.

Wearing Lipstick Is My Way of Resisting Los Angeles