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[whitespace] Beauty in Absentia

Is personal style possible in the matrix?

By Alyssa Nitchun

New ways to buy beauty products emerged in the late '90s: online beauty emporiums, most of which operate out of our own media gulch extraordinaire, San Francisco. Through glitzy, come-hither billboard and magazine advertising, these beauty sites are now making off-line attempts to lure people away from stores and onto computers. Though an acknowledged makeup junkie, I approached these sites with snide skepticism: how could my static computer compete with the unparalleled rush of out-and-about retail therapy? I soon found four sites that surpassed my expectations.

Sephora.com ("Creating a haven of unique beauty and knowledge for the whole world to share") and Gloss.com ("Beauty. Inspiration. Shopping.") are designed for upwardly mobile new-age consumers who are interested in beauty products' potential to enhance the spiritual life. Beauty.com ("The world of beauty online") and Eve.com ("The beauty of the Internet") tend toward techno-beauty, integrating e-life with beauty life.

Although the basic structure of all Internet beauty sites is the same--personal account, FAQ's, gift ideas, customized search options, makeup web links, beauty Q&A's and special tips--each site takes its own particular cyberized approach to virtual shopping sprees. Sephora.com boasts a column by French makeup guru Francois Nars. (Not coincidentally, Nars' line can be purchased on site.) Sephora also carries its own line of beauty products, including 365 different lipstick shades that sell for $9 each. According to the tagline, there's one for every single day and every single mood: Premenstrual Purple, Orgasm Onyx, Bloated Brown. Gloss.com sells T-shirts, makeup trunks, travel bags and the ubiquitous little black bag, all for cheap. Beauty.com offers the "It Girl" column, which covers urban hot-spot gossip. Eve.com's products tend to be the most inexpensive and it carries more brands than the others. The site is currently sponsoring a "name that lipstick" contest where players can win a trip to New York and a $500 shopping spree.

There is one fatal flaw in the dot-com beauty concept: no tester. How can you name a lipstick from the digital color blotch on the screen, let alone choose a blush? Gloss.com does feature the "virtual makeover," which lets people click on a color then drag and place it on the corresponding feature of an unabashedly Aryan-looking model. But makeup junkies know that the hot new color you drool over in a magazine can make you look like Linda Blair--height of exorcism--in real life. Although all of these beauty sites have a full-refund return policy, if you're choosing the Internet over a store because of a tight schedule, will you find time to return an item that isn't what you gambled it would be?

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From the February 21, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

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