I’ve previously written about haircare tips for the chronically ill and some attempts at homemade makeup. In Ascribed and Chosen Identities in Chronic Illness, a recent post on identity, I mentioned that I’m getting into a modern pinup look.
This mega tips post includes tips on how I simplified personal care strategies mentioned before and also uses tips from my newbie pinup learning curve. If you follow all the tips it will result in an instant, Spoonie friendly vintage look, but you can also adapt the tips to your own style.
I have no intention of turning this blog site into a beauty blog so I’ll just give you all my tips in one go, rather than eking it out! Apologies if you have even a smidgen of masculinity, this post probably won’t appeal to you, but most of my posts are fairly gender neutral.
With chronic illness disability I experience a number of barriers to conventional methods for looking good, these include:
- Sensitivity to many mainstream products including hair dye, shampoo, styling products, makeup etc etc
- Fatigue on exertion, or delayed payback from exertion, limiting the effort I can put in
- Difficulty leaving the house so I can’t reliably keep appointments and only shop online
- Low income due to not being able to work, though this financial barrier has improved recently for me
- Inability to exercise to stay toned and trim
In terms of how these barriers have played out so far in my pinup hobby/look, as an example I can put my hair into curls but I haven’t found a setting lotion product which is low toxin and I can’t lift my arms long enough to brush out the curls. I have found some solutions though.
I’ve created a Pinterest board to go with this post, it contains extra links and other people’s tutorials click here.
Topics covered in this post
The online Spoonie community is quite niche in itself (people who have energy limiting illness disability). The pinup community is also a small subculture. Initially it surprised me to discover several people mentioning chronic illness when what I was looking up was repro vintage and modern pinup fashion tips. I mentioned this observation to a non-Spoonie friend and she laughed “at university the DisSoc [disability group] was like a World War II tea party!”.
In my bed meditations on why this might be I’ve thought of a few reasons, and they’re not entirely superficial:
- Any day well enough to be properly dressed is a wedding-guest level of occasion to be celebrated, and often people wear vintage style dresses for that level of occasion
- In my previous post I mentioned being able to control other people’s gaze, to distract them from disability by making a style statement
- Pinup tends to be bright and cheerful colours, so it is also a cheerful distraction
- We don’t usually have to conform to boring work clothes
- We probably get dressed up for the daytime, not the evening, so need a day dresses look (mid 20th century fashion is good for that)
- We shop online and we also read and write blogs. Pinup fashion advice is easy to find online but it isn’t usually bought on the high street
If you want to find out more about the wider vintage fashion community there are loads of YouTube videos (see my playlist here). On Facebook there’s Pinup Pyjama Party (just for people who are disabled Pinups). On Pinterest there are lots of useful pics and links (see this board). There are lovely people on Instagram (lookup the recent #thevintagefashionchallenge and also check # like #chronicallyvintage #chronicallyfabulous ).
I was either spending too much money on organic products, or spending too much energy on making homemade hair stuff. Then I discovered this website CosDNA to check the toxins of cosmetics. Some conventional products are low in toxin.
Another trick is to buy partially organic products, if you know which chemicals you want to avoid (I generally try to avoid sodium laurate sulfate or similar and parabens).
- Shampoo: Roots and Wings coconut, almond, aloe Vera
- Conditioner: a small amount of coconut oil left in bottom half of hair for a few hours before washing or occasionally my partner’s grapefruit and mint Roots and Wings
- Hairspray: homemade by melting sugar in water and adding vodka (and essential oil for scent)
I haven’t quite sussed out more pinup specific products yet. Does anyone know of a low toxin setting lotion product?
A product which look promising in terms of reviews and low toxin ingredients is:
You can make pomade and setting lotions. Apparently the most important part of setting lotion is water so at the moment I’m just using that (ie damp hair). You can make a gel type lotion from linseed. Examples of homemade tutorials are:
I still use the one snip haircut. Basically you create a very high pony tail and cut straight across the end. These are some videos of it:
- Make sure the ponytail is central as otherwise it will go lobsided
- If you want more pronounced layers and shorter face framing, position the ponytail as far forward as possible. If you want more subtle layers (or proportionately more off the back) move the ponytail more towards the top of your head
- Check how much you want off the front and back before you start, and don’t cut off longer than either of these
- Cut straight across, just below the lower hairband
It won’t surprise you that I can’t tolerate hair dye. I like henna but I don’t have the energy for the mess it creates.
Obviously this tip is highly personal to what your hair looks like now and what colour you’d like it to be. Mine is looking mousy with streaks of grey if I leave it be. I want it to be a more chestnut colour.
This works for me, but it is more like a tint that you have to top up rather than a dye:
- Hibiscus dried flowers from EBay (1/2 cup) with about 3x the amount of boiling water (strong tea)
- Leave to stew for a few hours then drain into bowl (optional: reheat in microwave)
- Add a tablespoon of cider vinegar
- Soak hair in the liquid for about 5 minutes
- Put the liquid in a spray bottle for later use
- Make sure hair dries in heat (sun or hairdryer)
- Every few washes spray the liquid on your hair to keep the colour
Caution: this can also be used to dye clothes, so don’t dye your clothes! I use a dark towel and wear dark clothes when my hair is wet with hibiscus in.
My hair looks this colour reflecting sunlight:
There are alternatives for different hair shades such as chamomile, sage, black tea, coffee.
The pinup style tends to involve lots of curls. There’s plenty of good YouTube tutorials but they require high toxin styling products or lots of spoons of energy, for example brushing out your curls for half an hour. Yes they say half an hour of brushing! I’ve found a couple of quick Spoonie cheats:
Bun: Put your damp hair into a donut bun or use a twisting method for a messy bun. When you undo the bun hours later it’s curly
- Curly side ponytail: Use the sponge curlers as in the video below. When you can’t brush out properly in the morning, simply wear the overly curly hair in a side ponytail the first day. By the second day the curls are less frantic and you can wear your hair down.
- Twist: Split damp hair as if creating pig tails and twist. Leave twisted as they dry. This creates less pronounced curls, which also means no brushing out in the morning, yay! I suspect this works particularly well for me with the one snip haircut layered effect, as my hair is inclined to curl a bit at the ends.
Another hair tip is EBay flower clips, sometimes as low as 99p including postage.
The best Spoonie makeup cheat is big sunglasses! Then you can forget about eye makeup as well as light sensitivity. You can give the illusion of being fully made up if you do your eyebrows and add bright red lipstick. This is what I did here (also a day I used a side ponytail instead of brushing out wetset curls):
I have to wear prescription glasses and my favourite specs shop is Glasses Direct because it’s entirely online, you just get your prescription from an optician. If you want £30 off click here (NB I’m not ‘affiliate’ but I do also benefit from this voucher). The clear glasses above are London Retro Barb.
Getting the cat-eye down pat is an essential pinup skill. I’ll add a couple of examples to the Pinterest board. I don’t bother with eye shadow. I use concealer all over my eyelid and in a triangle under my eyes (usually I have big bags). Then I do eyeliner in a cat eye style just on the top lid. Then I pencil in my eyebrows a bit and then mascara.
This weekend I discovered that Revlon have been making some of the same shades since the 1950s. For pinups who want an authentic look this takes away decision making dilemmas. They also come out well in terms of being low toxin. Perhaps they stuck with the same formula all that time? I’ve just ordered 4 Revlon items for the price of one Mac lipstick and got free postage via Superdrug (I’m not affiliate for any of these products).
One day with an extra spoon I set myself the task of doing my makeup with as few items of makeup as possible, with the idea that keeping it simple probably saves energy too. Without the sunglasses cheat, I got it down to: concealer pencil (used as concealer, highlighter, eyeshadow), eyeliner (cat eye liner and brows), mascara and lip colour (pencil/lipstick/tinted lipsalve). It looked like:
Occasionally I do wear full makeup and this is probably what I’d use:
1) bwc super cover concealer 2) avril Le Mascara (bio cert) 3) Almay liquid eyeliner pen 4) Bell Hypoallergenic eyeliner (for both or just eyebrows, though my current one is broken)
Also 5) Mac #rubywoo 💄6) Une skin-Matt foundation (98.9 natural origin ingredients) 7) Little Ondine (fume free) nail varnish 💅🏻8) mac blusher 9) avril Rouge Franc lip liner (100% natural)
I’ve ordered Maybelline The Falsies Volum’ Express Waterproof Mascara as that came out surprisingly well on CosDNA
I keep skincare simple. Mostly I wash my face with tap water. To remove makeup I first use a baby wipe then hot water, then coconut oil on a tissue if necessary. To moisturise I use coconut oil or Aveeno moisturising cream. Rosewater spray is also moisturising, cooling and smells gorgeous. For a bath I use Neal’s Yard shower gels (bought when on offer) or the Roots and Wings shampoo (cheaper) on my body as well. When I started to look into ingredients I realised there’s not much difference between shampoos and other liquid soaps.
In terms of deodorant I mostly use a Crystal Alum Saltz rock which you put on wet after washing. In the winter using it once will last half a week with my lifestyle. I’ve also used Bionsen Aluminium Free.
You can make expensive smelling perfume cheaply and easily with essential oils and vodka, though it doesn’t linger as long. Some of my essential oils have gone missing, so I haven’t done this for a while, but a couple of examples are:
- Light floral: 7 bergamot, 5 jasmine, 5 lemon, 5 neroli, 4 palmarosa, 4 geranium-rose, 3 cypress, 4 vanilla, 1 lemongrass, 1 lavender, 1 ylang ylang, 1 vetiver
- Orangey-rose scent: 13 drops sweet orange, 9 geranium rose, 5 bergamot, 3 clove, 2 palma rosa, 1 juniper, 1 sandalwood, 1 lavender
If I remember correctly those quantities are for 15ml spray bottles. You can adjust to preference. I have acquired lots of essential oils, but you could use fewer oils. For perfume you need a top note, a middle note and a base as a starting point (combining random oils doesn’t really work). See pins on the Pinterest board.
You may want to use oils that could benefit health (taking with a little bit of a pinch of salt as far as how much perfume can really improve your health). See this post for reputed health benefits.
I quite often smell like geranium rose and clove. Partly because I like the scent and partly because these oils may help POTS.
Compression garments are useful for my POTS, especially a waist cincher and graduated support tights (examples on the Pinboard). Conveniently, corsets and waist cinchers also help create a 1950s style hourglass figure.
Mid century bras tended to be wire free which is comfier than underwires. I like the Playtex Original 18 hour bra, it also has moisture wicking fabric.
Realistically I spend the majority of my hours in pyjamas, such as these stretchy cotton ones from La Redoute. When I do get dressed I like to wear stretchy cotton, fifties style fit and flare or pencil dresses. People perceive a big effort investment if you’re wearing a stretchy dress instead of stretchy pyjamas. The only effort involved is doing up a zip (ok sometimes that can be an effort)!
A major Spoonie problem is having to buy everything online. A trick I’ve discovered is looking for repro vintage brands who do the same dress cut in lots of fabrics. The classic example is Lindy Bop who give their dresses names, so it’s easy to remember (and search on eBay). I know I’m a size 16 in their Vanessa dress, and it suits me, so I’m gradually buying it in different fabrics. I’ve set up search alerts on EBay for the Lindy Bop dresses I want. There are a lot of never worn and worn once bargains on EBay, the size 14 red Audrey dress I’m currently wearing cost £3 and seemed new. You do need to know your size for each dress though, check the measurements (Vanessa runs smaller than Audrey etc).
Grace Karin is a brand you can buy very cheaply new. Also buying dresses can be a cheap outfit as the whole outfit is one item.
When you’re chronically ill does it really matter what you look like though? The effort to look good or ‘normal’ definitely shouldn’t be an additional pressure. I see this pinup Spoonie micro subculture as more of a hobby. If it isn’t an enjoyable distraction then it will lose its appeal to me. Remember what Audrey Hepburn said
“Happy girls are the prettiest!”
Let me know in the comments if you’d prefer this post hyperlinked within the post to the table of contents at the top (if you want to use it for reference rather than reading through once).
Don’t forget extra links and tutorials are on the Pinterest board
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