Reading Rarities: Bobbi Brown Beauty

This book is available on Amazon.

I can’t speak as to how it is now, but when I was a student at Sac State the Hornet Bookstore was a treasure trove of unique books, and one of my finds was the 1997 volume, Bobbi Brown Beauty. Before there were beauty gurus, YouTube, or social media as we know them, there was Bobbi Brown. This lady is OG. From the beginning, her career has always been about being ahead of the curve. I’m going to really try not to make this seem like a commercial or overly gushy or something, but this book covers everything.

Bobbi Brown was born in Chicago in 1957, and according to her dad, James Brown, who wrote the intro to Beauty, she was always interested in makeup. She even got in trouble for messing around with her mother’s makeup supply as a little girl, prompting her parents to get Brown her own cosmetics. After graduating from Emerson College with a degree in theatrical makeup, Brown moved to New York City to work in the theater and modeling industries.


Since it was the 80s, big hair, big shoulders, and even bigger makeup reigned supreme, and Brown had her sights set on something different–she wanted women to be themselves and embrace their natural beauty. Brown teamed up with a chemist to make ten lipsticks in various grades of pinky-brown, expecting to sell a hundred a month, but ended up moving that many in a day. Bobbi Brown Cosmetics was founded in 1991, and the rest, as they say, is history. Brown’s methods were just in time for the stripped-down nineties, when browns and nudes were the favorites.

Beauty is Brown’s first book, and in a light, conversational style, she covers a wide range of beauty categories and sub-categories, not only about makeup, but about what goes on before: Diet, exercise, and skin care. Naturally, Brown advocates staying active and eating healthy, but what’s unusual is that she advises changing up one’s skin care according to the season or what skin needs on any particular day. There’s no reason to stick to the same routine just because it’s there.

25th anniversary edition of Bobbi Brown’s original ten lipcolors. (Really Ree)

The same goes for makeup. Brown is all for changing up what colors are used depending on the season. Winter might need brighter, vivid colors to punch up pale skin, whereas summer might need lighter, frostier shades to enhance a more tanned skin tone. Or a routine might (and should) depend on the occasion. Casual clothes like sweats would call for tinted moisturizer, brown mascara, and tinted balm or gloss, while a power suit needs something more involved.

Brown also covers what kind of makeup (or lack of) would be needed for special occasions like getting married or having a baby. When it comes down to it, beauty is more about self-care than anything.

Speaking of self, everyone knows all too well that there isn’t a single person alive who is completely secure with their looks and no one is perfect. Even goddesses get made fun of (Remember Nicole Kidman’s awkward clapping?)

Well, Brown advises looking at so-called weaknesses as strengths, and in a lengthy chapter she lists common features, along with women who boast them. Got handsome good looks like Katharine Hepburn? Delicate features like Meg Ryan? Small lips like Courtney Cox? Play to those features instead of trying to disguise them. And take your personality into account. Maybe you’re into vivid red lips like Paloma Picasso used to be. Or you could just not be into much makeup at all and focus on being as healthy as possible. What works for other people may not work for you, and that’s fine.

Bobbi Brown’s first Vogue cover, September 1989. (

Another cool feature of Beauty is that Brown has tips for people of all races and ages, because once again it’s about working with individual characteristics without trying to be someone else. This is another area in which Bobbi Brown was ahead of the curve, because her brand has always had foundation shades for every skin tone. It sounds funny now, but it really wasn’t common in the nineties, and women of color were hard-pressed to find makeup that didn’t make them look ashy or washed out. This changed when the late Naomi Sims started a makeup line specifically for women of color, and the major companies followed suit.

When bad days come up, and we all have them, Brown advises the less-is-more approach. If you’re tired, for instance, don’t go overboard with bright makeup to hide it, because it’ll just emphasize how drained you feel. Brown is all about soft colors and lightly applied foundation. Drinking water is a boon, too.

Audrey Hepburn, 1963. (Flickr)

As a beauty industry insider, Brown has plenty of tips on how to look good in front of a camera (TV, movie, or still), and they can all be summarized in two brief sentences: Keep things classic. Also, don’t go too glossy because it makes you look greasy. I heard something similar when I was with the Continental Singers, only in our case makeup was supposed to be fairly creamy to matte because glossy colors absorb light and make a person look washed out. Brown’s book agrees.

Naturally, there’s a bit of mythbusting going on as well, and a lot of the stuff we see on the runways isn’t meant for everyday life. Lining the inside waterline of the eyes, for instance, which was a thing for some around the turn of the twenty-first century, is not only a pain to keep up throughout the day, but can potentially scratch the eye. Another trick in the “Don’t Try This At Home” category is avoiding extreme colors like neon green or orange, and instead looking for sheer, more subdued versions. Yet another really obvious “Don’t” is bleaching or shaving the eyebrows. Jean Harlow and Lana Turner were both told to do this by their respective studios and their eyebrows never grew back.


I think the most remarkable thing about Bobbi Brown Beauty is that it hasn’t dated all that much since its publication. There have been quite a few things about the makeup industry that have changed in twenty-odd years, and even Bobbi Brown has left her original brand to form a new one, Jones Road. However, her book’s  advice remains sound. There aren’t many gurus who can say that, which why people still refer to the book. At least I do.

Another post is coming up on Friday. Thanks for reading, all…

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