A Closer Look at Sephora

It was a nice Saturday afternoon and a visit to the mall sounds perfect. A 15-20 minute drive away from my house was the mall that I frequent to. Because it was the weekend, many cars were packed in the parking lot and finding a good parking spot was a hassle. After what seemed like ages, I found an empty spot and quickly entered the huge mall. I arrived at the main area of the mall. People were bustling in and out of various stores balancing several shopping bags in their already full hands. After wandering and walking around for about 10 minutes, Sephora laid in front of my eyes with its black and white striped borders and big, black company logo in all capital letters. It gave off a sophisticated and classy aura. Sephora stood out the most compared to the other stores because of how brightly, but unnaturally lit it was inside. On the two sides of the store at the opening, there’s an ad meticulously placed that shows a brunette-haired woman with long, silky hair and light, flawless skin. Her dark, full eyebrows and shimmery gold and brown eyelids contrasted with her delicate pink lip color. The model’s features were very sharp and her cheekbones were heavily defined. Her fingernails painted a plum hue framed around her jaw. This ad easily caught my eye not only because it was right in front of the store, but her intense gaze appeared to be confident wearing her makeup.

As I walked into Sephora, I was greeted warmly by an employee with a wide smile on her heavily made up face. “Hi! Welcome to Sephora! If you need anything, just let me know.” I smiled back and gave her an “Ok.” The way she greeted felt friendly and made me feel extremely at home, and so I began to look around. One of my first thoughts was that there was a mixture of different fragrances and lotion scents dispersed throughout the whole space as people sampled them. I caught a whiff of some dainty fragrances and also was hit with very strong musky colognes. At some point, it became a bit overwhelming. The amount of products being sold here were endless and enough to keep my eyes busy. Eyeshadows, lipsticks, blushes, nail polish, fragrances, shampoo, hair masks, lotions, face creams, tanning lotion, brushes, and so much more. There was a wide space in the middle of the store in order to have room for walking around and each side was almost symmetrical in how much products were distributed on each side. These sides were then divided into sections based on the product brand and if you entered into any one of these sections, it’ll be further divided into the product type. I found myself jumping around from one section to another, quite interested and absorbed into everything I placed my eyes on. Urban Decay was one of the brands I chose to look at and each product was nicely put on display. All the foundations, from lightest to darkest, were placed together and organized based on the line it was from. The same idea was repeated with the lipsticks, eyeshadows, and blushes. Just one step into the store and a person can see how well categorized and clean this place is. You can get a general sense of where you can look if you need a certain product. The way the products are organized are appealing enough for people to take a quick glance from outside the store and continue walking their way.

There’s almost an equal amount of products on either side of the store but the majority of the left side held the more expensive products based on the arrangement of the store. I saw that some of the customers walked towards the right side first or they looked at the left side but came over to the right side and stayed longer there. It seemed as if they were running away from the brands such as Gucci, Chanel, NARS, and Giorgio Armani because of the price tag. I’m quite familiar these brands and how ridiculously costly they are so I wanted to see other people’s reactions when they saw these prices. A woman probably in her early 40’s, along with another female who I assume to be a friend, picked up a foundation from Giorgio Armani and her eyes almost popped out of her face when she saw the $64 price. “This stuff is freaking expensive! How do people spend money on makeup like this? Holy crap.” She said it in a loud whisper so it was quite audible. She slowly placed it back in its position, still with an expression of utter disbelief. She and her friend joked around for a bit about the price but still continued to look through that section. A similar reaction was produced from a younger woman who was looking through Chanel’s fragrances and exclaimed loudly, “Damn! A hunnit dollas fo’ dis?” Everyone glanced towards her direction while she still gripped the perfume in her hand. She caught some people staring at her and said awkwardly, “Oh, sorry y’all.” Then she put the perfume down and continued making her trip throughout the store. She spent a lot of time in the store even though she didn’t buy anything as I saw exit the store empty handed. And this is what I saw mainly. People looking around but had no intentions of buying anything.

Many different people flock to this store – both men and women (but mostly women) from various backgrounds. I saw a male looking and swatching on some eyeshadows and saying, “That looks pretty.” I liked seeing this because it shows that it’s not only females that can wear makeup. It’s become more open to men now and he looked like he had an interest in seeing all kinds of makeup. Anthony S., male makeup artist at Sephora, told me about his experience working in the makeup field. “Makeup is like art and the ability to transform people’s faces gives me excitement. My former goal was to be a graphic designer but I’ve always liked makeup so I chose it as a career.” Unfortunately, his parents weren’t very supportive of him pursuing makeup because they told him that “it’s for women and you’re a man. What are you going to do with makeup?” It’s quite disappointing that people still have the thought of makeup being exclusively a female domain. Makeup is associated with women and a man who shows just a bit of interest in it is seen as less of a man or has his sexuality questioned. There are plenty of straight males who get inspiration from makeup and see makeup as a way to express themselves. Anthony said that he loves working at Sephora because “it’s become very diverse and the makeup community continues to welcome men into their world and treat them like equals.”

The employees at Sephora all wore the same outfit: all black. A black top, black pants, black shoes. Wearing the same clothes may help in keeping the unity amongst all the workers but subtle differences are still visible. The workers were mostly female and a few males of different races: White, Black, and Asian. Also, they were young, around 19-27 and on the more attractive side. Some people might see this as being shallow, but I believe that all makeup stores do this since they need to sell cosmetics and the workers need to match that image and makeup is about looking one’s best. Having at least semi-decent looking workers is just one factor that draws customers into their store. Everyone looked similar but different at the same because although they had the same outfits, each employee was able to show their individuality through their makeup style. One worker went for a more natural style, some with makeup with bold emphasis on an area like the lips or eyes, and the rest of them were wearing different versions of dramatic makeup. Everyone still had a decent amount makeup on their faces because according to one worker, they are “required to wear quite a lot of makeup and there’s a minimum amount of products you’re allowed to have on your face”. I thought that this was a bit demanding but it’s understandable given the type of work it is. One female I encountered was a quirky and bubbly individual whose makeup exactly expressed that. She had colorful and sparkly eye makeup with different shades of the rainbow. Her lips were painted a matte magenta color and it complemented her soft pink blush. Based on her interactions with some of the customers, she seemed to be the type of person who can brighten the atmosphere in a room and be as helpful as she can. She met many of the customers’ needs and provided them with useful makeup tips all while keeping an enthusiastic mood. A few customers took note of her and she had a handful of people ask her questions. Her personality appeared to be attractive to others and that’s what drew people towards her.

A young female customer was struggling with finding the right shade and coverage for a particular foundation, and asked this worker, “Can you help me find the correct shade of this foundation for my skin?” The worker replied back, “Oh, sure. Let’s come out here so I can get a better look at your skin.” Based on the customer’s body language, she seemed to feel insecure about her skin and kept covering her face since she had no makeup on. She then told the worker while half laughing and half nervous, “I hope this is a full coverage foundation because, well, I have a lot of shit on my face. Look at all these acne scars. I need them covered up.” The worker swatched different shades on her jawline until she was able to get a color to blend seamlessly into her skin. She did her best at finding the correct match and definitely knew what she was doing. She gave some tips to the woman on how to make her makeup look better and gave her suggestions on which products will work best for her. She even offered to test some products on her face to see what will fit her. The woman stared at her face in the mirror, making sure everything looked perfect. After she had her face all dolled up, she had a different look about her. She was in a much better mood as compared to her initial expression when she was frantically searching for makeup. She carried a bag full of those products that the worker suggested to her. I felt that she bought them by her own choice since she was extremely satisfied with how she looked.

Sephora has this theme based on movie production. According to one makeup artist I interviewed named Gabriella A., the workers like to refer to one another as “cast members” and they call the area where everyone else is the “stage”. This is where all the makeup is. Everything that’s behind doors is called “backstage” since it’s out of view from everyone else. Managers are known as the “directors” and the all black uniforms/outfits they don as “costumes”. They use such terms because they want the work experience to feel more enjoyable and exciting since it gives them something new to look forward to everyday. “Employee” and “worker” sound quite dull and it doesn’t feel all that special. It’s supposed to make them feel like they’re playing an important role in a big production and gives that sense of teamwork amongst one another. Their goal as a team is to reach a certain number of sales per day and to help customers feel more beautiful. Each person is valued because they all have separate tasks to attend to that contribute to that end goal. A couple people might be at the cash register, some arranging the display of the products, some ordering in new products, and others consulting or applying makeup on customers. If one piece of the puzzle is missing, then it affects the goal. Calling each other “cast members” adds a positive tone to the job and this communication incorporates everyone and makes them feel important. I heard these terms being used like, “Can cast member [name] help me with something backstage” and “Ugh, I got some concealer on my costume. Let me use a wipe really quick”.  

Makeup is a form of self-expression and it gives people a chance to show off their creativity. There’s countless products out there made to achieve different looks based on what your mood is that day or what type of activities you need to attend. Being creative with makeup has allowed people to make a living off of it. Makeup artists love to experiment with different colors and work on a variety of complexions and facial features. Giving themselves and other people a look that defines them as a person is the excitement of makeup. For other people, makeup is a savior because it helps to boost their self-esteem. There’s a good amount of women and men who lack so much confidence in their looks and makeup is there to give them an opportunity to be comfortable with their appearance. Gabriella A. told me that “makeup gives people a reason to start their day feeling fantastic” and that’s true because a lot of people suffer with problematic areas on their skin such as acne, scarring, or wrinkles. There may have tried countless skin care routines to help them but they didn’t deliver good results. With not much solution to their skin problems, makeup is available to reduce the appearance of them. I find it discouraging to shame people for wearing makeup. Hearing people say things like, “Wearing 10 pounds of makeup is so deceiving to us” gets irritating because a majority of people don’t wear makeup to impress others but to feel more beautiful about how they look. Some people just aren’t born naturally beautiful and feel the pressure of society to look more attractive, so makeup is a choice available to them. This also goes to show the double standard of society regarding makeup. People who wear a lot of makeup, particularly women, are seen as “fake” and “liars” but when they choose not to wear makeup, people start pointing out all their flaws and calling them unattractive. These people need to realize that just maybe the fact that they criticize insecure women pressures them into fitting that unrealistic beauty standard set by society and to look somewhat similar to that standard, they resort to wearing makeup. At the end of the day, makeup is worn to feel like an enhanced version of oneself if one’s self-esteem isn’t where they want it to be. People also choose to wear makeup for themselves to exude their individuality and not to look good for others. Without all the makeup stores we have now, including Sephora, there wouldn’t be a way to accomplish all this.

Works Cited

Anthony S. Personal Interview. 4 March 2017

Gabriella A. Personal Interview. 18 February 2017


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