Why I Love Public Transport Makeovers


Columnist Lucy Mangan on her favourite spectator sport.

I had one of those strange moments the other day when, after a lifetime of assuming that you held the majority opinion on a subject, you are suddenly revealed to be very much in the minority. I arrived late at a party because the train had – for reasons vouchsafed only to the Network Rail gods and not to anyone as lowly as their passengers – stopped for 20 minutes outside a station and said that at least I had been able to pass the time pleasantly because there had been a woman opposite me putting on her make-up.

You’d have thought I’d said I’d watched her gaily drowning puppies in a galvanised bucket. Everyone in earshot – male and female – sprang back in disgust. In that particular room I was clearly in a majority of one.

I was baffled. I *love* watching women do their make-up on the train. Not hairbrushing, not spraying anything around – deliberately shedding onto other people or polluting the air around them is obviously just rude – but pure face-painting is a delight. I love watching a bare face becoming defined. Lips brightened, eyes darkened, lashes lengthened, cheeks contoured – it’s like watching a picture come to life under a talented artist’s hand. Nature’s imperfections are ironed out with swift, sure strokes – amateurs tend to do their make-up at home, so if you’re watching a woman on the train you are generally watching an expert (at least as far as her own face is concerned) at work. And whether it’s a woman painting her face or a surgeon repairing someone’s innards, there is nothing as soothing, satisfying or seductive as watching a master at his or her craft exercise their skills.

When I queried the partygoers’ reactions, their chief objection seemed to be that it should be kept private. The men seemed to think she was guilty of letting daylight in upon magic and the women, that she was giving away trade secrets, lessening the effectiveness of their cosmetic armour by showing how it was put together.
Maybe the difference between us is that I never think of make up as secret, or as armour. I think of it as a helpful friend, or a compliment paid both to myself and the person or people I’m meeting that day. “Here,” I feel it’s saying “I’ve paid you the tribute of a little effort, operating on the assumption that we’re both worth it. Now it’s your turn. Let’s have a good meeting/day/whatever else together.”

I hope I’m not in a minority of one. What a freaking waste of time it will have been.

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  • chrisnye

    You are not alone. There’s nothing more lovely and relaxing than watching someone putting their make up on.

  • http://twitter.com/pixeldiva Ann McMeekin Carrier

    You’re definitely not alone. I’m always in awe of the train makeup ladies. Especially the ones who can do flicky eyeliner on the train. They rock.

    Never thought of makeup like a compliment either – what a lovely way to think of it.

  • Betsy

    I often do my make-up on public transport. Nothing that involves brushes or machinery, and only eyeliner if I really can’t avoid it (pencils and moving traffic are not my friends) but I’m quite proud of being able to put mascara on without getting it all over my face. Which is funny, cos I don’t have that level of grace on my own sofa.

  • Steph Mulrine

    I happily do my make up in public and, I totally agree with the description that I never think of make up as a secret. I don’t really do it frequently. I used to always put my make up on at work at my desk in the summer (as my hayfever would have had me crying it all off before I’d even got off the bus) I was always the first into the office and whenever one of my male colleagues arrived early to find me mascara in hand he always said “Caught you!” like I was doing something naughty and private in public. I’d give a rather unconvincing chuckle.

  • Ash

    Oh yes, this has to be one of my favourite spectator sports as well. And it’s lovely to know OTHER NORMAL PEOPLE do ther makeup in public too! Doesn’t half make me feel like a bit of a slob though, especially when I see other women (and men) have managed to to leave the home looking immaculate and I’m sitting on the tram looking like I’ve just rolled out of bed! (Which is usually the case…)

  • Kate Lukey

    I completely agree, especially because I’m hopeless at putting make up on whether on public transport or at home. I always watch with a mixture of awe and fascination.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kate.crowther.165 Kate Crowther

    I like watching people do their eyeliner on the tube. Skills.

  • http://www.facebook.com/riri.rochelle Riri Rochelle

    I find watching other women apply makeup hypnotic – and has already been said it’s a great way to pick up new tips. I once watched a woman draw on a flicky eye whilst on a moving tube and wanted to give her a round of applause as I was so in awe of her makeup skills.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tess.mcgill.96 Tess McGill

    I used to live an hour away from my boyfriend and LOVED the train journey as a gradual anticipation of seeing him and putting my date face on after work. I was never very skilled so it was merely a bit more of everything I was already wearing but I love seeing faces transformed in public, it’s brilliant. Particularly eyeliner or something needing a steady hand, performed on a train, you just have to applaud the skill!

  • Jen Rochester

    Always watch might pick up some tips

  • http://twitter.com/amypagey Amy Page

    I love it. I now do my lips on the metro and find that it’s part of my routine. It’s why make-up tutorials on youtube are so popular – we are voyeurs watching a transformation and, hopefully, learning a thing or too!

  • Suze

    Completely agree. I often do my make up on the tube. Saves me 10 minutes for extra faffing at home. I always smile at the people watching me.

  • Fiona

    I adore watching other women apply makeup whilst on public transport. It takes real confidence to whack it all out and slap it on as bug eyed weirdoes like me stare at the whole performance in an intensely creepy way. I do sometimes have to resist the urge to say ‘bit less bronzer there love’ or ‘Hmmm, frosted lipstick? Really?’ or even ‘You look so beautiful. Bravo’. All of these are inappropriate things to say to a stranger at 8.27 in the morning. But I’m thinking it as I stare across at you in my charming yet unnerving psycho way.

  • Eliza

    I am w ay too disorganised to find time to apply my makeup before dashing out to work in the mornings and do it on the tube every day, seat or no seat. It was only recently after embarrassing my housemate by doing it with her one morning that i realised people might be anything other then impressed that my hand’s steady enough to master the flicky eye between Holborn and Covent Garden …

  • TracyK

    I love it too: sometimes that ten minutes on the bus is the only time I have to myself, especially when the baby is strapped in and can’t smear Rimmel Hide The Blemish all over her lips like a mini-Winkelman. There’s a real confident showmanship in it, a ta-DAH! that I find so refreshing. I like to give myself a cheeky wink in the mirror at the end, mainly because there *will* be some sour faced git pulling a cat’s-bum mouth at me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/JessicaJessicaJess Jessica Burke

      Love it! I’ve gotta try the wink! I’m perpetually late so pretty much always apply my make up on public transport! It is awkward when people stare, I’m never sure how to respond! Or whether to keep pretneding I can’t see the staring, so next time it’s clearly in disapproval I’m gona give the wink a go! 😉

  • Clara Bow

    My friend moans about how much she hates seeing other women doing this. Really don’t get that attitude. I draw the line at anything liquid or that involves too much finger application. Foundation – no. Hair brushing – no. But mascara, lipstick, eyshadow etc – I will totally put these on when I’m on the bus or tube. Lets me sleep in longer.
    Not really crazy about starers though. Once a guy on the bus behind me leaned in to look at me in my reflection in my mirror. Gross.

  • alex monteny

    don’t take public transport that often, so I’ve not seen it a lot. but I like watching my friends in their bathrooms, Does that count?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jennie.jordin Jennie Jordin

    I don’t have a commute, just a 5 minute car ride to work (making up whilst driving, probably best to avoid….) but I love the ritual of pulling out my Chanel mirror (damn you Sali you enabler) and re-applying lipstick, it’s a comforting oasis in the office, and my way of saying I need a time out, or Dutch courage which only freshly applied Lippy can provide

  • Nic

    I miss my daily rail commute for this reason. There was a girl so adept at doing a flicky eye on the 8.40am from Stockport to Deansgate it made me want to cheer and clap. Each day she transformed herself before my very eyes. Captivating.

  • http://twitter.com/AnneMarieT123 Anne-Marie Taylor

    I absolutely love it, it’s so fascinating to me as all I can manage in a moving vehicle is lipstick!

  • suzanne

    i love watching people artfully
    do their make-up- it’s very soothing

  • http://twitter.com/MsNomerPresents Ms Nomer

    Oh, Mangan, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

  • http://www.facebook.com/luciemaeandthemusic Lucie-Mae Sumner

    I’ve done my make-up in transit since I was 15 in my brother’s car, down the winding country lanes at reckless speed on the way to school. I used to hate being watched applying on the tube (men who, bewilderingly, think make-up is for their benefit alone do not have any qualms about displaying their disdain). I’ve now realised there are people who watch simply out of interest, and it’s quite a lovely thing – no-one talks on public transport, so why not communicate by showing something we do well? For the others, I enjoy the shivers of horror when I bring out the liquid eyeliner. More soothing and enjoyable than reading the Metro, that’s for sure…

  • Niqistar

    Absolutely adore this. I watched a women apply razor-thin liquid eyeliner on the Piccadilly line recently and it was the best bit of my day. Have picked up lots of excellent tricks by observing other women’s mobile making up. (Ps. Delighted that this site exists now – having never made it onto the facebook – and to find Lucy Mangan writing here.)

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