Zero-Waste Beauty, Simplified

Paris Tuileries, photos Emanuela Cervo

What did you do last week? I sold my hair straightener and quit makeup. Makeup is a kind of clothing for your face, so it seemed disingenuous to write about "my simple wardrobe" without streamlining my physiognomic one.

This isn't a radical change. Many Parisians forgo makeup for various reasons- personal preference, motherhood, age, profession. However, I'm surprised I lasted this long. I don't have the skin to pull off the no-makeup look. My prominent buccal fat pads never quite disappeared, my pores enlarge every year, and I've struggled with gluten-induced acne since 5th grade. In summertime and on vacation, when I'm reasonably dark and my face feels like it could melt off my body, I do well without makeup. Mascara and straight hair aren't suited for rainforests and sea water. This is Paris, though. To ride the Métro- especially during Fashion Week- entails standing nose-to-nose with porcelain-skinned women who probably never picked a pimple in their life. I'm still not convinced going barefaced while smog obscures the Eiffel Tower is the best thing for anyone's complexion.

Before: My three-product makeup routine. RMS Beauty Un-Coverup, Lip2cheek, and mascara

Going makeup-free isn't even the hard part. It's facing the world with naturally textured hair. Until high school, I was the only girl without a hair straightener, and I had the thickest, bushiest mane in town. It seemingly accretes matter with no regard to the Chandrasekhar limit. Not surprisingly, I walked into a Korean/Japanese salon this week and they ran me out. In Thailand, four girls shellacked my curls into unnatural, rebonded submission before saying, "Now you normal."

This experiment brought back horrifying memories of middle school. I wasn't allowed to wear makeup before 10th grade, so I'd sneak it behind my mother's back and spend all my free time in front of the mirror. In Japan and the US, some makeup lines are specially aimed at children. Little girls used to apply lipstick to play dress up- now, the age at which they suffer an inferiority complex is astonishingly low.

The history of women's beauty practices is similarly alarming. Egyptian women applied lead ore to their faces for color and definition. Romans used sheep's fat and blood as nail polish. In the 15th century, France became a leading center of cosmetics manufacturing, turning arsenic into highly profitable face powder. We balk at 20th century preparations for lead-based hair dye, but to this day, measurable levels of mercury are found in favorite department and drugstore brands.

My susceptibility to beauty conventions is largely cultural. Never mind the "You're ugly," messages propagated by mass media and the CW network. In Seoul, family members incorporate a flurry of creams, serums, powders, lasers in their regimens. Friends visiting Korea with age spots and scars come back ten years younger, baby fresh. I just don't have the patience for that sort of thing. All winter, I've washed my face with plain water and a washcloth, or the same olive oil soap I use on my hair and body. I can't get away with low-maintenance if I'm caking my face in Un-Coverup everyday.

Last year, I started feeling guilty about my energy-intensive beauty routine. I couldn't call it zero-waste when somebody else was generating waste for me. It wasn't particularly effective, either. A year of baking soda and vinegar damaged my hair (well, just the baking soda. I still love a vinegar rinse). Makeup seemed to highlight flaws rather than conceal them. Constant touchups were depressing and disillusioning. Then, last Sunday, I saw pictures of myself bare-skinned and natural. Frankly, I didn't look any different. What was the point of it all?

After: Grooming tools
I remember when I gave up nail polish years ago. At first I felt like I would die, appearing in public with naked toes. Then I got a grip. Now my nails are beautiful, clean, glossy and pink.  It's only been a week since simplifying my beauty routine, but I'm already happier. I wake up, wash my face and go. I drink tons of water, avoid milk products, and eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and legumes. People call me "mademoiselle" again. A man on the street gave me a rose, no strings attached. Women complement my clothes more, and I strike up more conversations (apparently lifeless, poker-straight hair isn't approachable). I don't avoid my reflection in car windows anymore, and I walk straighter, buoyed by newly bouncy, manageable curls (I use olive oil, lemon juice, and a silk scarf to tame frizz).

If it counts for anything, I was mistaken for Parisian more this week than ever before. Looking French was never my goal, but I'm glad people aren't calling me pejoratives anymore. This post contains Shopstyle affiliate links. If you click on them, I make a commission. Thanks for your continuing support!

P.S. For those that asked, I use a Merkur long-handled razor with plastic-free blades and a Mooncup.
Paris to Go

My Wedding Dress

Dress, similar here

Recently on a plane, I asked the stewardess to hang up my garment bag. "Is it your wedding dress?" she asked. 

Me: "Yes." 

Stewardess: "Is it white and beautiful?"

Passenger seated in front: "When are you getting married?"

Another stewardess: "You're getting married in Paris? How romantic! Let me see the diamond."

"It's grey, I think it's beautiful, I got married two years ago, and I don't have a diamond," I answered. 

"Oh," said the first stewardess, losing interest. She dumped the garment bag on her colleague and walked away.

"No diamond," the passenger mumbled, burying her head in a book. 

"Why carry the dress around?" the other stewardess asked. "To wear," I replied. 

She unzipped my garment bag and eyed it critically. "It's just a regular dress," she said, pursing her lips. "Are you really married?"

Before becoming my wedding dress, this was my favorite dress. I bought it (for $13) at a thrift store in 2010, so it's probably six years old, fully lined with a woven label and built-in bra. It fit perfectly, didn't need any tailoring, and gave me the illusion of sloping shoulders- in reality, they're shaped more like ginsu knives, the kind you buy at discount department stores. Elastic stays kept the neckline in place, so when twerking emerged as a mainstream form of self-expression, I was ready. 

I liked the wool, the subtle sparkle of chevron beading, and how the silk felt on my skin. I threw a cardigan or skirt over it for work, and wore it alone to cocktail parties. At the time, I lived in a sleepy suburb, but dressed for a fantasy life in Paris. Once I paired it with my friend's leather jacket and went to a Natas Loves You show at a filthy venue. The dress took me from vintage shopping in the Marais to Notre Dame de Lorette to the ferris wheel, Le Meurice, the Tuileries, and Strasbourg Saint-Denis. 

When I visited Paris again, I wore it to dinner at a French blogger's apartment. My now-husband picked me up on his scooter. We sat on the floor eating burgers and went to Silencio after; that's how old this dress is- Silencio was cool then.


When we were engaged, my undergraduate studies in sustainability cast a pall over dress-shopping. Anthropocentric interests played a major role- clouds of tulle never appealed to me, and wearing white made me feel like the Hindenburg. I read somewhere that French women wore nice, normal dresses to get married, so they could wear them over again. Now that I live here, I see that's completely untrue, but relying on this information, I decided not to spend six months' mortgage on a dress I'd wear once.* Back then, I didn't have a Pinterest account to convince me otherwise.

An adjunct member of Asia's number one market for luxury goods, I briefly considered designer gowns before remembering my clumsiness and tax bracket precluded couture. Secondhand stores yielded November Rain-worthy, Princess Di-inspired options. I tried my grandmother's wedding dress, but couldn't zip it past my rib cage. It was frustrating. I just wanted to get married in my favorite dress.

Most brides-to-be never dream of being married in everyday clothes, and if they do, they at least want something new for the occasion. Not me. The dress was part of our history, both together and with Paris. I wore thrifted Miu Miu d'Orsay pumps, which I later gave to my friend Natalie (now a bride-to-be herself)- my husband loved it.

Even after a few years, I'm not sick of my wedding dress. I've tailored and worn it as long as I can- a concept my French friends accepted readily- but it's too big now. I don't feel right keeping something hidden away in a closet when somebody else could enjoy it. Everybody's relationship with their wedding gown is personal, but memories and emotions don't depend on physical objects. I hope the next owner finds this dress as useful, special, and beautiful as I did.

*Genevieve Antoine Dariaux wrote, "It is no longer unusual for a bride to wear... an elegant ensemble, such as you might wear to a smart luncheon- a suit or wool coat and dress, in any color you like, including black." However, all the French brides I've seen- 17 of them- wear white or ivory knee length dresses to the Mairie and princess gowns at the reception.
Paris to Go

Lily of the Valley Tea Bar, Paris Marais


I'm standing awkwardly in front of Lily of the Valley, phone in hand, patrons on the terrace eying me critically. Light streaming through the window projects a rainbow on the patterned floor. A server rushes under the plafond végétal with a silver tray set for tea, brown sugar cubes, tiny spoons, and all. "If you move to the corner, you'll get a better photo. That's where I usually sit," says the girl studying by the window. "Do you come here a lot?" I ask. She smiles sheepishly. "I only discovered this place a few days ago," she explains, "I've been several times already..."


Lily of the Valley is a painterly, shoebox-sized enclave tucked away on Rue Dupetit-Thouars, down the street from Ofr and Fondation Cafe. For those cleaving to the primacy of Camellia sinensis, Lily of the Valley is a veritable Marais gem. Stacks of delicate porcelain and gleaming metal tea boxes line the shelves. Mismatched chintz prints cover the comfy bench and sparkling bathroom. Outside, enjoy gluten-free patisserie, prepared in-house from organic ingredients, on pristine white bistro sets (the owner, Pauline, is dedicated to gluten-free cuisine). I've heard good things about the scones and thé glace- survey says their coffee is excellent.


Conceived by Pauline, designed by Marie Deroudilhe, this bucolic tea bar- a Paris' first- is part Elsie de Wolfe, part Lewis Carroll, stocking smartly named organic offerings made in France. Craving whiskey? Order the Lapsang crocodile. Feeling anarcho-pacifistic? Try the Tolstoi. Lychee, pink peppercorn, wild strawberries and arôme Blanc mousseux dress up black and green teas; I love the chocolate laced maté and Bonne Humeur infusion (marjoram, verbena, rose, cacao nibs, and poppies, among other delicious volatile botanicals).


The scale on the polished counter awaits container tares and bulk tea. No paper napkins or plastic disposables here! The bilingual staff is unfailingly nice, and when I asked a server where she got her sweater- appliquéd with a single colorful wing of interlocking leather scales- she not only shared the brand, she drew me a little map (Le Bestiaire Volatiles*, Rue Commines). It's not just for bobos, either. Lily of the Valley attracts an international crowd encompassing everybody from students to local young professionals to lifelong Parisian retirees. I wear dress clothes there and feel right at home- no amount of Jeremy Scott and American Apparel could ruin this place for me.


Lily of the Valley
12 Rue Dupetit-Thouars
75003 Paris
M-F 8:30-6:30, Weekends 11-7
Take-away available
Paris to Go



Vintage furnishings, woven baskets, female entrepreneurs, and hacksaws- it's the stuff Kinfolk issues are made of. But L'Établisienne members- and founder Laurence Sourisseau- convey more of a "future CAC 40" than "Chattanooga hipster sous vides an egg" vibe. In a culture in which everything from home pickling to knitting is increasingly ethicized, L'Établisienne gives space-deprived, time-crunched Parisians the tools to build, create, and restore without professional training. Housed in the former Trébulle couverture-plomberie, L'Établisienne is Paris' first self-service workshop. Under the shadow of Petite Ceinture, in the historically industrial 12ème, you can still see old cobblestones between rails and ghost cars which circulated barrels from warehouses to docks.


Part atelier, part library, dépôt-vente, and café, L'Établisienne retains hints of its Belle Époque origins- gilded signage, original lockers in the workspace. Select from an array of consigned furnishings. Enjoy tea, coffee, and free wi-fi while reading design publications in the sitting room. A Sculpteo-optimized Replicator 2, bearing a friendly "I heart 3-D printing" sticker, rests beside a rack of vintage denim; below, two large workrooms, fitted with power tools, flank pallets destined for upcycling. L'Établisienne aims to marry "innovation and tradition." A dynamic studio environment, offering workshops in laser-cutting, painting, metals, cardboard, woodworking, rattan, among others, does exactly that.


Space is at a premium in Paris, and tiny apartments aren't conducive to honing technical skills. Some people have specific projects in mind, but lack access to the right equipment. Not surprisingly, many of L'Établisienne's members are professionals. They are MBAs, corporate neo-homesteaders tired of mass-produced Ikea merchandise, busy Parisians looking to restore treasured family heirlooms. L'Établisienne gives everyone a place to interact or work privately. Beginners and experts alike exchange ideas and receive personalized assistance. Want to restore that antimacassar-covered plush to full Whartonesque glory? Bring it here- the kids (between 6-10 years old) can come too, for ateliers des petites mains.

Everyone is really welcoming and helpful here. I saw a nice mix of people, including Sourisseau, who resembles a modern day Venetian noblewoman; Joanna, who looks like she just stepped out of an Isabel Marant ad; and the gender-flattening group of mothers / entrepreneurs / students / artisans working individually and collectively sous-sol. L'Établisienne is open seven days a week from 10-7, and the atelier is accessible to cardholders, by reservation, from 9-9. Choose from an annual membership, self-service pricing, 10-30 hour, half day, and day passes, or expert appointments. For a full list of courses and workshops, click here. Click here to follow L'Établisienne on Facebook.


I've never been swept up in the American extolment of self-reliance fueling Pinterest and Etsy, despite belonging to a category of people who write about slow food, blog about simplification and hashtag photos #cocooning or #nesting. Still, there's a certain moral vigor to making. Instead of shopping, you can create, engaging hands and brain in practical activity. The resurgence of a domestic ethos provokes eye rolling, but sustainability and simplicity have always been a fail-safe rationale for following trends. I want to build my own cat tree, and if I was intimidated at first, L'Établisienne gave me the perfect way to indulge my newfound yearning for rewardingly material work. Thank you Stephanie for telling me about this wonderful place, and Joanna for giving me the grand tour!
Paris to Go

Where to Stay in Paris

Chroniqueuse said it best when he wrote, "I have often wondered at fashion’s strange freaks. Just at the time when Paris is most beautiful, most green, most inviting, fashion’s votaries are off to some disagreeable sunny watering place, making themselves as uncomfortable as possible in small dark rooms in that most unpleasant of all places, a French hotel." That's why, when friends come to Paris, I recommend renting an apartment, or staying in a converted storefront like Paris Boutik. Visitors experience French culture and life in a way they couldn't at a hotel, like walking up seven flights of stairs carrying luggage, dodging the gardien, and trying to boil water on a hot plate in a cramped kitchen. It's not for everyone. I read once that since French people look like Americans, we tend to judge them according to our standards, expecting their homes and customs to be exactly like ours when they couldn't be more alien. Hotels and hostels entice with the promise of comfortable similitude. I think Hotel Grand Amour is the only place to stay in Paris, but there are other cool places like Tinah, Off Paris (the first floating hotel on the Seine), Mama Shelter, and Le Cinq Codet. Here are a few more at various price points.

Henriette Rive Gauche
Rooms start at 69€ in this design hotel opened by a veteran fashion journalist on Rue des Gobelins. Vintage furnishings and recycled materials are the main attraction and they also offer an extensive city guide, organized by neighborhood. Single rooms available.

C.O.Q Hotel

C.O.Q. stands for Community of Quality, with the nicest staff in this colorful, beautiful 13ème design hotel. Inspired by the framework of membership clubs, hotel guests have access to an exclusive city guide.

Hotel Providence Paris
If Indochine were a hotel, the 18 room Hotel Providence would be it. Situated in one of my favorite neighborhoods near Strasbourg Saint-Denis, French fashion magazines shoot editorials and Parisians staycation here. The bath products are even designed by Buly's Ramdane Touhani.

Hotel Grand Amour
So I always stay here now because of the vegan meals, and I love the drinks and the people, and the rooms are so beautiful, with the deepest bath tubs ever. It's a very convenient location off line 7 and near Gare du Nord too. Forty-two rooms feature art by the likes of Keith Haring, Dash Snow, Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin; an aquarium, library, apartment and restaurant are all housed in this  beautiful Pre-Haussmann building. Ask for one of the light pink rooms- they are my favorite.

Generator Hostel
An old office block transformed into an atmospheric design hostel fitted with original Paris Métro tiles. The rooms have private terraces and the rooftop bar has one of the best views of Paris. I just love this neighborhood too.

Le Grand Pigalle
Or Le Pigalle.


Chess Hotel
Alfresco murals and green walls dot the Carrara marble-ensconced Chess Hotel, just a few steps from l'Usine and Opéra. The bar and terrace are popular and they offer single or double rooms.

Hotel Edgar
This restaurant is really popular although the type of people there annoy me sometimes. Hotel Edgar features thirteen individually designed chambers and a pretty terrace. Rooms from 170€ (low season rate).

Kube Hotel
Actual French people staycation at this Cristina Cordula and Top Chef endorsed-hotel. I love Goutte d'Or; they call this the "mini Parisian North Pole," with suspended beds and a 20-ton ice bar. 41 chambres, single and double, from 169€.

Hotel El Dorado
This is one of Paris' best terraces, often hashtagged #insolite on Instagram. Rooms are as little as 50€ and Rue des Dames' is such a nice street - the bistrot is also famous.

Three Ducks
The bar and rooms at this completely redone, conveniently located hostel are freshly painted and scrubbed, and patrons always look like they're having fun. I don't have many good things to say about the 15ème, but the neighborhood is not the least bit touristy, despite close proximity to the Eiffel Tower and Beaugrenelle.

The Loft
Paris' first five star boutique hostel offers twin and double rooms or dormitory rooms with private bathrooms and is located in Belleville, one of my favorite neighborhoods. 

*Mama Shelter offers single rooms without a supplement. Enfin, I also recommend Les BainsHotel Saint Paul Rive Gauche, eco-friendly Solar or Hidden Hotel, or La Réserve Paris, which has the most beautiful bar (and gluten-free brunch).

Paris to Go