The pros and cons of public transport makeupping

Image: iStock

What are your views on applying makeup on public transport? This is a seemingly benign topic which actually provokes passionate debate.

Seriously, try asking everyone next time you’re at a dinner party. “It’s disgusting!” one guest will howl, as he reaches for more salad, “I don’t want to see a woman smearing coloured goo all over her face before I’ve had my first coffee! Why can’t women just do that at home? That’s what my wife does.”

The 2-second cheat to getting your lipstick right, every time

Then, the friend seated next to you will almost choke on her pasta, after which she will hiss, “Get over it. I have an hour-long commute to work each day, and I’m going to use that time to put my makeup on. I have to get my kids to mum’s place before I’m even on the train – as if I have time for makeup at home!”

Drew Barrymore doing her makeup on the subway. Via Instagram


I’ve been thinking about this topic, ever since my own makeup-on-a-train incident. Recently, the lovely Nicky invited me to meet The Glow team at their trés glamorous headquarters, and I wanted to look my absolute best. I was forced to apply my makeup during my forty minute train commute, as Napoleon Perdis was “not available”, and before I left home, I was busy cuddling my toddler daughter, who was crying because she didn’t want to nap.

And when I say “makeup”, I mean “the works”. It was two different types of concealer, powder, eyebrow pencil, eyebrow wax, eyelashes curled using an eyelash curler, mascara, blush and lipstick. While looking in my compact mirror, I caught a glimpse of the elderly gentleman sitting behind me, and I felt instantly embarrassed and ashamed. What must he think of me? I worried that everyone on the train would think that I was vain, disgusting or both. I tried to slouch down in my seat, but my dress was too short to allow me to completely curl up and hide. Must I completely suffer to look good? This wasn’t the first time I’d applied makeup on public transport, either. When I was working full-time, I did it every single day.

Image via Flickr


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While I still don’t feel completely comfortable with putting on makeup in public, I have come to accept this habit of mine. As much as I love makeup, there will always be things going on in my home life which are more interesting or demanding. I’m glad that I spent that extra time cuddling my daughter and calming her down, instead of staring at myself in the mirror. I think that today’s women are time-poor, as we are trying so hard in every area of our lives. If you want to do something on the train that is quiet, clean and worthy of your time, then go for it.


3 makeup hacks to look more polished with minimal effort

Should you be making your own mind up about this very serious matter, here’s a helpful list of the pros and cons of applying makeup on public transport.

Public transport makeup novice? Try a chubby stick - it's almost impossible to stuff up when applying them:


No-one will talk to you.

I used to treat my commute as time to relax, read a book or just think about nothing, so I really didn’t like it if strangers would talk to me for ages. I’m not unfriendly – I’m just a bit introverted.


How to make your morning commute less painful  – really

Unfortunately for me. I seem to have a friendly face which attracts chatty strangers. But when I am applying makeup, something magical happens – no-one will talk to me. It’s probably because I’m waterlining my eyes and it scares the crap out of people. She put a sharp pencil right next to her eyeball. She’s making a weird face. Oh no, now I saw a part of her eyeball that I can’t unsee! I’m afraid. Waterlining is only part of it, dear non-friend: I also do my own at-home waxing. You’ve been warned.


Impeccable fine motor skills, stability and dexterity.

I’m the first to admit that I’m a total klutz. When I met Alyx, I got so overexcited that I somehow knocked over her glass water bottle, and it made a huge crashing noise that reverberated around the Mamamia Women’s Network offices. But when it comes to fine motor skills, I’m amazing. I think that if it was an absolute emergency – say, if I was one of only five people stranded on an island, and there was no doctor around – I would be able to perform complex surgery, such as a quadruple bypass or something, because my fine motor skills really are all that. I’m basing this on the fact that I can apply lipstick without even a wobble while hurtling through peak hour traffic on a crummy bus. It’s the same as a medical degree, I swear.

Natural lighting galore.

My morning commutes on the train used to be filled with the most beautiful, pale light beaming in through the huge windows. This natural light was really useful for makeup application, because it meant that I would apply and blend my makeup with a lighter touch.

It saves time.

If you put on your makeup on public transport, think of what you can do with all that extra time at home. You could sleep, you could read, you could exercise a bit – whatever you want! I’d rather use every minute that I have in an effective, fulsome way, and if that means pulling my mascara face in public, then so be it.


The soundtrack will be retro - but not in a good way.

Dita Von Teese has mentioned on several occasions that she listens to music while putting on makeup. I’m guessing her soundtrack is sultry and retro. Your soundtrack will also be retro, and by retro, I mean 80s. Think Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in 1987’S Wall Street shouting “BECAUSE IT’S WRECKABLE, ALL RIGHT?” and “WELL YOU TAKE IT, RIGHT IN THE ASS, YOU F-ING SCUMBAG C-CKSUCKER!”


That’s right, trains at peak hour are full of business people who are so important, shouting things into phones. That was my experience, anyway, when commuting to The Glow offices – this one guy kept bellowing into his phone about a boring meeting and the boring time it would start and the boring contracts he needed to get signed. It almost makes you wish that mobile phones didn’t exist. Almost.

If you drop something, it's gone forever.

I mentioned that I am a klutz, and this means that I drop stuff all the time. I once dropped a brand new pencil eyeliner on the train floor, with the lid off. It landed point-down. Even though I picked it up, I knew that, deep down, I would never, ever use that eyeliner again. I might as well rub my finger on the floor of the train and then stick it right into my eye. It’s the same thing.

Help! I dropped my makeup, now what?

The shame.

Am I being rude? Is putting on my makeup something that is just too private to be doing in public? Is it like using the toilet without closing the door? Do people think I look funny with concealer dotted all over my face before I blend it in? If it’s okay to put on your makeup in public, then why aren’t all the women on the train doing it? WHAT WOULD JUNE DALLY-WATKINS DO? These thoughts and more may race through your mind, as you glance self-consciously from compact mirror to commuter with dizzying speed. If you worry a lot about what people think of you – and there’s nothing wrong with that – then maybe public transport makeupping isn’t for you.

Lack of space.

To do your hair and makeup effectively on public transport, you need to be a contortionist. Sydney trains during peak hour are always completely packed. If you can pull off perfectly contoured cheekbones while squished between two people and their briefcases, then you deserve everything you have ever wanted in life.


It's dangerous.

If you don’t time your application right, your public transport look could soon turn into a public hospital look. Using your eyelash curler just as the bus is about to whip around a sharp corner is a bad idea. When on the bus, I used to apply my makeup only when the bus was stationary. I had actually caught that bus so many times that I knew exactly when to pick up or put down my tools. I’ve never injured myself from public transport makeupping, but I just thought I’d be responsible and warn you. Because, you know, if you were applying lipstick and the bus crashed, your lipstick would smoosh all over your face and there would be a huge potential risk that you would die…of embarrassment.

And in case anyone’s wondering, it was all worth it. The Glow girls commented that they liked my makeup, especially my lipstick and nails. They’re cool like that.

Cherry Beale has been catching public transport since she was twelve, and has therefore racked up hours of experience in applying makeup. She could probably release her own transport-themed makeup line, and she’d sell it through her blog: 

Do you do your make up on your commute, or do you run far away from anyone who does? Let us know your thoughts in the comment below.