AJ Wears :: A Little Red Dress

This weekend, I turned 34. Like, whoa. 34 sounds like the kind of age I would have thought was an "adult" when I was a kid.


While I participate fully in adulting-type things like paying a mortgage (and POA, bless it), going to a 9-to-5, voting, or remembering to get your oil changed every so often, I don't really *feel* very adulty sometimes. I still play video games most days of the week. I love - and have bought in the past year - stuffed animals. I have a really hard time turning down chicken nuggets in favor of a salad. 


(Shout out to Sephora for this killer makeup for my birthday dinner, FYI)


I like all of the fun stuff you get to do as an adult, though. I love staying up as late as I want, despite my body begging me to give in (and complaining loudly about it the next day). It's nice to have my own money to blow on stupid things like a Furby or eye masks that look like cucumbers. I really enjoy entertaining friends in our home, spending late nights by the pool laughing, and exploring the globe. 

Every year, my friends and I go out for my birthday. We sit around a table in one of my favorite restaurants, we drink good wine and laugh about stupid things. A lot has changed in my 33rd year, some things I would change, others I wouldn't dare. Some really great, some really terrible. What I can say without hesitation is - even if 34 still feels like I'm waiting to grow up sometimes - my 30s have been some of the best years of my life so far. So cheers to you, 34. 

Dress, Bec & Bridge via Rent the Runway.
Shoes, Stuart Weitzman (exact).
Earrings, Stella & Dot.
Makeup: Eye shadow, Anastasia BH Soft Glam, Lashes, Lilly x Sephora.

The One Where AJ Goes Rouge

2016 was my year of beauty. I've always liked makeup, but 2016 was the year I *truly* committed to it.

As in, I spent $1000 on makeup committed to it.

I was checking out at Sephora in early December when I was informed that I was only 100-something dollars away from hitting VIB Rouge, their top-tier rewards program. I was simultaneously horrified and proud that I was able to spend that much money at Sephora in a calendar year. The completionist in me wanted to see this through to the end, of course. Only $100 away? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. 

How does one go Rouge, you may ask? Here's a play by play.


I decided to randomly get into contouring. I don't know if I watched too many YouTube videos or too much Keeping Up With the Kardashians, but I decide to schedule a makeover at my local Sephora store and have HER teach me how to contour. For some reason I buy not one, but two different contour palettes, and two different brushes. I'm assuming the lipstick was a point of purchase at checkout. For contouring noobs, the Tarte palette is really great for beginners (and I LOVE the blush). The Kat Von D palette is super pigmented so it's awesome once you've mastered the craft a little more.

I am not sure if I have ever used that lipstick.

While makeovers are free, they do ask that you spend $50 on some product if you aren't Rouge. I ended up buying almost everything she used on my face, because I am a huge sucker. The Becca highlighter in Pearl is still my most favorite (I use it every day!). It's like, instant wake up powder, even on your most trashbag-looking days. I can't function without a Beauty Blender now, so that's a thing. The Lancome foundation was okay. I loved the compact but dang, almost $50 for a foundation that didn't last that long is too much. I feel like the cushion compacts really waste a lot of product in the sponge. That Bobbi Brown pencil is awesome for muting redness.


My makeup artist from last month informed me that they offer free classes on Sunday, so I decided to sign up for a color correcting class. I am determined to become a makeup genius, or at the very least, I'm going to try and wear makeup every day so no one tells me I look tired. I learn everything about color correcting ever, and decide to buy everything they offer in the store. I have not used any of these items in months, but they were great when I first started.

But wait, there's more! Not reflected on this list, because I bought it at Ulta, yet ANOTHER color correcting palette from Tarte, that I end up using as...wait for it...a contour palette. I should not be allowed access to a credit card. 

Oh, and those mini Beauty Blenders in all the color correcting colors? Yeah, you don't need those. No one needs those.

April & May

I attend another Sephora class, this time on daytime smoky eyes. I actually loved the techniques I learned at this one, and came out relatively unscathed with only two items. I still use the Laura Mercier caviar stick and the Tartelette Tease palette on the reg, so that was a good choice.

I saw an ad for the Too Faced Mascara Melt and decided to try it. It works well, but I don't use it every day. Kat Von D Ink Liner has been a staple for me for over a year now, so that's a rebuy. 10 stars.


In June I have a mental breakdown over this Becca x Jaclyn Hill highlight and blush palette. It's sold out, so that means that I MUST have it. I used a gift card from my birthday to purchase it when it finally restocked, and I must say...it is a lovely little palette. Here's a cute little alternative. I also became obsessed with Kat Von D face products after getting a package of her concealer and powder in the mail, so I decided to mix up my foundation and try the Lock-It. I LOVE THIS STUFF. Seriously, seriously great foundation. Apparently I decided I needed that lip paint. I bought a Sephora brand beauty blender for this blog post.

July, August, September

I chill out on the spending for a few months thanks to funemployment. Only Sephora purchases are a few gifts for friends. Sarah at Sephora calls to see if I'm okay since she hasn't heard from me in a while. I wear almost zero makeup, as my dog does not care what I look like. 

October & November

I'm back! I'm tired of my blonde looking brassy, so I buy a purple shampoo from DP Hue. If it's good enough for Miley Cyrus, it's probably good enough for me. I join Sephora Play for $10 a month so I can get addicted to even more products (and yes, it's legit). I attend another smoky eyes class and fall in love with this Estee Edit shadow, absolutely go bananas over Bobbi Brown's Eye Opening Mascara. The Naked Smoky palette goes on sale for 50% off, so obviously I have to buy it to complete my Naked set. I've actually used it more than almost any other palette lately.


What? I still haven't spent enough to go Rouge? No. So I drop some heavy hints around Christmas and boom, $100 in Sephora giftcards. I use those to stock up on more Ink Liner and buy this Becca Foundation and travel size of Laura Mercier powder for our Europe trip, since KVD doesn't make very portable items. Honestly, the jury is still out on the Becca foundation. I was so excited, but after the incredible coverage you get with Lock It, it's a tough sell. 

It's New Year's Eve in Dublin, Ireland and I've still got $35 to go. From a wine bar in the Temple Bar district, I grab this UD Naked Ultimate palette that I've been eying and this shadow pencil - which I highly recommend as an alternative to the Laura Mercier mentioned above. I'm guessing I had a coupon or something, because otherwise I cannot explain why I spent $68 when I only needed another 30 or so.

The Naked Ultimate palette lives up to its name. That thing is awesome. I love the purple colors on the top right mixed with a strong cat eye.


I actually cannot tell one difference between VIB and VIB Rouge. Someone told me it was free two-day shipping, but I paid $10 for that last year (which may have contributed to my status). I received no balloons in the mail, no special golden ticket, there are no t-shirts or even a badge for my blog to brag about how good I am at spending money on something you wash down the drain every night.

Someone please stab me if I attempt to do this again in 2017.

Battle of the Blenders

Earlier this year, I was introduced to the Beauty Blender at a Sephora class and I FINALLY got it. Before, it was just a sponge. After taking the class, I realized it was a great little tool for foundation, contouring and blending. However, at $20 a pop, the Beauty Blender is not exactly cheap, especially since you're supposed to change them out every 3 months or so. I'm doing the research so you don't have to - I tried five cheaper blending sponges to see if any of them lived up to the original.

I'm testing my Beauty Blender against Ulta, Sephora, Nanette Lepore, Studio Basics, and Real Techniques blenders.

Step one: Squeeziness. Compared to the Beauty Blender, none of the contenders felt quite as soft straight from the package. I can't quite remember if my BB was this firm, though, so we'll skip forward to the real test - how they felt after they were soaked in water. If you haven't used a Beauty Blender before, the secret sauce is that you soak it in water, it doubles in size, and becomes delightfully soft and squishy, perfect for an airbrush finish. Almost all of them became much, much softer. I'll be using terms like "Squish" and "Squeeziness" to describe how they size up to the BB. 

Step two: Coverage. I did a quick test of each sponge on a piece of paper to see how the coverage looked. Ulta's sponge did the best during the initial test with even, soft coverage.

Step Three: I tried it on my face. Here's how they all faired - in order of how much I liked (or hated) them.

Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge

The blender from Real Techniques (you can find their products at Ulta, Walgreens & Walmart) was my favorite. I thought the coverage was most like the original BB on the face, and the flat end was actually kind of nice for applying foundation. I think the flat end will be great for applying powder for baking as well! It feels very similar to the BB in squish factor and overall, was the closet comparison. At $6.99 for one, $10.99 for two, these are a great value against the BB (I love their brushes as well!). Bonus - it has 4.6 stars on Ulta from other big fans.

Ulta Super Blender Sponge

Ulta's Super Blender Sponge was a close second favorite. As far as feel, it felt the closest to the original Beauty Blender in sponginess after it was wet, and I felt the rounded end was most similar to the feel of the BB as well. I liked how easy it was to grip, but this one got barely edged out by the Real Techniques in the face coverage round. I felt like it absorbed a large amount of the product, so I'd be using a lot more overall. It has 4.4 stars on Ulta and only costs $5 though, so it's an admirable dupe.

Studio Basics Expert Complexion Sponge

I'd never used a Studio Basics product before this sponge, but I had high hopes based on the color and packaging. Overall squish was nice, but the shape is what really did this one in. I don't find it's good for foundation coverage at all. However, the shape lent itself nicely to contouring!

When I do a cream contour, I use the Tarte Rainforest of the Sea Color-Correct Palette, and this little sponge is PERFECT for sculpting. I'm planning to use one side for the contour, one for the highlight, so this wasn't a complete loss. It has 4.2 stars on Ulta and only costs $4.99.

Sephora "The Perfectionist" Airbrush Sponge

This was a disappointment to me. The Sephora Sponge is much denser than the first three I tried, and i didn't love the shape for applying foundation. However, because of how easy it is to hold, I found that it was handy for doing highlight under the eyes! 

The Sephora sponge is the most expensive at $12, and has 4 stars. I likely won't buy this one again.

Nanette Lepore Precision Makeup Blender

I don't even know why I included this blender. I picked it up at Marshall's for $3.99 and it's an absolutely disaster. While it LOOKS the most like the original BB, it's a lumpy mess. It's the most dense by far and didn't really grow or get any softer after it was wet. It just became kind of lumpy and weird and I suspect that any blender you'd pick up at a discount store would be similar. With so many good options from Ulta, I'd go with one that has proven reviews.

The Verdict?

There are some great affordable options out there, but I'm still a Beauty Blender girl in the end. While I'll be incorporating these sponges into my routine in other ways, and I will be happy to have the Ulta and Real Techniques sponges in a pinch, the Beauty Blender is still the OG for me. No matter which sponge you decide to go with, check out these Blender tips that will help you get the most from your sponge.

Also, non-sponsored plug? I used these Simple cleansing wipes in between each makeup application while I made this post, and they're fantastic.