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Why Adult Women Are Buying Unicorn Beauty Products

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I Visited Atlantic City With No Clothes and All I Got Was This Sparkly Spandex Dress

“No bags, miss?” asked the confused valet.

“None at all!” I replied.

I had been halfway down the turnpike — too late to turn back — when I realized I'd left my overnight bag at home on a weekend trip to Atlantic City. All I had with me were the minimum essentials: wallet, phone charger, toothbrush. But since Atlantic City is a cosmopolitan town on a major US coast, I figured finding replacements for my clothes would be easy. What did I need, after all? A T-shirt? Some jeans? A few pairs of underwear? Should be no problem.

And so I’d dropped my car off at the Claridge Hotel, a quiet 1930s gem right smack in the middle of the boardwalk. Photos of the property in its prime, along with images of celebs like Marilyn Monroe who had once stayed there, gave me an extra wiggle in my step as I looked at the map to figure out where to fill my non-existent suitcase. Black skinny jeans would never do this weekend justice; maybe this was a sign to spice up my otherwise modest wardrobe.

From my vantage point in the middle of the city, it was an easy walk to the enormous outlet mall. I jumped right in, starting at J.Crew to look for the basics. It turned out that if I didn't want shorts (who knew J.Crew made so many varieties of high-waisted shorts?) or a classic T-shirt, I was out of luck. I picked a gorgeous sky-blue pencil dress — perfect for work but not so much the beach — and headed to the Gap next door, with hopes there’d be more weekend-friendly options.

But there weren’t. I sorted through the shelves of shorts (MORE shorts) and tank tops, desperate for just one pair of underwear. In near hysterics, I made stops at Banana Republic, PacSun, Loft, and Abercrombie. Regardless of the brand, I was confronted with tiny shorts and crop tops at every shop. I found myself exhausted in front of H&M ready to end my day. Whatever it had, I would get. I settled on a pair of leggings for my weekend outfit and came face-to-face with a wall of thongs. I am notorious for my hate of these satin straps of underwear torture, but at this point I just needed something to put on my body.

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Waiting on line, I passed by the strangest dress I'd ever seen before: black and gold spandex with a cutout back, impossibly short but with a high neck, the stretchiest of materials. I would never have looked twice at this kind of dress; it wasn't my style, it wouldn’t match a single thing in my closet, and I didn't go out enough to warrant a club-style dress such as this. Somehow, though, with the waves just a block away and the thongs draped over my wrist, this was the best weekend outfit choice. I grabbed it just in time to complete my purchases.

I took an hour to write in my in-room hot tub overlooking the beach (truly a magical place, AC) and then went for dinner on the casino floor in my new spandex dress, fitting in completely among the clanking of slot machines and the smell of cigars. While this shiny outfit was a good few inches shorter and way, way tighter than anything I’d ever normally wear, I noticed no difference in the way people reacted to me. My hair in a high bun and my dark cat eye were the only recognizable parts of myself, but these other casino-dwellers didn’t know that. Dare I say, I even felt more comfortable in this sparkly getup than in my antiquated leggings. Looking around, everyone was clad in similar outfits, wrapped in stretchy materials and glitter. By coming out of my shell style-wise, I had inadvertently fit in more with my surroundings.

Back home, the dress is hanging up in the back of my closet. I haven't worn it again, and I'm not totally sure when I could. But it's there, a reminder of a strangely exotic staycation where I got to play dress-up for the night. —Annemarie Dooling, director of programming

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Why Do Grown-Ass Women Want to Look Like Unicorns and Mermaids?
Ruby Rose

According to unicorn lore, the only people who could lure one of these mystical creatures out of hiding were young, female virgins. Now, however, all it takes is an Instagram account to bring the unicorns running.

We’re in a unicorn moment, specifically in beauty, although 2016 was a big year for unicorn food as well. (For example, unicorn toast exists. When I look at it, all I can think of is unicorn vomit.) You can buy unicorn snot, unicorn essence, unicorn tears, unicorn brushes, and unicorn horn nail polish. Allure has an entire subcategory dedicated to the trend on its website. Nothing written about unicorn beauty is done without the use of the word “magical,” borderline hysteria, or both.

Mermaids are a related beauty fetish touchpoint, though Google Trends tells me that unicorns (specifically unicorn makeup) have overtaken their fishy counterparts in searches since the end of 2016. The aesthetic similarities make sense, though: This trend is all about fantasy, iridescence, glitter, rainbows, shimmer, and creatures that don’t actually exist in real life but that people desperately wish did.

To understand what exactly this unicorn trend is all about, I went directly to unicorn beauty ground zero: the YouTube and Instagram beauty gurus. Michelle Phan’s group of Ipsy “creators” and new Em Cosmetics “muses” were happy to weigh in. “Unicorn beauty is a multidimensional magical iridescent explosion of happiness aka: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” writes Lynette Cenée. “Unicorn makeup is a fun trend that's taking over the world right now! Think rainbow colors, holographic shades, and lots of sparkles,” Roxette Arisa puts it. You get the idea.

Unicorns weren’t always about rainbows and glitter, however. At one time they were referred to as one-horned “wild asses” and became a symbol of purity in Christianity, according to a 2008 Time article. They became the glittery creatures they are today thanks to good old 20th-century capitalism and pop culture.

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"Regardless of the number that my scale shows on a given day, any one of my bags will always fit."

Moe Thet War, from 'Handbags Don’t Come in Plus-Sizes'

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Kiehl’s Original Musk Eau de Toilette Spray, $42

In my 20s, I shared an office with a neutral-smelling male intern and occasionally a bat that would be hanging from the ceiling when I arrived in the morning. In New York, my officemate was a black-haired pin-up type who smelled like clean laundry if detergent were made by angels. I could smell her entering our space before I could see her. After all the terrible odors I’d had to sit near — microwaved fish, hard-boiled eggs, bats — she was my salvation.

With her blessing, I promptly went out and purchased a bottle of her signature scent, Kiehl’s Original Musk Eau de Toilette Spray. Long a Chanel Mademoiselle fan, I’d stopped wearing it after my now-ex-boyfriend’s mother stopped buying it for me, which is a casualty of breaking up.

The Kiehl’s not only smelled better, but it cost about half as much and fit the aesthetic of the rest of my beauty products: slightly clinical, effective, minimalist. It looked like it came from an apothecary and had been formulated to solve a problem, like deodorant or zit cream.

I always skip perfume stories because scent is not something I want to read about. I don’t know what ylang-ylang is or what a Tonka nut smells like. And yet here we are. Kiehl’s says its musk unfolds in three stages: citrus, floral, and then “Oriental.” Here’s what actually happens when you wear it: You don’t get a headache after you spritz it on because it’s not heavy, and yet it lasts all day. Once you go out into the world, people lean in to smell you and then ask what you’re wearing with rapture in their eyes. At the end of the day, your unwashed clothes smell otherwise.

Now I work out of my home office, and I refuse to waste my Kiehl’s on my dog, who would prefer I wear eau de venison jerky. But I still wear it when I leave the house, and even in my uniform of leggings and a T-shirt, I feel like Dita Von Teese in a freshly laundered, crisp white button-down. —Juno Demelo, contributing writer

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