After a dramatic haircut last fall that left my lob a ’90s-inspired mullet, I found myself settling into a uniform of oversize sweaters, flats, and tinted lip balms. After receiving no less than three compliments on my “androgynous style” in one month, I started to find myself gazing at vintage photos of Brigitte Bardot in her cinched waists and Scarlett Johansson vamping for the camera. “How does that feel?” I wondered. And so began an exploration into embodying the bombshell.
The first step in achieving bombshell-dom is figuring out exactly what a bombshell is, especially in 2017. For almost 80 years, the bombshell has been blond, comic- book curvy, and magnetic. A bombshell is more than hot: A hot girl can wear a bikini; a bombshell can make you buy stock in the brand and move to the beach. And now she’s a contradiction: Emily Ratajkowski, with her “feminist af” T-shirt pulled taut across her famous breasts; Jemima Kirke, with her fallen-angel face and silk slipdresses exposing a fringe of armpit hair; Amber Rose, with her fembot-perfect features and shaved-platinum head. “I don’t even know if it’s a ‘look’ anymore,” says a friend. “Or rather, yes, it’s about being a babe, but it’s less about getting hit on than about telling the guy who’s hitting on you a massively dirty joke and then laughing because you’ve made him uncomfortable.”
When it comes to that bombshell x factor, I’m beginning to conclude that either you’ve got it or you don’t, when, at a party for Sexy Hair’s new shampoo, I’m treated to a full set of waist-grazing clip-ons and an over-the-top, costume-y candy-red lip. I snap a selfie for my feed, with the caption “So this is happening.” The next morning, I wake up to three DMs, from men I have either not spoken to in years or never spoken to at all, on the same theme: “You’re so pretty.” Maybe there is something to this.
The transformation is fairly life-disruptive: I need to enlist a whole army of helpers. I start with nails. Take a look at Margot Robbie’s perfectly tapered ring finger flipping off the Instagram world or Rihanna’s ever- changing experimentation with length and color: Nails are Bombshell 101, and the more “I don’t work with my hands,” the better. The pros at NYC nail salon Valley talk me down from acrylics to gel extensions, which are very similar to press-ons but are semipermanent, tailor-fit, and attached with industrial-strength glue. Once the plastic nail topper is applied and sculpted (long stiletto shape for me, please!), it’s coated with a pale gray-pink gel. My fingers immediately become exclusively ornamental—the nails make it impossible to type. Four days later, I lose one when I try to button my jeans.
Next stop: lashes. Soul Lee of Beautiful Soul Makeup Studio (her clients include Zoë Kravitz and Chrissy Teigen) is the ne plus ultra for glamorous faux lashes, which she fastidiously trims individually to make wearable (I’ve already lost my sense of touch; I’d like to keep my sight). I carve out two hours, and Lee gently affixes 150 synthetic and silk lashes as I lie back with my eyes closed. My rise from the treatment table to open my fluttering lids is so Disney princess, it’s almost embarrassing. The effect is like real-life Facetune, and with the makeover I have planned, I’ll be more Jessica Rabbit than Belle. Soul warns me to avoid oils, sleeping on my side, or pointing my lashes directly under the shower stream.
Now, the hair! After my episode with clip-ons, I know that Sports Illustrated–model hair helps, but I’m dubious it can look natural. I enlist Joseph Maine of Serge Normant at John Frieda salon, who squeezes me in between Katy Perry at the Grammys and Kate Mc- Kinnon at the Oscars. He applies one-and-a-half-inch hair extensions all over my head in a bricklaying pattern to keep the volume uniform and to obscure my own strands, then chops my hair to armpit length, adding sexy rock-chick layers.
Then, thanks to a consult with ELLE fashion editor Yashua Simmons, I embark on a mission to acquire the clothes of a young Kardashian. My lips are painted vermilion 24/7, my eyelids and cheekbones are tacky with gloss, I’m in a constant low-grade panic that my hair extensions are showing—and I have a weekend-long date with a guy I’ve been seeing. He travels for work, so he hasn’t seen the inch-by-inch transformation. I warn him about the extensions but leave the rest to be discovered as the nature of the experiment unfolds. Feeling a little like a Victoria’s Secret Angel, I strut up to him in my very best bombshell travel gear—crop top and Levi’s, naturally—and bat my lashes. He goes to kiss me hello and…his hand has nowhere to land. The nape of my neck? I flinch away; the tapes are very stiff there. The side of my face? Fingers start to creep right into where the extensions are more layered. I sigh deeply and steer his hand to my waist. I had anticipated tactile, bouncy hair as the ultimate romantic accessory, so I’m the truly disappointed one. He assures me he likes my hair both long and short (good answer!), but I clock a wince when I touch him with my dramatic manicure. The last day, another nail pings to the floor as I put on my pants (what do these girls wear that doesn’t require fastening?), and I am grateful for the singular dexterity I’ll have with that ravaged finger.
Back at home, a friend and I take my new look out for a spin at Mr. Fong’s downtown, a fashionable boîte that’s close enough to my apartment for me to saunter there in heels. I wear my very best off-the-shoulder sheer Wolford bodysuit (undergarments are for prudes) under tight vintage Levi’s rolled to show the slightest bit of wanton ankle and a whole lot of stiletto—plus a fire-red lip, piles of mascara, and a face full of gloss. My friend and I swan in, awaiting collective gasps, only to hear…nothing. “Look at that girl at the bar,” points out my pal helpfully. “She’s wearing less than you are.” We order, I flip my hair a few times, make my best doe eyes, and feel so incredibly…basic. My body hurts, I feel untouchable, I haven’t made contact with my own scalp in weeks, and my clothes, as Cher Horowitz would say, are binding.
The next day, I wrench off the seven remaining nails. (Pro tip: The destruction to one’s natural nails is avoidable with salon removal.) Maine kindly fits me in to scrape off the hair extensions well ahead of schedule. I lovingly brush the lashes and pray they never leave me. That night, I dress like myself, but the bombshell formula hasn’t quite left me. I pair a worn-in jean with a shrunken sweater and keep a bitten red lip. Caught up in telling a story at a party, I find myself with the undivided attention of two men who compete throughout dinner for my conversation. Each tails me to the next locale. My friend rolls her eyes when they both lurch to grab my bar tab. The best part? I snorted my beer, laughing at my own dirty joke.