Sunday, October 27, 2013

Perfume 101 and Fall/Winter Fragrance Picks

Happy Sunday, everyone!  First, I'd like to thank all of you who read and/or commented on my most recent post.  It was a topic that took me several months to find the words to write about and the courage to publish, and I was so touched by all of the heartfelt and positive feedback on my blog and on my Facebook page from everyone.

As you all know, perfumes were one of the first loves of my life. For many women, fragrances are such a huge part of our memories, our impressions that we leave on others, and our mood for any given day.  I am a firm believer that one should smell good ALL THE TIME...and you shouldn't feel guilty about a little spritz of this or that just to go to the gym, grocery shopping, or heck, even to bed.  And, with this post, I hereby give you the authority and freedom to smell beautiful 24 hours a day, big girls.

Today I'd like to share with you my Fall and Winter fragrance picks, which, for the most part, are all "old favorites" that I have had in my perfume collection for years.  I am super-picky and fickle when it comes to perfumes (thank God for eBay and Makeup Alley swapping), and it takes a long time for a scent to be a permanent part of my collection.  Also, while I do have some fragrances that I wear year-round, there are a few scents I like to save for certain seasons.  For most of us, cool weather means scarves, boots, and coats (and yes, Pumpkin Spice Lattes if you haven't already OD'd on them like I have), and for me it's also the return of warm, spicy, heady fragrances.  Here's a peek at my current perfume collection:

(**click here to see how to make your own gorgeous perfume tray like this one!) 

Before we start, let's talk perfume vocabulary.  All perfumes consist of notes, which are the actual ingredients used to make up a perfume and can consist of flower or plant extracts or even synthetically-created molecules.  The notes in any fragrance can usually be divided into three categories.  Top notes are what one smells as soon as the fragrance comes in contact with the skin. These are often fruity notes, and they tend to disappear quickly.  Middle notes are evident once the top notes go away and are considered the "heart" of the fragrance. You'll often find that the floral notes of a fragrance fall into this category.  Base notes serve a couple of functions - they provide a "canvas" of sorts for the middle notes and determine how long a fragrance will last.  There are only so many types of notes that are truly long-lasting, and these are almost always base notes in perfumes.  Common base notes are vanilla, musk, and sandalwood.

Also, a fragrance's longevity refers to how long the wearer can smell the scent on his or skin, and sillage refers to the projection of the scent (how far away from him or her can it be detected) from the wearer's body.  A scent might have good longevity (you can smell it all day on yourself) but low sillage (only you can smell it, but not others other than those who might have the privilege to snuggle with you :)).  Most of us look for fragrances with good longevity, but depending on the occasion or just personal preference, you might want a lot or a little sillage. 

Next, most fragrances are divided into various families, which group them together according to their common notes. Experts vary as to what the major family categories are versus their subcategories, but some typical fragrance families are floral, fruity, orientals (contain warm, spicy, sweet notes such as vanilla or amber), woodsy (earthy notes such as sandalwood or patchouli), fresh (green, aquatic, or citrus notes), or chypre (often considered a sub-category of the woodsy family, these scents contain both woodsy and fresh notes and include some of the most popular scents in history such as Chanel's Cristalle, Christian Dior's Miss Dior, and Guerlain's Mitsouko) .  Most modern scents are a hybrids of these families and are referred to with names such as "florientals," "fresh-florals," woody-florals," "floral-fruity," etc.

Lastly, one lesson that I (and probably many of you, too) have learned the hard (and expensive) way is NEVER to buy a perfume based on love-at-first-sniff.  In other words, don't pick up a tester in the fragrance dept, spray it on your wrist, and buy it right then and there as the sales associate does backflips over your hasty purchase.  Walk around a while, do some shopping, and eat lunch before you buy it.  Even better, wear it home and see how(or if) it smells at the very end of your day.  There is nothing that breaks my perfume-loving heart (and wallet) more than spending a lot of money on a fragrance all to have it fade away or even turn into some awful, funky version of its original self (this happened to me this summer with some version of Gucci was a total impulse buy...later in the day I was shopping in Target and wondering who smelled like a combination of bad air freshener and wet was me...).  Keep in mind, too, that the notes, longevity, and sillage all vary depending on the wearer's body chemistry.  What may smell wonderful on someone else might make you smell like a nursing home or a brothel or vice versa. 

Now, on to the the nitty gritty.  Here is my first cold weather fragrance favorite, Quelques Fleurs L'Original Eau de Parfum by Houbigant:

Quelques Fleurs is a timeless and classic floral fragrance that was created in 1913.  Its top notes are orange blossom, green notes, tarragon, bergamot, lemon and citruses; middle notes are carnation, tuberose, orchid, lilac, orris root, jasmine, heliotrope, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, rose, violet and iris; base notes are sandalwood, tonka bean, amber, musk, civet, oakmoss, honey and vanilla.  As you can see, it is a powerhouse of plant and flower notes, and it was one of the very FIRST multi-note fragrances ever sold.  It has incredible longevity and sillage, and it is one that draws compliments for me all the time.  Of all of the scents that I wear, this one gets the most remarks from my students, especially those whom I teach at the end of the day (thus proving its sillage and longevity champ status and my devotion to its beautiful drydown).  Currently a 1 oz. edp spray costs $100, but to me a bottle is worth every penny and will last for years without changing in color or strength.  This bottle, however, is probably my best Ebay purchase of all time.  It is a 3.3 oz bottle that came 1/2 full, and I paid $25 for it!  I bought it from an ebay store that deals exclusively in estate sales, and after having gone through one bottle of this beautiful perfume already in my lifetime (I purchased my first 1 oz. bottle in 2004 when I worked for Chanel at Bloomingdale's.  It lasted me 8 years!), I knew immediately when I sprayed it for the first time that it was the "real deal" and was not old or spoiled.  This is one that I wear for just about any occasion, but especially when I want to feel feminine and confident.  It is not for the faint of heart, but it means business, just like me. (maybe that's why I wear it to work a lot!)

Next, another classic scent that I save exclusively for fall and winter, Guerlain's famous sandalwood masterpiece - Samsara.
I have been through several bottles of this rich, heady, oriental-woody perfume since high school.  The top notes are bergamot, lemon, ylang-ylang, and peach. The middle notes are jasmine, iris, narcissus, violet and rose. The base notes are sandalwood, vanilla, tonka bean, amber, and musk.  It also has fabulous longevity and sillage, and I love the way a scarf of jacket collar smells hours or even days after having been sprayed with this exotic scent.  Though I rarely buy eau de toilettes of any perfume (eau de parfum, which is a bit more expensive, has a lower alcohol content and a higher content of the essential fragrance, has much better sillage and longevity than an edt), this time around (this is my 6th or 7th bottle of Samsara) I am trying the edt, and it actually does have surprisingly good longevity, though not as much sillage.  This is a good night perfume, especially nights involving a d-a-t-e.

This next scent, though I can never be one of those "signature scent" women who can stick to just one throughout the entire year, is probably my favorite fragrance of all time - Chanel's Allure.
This oriental-floral contains notes of bergamot, mandarin orange, peach, cedar, vanilla, rose, jasmine, peony, magnolia, orange blossom, lotus and vetiver.  According to Chanel and other fragrance experts, this complex scent doesn't have a dominant note or top/middle/base notes, but I would say that the citrus and fruity notes are what I smell first, then the florals, and lastly the yummy vanilla and veviter base notes.  To me, the drydown of Allure is what makes it my favorite.  It is a warm, comforting, and sensual scent that I always return to.  A true man-catcher that never fails to impress.  This is another one for which I am trying out the eau de toilette this time, but for my next bottle I will probably go back to the eau de parfum. 

Another one of my longtime favorites that I wear year-round is Bvlgari's Rose Essentielle Eau de Parfum.
This ladylike, sweet floral is not your grandmother's rose at all.  It opens with both Turkish and Prelude rose and green notes.   Its middle notes are blackberry, violet and jasmine, and bottom notes are sandalwood and patchouli.  This is rose done right!  It is absolutely lovely, sweet (but in a grown-up way) and feminine, and I find myself wearing this to church, brunch with the girls, and on weekend shopping days.  I am a huge fan of all Bvlgari perfumes, but this one is my absolute favorite.  Their beautiful, heavy glass bottles look gorgeous on anyone's vanity as well.

If you follow me on Instragram or Facebook, you saw my post about this recent buy, Chanel's Coco Madmoiselle Eau de Parfum Twist and Spray.
Since working for Chanel for a year in 2007, I have become a fan of this sophisticated chypre floral.  And, I absolutely LOVE this refillable twist-and-spray bottle, which comes with two .7 ounce refill vials (in addition to the one vial that already is in the bottle when you buy it).  Top notes are orange, mandarin orange, orange blossom and bergamot.  The middle notes are mimose, jasmine, turkish rose and ylang-ylang, and the base notes are tonka bean, patchouli, opoponax, vanilla, vetiver and white musk.  This is another "I mean business" perfume for me.  To me it is sharp, spicy, and rich and commands attention wherever you wear it.  It is my "take on the world" perfume. 

The last full-size bottle that occupies space on my perfume tray is a recent eBay acquisition, the Marc Jacobs Daisy Pop Art Edition.
This limited edition bottle contains the eau de parfum version of Marc Jacob's uber-popular floral woody fragrance (though I would classify it as more of a floral-fruity), and I scored this 3.4 oz tester bottle on eBay for about $45.  Its top notes are violet, strawberry and grapefruit.  Its middle notes are jasmine, gardenia and violet, and base notes are woodsy notes, musk and vanilla.  The strawberry is what stands out most to me in this fun, fresh scent, and while it doesn't have much longevity or sillage ( does not have full-fledged "favorite" status for me), I love its fresh, sweet scent for a casual, quick outing or when I just want a little whiff of spring and summer during the cooler months.  The bottle, of course, is what enticed me the most, and Marc Jacobs has one of these limited edition bottles of Daisy almost every year. (the current one is a pink and black one for Breast Cancer Awareness)

Now, on to the little guys on my perfume tray, here is another recent eBay purchase - a rollerball of Victor and Rolf's insanely popular oriental floral -  Flowerbomb.
Floral/fruity, sweet, patchouli scents are all the rage right now (this along with Lancome's new La Vie Est Belle perfume both fall into this "fru-tchouli" or "flora-tchouli" category).  This is currently the best-selling perfume at Sephora and several other stores, and I even saw a sales associate at Nordstrom the other day showing off their "Flowerbomb Fountain," with which customers can refill their 1.7 or 3.4 oz edp sprays of Flowerbomb for $40 less than the costs of buying replacement bottles.  Now THIS is perfume mania and marketing at its best!  Its top notes bergamot and green tea, while the middle notes are Sambac jasmine, Centifolia rose, freesia, and Cattleya orchid.  It dries down to some serious musk and patchouli basenotes.  While I am still on the fence as to whether or not to buy a full-size bottle, what I love about this rollerball is that through purchasing it I discovered a wondeful eBay store, Surfinjunkie.

As you can see from their business card, they give 15% of their proceeds to organizations that help victims of sexual assault and human trafficking.  I was thrilled to find out that part of my purchase went to such important causes, and while I may not fall in love with Flowerbomb, I most definitely plan to buy from this socially conscious e-tailer in the future.  I even emailed them to tell them how pleased I was with both my purchase and their charitable work, and the owner quickly replied to me, thanking me and telling me how they have received similar feedback from other buyers, including some who had been victims of these crimes themselves. 

In addition to eau de parfums and eau de toilettes, I keep my Pittsburgh Street Soapworks Un Bois Vanille perfume oil on my perfume tray (and the matching body lotion in my bathroom) year-round as well:
This rich, sophisticated vanilla scent also contains notes of black licorice, sandalwood, and coconut milk that make this "vanilla for grown-ups."  I LOVE to use this oil by itself or underneath some of my winter scents.

Lastly, I keep all of the sample vials that I accumulate in a lovely little pink Depression glass bowl that I found in an antique store:
I often throw one or two of these in my purse if I have to go straight from school to another meeting or dinner, or I include them as extras in swaps or gifts for friends. 

Now, y'all already know that I am nosy and I love to snoop in your bathroom cabinets and makeup drawers, but I REALLY love to know what everyone's favorite perfumes are, so please share them!

p.s. - All of the "notes" information in this article is from Fragrantica, THE website for perfume research and history.  If you are a perfume-lover like me, I highly recommend this website!

p.s.s. - Look for instructions in my next post later this week for how to make your own perfume tray like the one pictured in this post...

Thank you for reading, and go spritz on your favorite scent! 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Beauty Blogazons Weekly Roundup

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Finding My Scents Again - Divorce, Corporate Takeover, and How an Indie Perfume Company Helped My Heart Continue to Heal

Today's post will be a bit personal and a bit long, but I hope you'll stick it out with me.  It is a topic that for me is very emotional and has taken a long time for me to write about.  You see, this is not just a post about perfume.  For me and for many women, perfume is never just about the liquid in the bottle and what they'll choose to smell like on any given day.  Perfume is emotion.  It's memories.  And, for some of us, it is part of our identity.

Many scientific studies have proven that of all of our five senses, smell is the one the most closely tied to memories and emotion.  For as long as I can remember, I have loved perfumes.  In my childhood home, my bedroom was across the hall from my mother's bathroom, and I remember the delicate "clink" of her perfume bottles against her mirrored vanity tray every morning.  I could tell which one she used by the sound that the bottle made when she put it back on the tray, even before the smells of Tiffany, Ombre Rose, or Ysatis wafted into my room.

 According to my mother (who today wears Chantecaille's sweet and beautiful Frangipane perfume), I would circle the fragrance counters at Rich's and Lord & Taylor when I was little, smelling every new bottle as soon as I was tall enough to see over the shiny glass cases (with her supervision, of course...if you know Paula, you know that she has zero tolerance for badly behaved children in public).  I could tell my mother what was new, what was popular, and exactly what I would like for birthdays and holidays (I'm quite sure I was the only girl in my class who asked her parents for Chanel No. 19).  When I was seven, someone (a great aunt? a neighbor?) gave me a small bottle of Christian Dior Diorissimo, and this was my first "big girl" perfume.  I remember feeling SO grown up, so chic, and so elegant every time I took off the black and white houndstooth cap and dabbed it on my wrists and behind my ears.  My mom eventually caved by the time I was 10 or 11 and I was spritzing on her perfume each day before I went to school. Every time she bought herself something new, she got me a small bottle, too.  By the time I reached high school, I had a full vanity tray of perfumes as well - Jessica McClintock, Alfred Sung, Prescriptives Calyx, and Guerlain Samsara to name a few.

Fast forward to adulthood.  It was here where I discovered, with great sadness, that no matter how attached I was to my favorite perfumes, there was one thing that could ruin my scents for me forever - a broken heart.  The first "true love" I ever had bought me a bottle of Issay Miyake.
Upon our breakup, I gave the bottle to my best friend Amanda.  Big mistake.  We met to go to the movies one day not soon after, and she was wearing her new hand-me-down perfume.  When she walked up to me and I smelled it on her, I suddenly became overwhelmed with emotion, tears welling up in my eyes.  This rush of broken-heart-sadness was so bad that I had to turn around, leave the mall, and go back home.

Fast forward several years later to my wedding day.  After having worked for Chanel for a year, I had fallen in love with Chanel No. 5 Elixir Sensuel.

This beautiful, almost liquid-gel fragrance comes in a heavy glass bottle with an "old school" stopper, and it is a softer, much more wearable version (in my opinion) of Chanel's most famous but sometimes overpowering scent.  This marriage has since ended, and I rarely look at any of the photos from that day.  However, one of my favorite pictures from that day was one of me in the bridal suite of my church, dressed in my beautiful gown with Amanda behind me doing some last minute adjustments to my hair (and by then that Issay Miyake was just a distant memory for both of us), and me touching the stopper to my neck just before I walked down the aisle.  Later in my marriage, among the 547 other crappy things my ex-husband did, he gave a bottle of this perfume to someone else.  His ex-wife.  Yes, you read that right.  Goodbye, Chanel No. 5.

Now...rewind a few years.  Before I married and when I first moved to Ecuador in 2005, I discovered Philosophy's Amazing Grace.
This gorgeous, soft, clean scent composed of floral, citrus, and soft musk notes was pure happiness in a bottle for me.  While not particularly strong, on me it drew compliments everywhere I went if I layered it with its matching body lotion.  And for me, it was one of those scents that made me feel uplifted, feminine, and like every day was as new and fresh and full of beauty as the fragrance itself was.  I wore it before I met and dated my ex-husband and throughout our marriage.  When my marriage ended, though, I sold, threw out, or gave away so many things - the beautiful monogrammed towels, fabulous Crate & Barrel place settings and flatware, our gorgeous sofa, my hope for our future together, and my dream of starting my own family. All of it.  Gone.  With one exception.  I decided that I would be DAMNED if he was going to take my favorite perfume.

So, life went on and I continued to buy and wear my beloved Amazing Grace.  I even returned to Ecuador to work at my former school, carrying not one but TWO bottles of my fragrance plus a huge bottle of the body lotion.  Did it remind me of my former life?  Yes, absolutely.  But, this perfume came to represent so much more to me than just being my signature scent.  It was my dignity.  It was my former self.  It was the part of me that was just fine before I met and married him, and the part of me that was going to be just fine without him.  That perfume was, literally and emotionally, my Amazing Grace.
The view from my patio where I lived in beautiful Quito, Ecuador, which sits in a "bowl" amidst the majestic Andes mountains.
Fast forward with me one more time to last July, when I returned to the U.S. again after another two years of living and working in Ecuador.  As soon as I could unpack my suitcases, I headed to Sephora and purchased a replacement bottle of Amazing Grace.  I took it out of its package right when I got in the car and immediately spritzed some on.  Within 30 minutes, though, I could smell nothing.  NOTHING.  I tried it again the next day, this time layering it with the body lotion.  This gave me maybe 30 more mintues of longevity.  But after an hour, nada.  Wondering if the formula had changed, I sat down and searched various phrases online..."Philosophy Amazing Grace changed," "Philosophy Amazing Grace watered down," etc.  And to my horror, I found this post and several others like it on various beauty and fragrance message boards.  It seems devout Amazing Grace users like me were complaining across the board that their latest AG purchases were totally watered down and now had zero longevity.  And then, I found this article and several others like it, confirming what I had feared.  Philosophy was being bought out by a bigger corporation - Coty.  In the world of cosmetics and fragrance, corporate buyouts almost always = changed and often inferior formulas.  My Amazing Grace, which had been a saving grace, was now a weak, wimpy, watery version of its original, beautiful self.  I was heartbroken. 

But, God bless the internet. I also found on some of those same fragrance message boards that many devout AG wearers were searching for a good dupe or replacement.  I had NEVER been one to even ponder using any sort of "imitation" fragrance, and the very thought bought back memories of this:
However, to my surprise, there were MANY independent and mostly female-owned and operated perfume and bath and body product companies that were being raved about, and all of them seemed to have one version or another of Amazing Grace.  Most of these companies offered fairly inexpensive eau de parfums, eau de toilettes, and perfume oils and also offered all of the matching body lotions, scrubs, and potions to go along with their dupes of not only Amazing Grace but also multitudes of other famous scents and even their own original scents.  One name that kept popping up over and over, though, was Pittsburgh Street Soapworks.
 So, with a little bit of fear but a whole lot of hope that someone had created a scent to replace my now pathetic, Coty-fied reformulation of Amazing Grace, I held my breath and placed an order for several products in their one Amazing Grace-type scent, which is called Divine Bliss.  A few days later the box arrived, and I immediately ripped it open and spritzed on my new fragrance.  And, to my was BEAUTIFUL.  A 100% dupe?  Nope.  But pretty darn close?  Absolutely.  It was fresh, clean, soft, and just as uplifting as my former perfume, and even better, about 1/5 of the price.  And what was better - they made every possible form of all of their scents, which meant I could layer the lotion, perfume oil, eau de parfum spray in the morning (and even spray my sheets with Divine Bliss linen spray!), carry Divine Bliss solid perfume in my purse, and bathe and exfoliate myself into Divine Bliss heaven with the shower gel and body scrub.  All for about the price of ONE bottle of Philosophy's Amazing Grace eau de parfum.  Here I had thought that my Amazing Grace had been lost. But now, to my pleasant surprise, a new form of grace had been found in the most unexpected source for me - an indie perfume company.  My healing heart swelled with happiness.
Since then, Pittsburgh Street Soapworks has become one of my favorite and most-recommended e-tailers.  I am never without some of their products, and I have gotten both friends and family members hooked on them.  Owner Paulette Schultz makes perfume oils, edp and cologne sprays, solid perfumes, lotions and creams, shower gels, body scrubs, diffuser oils, and wax tarts in every scent that your heart could desire.  On her site you will find an impressive list of scents that includes dupes of many famous fragrances and original PSS scents as well.

Another one of my favorite scents from this site is Paulette's dupe of the famous Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille.
I have actually never even smelled the original Serge Lutens fragrance, and, quite frankly, I don't need to.  PSS's version is DE-LISH.  It is a sultry, sophisticated "grown-up" vanilla that I love to use on its own or as a first layer underneath any of my favorite sweet or warm perfumes (Allure, Coco Mademoiselle etc.). (see how to make your own perfume tray like the one in the above photo in this post!)

Two other fabulous things about Pittsburgh Street Soapworks are that you can easily try any of their scents with their sampler packs of six 4 ml spray vials of any combination of scents, AND Paulette can add an extra "shot" of scent to a few of her products (I always request this with the body lotion), which will make your fragrance last even longer. 

So, fast forward to today.  My heart has been mended and life has gone on.  My perfume tray continues to evolve, but I also keep some of my trusty favorites on it at all time (Samsara, to name one).  The other day I was in Nordstrom at the Chanel counter, and I was tempted to smell Chanel No. 5 again, just to see if I could "handle" smelling its new and highly-touted Eau Premiere version.  But, as I picked up the bottle, a little voice in my perfume-loving-but-stronger-and-wiser heart said, "No, no, no.  Leave it in the past, big girl."  And so, with that all-too-familiar "clink" of a glass perfume bottle on a vanity tray, I put down the bottle unsniffed, and I bought myself a lip gloss instead.

So, big girls...go and by yourself a new perfume.  You and our heart deserve it. :) 

Thank you so much for reading.  Happy Sunday.

*all products mentioned were purchased by me, and this is not a sponsored post

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Beauty Blogazons Weekly Blog Roundup

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Bat Your Big Girl Lashes - My Current Mascara Rotation

Hi, everyone!  Let's keep on moving with my makeup collection posts today.  Now that I have shared my warm and cool eyeshadow palettes and eyeliners with you, it's time for the one makeup item that so many of you, like me, are on a never-ending hunt for...mascara.  A disclaimer - I feel that mascara is sort of like a haircare product.  We all have different lashes just like we do hair types/textures, and we are all looking for various effects (lengthening, defining, thickening, waterproof, etc.).  While there are some super-popular mascaras that receive consistently high ratings from makeup artists and customers across the board, I also think that there are many "unsung heroes" in the mascara world.  One has to do some serious (and sometimes expensive) experimenting to find them, so hopefully this post will do the some of the work for you for a few of my favorite ones.

First off, if you want lush, clump-free lashes that open up your eyes, here are two items that you can't go without:

A metal lash comb is a must for getting out any clumps, and a good eyelash curler will keep your lashes from just "sticking out"  and weighing down the overall look of your eye (which is what a lot of mascaras will do if you just apply them to uncurled lashes).  This combo eyebrow brush/eyelash comb is a recent find from Sonia Kashuk, which can be found at Target.  The eyelash curler is from Shiseido, and it is a recent replacement for my beloved and super-famous Shu Uemura eyelash curler (which is no longer sold in stores in the U.S., but CAN be purchased on their website still).  Its shape conforms to any type of eye to grip every lash and curl it gently.  Both of these eyelash curlers (the Shu and the Shiseido) beat the PANTS off of any other eyelash curler I've ever tried, high-end or low-end.

Now that we've got the right tools, let's get started with mascaras!  For all of these pictures, I blotted off the top of the wand with each "dip" into the mascara tube and applied one coat on the bottom lashes and two coats on the top.  I used NO mascara base/primer on my lashes or liner on the upper waterline (which are two techniques that will give you some serious mamacita lashes with just about ANY mascara, but I will teach you those tricks in a future post!) and combed through the lashes a little bit with my lash comb after each second coat.  The only thing on my lids is MAC's Paint Pot in Painterly.  Also, I buy all of my mascaras in the blackest black possible (why would you want any other color lashes?  Life is short and lashes should be darrrrk and sultry, big girls).  Lastly, these are all non-waterproof formulas.  Unless I have a funeral or a super-sweaty night of salsa dancing, I don't worry about running or smudging.  Fortunately, years of mascara experimentation have eliminated the smudgers.  (L'Oreal Voluminous, I'm talking to you...)

First up, Rimmel's Lash Accelerator mascara:

While I had read and seen raves about this fairly new product from Rimmel, it didn't do too much for me in the way of volume. However, it definitely does elongate lashes and has a nice, small, traditional (versus plastic-bristle) brush that gives me soft, long lashes.  For me this is a good one for either layering under a thickening mascara or for using on bottom lashes.

Next, we have NYX Doll Eyes Long Lash Mascara:

I.LOVE.THIS.MASCARA.  While it doesn't do much in the thickening department, it is a fiber mascara that gives me loooong, soft, fluttery lashes.  One some days, that's all I want.  NYX cosmetics can be found at Ulta and are also popping up in some Target stores now.

Now, let's get dramatic with two of my favorite do-it-all (thickening AND lengthening)mascaras.

Cover Girl Clump Crusher:

An Instagram post from a recent re-purchase day of this fabulous drugstore mascara.  Paired with a primer and tightlining, it is awesome!

Do-It-All Mascara #2 is Buxom's Amplified Lash Mascara:

Buxom's Amplified Lash has a neat little wand that expands for a more thickening effect (the bristles are wider apart and shorter when it's expanded, so this deposits more of the mascara onto your lashes):

Then, it can be twisted down/shortened for a lengthening effect (the bristles are now a bit longer and more "comb-like" at this length):

Next, the ever-popular Benefit They're Real mascara, which I have been using on and off since I received it in my Sephora Favorites Superstars Kit this summer:

This is only one coat of Benefit's They're Real mascara.  On my lashes, a second coat = clumpiness = lots of work with my lash comb.  "Ain't nobody got time" for all that effort!
While this most definitely IS a very lengthening, thickening, super-black, and dramatic mascara, it is A BEAST TO REMOVE.  Also, I usually can only get away with one coat (though sometimes I do take the time to really work that one coat into my lashes by wiggling the brush and using its midieval torture device NOT poke yourself in the eye with this, girls!  Been there, done it, and it was traumatizing.), as a second coat of this mascara = clump city (and again, I could take the time with my comb to get all of the clumps out...but my lashes and I have places to go and people to charm). 

Last, we have what *used to be* my daily go-to drugstore mascara, Cover Girl's Lash Perfection:

While I love, love, love the tapered, plastic brush on this mascara (one of my favorite things to do with a mascara wand is to flip it around and hold it vertically, using its tip to lengthen and define), it has been almost totally edged out of the race for one of my trusty favorites by these other great mascaras, especially by the NYX Doll Eyes and the Buxom and CG Clump Crusher.  I WILL say, though, that this is a perfect mascara to apply after applying false lashes in order to "blend" them in with my natural lashes.  When I use a mascara on top of falsies, I have found that I most definitely cannot use one that is thickening or that has fibers in it.

So that you can see a comparison of their wand sizes, here are all of the "contestants" together:
From left to right - Rimmel Lash Accelerator, NYX Doll Eyes Long Lash, Cover Girl Lash Exact, Cover Girl Clump Crusher, Buxom Amplified Lash, Benefit's They're Real.

And, for the grand mascara finale, here they all are live and in action for you to compare:
While they all have great qualities that I love and find useful depending on the look I'm trying to achieve, my favorite of all of these is the Buxom Amplified Lash Mascara.  It's super-black, not too "wet" or "dry" like some mascaras, lengthens and volumizes, and holds a curl all day long.  At first I thought that the expanding/shrinking brush trick was just a hokey gimmick, but I'll be darned if it doesn't actually work!  Second place would go to Cover Girl Clump Crusher, with which you REALLY can apply multiple coats before it starts to get even the least bit clumpy (and, it's almost the same as the Buxom, but it doesn't always hold a curl).  Third place goes to the NYX Doll Eyes Long Lash, which is a good one for a more natural look and long, soft, truly doll-like lashes.   

What are your favorite mascaras?  Have you found any unsung mascara heroes recently?