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Scarlett Carlos Clarke x Grace Ellington
Makeup Grace Ellington, hair Benjamin David, styling Charlotte RobertsPhotography Scarlett Carlos Clarke

We may be in a sex recession, but ‘post-shag’ make-up is on the rise

Tousled hair, lived-in textures, sweaty skin and flushed cheeks are taking over

  1. THE LOOK: Smudged eyeliner, lived-in lip stains and a shitload of blush. Sweaty, glistening skin is a must and everything should look slept in and a bit mushed up, including hair. Also try textured tresses, preferably piled into a Pamela Anderson-style half-up, half-down ‘do or snipped into a choppy wolf haircut. No brushing is permitted.
  2. WHO’S DOING IT? Dewy, “laminated” skin was all over the runways last season and you just need to take one look at TikTok to see blush is the make-up product du jour. Among the celebs, it’s all about modern bombshells like Megan Fox and EmRata.

  3. HOW CAN I GET IT? Kiss off your lipstick at the club, slap on a generous helping of Youthforia’s BYO Blush and sleep in your make-up (no, seriously).

In beauty and in life, 2022 was the year of the ‘feral club rat’; accentuated by grungy eyeliner, festival-ready sparkle and Euphoria-style rhinestones as we collectively flocked back to nightlife and Sundays at Unfold, en masse. But recently this mussed-up trend has diverged in a different and much hotter direction: post-shag beauty. Less teenager-acting-out with a fake ID and more laidback, it combines the lived-in quality of a face of make-up which has stayed with you during a sneaky link, with a dash of the vampy, sensual nature of TikTok trends like siren eyes.

The idea of adding a post-coital glow to your make-up is age-old and the entire premise behind one of the industry’s most iconic and successful products: NARS’s ‘Orgasm’ blush, which recreates the healthy flush you get after a really great orgasm. Blush experienced a quiet period during the IG Face era when bronzer and contour were the cheek products of choice. But in the last few years, it’s made a comeback – a staple in looks favoured by e-girls, cold girls and crying girls. Rare’s Liquid Blush has been sold out everywhere since going viral on TikTok and Charlotte Tilbury’s Matte Beauty Blush Wands are all over the app despite not even being released yet. 

Post-shag beauty takes this blush in a new direction: more broadly, messily applied for a post-orgasmic flush. Make-up artist Emily Wood describes the post-shag look as a “lived-in, textured rosiness that goes above and beyond the apple of your cheeks.” A prime example of this is model-turned-podcaster Emily Ratajkowsi who often opts for glowing skin with ample blush swept across the apples of her cheeks, to give a euphoric, rosy flush. She carries this energy through to her hair as well, favouring sexy bedhead styles, with tousled fringes and flyaways.

Messy-chic hair is undoubtedly a key component of the look. Over the last few years we’ve seen a proliferation of layer-based, messier cuts, including the wolf and the shag, and post-shag hair is a natural extension of this. The look is all about texture – celebrating rather than straightening flyaways, for example – in a way that channels the messy hair of boho chic-era Kate Moss. Except rather than aiming to look like you’ve just woken up in a tent in Glastonbury, try imagining you’re lounging around in Julianne Moore cosplay, post-coital and smoking a cigarette in a silk robe. 

A major proponent of this hair trend is bicon and 21st century bombshell Megan Fox, who has been experimenting with hair texture and embracing tousled locks. The change from signature sleek hair isn’t radical but it’s certainly noticeable, signifying a shift towards a more tactile, artfully messy style that looks like someone you fancy has been running their hands through your hair all evening. Poker straight hair looks great, but I feel it lacks personality,” Dimitris Giannetos, a celebrity hairstylist whose clients include Fox, says, noting that he has “definitely” seen a resurgence of texture and layers in hair trends.

When it comes to skin, the foundation of a good post-shag look is something you can expect after a tryst between the sheets: sweat. An evolution of the radiant glass skin trend, legendary MAC Cosmetics MUA Terry Barber coined the trend “laminated skin” to describe the hyper-enhanced glow that was rocked on the runway during the SS23 LFW shows – most visibly present as part of the sensual, stripped-back catwalk presentation by Fashion East’s Karoline Vitto. As Barber explained at the time, this glowy approach to skin veers into a slightly rougher, sexier place and puts an emphasis on sensation rather than sleekness. “All the designers I’m working with are talking about sweaty skin, like you’ve just come out of the ocean on holiday, or been on a dance floor – or you’ve just had sex.” 

To achieve this at home, embrace your natural skin, stop using powder or blotting oil, and resist all but the most minimal of touch-ups after revelling in the sexy pursuits (dancing, swimming in the sea, sex) signposted by Barber. Or, if you really want to push the limits of what “lived-in” make-up can look like, you can experiment with skin products designed specifically for the morning after, thanks to the non-comedogenic brand Youthforia. Founded by Fiona Chan, the company offers a primer, blush and lipgloss that are safe to sleep in: with Chan confirming over email that she and her husband actually take a snooze in all of their products to test this out.

So where is this look coming from? WGSN beauty analyst, Megan Bang, sees the mussed-up hair and bitten lip stains of the post-shag look as indicative of “anti-perfectionist” make-up among Gen Z. “We have seen anti-perfectionist beauty looks rise recently in response to wellness-culture fatigue and a rise in expressionism,” she says. While it’s certain that a more playful touch is taking over, however, it’s also true that flushed cheeks, mussed-up make-up and tousled hair don’t just read as “messy” – they read as sexy, and we’d go as far to say post-coital. But aren’t we supposed to be in a sex reccession, with Gen Z and millennials reporting fewer sex partners than preceding generations? 

Well, Bang believes that a rise in sex-adjacent make-up and hair might be a way for us to work out all that horniness aesthetically, even if we’re not partaking physically. “There is often an aesthetic response to the social realities around us, sometimes even in ways that feel contradictory,” she explains. “In terms of the sex recession, consumers are looking for ways to express their sexuality in a more public realm since they are not doing so as often privately. Looking sexual and provocative can be a very different thing than acting that way.”

But maybe post-shag beauty goes further than that. It’s not just revelling in the aesthetics of sex; it’s the sensations of it. With tousled hair and sweaty skin, we’re calling to mind the feverish touch, the hot breath and the wet kisses of a lover – the kind of advances that we’d normally consider to have ruined our make-up, rather than enhanced it. Whether or not any of us actually plan to engage in the temptations of the flesh is still a question mark, but with a touch-starved pandemic in the rear window and a looming recession ready to rip us of our worldly possessions, we’re ready for a beauty aesthetic which embraces immediacy, intimacy and anything carnal.