Q: How Do I Pull Off a Smoky Eye as a Very Pale Person?

Every Friday we're taking your questions on all things style, beauty and business. Today's issue? A pared-down smoky eye.
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Eliza Brooke
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Every Friday we're taking your questions on all things style, beauty and business. Today's issue? A pared-down smoky eye.
Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

In our latest column, “Ask a Fashionista,” you can solicit our strongly held opinions on everything from how to wear a midi skirt without looking like a tree stump to whether a certain retail CEO should go ahead and resign already.

Q: I'm fair skinned. How do I pull off a smoky eye without it looking like I'm wearing too much makeup? — Molly, Brooklyn, NY

A: When a smoky eye of Kim Kardashian caliber is many people's most immediate reference for the look, it can seem pretty intimidating, especially for pale folks on whom a dark eye might be overwhelming. The good news is, it doesn't have to involve 20 minutes of shading and lining and doing that thing where you blend a frighteningly dense shadow out and up into the crease in some kind of spoon-tip shape.

Make like Eva Green, queen of all things French and foxy, and keep it simple.

For fair-skinned ladies (or dudes) easing their way into a smoky look, I'd advocate a less-is-more approach. And a casual, minimalist smoky eye actually works on people of all skin tones, so this isn't just for pale peeps.

The nice thing about a smoky eye is that unlike cat eye liner -- which sometimes feels like it requires a fine art degree to do in a non-messy, symmetrical way -- you can't suck at it. You just can't. You take a tequila shot maybe, and you practice. And then you get better.

Arguably the easiest way to dial down the impact of a smoky eye is by subbing in brown liner for black. I actually tend to like this more because it's less obvious and therefore ups the wearer's mystery factor, which, let's be real, is the whole point of the look.

A great (and affordable!) liner for this is Maybelline Define-A-Line Eyeliner in Chestnut Brown. If you've got darker skin, pick an espresso or brown-black color. Using short strokes, trace the liner from the outer corner inward, skimming along the waterline as you go. If you want -- and you do -- wing it out a few centimeters past the outer corner and then rim the lower waterline, adding a few dots along outer corner of the lower lashes. Then take the spongey bit at the end of the eyeliner and use little back and forth motions to smudge the liner a bit. Easy squeezy.

Taylor Swift demonstrates the power of the brown smoky eye. Photo: Getty

Taylor Swift demonstrates the power of the brown smoky eye. Photo: Getty

Pro tip: Make sure the eyeliner has a nice density as you're putting it on, but don't make the line too thick, since it's going to be extended a bit by the smudging. Keeping it close to the lash line will make it look more natural when it gets smoked out.

You can leave it there, or go in on your lids with a shimmery brown shadow that's lighter than the liner -- remember the look that cemented Taylor Swift's status as a total smokeshow? -- to add a little more depth. Another option is to pat the tiniest bit of liquid highlighter, like Nyx's Born to Glow, onto your lids to give it a little sheen.

Another option for paring down a smoky eye is a method I like to call "putting on a lot and then wiping most of it off." This is the way to go if you want to channel, say, Alexander Wang's spring '12 show.

This works well with a black or slate gray (again, go lighter if your skin is lighter) eyeliner. Apply it in a thicker line than before, roll a q-tip around in some moisturizer and wipe the majority of the liner off, leaving it be at the lash line. Go in with a clean q-tip to get the excess off and to smudge the remaining pigment in. Since things are a little liquid here, add a dab of highlighter to the center of your lids. Swipe on some mascara, pull on a leather jacket and you're out the door.

Email us your questions at ask@fashionista.com or leave one in the comments section below.