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How to prep for a black tie - lessons from disasters

When I received the call I have been conferred the Spirit of Enterprise (SOE) Awards, I was in the thick of my first Bali holiday since the borders opened after the pandemic, and certainly not on a diet. A quick Google search revealed that not only was a minister expected to attend the black tie event and present the awards, publications such as The Peak and the Straits Times have been featuring the event for the last few iterations.

Anxiety began creeping in. It had been more than three years since I attended a formal evening event, leave alone a black tie, and I have had two weeks of dessert and lay-ins to recover from.

A makeup artiste can make or break your photos; I've learned the hard way! Here I'm with Sha Shamsi, my fave MUA. Blue topaz pendant by Cherie Thum Jewellery. Photo by Shah Rizal

So here are my tried and tested tips:

1. Plan your outfit early (be brutal)

Especially if you’re planning on wearing something you’ve not worn in a while. I began full-on intermittent fasting on the last leg of my Bali holiday, with the intent of trying on my leather corset and mermaid skirt with train three weeks into the fast. If that outfit did not fit, at least I had three weeks to scout for, buy or rent something else to wear.

I delayed trying it on until two weeks before the event, and to my relief not only did it fit, it was comfortable enough to move around in; getting up and down the stairs, etc. Also, I recommend you try all the bits and bobs that make the outfit; underwear, shoes, hosiery, etc., so if anything does not work or feel right, you will have time to seek out and try on alternatives.

Everyone’s comfort level is different and you will only look good if you appear comfortable. It’s no point squeezing yourself into something and then have three people help you walk (yes, I’m looking at you, Mariah Carey).

This took six weeks of prep! With SOE's President Rachel Wong, and Guest of Honour Minister of State for the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY). Photo by the SOE

2. Body treatments

If you’re around my age, you’ll know that if you’re not more putting on weight more readily, your skin quality is not quite like it used to be. Even if you’ve been more or less keeping in shape, your skin might be yielding to the sag, and mine certainly is.

Radiofrequency (RF) treatments for tightening and toning my thighs at pocket-friendly prices at Fabulous Aesthetics. Photo by Shah Rizal

If you can afford it, go for radiofrequency (RF) treatments. RF has been marketed as a body-contouring treatment for ages, and while the RF treatments at aesthetic clinics are certainly more expensive, there are places such as Fabulous Aesthetics which offer RF treatments at more pocket-friendly prices. Thanks to the Indiba treatments there, my clothes feel and fit better overall, and my legs look fab in the high heels!

I would not recommend fat-freezing if you're short of time as this takes some time to take effect, and you might feel pins and needles in the treated areas anything between one to three weeks post-treatment, which is something you don't want to be carrying around at your event.

If you’re looking to undergo RF treatments with a limited budget, I would recommend doing it at least three times a week for at least two weeks before the event.

3. Ladies, book your hair and makeup people early

Formal events are sometimes preceded by full dress rehearsals, so to ensure your hair and makeup look fresh for several hours, hire a makeup artiste and hairstylist for peace of mind.

Also don't go with any single makeup artiste without having tried him or her out at least once; I learned my lesson the hard way when I was invited to do a panel discussion on video one day. I asked the crew if makeup would be provided and was told an experienced makeup artiste whose portfolio is supposedly filled with Hollywood stars and TV anchors would be doing mine.

On set she was very friendly, appeared to know what she was doing, and was using an airbrush which was a first for me, and perhaps affirmation she was not going to cake my face with product. Then I saw myself on the screen in post. My face was orange. The faces of the other guests were orange. My teammates couldn’t recognise me. It was not the screen; it was the makeup, and it didn’t help that the all-round bright lights of the studio made all our faces look wide and flat.

bad makeup
Example of bad makeup! This was the reason why I always choose to work with my preferred makeup and hairstylist for big events. Photo by Daniel Li

Since then I have sworn to only work with my preferred makeup artiste and hair stylist Sha Shamsi for formal events or events where I'm expected to be photographed or filmed. She has been the go-to person for Singapore Tatler and Her World editorials, and best of all she thinks I’m one of her easiest clients!

4. Skincare, facials, and aesthetic treatments

Good skin makes all the difference. Any makeup artiste worth her salt will tell you to prep your skin before any big day. So start with a regular skincare regimen, and undergo lasers, botulinum toxin and filler treatments at least three weeks before the event, and no-extraction facials no later than two weeks before the event. If you want to try a new treatment, try it at least three weeks before the event, so your skin has time to recover, in case it doesn't take to the treatment well.

To save money, and as I have been travelling frequently to Kuala Lumpur for work, I have begun going to Dr Christine Chea for my botulinum toxin and filler treatments; she is a Teoxane trainer so she is experienced in administering tear trough fillers, which was just what I needed to reduce under-eye shadows and fine wrinkles so the smoky eyeshadow didn't bleed (that and a tonne of setting spray). For keeping pigmentation at bay I have been using Cyspera, and also Dr Hauschka’s Tinted Sunscreen which has been reducing the intermittent redness on my left cheek. Again, don't try a new skincare product unless you've done a patch test at least three weeks in advance.

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