A purpler shade of plum

It began with a search for lip liner. I popped into a department store to purchase a lip-color pencil. I wanted my usual shade and to escape without the saleswoman pushing other products on me.

Intelligent women know it's a fool's errand to buy makeup when you're not wearing any. You're too vulnerable to a saleswoman's pitch. Despite my bare face, I approached the counter with bravado, and placed the used pencil on the cabinet to show I had bought Chanel before, and was therefore worthy.

The makeup consultant, as they are called, looked at the pencil as if it were a relic from an ancient civilization. In a genuine French accent she said, "That formula has been discontinued."

"Can you find a plum shade close to this one?" I asked, breathless, hoping to keep her from reaching for the samples.

She pulled out several lip liners and began drawing the colors on her wrist. "Fine," I said, fidgety and eager to move on. "I'll take that one."

Later, and $28 poorer, I explained the multibillion-dollar cosmetics racket to my husband. It's all part of the fashion industry, in which clothing and makeup become obsolete in six months or less. But, as I told him, it's not as if companies are selling "new" colors: This season's "Smoky Bordeaux" may be pulled from the shelves only to reappear next season as "Plum Spice."

Cosmetics companies market the illusion of newness. They might tweak a formula here or there, but it's still the same old snake oil.

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