Ask Urban

Urban's best tips and tricks to fashion and beauty over the past decade

South Korean hairstylist Chahong styling a model’s locks. To maintain strong and healthy hair, use a clarifying or exfoliating shampoo regularly to get rid of dead skin and residue build-up from hair products.
South Korean hairstylist Chahong styling a model’s locks. To maintain strong and healthy hair, use a clarifying or exfoliating shampoo regularly to get rid of dead skin and residue build-up from hair products. PHOTOS: L'OREAL PROFESSIONNEL, ST FILE, COURTESY OF CHAHONG, BIMBA Y LOLA, JACK WILLS, K.BLU, MILETI, NET-A-PORTER, SEAFOLLY, TOOSHIE, DRIES VAN NOTEN, FOX INTERNATIONAL CHANNELS, POLO RALPH LAUREN, STELLA MCCARTNEY
Men do not have to shy away from using make-up, such as light foundation and concealers, to hide imperfections such as acne scars.
Men do not have to shy away from using make-up, such as light foundation and concealers, to hide imperfections such as acne scars.

Urban has been offering solutions to your fashion and beauty woes every week, for the past decade or so. Here, we share some freshly gathered tips, as well as some of the best ones published in the Ask Urban column over the last few years


How do I ensure that my haircut flatters my face?

South Korean celebrity hairstylist Chahong - who styles the locks of K-stars such as actresses Ko So-Young, Park Min-Young and Lee Hana - dishes out tips.

Ms Chahong was in town last month to present her interpretation of the latest V-Look trend of slim, defined faces at the L'Oreal Professionnel Hair Show at Singapore Fashion Week.

"Eighty per cent of your entire look is based on your hair, so it is important to have the right angles and lines with your haircut," she says.

South Koreans favour cuts that make the face look smaller, younger and friendlier, she adds.

Tips for women

1. If it suits you, get bangs that are light and airy (so your forehead is still visible). Keep hair around the jawline light and airy - but not wispy thin - as well. The scattering of the hair on the forehead and jaw area will make your face look more defined and V-shaped. This works on both long hair and short bobs that end at the chin area.

2. Go for big, soft curls that look more like natural waves. Just make sure that the ends of the hair nearest to the face curl outwards, so your visage looks sharper (conversely, inward curls make the face rounder). This style looks best with shoulder-length hair and a crop that ends at the jawline.

3. Have an event but no time to style your hair? Just change your hair parting to switch up your look.

A symmetrical, middle-part gives you a sophisticated and modern air. For a softer look, go for the 7:3 side-part. A rounded side-part (instead of a straight line, part hair in a curved line) can make a long face look shorter. A diagonal parting makes you look assertive and edgy.

Tips for men

1. Pay attention to your sideburns. Well-groomed sideburns that reach around the middle of the ears will give your face and features more definition.

2. While the sides of the hair should be kept neat and short, try having longer curls at your crown. This style is easy to maintain, and makes you look stylish and approachable.


I do not like wearing a bikini because I have a bit of a tummy. Are there some stylish one-piece options?

Here are Urban's recommendations:


What are some of the basics to keeping my hair strong and healthy?

Mr Eugene Ong, founder and managing director of Urbanhair salon at Seviin at Tangs, shows you how.

1. Determine your hair type

Run your fingers from the tips of your hair to the roots, against the cuticles.

If the cuticles feel smooth, you have normal hair; if they feel rough, then you probably have dry and damaged hair.

Another way to determine your hair type is to gently stretch a strand of wet hair. Healthy hair is elastic and will spring back to its original length; dry and damaged hair will either break or not snap back to its original length.

You know you have oily hair (and an oily scalp) if the hair shaft two or three inches away from the scalp is very glossy and constantly flat.

2. Shampoo the right way

Instead of slathering the shampoo on your head immediately, first lather it between your palms as foam grips dirt more effectively.

A dollop of shampoo the size of a 50-cent coin would suffice; add a little more if you have very long hair. This step also ensures that residue from the shampoo will not be left on your hair and scalp as foam washes away more easily.

3. Rinse thoroughly

At least once a week, use a clarifying or exfoliating shampoo to get rid of dead skin and residue build-up from hair products. This will boost the efficacy of any nourishing haircare products that you use later on.

4. Apply a mask

If you have dry or normal hair, use a hair mask to strengthen hair and smoothen the cuticles for shine and volume.

Apply the mask down the hair shaft - from about three inches away from the scalp - and along the hair cuticles to the ends to seal in moisture. Put on a shower cap for 10 minutes as a warm environment will help the products to better penetrate your hair. Rinse thoroughly. Skip the hair mask if you have oily hair as it will weigh your hair down.

5. Use a hair tonic

To maintain or get a head of healthy hair, use a hair tonic after every wash.

Always use it after you blow-dry your hair. This is because water will dilute the tonic or prevent it from penetrating your scalp.

The heat from the hairdryer will also open up the pores so they can better absorb the tonic.

Apply hair tonic only on the crown area as it will flow down to other areas naturally. Then massage the tonic into the scalp with your fingertips. There is no need to rinse it off.

I spend at least 10 hours in an air-conditioned office every day. How do I make sure that my skin stays hydrated? Is it true that I don't have to wear sunblock as I'm indoors?

For starters, drink between 1½ and three litres of water a day and put plants on your desk as they act as a natural humidifier to keep your skin supple.

It is also important to take a few extra steps in your beauty regimen, says Taiwanese celebrity skincare guru Robin Niu.

To improve your skin's absorption of moisturiser, you should first remove dead skin cells which your skin generates daily, with a gentle exfoliating lotion.

If you don't slough away the dead cells at least once a day, your skin will end up being oily on the outside and dehydrated inside.

First, use a cotton pad soaked in exfoliating lotion and apply it in a circular motion on your face to remove dirt and dead skin. Pat skin dry with clean fingers.

Next, spread some moisturising lotion on a new cotton pad and apply it on your skin with upward strokes.

The damp cotton pad is gentler on your skin and ensures that your skin absorbs just enough lotion without clogging your pores. Do this in the morning before you head out and before you sleep.

Follow up with a serum and a moisturiser, as well as sunscreen in the day.

Don't forget your body too. A good body moisturiser can give you 24-hour hydration.

You should apply sunblock with at least SPF 30 PA+++ even when you are indoors as the sun's harmful UV rays can penetrate the windows.

Niu recommends applying three thin layers on the face - wait about two minutes between each application for the product to be absorbed completely.

How can a guy use make-up to cover imperfections without looking effeminate?

Even the hunkiest models and actors have their faces painted before they stride down the red carpet or go in front of the camera, so do not shy away from using make-up to look fresher.

Just remember, your aim is to look like you have a naturally good complexion, not a pretty face. So you need at most three items: A light foundation, an undereye concealer and another concealer for other imperfections such as acne scars.

Stay away from everything else, such as mascara, blusher, eyeshadow and lip colour.

To look less tired, get a good undereye concealer.

Dab the product on the grey areas and blend gently with your ring finger.

Try the concealers before you buy; get the beauty advisers at the counters to help you pick the right colour, which should blend well with your skin tone so you do not look like you are wearing any make-up.

To even out your complexion, use a sheer foundation or BB cream. Pick one with a sheer texture that is non-greasy and has anti-ageing benefits.

To get a true match, test the colour on your jawline and in between your brows.

How do I make my perfume last longer in humid weather?

As French perfumer Francis Kurkdjian puts it, hot weather is "not a good friend of perfume". This is because perfume evaporates more quickly when mixed with sweat or moisture.

Here are his tips on how to make your perfume last longer:

While labels such as eau de toilette (EDT) and eau de parfum (EDP) reflect the percentage of aromatic compounds in a fragrance and are guides to its intensity and longevity, they may not be an accurate indicator of a fragrance's lasting power.

This is because the amount and quality of perfume oils used varies between different perfume houses, so the EDT from one perfumery may be stronger than the EDP from another; even though EDPs are typically more concentrated.

While shopping for scents, Mr Kurkdjian advises that you spray your top two options on similar spots on different arms. This is so you can compare the two scents fairly, as different parts of your body generate different levels of heat.

A good place to spray is the inside of your wrist because that is where your pulse points are and the fragrance will smell stronger there.

Let the perfumes sit on your skin for the rest of the day. A long-lasting perfume lasts at least six hours; some can even last till the next day.

Another useful trick is to spray perfume on your clothing instead of your skin, so it is less likely to mix with your sweat and evaporate.

"That's what the French do in summer time," shares the perfumer.

Just make sure you spray about 20cm away from your clothing to avoid staining it.

The best way is to do so with your clothing on a hanger, so that the perfume can be sprayed evenly on it.

Alternatively, slather your body with moisturiser from the same fragrance, then layer the perfume over it to make the scent last longer.

Most brands have body lotions to accompany their fragrances.

How can I make my face look more sculpted with make-up?

To accentuate your features, just play with light and shadow, says make-up artist Maxime Poulin, who is part of the international art team at French cosmetics brand Guerlain.

Asian faces are typically rounder and wider, so elongate them with clever shading and highlighting.

Bronzer and highlighter are the two key items you need.

When choosing a bronzer, go for a colour that is one or two shades darker than your natural skin tone. It should also blend well into your skin instead of making it look dirty.

For that reason, don't use brown eyeshadow as a substitute for a bronzer.

For highlighter, get one that is a shade lighter or one that matches your skin tone.

Cheeks: Suck in your cheeks to find your cheekbones. Using a kabuki brush - a full, round and short brush - sweep the bronzer upwards from under the cheekbones while twisting the brush in a clockwise direction for a natural finish.

The contouring should start diagonally from the cheekbone near your ear and end about an inch from the corner of your mouth.

Dab liquid highlighter on the top of your cheekbones and blend. This will give the illusion of higher cheekbones.

Jawline: Brush the bronzer along the jawline with long strokes. Disguise any double chin with bronzer too; but use upward strokes.

Put and blend some highlighter on the middle of the chin so it looks more defined.

Temple: Brush on the bronzer from just before the browbone to the hairline. Twist the brush in a clockwise motion to create a natural shadow. This will help to elongate the face.

Nose: Use highlighter on the bridge and tip of the nose.

Contour the nose with bronzer using a more precise brush, such as an eyeshadow blending brush. Start from under the inner browbone and down the sides of the nose.

Decolletage: For a glamorous night out, especially when you are wearing a low-cut or strapless dress, apply light-reflecting primer on your decolletage too.

Then "push out" your collarbones; blend highlighter along the length of the bone and bronzer under it.

Apply highlighter on the ball of the shoulders to finish the look.

What are the rules of pyjama dressing?

In recent years, fashion insiders have been wearing pyjama tops and bottoms outside of the bedroom to chic effect. But this is definitely a challenging trend to wear for us mere mortals, because it can look very inappropriate for the day.

Instead of a head-to-toe look, which can work on the runway but not so much in real life, extract the top of a look like the one (photo 1) from British designer Stella McCartney's spring/summer 2015 collection.

Tuck the collared, soft, pyjama-like button-down into a structured, full midi-skirt instead, for a balanced outfit. It will make for an interesting contrast with a hint of retro chic.

It the top is oversized, you could unbutton the top and wear it like a wrap shirt instead. It works because the skirt will ensure the top stays in place and not turn into a frumpy mess.

You can also take the silky bottoms of a pyjama-esque ensemble like the one from Belgian label Dries Van Noten's spring/summer 2015 line (photo 2).

On their own, the pants might look too "loungey" for outside wear. But paired with a cream sweater and heels, they will look relaxed but chic, and will not be confused with sleepwear.

The easiest way to take on this trend, though, is to be less literal. Instead of working a pyjama top or bottom into your daily ensemble, why not wear something pyjama-inspired?

Not only is it less of a challenge, you will enjoy more versatile and diverse outfits. Go for a silky fabric cut in a loose silhouette.

Bonus points if the outfit incorporates patterns such as pinstripes or paisley that are classic pyjama go-tos.

Take another look from McCartney's collection (photo 3). It incorporates billowy pyjama-inspired elements but evokes a much more sophisticated feel.

How can I keep my bags from losing their shape?

It is easy for bags to lose their shape, what with the amount of things we chuck into them - laptops, tablets, bottles of water, cardigans for air-conditioned offices, make-up and wallets.

The way to keep a bag's shape intact is to make sure it has a sturdy base. Also, how you store your bag when not in use plays a big part in extending its longevity.

1. Create a base

While many bags have a rectangular or square interior, the items within are of all shapes and sizes.

Also, some items - especially electronic devices - can be heavy, causing the bags to lose their shape.

Create a sturdy makeshift base for your bag by cutting out a piece of cardboard that is the same shape as the base of your bag. Double up the material to make it difficult to bend and wrap it in a scarf or some other protective fabric material.

2. Store appropriately

How you store your bag makes a difference to how it looks.

Leaving it crumpled in the back of your closet is a sure-fire way to ruin its shape. Even keeping it upright does not help as it will bend due to gravity.

When you store a bag, stuff it with other items, such as other smaller bags or clothes, to help keep it from deflating like a day-old balloon.

Another way is to hang it by its handles onto a hook. This way, the bag will not bend and crease under its own weight.

I have a job interview next month for a corporate position at a bank. What can I wear that is stylish yet appropriate?

Whether you are gunning for a desk-bound corporate job or a more artsy one in the creative field, it is always best to err on the side of caution. So keep your short skirts and minidresses for the weekend.

However, just because the position calls for number-crunching and spreadsheets does not mean you cannot excel in the style department.

The best way to show off your figure without going overboard is to wear a pencil skirt. Opt for one in a neutral colour such as black. Not only is it slimming and figure-flattering, you can wear it with just about anything and not only in a work environment.

If skirts are not your thing, go for a pair of tailored pants in grey, rather than black, as it is a more unexpected colour.

Pants from G2000 are not only affordable and trendy, but also well-cut.

While you cannot go wrong with crisp white blouses, they are boring, so opt instead for brighter colours.

Swedish label H&M stocks a number of bright-coloured tops.

I am well-endowed and find it hard to find a flattering dress. What should I wear for a sexy yet classy look this festive season?

If curvy American actress Christina Hendricks has taught us anything, it is that being full-chested is an asset - provided you observe a few rules.

First, steer clear of high necklines. While you might want to cover up, high necklines mean there is no break between your neck and bust, thus making your bust appear even bigger than it is.

Instead, go for boat-neck or scoop-neck dresses that are sleeveless as these will balance your proportion by making your shoulders seem broader.

Or take advantage of the fact that you have enough on top to hold up a strapless dress.

This style brings the attention to your shoulders and face, and away from your bust. But make sure it fits well or you may find yourself having to tug on the dress constantly.

Another dress style to try is one with a V-shaped neckline, which helps to elongate your body. Make sure it dips no lower than the middle of your bust area, or about four inches from your neckbone, to keep the look tasteful.

Avoid stretchy and clingy fabrics, such as jersey or silk, as they will emphasise your assets. Opt for fabrics that drape but do not cling, such as cotton, linen and polyester-mix fabrics.

When choosing accessories to complete the look, go for earrings rather than necklaces as they will draw the eye away from your chest area. Go for bigger stud earrings, which will frame your face, instead of dangling ones that point straight to your chest.

If you love necklaces, pick chunkier ones that spread across your chest rather than dainty chains that nestle smack between your bosom, emphasising your bust line.

Is it appropriate to wear a polo shirt for dressy occasions? How would a guy style them?

A polo shirt is like the button-down shirt's more casual cousin. It is usually more breathable and great for Singapore's humid climate.

Originally associated with sports such as polo and tennis, it is now an everyday wardrobe staple, especially for men.

Despite the more laid-back vibe, polo shirts can work for dressier occasions and even to the office.

If you pair a dark polo shirt with a dark suit jacket and pants, in many ways, it mimics the look of a buttoned-up shirt without a tie.

The black polo shirt and charcoal grey suit look put-together and sleek, and would not look out of place at a workplace event.

You can also go more smart casual by pairing contrasting items, such as a white polo shirt with a navy jacket and chinos.

The look is a bit "country club", but the classic items ensure the outfit looks clean and sharp overall.

Polo shirts can also give a suited look a more sporty vibe. This look from Polo Ralph Lauren's spring/summer 2015 collection (photo) says it all. Put together with a pair of white pants and layered over a striped T-shirt, the navy polo shirt adds to the whole marine-chic vibe.

The faded denim blazer and sneakers are too casual for a dressy occasion, but if replaced with a solid navy blazer and brown loafers, the look could be dressy enough for a casual Friday or daytime soiree.

To sum up, it works like this - the more similar the shades of items paired together, the more uniform and formal you can make the polo shirt look. Paired with more contrasting items, the polo shirt's casual vibe is emphasised for smart casual events.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2015, with the headline 'Ask Urban'. Print Edition | Subscribe