My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

Photographer Alpha Smoot has the most enviable style — minimal but never boring. Every time we see her, she’s sporting a shirt or haircut that we immediately want to steal. So we were thrilled when she agreed to share her beauty uniform. Here are her secrets to laid-back tomboy style, along with the very best shampoo, foundation and mascara (she knows, because she’s tried them all)…

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

Have you always worn makeup?
Growing up in Utah, I was actually really anti-makeup. I was the youngest in my family and really loved being a kid. I developed a Peter Pan thing where I didn’t want to grow up, and makeup always seemed grown-up to me. I was also afraid to become one of those girls who wears too much makeup. When I moved to New York in my twenties, I saw there were plenty of people who looked professional and had a certain amount of put-together-ness but didn’t look too “made up.” I wanted to have that, too, so I slowly started to wear makeup.

Now that you’re into makeup, what products do you use every day?
When I decided to “pursue” makeup, I went to Sephora and tried everything. I wanted to find the best products and avoid mistakes like that tell-tale foundation line under my chin. For my face, the best thing I found was Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer with SPF 20. I love how it evens everything out, but still looks like my skin, not like makeup. Next, I use the NARS Blush/Bronzer Duo in Orgasm and Laguna. When I first started using it, I would do proper shaping and shading, applying the bronzer in the shape of a three along both sides of my face. Now it’s been reduced to putting the Laguna near the sides of my eyes near my hairline, then putting Orgasm on the apples of my cheeks. I tried a bunch of mascaras, too, and the best one I found is Diorshow Lash-Extension Effect. It gives you nice long, separated lashes. Finally, I dust Make Up For Ever HD Finish Microfinish Powder all over my face, because I hate being shiny. I love this stuff! It lasts all day.

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

What’s your favorite date in NYC?
Zack surprised me with tickets to see The Millionaires’ Magician at the Waldorf Astoria hotel (pictured above). The magician, Steve Cohen, performs there every weekend. It’s weird and funny and pretty mind-blowing; you get to witness magic close up. There’s a dress code, and it’s fun to get fancy for a night.

Do you have any tricks for getting dressed up?
Every so often, when I’m feeling saucy, I’ll do wingtip eyeliner, using this Yves Saint Laurent pen. It has a nice fine tip, and it’s easy to use. I have deep-set eyes, so I line from the middle of the lid to the outside, so it doesn’t look too dark. When I’m doing it up, I’ll also break out this nude eye primer. You put it on with the little brush and smush it around with your finger, and it works as a good neutralizer. The color I like is called “wheat,” because it’s so taupe-y and neutral. Sometimes I’m like, I’ve turned into my mom!

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

What about lips?
Although the rest of my routine stays the same, I do try different lipsticks. I really love the Yves Saint Laurent Glossy Stain! My friend got it for me as a gift, and now I’m hooked. I never thought I would go back to gloss — I have too many memories of sticky things from high school — but this one I love. It has a stain quality, so it wears longer, and it also has a nice sheen to it. It’s a little pricey for me, but man it’s good stuff. And Lucas’ Papaw Ointment is my beloved balm. It’s the only thing that saves my lips when they’re dry.

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

Your Halloween costumes are consistently amazing. What’s your strategy?
I’ve always loved Halloween. I like transformative costumes, like Vogue’s creative director Grace Coddington or Tricia from Orange is the New Black. They were all about the hair. Once, I was the main character from Black Swan and I hand-stitched feathers onto my costume. There’s always that moment on Halloween morning where you’re like, “Am I really going to do this? Am I really going out in public in this outfit?” But in New York, you get instant feedback where people will point and say, “You’re so-and-so!” which is always fun. I brainstorm my costume all year. Last year, my husband Zack and I dressed up like Annie Hall, which was a throwback. We were originally going to do Furiosa and Mad Max and I was going to shave my head!

No you weren’t.
Yes, I was.

Your hair would have taken so long to grow back!
I know, but it would have been worth it.

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

What do you use to care for your hair?
My husband and I have tried all the shampoos — everything from drugstore brands to fancy things like Aesop and Oribe — and our favorite is this one from SACHAJUAN. It has a great scent that’s fresh like rosemary but not crazy in-your-face. It helps with texture and shine and also reduces dandruff. It’s just the best.

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

Are you loyal to your hairstylist?
Yes. When I found Rubi Jones at Little Axe a couple years ago, it was like finding a soulmate. I swear, the heavens opened up and angels started singing! I used to cry after every haircut, because I felt so misunderstood. It was like stylists didn’t pay attention to what type of hair I have and just gave me whatever cut they wanted. Rubi, on the other hand, listens to whatever crazy idea I have, then helps me understand the reality of how it will work with my hair type. She knows that I like low maintenance hair and that I only want to get it cut once or twice a year, so she cuts it in a way that will grow out nicely.

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

We always want to buy whatever you’re wearing. How would you describe your style?
Comfy. I hate fussy clothes. My job as a photographer requires clothes that I can move around in, and I often need to lift heavy gear. I’m always attracted to things that seem basic or normal, but have an impeccable cut or interesting detail that you weren’t expecting. I especially love COS. I try to have a minimal closet and not buy many new things, but COS ruins that diet every time. They have such interesting cuts and angles, and almost everything comes in black, which is a huge perk for me!

Are you a devotee of any particular kind of exercise?
I like biking because it’s both transportation and a workout, but I’m not a hardcore biker. I go indoor rock climbing a couple times a week, usually at Brooklyn Boulders. I’m not great, by any means, but it keeps me coming back because it feels like a game. I hate running and I don’t ever want to do it, but rock climbing is like strategy and problem solving that’s also a great workout.

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

What’s your daily skincare routine?
I’ve used Cetaphil, morning and night, since I was a teenager. I have really sensitive skin, and that’s the first face wash I ever used. My dermatologist recommended it. Every now and then I’ve tried other brands, but they all caused me to be super dry or break out. Every morning, I moisturize with Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream. When I first moved to New York, my skin was reacting badly to the environment and humidity, and my friend was like, “THIS is the product.” It’s hydrating, but there’s no weird residue.

How do you like to relax at the end of a long day?
I like to light some of my favorite incense and close my eyes for a few minutes. I think a lot of people don’t like them because they can smell smokey or like something is on fire, but I’ve found one called Beckoning Spring that doesn’t smell like your typical incense at all. It’s pricey, but I love it. It’s so transportive.

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

What’s your bedtime routine?
I HATE bedtime routines. If I could do away with them completely, I would. By the time I get sleepy, I don’t want to go to the bathroom and put water on my face. It feels like there are 20 steps between getting tired and finally going to bed. If I’m watching a movie or reading, I won’t want to get up, so I won’t. I need to be more adult about it and start doing things earlier, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet!

Do you have a favorite scent?
I’m big on scents. I’ll usually choose one and wear it until it’s done. I’d been all about Byredo’s Rose Noir for the last couple years, but I just ran out and was keeping my nose open for a new scent. Then my husband gave me Le Long Fond perfume oil for Christmas, and I love it so much. I’ve already gotten used to it, so when I wear it I don’t notice it as much. But I wish I could smell it all the time!

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

Where do you stand on the issue of bath vs. shower?
I’m a die-hard bather. I grew up in a historic house in Provo, Utah, that was built by my great great grandfather in 1892. My parents made modern updates, but decided to keep the claw foot tub in favor of putting in a shower. I love baths so much that for my birthday, my husband rented a place upstate, just so I could take baths. It had a tub by a window (pictured above), and I took a bath in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening… I took five baths over the course of one weekend! I like to use simple epsom salts.

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

Do you have any style inspirations?
My husband, Zack, is an inspiration to me. He has like five shirts, but he knows exactly what works on him. He won’t buy something until he’s found the perfect thing, so he loves everything he owns. I wish I could be more like that!

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

What beauty secrets did you learn from your mom?
I used to make fun of my mom for never going out without “putting her face on.” But now that I wear makeup, I really respect her routine. She always has a really nice, neutral palette. Growing up, I thought it was boring and pointless. But now I share her philosophy of not looking like you’re wearing makeup necessarily, just enhancing your best traits. The one thing she impressed upon me was to do your best not to do irreversible things, because you might change your mind down the road.

Have you ever had any embarrassing beauty-experiments-gone-wrong?
In high school, it was trendy to get a body-wave perm. I wanted it to look loose and beachy, but of course I went to the stylist my mom had been going to for 20 years and I left with ramen-tight ringlets and a burn on my forehead from the perm solution.

My Beauty Uniform: Alpha Smoot

Last but certainly not least, what’s your overall beauty philosophy?
My philosophy can be summed up as “fewer, better things.” (I think Cuyana stole this from me, ha!) My philosophy toward products and care in general is, if it’s good quality and will last me a while, I’m willing to spend a lot. If it’s something that needs to be done or replaced a lot, then I won’t spend much. A lot of people enjoy having choices, but I’ve found that if I have too much, I won’t use it. I would rather have just a few things that work.

Thank you so much, Alpha! We love you.

P.S. More wonderful women share their beauty uniforms, and Alpha’s low-key New York City wedding.

(Photos courtesy of Alpha Smoot. Interview by Caroline Donofrio.)

  1. Tracy says...

    I love Cup of Jo and in the course of reading old posts found this – SO helpful. I also don’t want to look made-up, but I do want to look polished – or, at least better than I do au natural. I also think NARS Orgasm is the best blush ( I use the regular – not the duo because I’m not skilled in contouring). Based on this I bought the Diorshow mascara in dark brown – I got the waterproof version because I’m older and if I don’t get waterproof it smudges. I’ve tried LOT of mascaras and this is the best hands down. The Make Up Forever high definition powder is very good. I got the Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer in the oil free version and it is great. Thank you Alpha and CoJ!!!

  2. I just wanted to say that I bought the shampoo that Alpha mentions (based on her recommendation, obviously) and it is GREAT! I had always struggled with some annoyingly on-and-off dandruff, and regular dandruff shampoos never seemed to work that well, smelled terrible, and really dried my hair out. The brand she mentions — SACHAJUAN — is fantastic. It is still a bit drying, but it works really well and if you pair it with a moisturizing conditioner it’s just fine. It’s definitely pricer than drug store stuff, but I think it’s worth it.

    Anyway, I saw the recommendation here first, so I wanted to come back + confirm that it’s a good pick :)


  4. Kathy Wilson says...

    Great article. Thanks ! Love the simplicity of it. I am going to Sephora today to buy some beauty products.

  5. Hannah says...

    I love her, (and her mom) and in fact, I love all the real, wonderful women you choose for Beauty Uniform.

    • Kathy Wilson says...

      Me too! Love cupofjo. Very down to earth. Great advice.

  6. Maryse says...

    Girl crush.

    • I agree!

  7. Mary says...

    My bedtime routine kept getting longer (hello double washing fad). I got some old school Pond’s cold cream and haven’t looked back. It is gentle, takes off any makeup, and is super fast! Depending on your skin type you don’t even need to moisturize after.

  8. Lisa says...

    And now all I want is a claw foot tub…

  9. Caitlin says...

    I am TOTALLY with you on the bedtime routine, that was actually my New Year’s Resolution this year! I consistently fall asleep on the couch and then stumble into the bedroom at some point during the night without washing my face. I am really trying to change that habit because I know my skin will thank me later!

  10. I’m equally obsessed with Lucas’ pawpaw ointment and wrote about it for a blog post today! I love this series.

    mm x

  11. Maria says...

    Great post! Love the fotos and Apha’s beauty philosophy!

  12. Kristina says...

    I love everything about this interview and beauty uniform – the tone, the content and the pictures! Thank you, lovely ladies!

  13. Megan says...

    I would love to know what specific color you use in the YSL glossy stain? It looks like there are a lot of options! Thanks!

  14. Aga says...

    Oh, I heart this one so much!
    Thanks for introducing me to Cos, and a big fat YES on the night-time routine hate! I get sleepy as I’m reading/writing/netflixing in the evening/night, but by the time I get up, tidy up, pick out clothes for the next day, wash my face, brush my teeth, etc., etc., the night owl kicks in and I’m wide awake. So now, my night-time routine often happens around 7pm, BEFORE i sit down in the evening. That way when I do get sleepy, I just go from living room to bedroom without much mucking about and disrupting the sleep hormones. I do envy my partner’s (and all men’s) night-time routine: get tired; brush teeth; snoring.

  15. Thanks for such a newsy and informative piece once again! I’ve been using Nars Laguna bronzer and Orgasm blush for over a decade and agree it really is the best. I’ve had fun visiting Cos stores but haven’t found anything to take home yet. Hopefully next time. Thanks again – really, REALLY love your blog. It’s a daily routine must.

  16. Kaitlyn says...

    It’s interesting how many Mormon (presumption) women are featured on blogs

  17. Trying out a bunch of shampoos as a couple is so cute!

    Also…that Tricia costume = WOW

  18. So nice! I definitely need to follow that beauty philosophy!

  19. kate says...

    “If I have too much, I won’t use it” brb going to tattoo this on my arms and paint it on my walls. A simple line, but boy, it’s like a lightbulb just went on for me!

  20. Shannon says...

    I love Alpha! :) She has impeccable taste, and her portfolio of work is amazing! You should do another feature on her photography!

  21. Fewer better things.

    That’s what I’m going to stick to this year. Fingers and toes crossed!

  22. Amy P says...

    I have the same trouble with the bedtime routine, although last summer I finally figured it out. I have a snack at 8:30, brush my teeth and get ready for bed, and then go and watch a movie or read a book or whatever I need/like to do that evening. When I get tired, I can head straight to bed. It also helps me get to bed earlier, because before I’d stay up later and later avoiding the bedtime routine because I felt too tired to do it.

  23. Brooke Kunz says...

    hi alpha! you’re so cool and famous getting a whole post like this… :-) you’re a beauty!

  24. So usually I’m twitching when I read Interview-type posts. I don’t know why. All through college when I had to do assignments “Interview style” my throat would swell and I’d start twitching. lol BUT…..THIS WAS EVERYTHING! I loved it! Maybe Interviews aren’t so bad after all!

    I also loved the beauty products mentioned…alot of them are in my beauty routine as well! yay!

  25. I completely agree with Alpha’s beauty philosophy! This year I’m working on choosing quality over quantity.

    Kristi | Be Loverly

  26. i’m trying to cut down on my stuff and minimize, but it’s so much harder than it seems!
    love the orange is the new black halloween costume! amazing

    • S says...

      Oh my gosh mine too! Anyone have any suggestions on how to find a similar one? I assume it’s vintage but I’m not great at decades, etc. Help!

    • Ellen says...

      ASOS had (perhaps still have!) an incredibly similar one. Take a look there xo

  27. Lauren E. says...

    This is fantastic! I also absolutely hate my bedtime ritual. And my fiance so kindly said recently, “Hey, have you noticed how your bedtime routine seems to get longer and longer?” He fails to notice this coincides with getting older and older. :)

  28. elizabeth says...

    Great post. Also would have loved to hear the backstory on the name Alpha.

    • Because her last name is Smoot and she is from Utah, perhaps she is related to (and named after) Alpha May Eldredge Smoot, the wife of US Senator Reed Smoot!

  29. Love reading these types of interviews!

  30. melissa says...

    What a stylish gal. And now I get it–Smoot like Abraham O Smoot! (BYU grad here.) Cool.

  31. Yaaaass! Great job, Caroline (et al)! I’ve admired Alpha via Cup of Jo for years and this edition of “Beauty Uniform” really scratches my nosy itch. xx

  32. Tee says...

    I hate bedtime routines too (because when you are tired, beddy-bye), so I have a routine for after dinner where I put on my PPJs (these are my pre-pajama pants…I know) and wash my face and take out my contacts. That way, when it is bedtime, I brush my teeth and I am donezo.

    This also conditions my family to seeing me bare-faced so ‘camping me’ isn’t so scary. Haha

    • Emily says...


  33. Nicole Brant says...

    I loved Alpha’s wedding post so I am psyched to see this today!

  34. Lauren says...

    Love these posts!
    Is there anyway the brand of the beautiful blue dress at the beginning could be shared?

  35. Alpha Smoot, you are my style soul mate! We share the exact same opinions on makeup, clothes, hair, and style. I always wished I was more of a “makeup” and “fashion” person, but I’ve always trended towards simple but fitting looks that enhance my best features. I completely agree on owning “fewer, better things,” and have started culling my closet to make that happen.
    Thank you for this absolutely wonderful Beauty Uniform! I felt like I could have written this! :-)

  36. Summer says...

    The birthday trip so she could take a bath is sooooo sweet! Very cool article – and I love the name Alpha! I do wonder if she liked it growing up, and why her parents chose that name.

    • Aga says...

      Me too!

  37. jill c says...

    i love these posts…and Alpha Smoot’s was wonderful! love the simplicity and honestly!

  38. Annie says...

    I get so many good tips from the beauty uniforms. But no one wears eye-shadow. I need some recommendations!

    • Rachel says...

      I love Lo’real quads & Pixi Beauty palettes. You can find both at Target. For splurges, definitely Chanel!

  39. Love it – I’m a serial bather too! Ever since we moved to the Bay area and got a place with a claw foot tub- it would be a crime not to use it! And my boyfriend’s wardrobe sound a lot like Zack’s!

  40. I LOVE these beauty profiles! They introduce me to so many products and I always have such a blast trying new ones, esp new scents and perfumes.

    Really love the breadth of your blog, its such a treat during my day. Keep up the amazing work!

  41. Sasha says...

    Alpha’s beauty uniform is so refreshing, and it shows. I really love these kinds of posts! I love looking into trying some of the products that these ladies use.

    I loved all the incense while travelling in Japan, and this article just reminded me of it.

    It would be cool to see some posts from ladies who live in other cities too. I need a recommendation for a hairstylist in SF! haha

  42. Love this! ‘Alpha Smoot’ sounds like one of those glorious names out of Harry Potter. (I promise this is a compliment!)

  43. I love these kinds of posts! Great philosophy, less but better. I need to adopt that for myself.

  44. I hate bedtime routines too! Although, now that I have babies, I’m better at doing it for them- but have never mastered the art of washing MY face before bed. When I’m tired, I’m tired!
    And I am completely on the same page with buying less but “better” things for me. Thanks for the makeup ideas- I’m excited to check a few out! xoxo

  45. lindsay says...

    Alpha’s beauty philosophy is so refreshing. Love her as Grace Coddington! Amazing.

  46. What a delightful read! My fiancé is very similar to her husband – if something is not extremely comfortable and the perfect fit, he would never buy it. Therefore his closet is a fraction of mine, but he loves all of it. I love this idea of dressing – maybe someday I will get on board!


  47. Maywyn says...

    Thank you for the fantastic article Caroline and Alpha!
    I love the name Alpha Smoot! I would wear clothes with that name.
    I like Zack’s buying style.