“I joked once that I’m the Forrest Gump of politics, because I was with Bernie in the ‘90s, before anyone knew who the fuck Bernie was, and then I worked for John Kerry, and then Barack Obama. I always just wanted to be around someone who was inspiring every day—I wasn’t waiting to see who would win a presidency. Actually, I picked Obama because I never thought he’d run for president—after Kerry, I never wanted to be that heartbroken again. I thought, he is the junior senator from the state of Illinois whose middle name is Hussein. We’re not running for president any time soon. And then he did.
At the White House I was Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations—I had the rank of a three-star general and oversaw the 3,500 members of the military that support Air Force One, Camp David, and Marine One. This was such a big job—I mean, it was a main character on The West Wing. When I thought about it, I was like, ‘I can’t be Josh Lyman.’ I went in and was like, ‘I really appreciate everyone’s support of me, but I really think someone else should have this job,’ and I gave a list of people—using any conventional wisdom in Washington DC, my name would not have been on that list. I was dead serious. The President phoned down for me to come see him, and he was like, ‘You’re doing this. We good?’ I was young, I was a woman, I hadn’t worked in the White House before—but Obama did not care. It is so rare that women are given the benefit of the doubt.
After six years in the White House, I was tired. And I also thought that I had been so lucky—I met the Queen, I went to Nelson Mandela’s funeral, I met the Pope. Someone else deserved that experience, and Barack Obama deserved the energy of a new person. We had a philosophy where if I got hit by a bus, my workplace should not be impacted—people should know where things are, the status of things. So the minute I left I was like, ‘They’re going to miss me, they’re going to call me,’ but no one calls you, because it’s fine. That was hard, but it’s how it should be. My most recent project is the book tour for my book, So Here’s The Thing, and I’m the cohost of a podcast on Crooked Media called Hysteria, which is awesome. I see a lot of shows on Broadway with my mother, because I try to pick activities where you can’t look at your phone or people will boot you out. I will get on Twitter, and read the same story by five different people. I mean, what the fuck? The problem is, you follow the people on Twitter that you follow, and sometimes they retweet people or things trend, but then it’s what everyone’s reading. If you’re flipping through an actual newspaper, sometimes you’ll see something you wouldn’t have searched for otherwise. We have to do better about being more well-rounded—I do think it matters.
When I was an intern in ’96, if you were a woman who wanted to be on the House floor, you had to wear a skirt and pantyhose. I really felt I had to act a very specific way. Entering the White House with Obama, he was like, ‘I don’t care what you’re wearing, you’re getting the job done.’ When we were dealing with crazy things, if I came in in corduroy pants and a puffy vest, POTUS never said a word. The more that I could actually be myself, the more successful I was, because I wasn’t putting up a façade. I think that we have come a long way, but women are still judged for what they wear. But it’s a double-edged sword—my style’s my style, and I don’t want to not have style so people don’t talk about me.
In high school I wore a little makeup, in college I actually wore a lot of makeup. But there was something very freeing about making the decision that my face was fine the way it was. I keep a little with me just in case I’m really sick one day—I just want to look alive. I bought this Age Perfect Cell Renewal Rosy Tone Cream because Helen Mirren does the commercials. It’s a little rosy, and it makes you glow a little bit. You just put a little Cell Renewal on, a little bit of blush, and you’re TV ready. For color on my cheeks, I use the Glossier Cloud Paint in Puff and Beam—Beam is for summer, and Puff is for winter. Why? I don’t know! I’m not saying I make sense, that’s just what I do. Lip Salve from Boots is my favorite chapstick, and whenever I go to the UK I buy them at the duty free. It’s got a nice surface area, and it doesn’t have any flavor, which I like.
My hair is entirely gray. I only wash it once a week—maybe every five days, depending—because of the hair color. I also don’t wash it that much because then I have to blow dry it with a round brush. It looks like ass if I don’t, and you can tell. I’ve gone to Little Axe in Williamsburg for many, many years, and I go to Salune in Columbia County because I have a house up there. They introduced me to Hair Story, and I’ve been trying the New Wash once a week. My hair has very uneven textures on either side, and the New Wash is really evening it out. I was shocked. The only other hair products I have are Oribe—I use it, I love it, I can’t pronounce it. I have Dry Texture Spray, the Plumping Mousse, and the Beach Shine. I’m leaving on Sunday to go to the west for my book tour, so I’ll dry my hair on Sunday, use some product, and it will hold me until I get back. I also have their dry shampoo, the Gold Lust. Let’s be honest. I don’t necessarily shower every day. But if I am in the shower, I have many shower caps so that I spare my hair—it’s very sexy. I like the kind I get for free in a hotel.
I wash my face with either the sulfur EradiKate cleanser or the Skinceuticals Soothing Foam Cleanser. Also, I still believe in Pond’s Cold Cream to wash my face. It’s a nostalgia thing that makes me feel good, and if it doesn’t make me break out, fine. Two or three nights a week I exfoliate with my favorite product, ExfoliKate. It’s not too abrasive, because I do get some zits. I break out from my period—these guys, right here. Can’t fucking get rid of them. Which is why I also indulge in facials. I go to Rescue here, which is how I started using P50 1970. I couldn’t love it more. I never believed in toner—I thought it was a hoax—but I really do feel like this has improved my skin tremendously. Even when I get my period zits now, I get one instead of two. In Rhinebeck I go to Haven, where they do a Skinceuticals facial. I use Skinceuticals eye cream, and their Metacell Renewal B3 serum. The Vitablast C moisturizer from M-61 is good but I don’t use it all the time—maybe twice a week. Sometimes my skin just looks dry, but I don’t want to overcorrect and put on more moisturizer, so I just use Evian mist. I have the Hanacure, too—genius. You look horrible, and you’re like, ‘My skin looks like an asshole,’ and then you look beautiful.
Three mornings a week I go to a trainer—I’m getting older, and I do believe in so much of what I’m reading about bone density and strength. My dad had colon surgery, and he recovered in a third of the time they said he was going to because he was in such good shape. It was pretty inspiring for me. I really suffered from back pain in the White House, which I took medicine for, but I’ve actually solved all of my back pain just from having a trainer and working out. I’ve strengthened my pecs, a lot of my back muscles, and my core strength. I’m very strong now, and I love it. The minute that you get to that point—you go over the edge where you’re like, ‘I’m strong’—then it’s addictive. I do feel bad if I travel and don’t train, but it’s like, ‘Oh, but I’m so tired, and there’s room service…’
I’m pretty basic in the shower. I love bar soap. I used to get my favorite one at this store in Williamsburg called In God We Trust, but they stopped making it. It smells like neroli, but it also has a lot of texture in it, so it exfoliates. This Fresh scrub is for emergencies only. It makes it look like a crime scene in the shower because it’s such a mess. I have real dry skin patches on my elbows and on my feet, so maybe once a month I’ll scrub down and use La Roche-Posay Lipikar—it’s a thick moisturizer. Otherwise I use Nature’s Gate Hemp Body Lotion. It doesn’t really have a smell, but it doesn’t have no smell, and there are no parabens. Sometimes at night if I have cramps I use my marijuana cream, which is from California. You just rub it on your tummy, and all of a sudden your cramps are gone. Like, why is this not legal? I also like the Lord Jones CBD lotion—I mean, the actual THC cream is better, but this works.
This is important, this changed my life—Cora tampons. These are purely, totally, 100-percent organic, and when I started using them, my cramps got 50-percent better. I couldn’t believe it. You can actually get them on Amazon now, and they’re not much more than regular tampons. I liked them so much that I invested in the company. Another thing that’s really important is Polysporin—I have dry skin on my hands no matter what I do, and I get cuts. If I put a little Polysporin on, it usually goes away. I always have my saline nasal mist, because I always have issues with my sinuses. It makes a huge difference—probably 50-percent of the time I don’t have to use medicine. And I’m obsessed with fresh breath, but I don’t love minty. The Aesop mouthwash tastes good—it’s clove-y. And I use the Marvis licorice toothpaste, but I’m out of it. It’s weirdly refreshing.
I don’t want to be someone who gets a pedicure and a manicure all the time. I want it to be more of a treat. I learned how to cut them and file them, and I got a cuticle scissor, and I do an OK job when I do it myself. When I do get a manicure, I do the buff and shine. If you go back, Carrie Bradshaw never wore nail polish—I always thought that was so cool. It just looks fresh, and it never clashes with your outfit. Also, if I do get a color and they chip when I’m traveling, I get upset looking at it. I always keep little removal pads in my travel kit.
I only wear two scents. Every day, I wear patchouli dark I get on Amazon. It’s got a bad rap, but it just makes me feel very calm. 2012 was a reelection year, so I went to Paris fashion week to do an expats fundraiser. I met this woman—she had on Carnal Flower. I was obsessed. And I never, ever care about perfume. We went to Frederic Malle the next day to get it. It just smells good.”
—as told to ITG
Alyssa Mastromonaco photographed by Tom Newton in New York on March 6, 2019.