IT WAS WITH some trepidation that I set out for my nearby department store cosmetics counter on my first venture into being "made over." After all, it takes a certain mix of self-confidence and self-depreciation, not to mention the ever-present threat of aging, to get up the courage to ask such perfectly primped saleswomen to "re-do" you.
But I did. And I found the experience so fascinating I did it again, this time dragging along a friend to confirm the "high" one can get from such self-indulgence.
After a third venture into the world of cleansers, toners, shadows, concealers and glosses, I began to see how these field trips to the cosmetics counter could become not only addictive, but also expensive. For while there is no charge for the makeover itself, you can't help but want to buy up all those cosmetics that made you feel so good.
Department stores pride themselves on offering makeovers as a regular service. And in fact, you can pretty much go to any product counter at any major department store any day of the week and get redone free of charge (they like to call it "complimentary"). It's possible, in fact, during slower hours, to just drop in and have your eyes done or to get a sampling of the new blushes.
"We probably do 20 to 30 of those mini-makeovers a week," says Kim Smith, account coordinator for Elizabeth Arden at the Hecht Co. in Towson.
But if you want a complete makeover, it's wise to make an appointment a couple days in advance to assure you'll get plenty of attention from the artist you want at the time you want.
Your "consultation," as some cosmetics lines like to call it, can take anywhere from 30 minutes to more than an hour, depending on how busy the staff is and how much you ask them to do. I asked for the works, and all three of my makeovers -- done by representative of Clinique, Estee Lauder and Yves St. Laurent -- lasted at least an hour. Keep in mind that most makeup artists double as salespeople, and if they're working the counter alone, they may have to wait on customers while they work on you.
For a complimentary makeover, you generally sit on a high stooright at the counter with a strong light overhead and a mirror nearby. Customers in the store can walk by and watch your face "evolve," although most really aren't that bold.
If you're really shy about sitting in public, most of the vendors hold special promotions a couple times a year in which consultants essentially give you a makeover in private. These personalized evaluations generally cost $25 to $50 (redeemable in products) and are conducted in a room off the sales floor.
But "public" makeovers needn't be intimidating. With the right attitude going in, this experience can be more fun than the time you raided mom's dressertop to paint your face a la Marilyn Monroe.
First of all, you should take a friend along. Schedule your appointments at the same time with two different people. Then, when it's all over, compare your "treatments." You'll be amazed at the differences -- and the similarities -- in style.
Make an "occasion" out of your makeover. Schedule it just before an evening out. That way you can test, and hopefully enjoy, the results. See if anyone at the affair notices your new eyes -- "so mysterious," "so big," "so different," etc.
During your makeover keep in mind that every line is out to sell its products. It's just that some are more obvious than others. I probably got the rundown on every item I'd ever want to use on my face, including cleansers, exfoliates, night creams, eye creams, sunscreens and some weird shades of eye shadow.
While the companies are alike in that way, they are unique in others. One might specialize in skin care products while another emphasizes new colors and still another excels in application techniques.
And every consultant's style is different. At the Clinique counter, I sat at a low counter across from my consultant, with a mirror by my side for ready reference. She instructed me, step by step, on what to use and how to use it and kept an extensive record on paper of how she "did" me.
Other consultants are more experimental. My Estee Lauder cosmetician treated my face more like an artist's canvas, if you will, and said she preferred to finish me completely before letting me look in the mirror. She tried a triple eye shadow combination, decided it was too blue and finished my eyes in only two colors. She found her first choice in lipstick too dark, so removed it and settled on a brighter pink.
At Yves St. Laurent, my consultant was more confident and visionary. She sized me up as too conservative and suggested I try bolder colors, like the bright red lipstick and black eye liner she put on me. Her makeover was the most dramatic.