LONG DISTANCE LOVE is a way of life for military couples, but celebrating Valentine's Day during war is not. The U.S. Postal Service has asked dependents to send letters, not packages, to their loved ones in the Middle East. Thus, gifts of flowers, jewelry and other romantic trifles are out of the question.
But strict mail restrictions cannot foil military wives, who are famous for cunning and creativity in tough times. And in the last few weeks, a number of women have come up with a beautiful Valentine idea; sending the gift of themselves. Glamour Foto, a makeover and photography boutique in White Marsh Mall, has seen a steady stream of military wives coming in for sophisticated photo packages they plan to send overseas as gifts.
The process at Glamour Foto is efficient and effective. In the course of two-and-a-half hours of makeup, hair-styling and accessorizing, every-day women with hints of stress lines on the forehead and frown lines at the mouth are transformed into doe-eyed, pouting beauties.
With a ruffle of taffeta tied around their shoulders to mimic an evening gown, the fledgling models are taken into a tiny photo studio in the boutique's rear, posed just so and snapped for the record. Most choose a photo package containing an 8-by-10 to be framed and displayed at home, plus an assortment of wallet-size snap shots perfect to insert in a Valentine card, and later carry in a soldier's wallet.
Prices for photo packages range from $60 to $250. Other photography studios around Maryland do glamour portraits. At Baltimore Washington Commercial Studio in Arbutus, the fee for a combined makeover and photography session starts at $205, rising with the number of photos ordered. Studio 1209 in Baltimore charges $95 to $100 for special "Operation Valentine" photo packages to be sent overseas that include makeover, a laminated 4-by-5 inch picture and a slide that comes in a souvenir-style telescope cube.
It seems no price could be too high for the wives who want their husbands to have a special present.
"I want my husband to take a look at the picture and say 'Wow, this is the girl I married.' Maybe this will rekindle some memories," said Barb Buchanan, who drove two hours from Dover, Del. with friends to have photo makeovers at Glamour Foto.
Buchanan has been married 10 years to a flight engineer who services C-5 giant cargo planes. She is a technical sergeant in operations resource management at Dover Air Force base.
"I consider myself one of the really lucky people because my husband flies to Saudi Arabia, but comes back," said Buchanan. He is overseas now, and will be away Valentine's Day.
These days, as a busy mother of two young children who also works full time, Buchanan hasn't had much time for makeup. She was astounded by the thick layer of pancake foundation Glamour Foto makeup artist Melissa Concannon used all over her face, neck, arms and decolletage. Concannon created a blank, seamless skin tone to give a photographic appearance of flawless skin.
The real drama began when Concannon began painting around Buchanan's eyes with dark, smokey hues.
"She's got gorgeous chameleon green eyes, so we are going tplay them up some," said Concannon.
"I came in wanting to look classic, but now I want to look wiland sexy," said Buchanan with a giggle.
In a chair nearby, Laura Wittenberg underwent a similar make-over. The pale, thin, 21-year-old misses her husband of two years, who was deployed to Saudi Arabia from Dover Air Force base last December to do maintenance on C-5 jets. Wittenberg writes letters from home where her 17-month-old son keeps her running.
The last time I put on makeup I was 15. My mom let me do it, so I said OK," said Wittenberg, who hasn't picked up a blush brush since.
"It's amazing what they can do to you," said Wittenberg, after sitting quietly for 30 minutes while a makeup artist worked. Seeing herself in a new, sultry light, would she ever try to recreate the look at home? "No way," said Wittenberg.
Pamela Carter, a nursing student from Aberdeen, came in to make a perfect picture for her husband, a reservist who works as a front line mechanic. He left home in early December to undergo training in California; Carter believes he is probably in Saudi Arabia by now.
"I gave him some Christmas pictures we took, but I'm wearing a bathrobe -- it's not like we ever got dressed up and took pictures," said Carter.
"I came out to feel better about myself," said Carter, who found two and a half hours of being pampered and painted just the remedy for her week that's filled with five days of school, two days of nursing internship and every-day mothering of a toddler.
AStaff Sgt. Valerie Henry, an activated reservist working at Dover Air Force Base, agreed that the glamour photos are a great break from the daily grind.
"You get tired of seeing yourself in uniform every day," said Henry, who chose the colors for her photo -- a froth of purple taffeta around her shoulders, and deep plum eye-shadow on her eyelids.
"In these shots, the eyes really make the picture," said makeup artist Lepena Powell. "Valerie selected purple colors and that was a good choice for her."