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Color Me Bad

A mom's makeover experience

The last time I updated my look was in the mid-'80s. My college buddy Karen and I spent an afternoon at a Clinique counter, returning home with pale green boxes that held the promise of matte skin and eyes that "popped" like Heather Locklear's. But the decade ended and so, it seemed, did our interest in makeup that evoked tropical plumage. A couple of weeks ago, however, Karen called to tell me she was considering surgery for her eyelids. "Haven't you noticed that my lids are flapping down over my eyes?" she asked.

"Not really."

"Well, they are. Have you looked at yours lately?"

I went to the mirror and considered. My lids were staying put, but it did seem that my eyes were sinking farther into my head. Another few years and I'd look like one of those old-people dolls made out of stuffing and panty hose. I'm not a surgery kind of gal — mostly because of the whole slicing-and-sewing-flaps-of-skin part — so I decided on a less invasive approach: a simple department-store makeover. I'd been embracing a drugstore-aisle look that could be slapped on in a minute and a half, and it was time to up my game.

I made an appointment at Chanel, a brand I chose because it screamed classy luxury. I wanted something not too frumpy, not too edgy. (I'm a mom of two and wary of trying too hard to prove I can still fly my freak flag.)

I told my makeup artist Cheryl that I wanted a slightly heightened look for an evening out. Cheryl, whose substantial makeup hinted she was a woman who started her evenings at 2 a.m., covered my face with moisturizer, then layered on a "primer" to help the makeup glide on. I was surprised by the extreme dewiness and felt lubed enough to slide down a grassy hill on my face. I also wondered whether the primer was a ruse to sell two moisturizers instead of one, but I had to admit I liked the way it made my skin glow. She followed with foundation and pink blush, then started on my eyes.

This was where I was looking for some magic. Cheryl recommended a compact of shades that fell into my usual palette of earth tones: a bronze base, brown for the crease, and a deep green liner.

Unfortunately, most of Cheryl's handiwork disappeared when I opened my eyes and my lids vanished into my cavernous sockets. With the mascara, my eyes seemed to recede even further, glinting from somewhere deep in my skull.

I was looking a little transgendered, but I felt compelled to be gracious because I wanted Cheryl to like me. And maybe this was just a look I wasn't used to. Wasn't that the idea? A different look than the one I was used to?

Buoyed by possibility, I bought the primer, the shadows, and the Aqua-­ lumiére Sheer Colour Lipshine, and tried not to think about how much more bang I got for my buck back in the '80s.

I met my brother for a drink before I had to get back to the kids. I'm pretty sure no one at the bar noticed my dramatic new persona. Then again, I might have missed it through the webs of mascara. And let's remember I live in Los Angeles, where one local had cosmetic surgery so she'd look more like her dog. (I couldn't make this stuff up.)

The next morning I used the new high-end products with some of my crappy old stuff to tone down the look. I was hoping for a newer, fresher me, with just a little less "aging hooker." When my face was fully baked, I demanded of my husband Pat, "Look at me." This is always his cue to acknowledge what's different. He scanned my face warily, then looked me up and down. "You look . . . nice," he said safely.

Pat thinks I look "nice" no matter what, which is both comforting and maddening. I decided to find it comforting and leaned over for a goodbye kiss. He turned his cheek before I could plant one and said, "Lips too sparkly."

That afternoon, when I was shopping for stuff for the kids, I caught myself in the mirror. My skin looked glowy, and I liked that. But what was that glinting above my lip? Tiny sparkles had flaked off the lipstick and landed beneath my nose, forming a glitter mustache that would prove mostly unresponsive to both washcloths and baby wipes. A few sparkles hung on until that night, when they fell onto my pillow while I slept, as if I'd had a visit from the Crafting Fairy.

Normally I'm shy about returning things. People pleasers like me make do with what they get. But niceness be damned, this was a $27 lipstick. I brought my sons with me to bring back the offending item, and the boys helped me choose a color that ultimately came very close to my usual natural shade. Spence, my 8-year-old, read off the names of the lipsticks and impressed the saleslady by correctly pronouncing "naïve." "Most adults don't even pronounce it right," she said. I patted my son's head, then caught my reflection in a mirror. I looked fantastic. But was it iridescent primer or goofy pride?

Counter Point

Jocelyn Biga, manager for Estée Lauder at Bloomingdale's, Lenox Square Mall, Atlanta, lays it on us.

"It's a makeover, not a make-the-same! But people are afraid of change. I want a customer to be honest with me. The last thing I want is for somebody to leave my chair unhappy. "I am not a pushy salesperson. Sometimes customers just really want to learn. But some are there just to get a [free] Saturday-night makeover, and we can always read those. They're cruising around the floor like [innocently], 'I need a makeover, does anybody here do makeup?' "Less is more. I love DayWear Plus. It's a tinted moisturizer that always adapts to your skin tone, so it goes from summer to winter. "I had a lady who'd just had a divorce, and she needed a whole new transformation. And I gave it to her, and her confidence level went from 0 to 10. And she cried. It made me cry, and everybody else there too. Those moments make my life. I mean, my job."

Retro Beauty Book: The Masters Way to Beauty,

Written in 1977 by famed beauty expert George Masters — the man who would turn Dustin Hoffman into Tootsie — this tome is half old-Hollywood dish, half plucky how-to. When I first pulled it from my mother's shelf as a kid, I couldn't believe how glamorous adult life was going to be: I'd feed my makeup man steamed clams while he sewed paillettes onto my jumpsuit, as Ann-Margret does on page 88. Now, I don't know how your adult life is going, but mine almost never requires a sparkling jumpsuit. Over the years, however, I have thought many times of George Masters and his tips; to wit, that one should rinse without squinting, and eat a youth-promoting daily clove of garlic as Merle Oberon did (swallow, don't chew). Recently I reread the book and was pleased to learn some things still ring true.

  • "Men don't understand chic. They understand beauty and glamour." (Does your husband hate all your Japanese-peasant linen separates? Now you know why.)
  • " I'm convinced that sugar ages you." (Years later, science would attest that sugars can damage collagen connections.)
  • " Place the tip of the tongue on the roof of your mouth as far back as it will go." (An instant chin-lift; try it the next time someone takes your picture.)

Of course, not all the advice holds up. There are the facial exercises designed to be executed with a cigarette or a martini (really), and if you want a big fat laugh, read the advice on man-pleasing makeup that's appropriate for bedtime. (It's worth noting that though Masters dated a client on occasion, he was a bachelor and dedicated the book to his dog Bones.) But I still love The Masters Way to Beauty because the real stars aren't the bombshells but the self-styled dames, like "buck-toothed" socialite Cappy Badrutt, who bewitched moguls and maharajahs nonetheless. Masters, who died in 1998 at 62, loved women not for their faces (which were just canvases) but for the stories they told about themselves. "True feminine beauty peaks with worldly experience," he writes. Thus, the book's real lesson: that allure is not measured in paillettes.

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