For some women (not me), getting glammed up for free at a makeup counter is a regular ritual. Most department stores provide the service gratis—along with sales pitches of varying intensity—as a way to move product. And even though I’m the type of gal whose eyes glaze over at the word “foundation” (unless we’re talking philosophy or construction), I also love free stuff—in my vegetarian years, my most painful trial was free samples of salami. So I decided to hit up the Macy’s at Fulton Mall three times, putting my usual undone look aside to find out how three different makeup artists might reimagine me.
Up to now, the closest I’d gotten to an actual makeover was while pretending to shop at Sephora. Every makeup counter operator had a different, very definite, idea of the “one thing” I needed, and here it was concealer under my eyes. The Estée Lauder girl proceeded to slather the stuff on like she was paving a sidewalk. With a solid mask of tan, she gave me the beigish eyeshadow, eyeliner for 80-year-olds, and pink tone makeover that taught me to never say “Well, I don’t really wear makeup, could you show me?” Where she did prove herself especially knowledgeable was in the application tips. Even though I didn’t love the palette, she gave me a crash course in putting on makeup—cheekbone contouring, etc.—that I will continue to refer to long after I rushed home to scrub off her handiwork.
When I do wear pigment on my face, it’s stage-worthy: green eyeliner, purple eyeshadow, and a lot of it. So when the game saleswoman asked, “So, do you want smoky, colorful…” I interrupted her and said “both.”
After picking a peacocky color-scheme and discussing ideas with me, she went to work. I thoroughly approved of the way she handled my skin—a problematic organ that everyone else caked with various powders and liquids. Not only that, but she was a good enough sport to sneak me around MAC’s policy that a customer is supposed to buy five items in exchange for a full-face makeover, or two products for an eyes-only transformation. Before the faint-hearted palpitate, I should explain that I encouraged the artist the whole time (I saw normally-done-up ladies there, too). I loved the new look and went as long as humanly possible without washing my face.
So far, my makeovers had been what I would have expected of the brands: Estée Lauder was, well, dated, and MAC was flamboyant. So what of Chanel? As my makeover purveyor laughingly told me, “Honey, Chanel is Chanel.” Pale silver eyeshadow, upper-lid-only eyeliner, barely-there lipgloss- I did feel very pre-war Parisian (walking through midtown Manhattan suddenly felt very appropriate), but I also felt like the subject of a Seventeen article—something like “Cool and Classy in 10 Easy Steps!”
The woman (the only person I met behind the counter older than 23) took her time giving me skincare pointers, and suddenly the world of toners and moisturizers started to become clear. Though my editor deemed this look the winner, to me the entire experience felt like a cosmetic ritual as old as cold cream—never to go out of style, never to appeal to me much.
So what did I learn from my experiment? If you are actually planning to stop by Macy’s on your way out, don’t leave your face completely in the hands of another. Try guiding them (“Oooh—I like that color! Can we try that?”). If you’re not ready for a whole new look, you might want to try your own hand at the testers. Those are free, too.