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People Almost Met: Vera at the Cosmetics Counter—The Makeover

Inspirational essays and articles, with a touch of humor, are favorite topics for Ms. Giordano, a writer and public speaker.

People Almost Met: The Ladies at My Makeover

This story is one of a series about people whom I have almost met. The stories are about chance encounters with someone that lasts only a brief minute or two, but makes an indelible impression. It’s about encounters that in a small way change my life.

The Makeover

The encounter is too brief for an exchange of names. We may speak or touch, but we haven’t really met—hence the title, “People Almost Met.”

This story is about some ladies whom I almost met one day at Dillard’s, a department store with stores in Florida (where I live) and other Southern and Mid-Western states. I met the ladies when I received a “make-over” at the Lancome cosmetics counter. We might have exchanged names; if so the names were forgotten before I even left the store. What was not forgotten was the lesson about vanity.

I Went to the Lancome Counter.

As I entered the store using the entrance inside the mall, the illuminated cosmetic counters seemed to stretch from one end of the store to the other. Overhead, there were signs with the names of the various brands: Lancome, Estee Lauder, Clinique, and others.

In department stores, the cosmetics department is always at the front of the store. It is done this way to entice women into making an impulse purchase. Beauty is big business. In the United States alone, cosmetic sales amount to close to $50 billion a year.

I choose the Lancome counter because I had used their products before and because they were having a “Gift-with-Purchase” promotion. If I spent $35.I would get a cosmetic bag filled with an assortment of beauty products--all free. Everyone likes a free gift. Even the beautiful people, the movie stars, love to sweep up free swag.

The Lancome counter, like every other counter, was covered with an array of makeup, creams and lotions, fragrances, descriptive charts, and samples. Despite the huge number of items, there was no clutter. Everything looked clean and fresh and very appealing.

Hope in a Bottle

It's called "hope in a bottle."

It's called "hope in a bottle."

They Call It “Hope in a Bottle.”

I had entered a fantasy. All those products and colors! There was magic here to make me beautiful. There was magic here to change my life. Surely a beautiful person must have a beautiful life.

The phrase “hope in a bottle” most likely started with Charles Revson, a co-founder of Revlon. He said, “In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.”

Today, I was in the department store to buy some expensive hope. Are department store cosmetics (premium) brands better than drugstore (mass market) brands? Sometimes they are even made by the same company. For instance, Lancome makes L’Oreal, a drug-store brand. Is the price the only difference between the two?

Some people say there is no difference; some say the department store brands are better quality, but it is still not worth paying the extra money; some say department store brands are definitely better; some say it depends.

I wanted to splurge. I wanted the purchase of the cosmetics to be an “occasion.” I wanted expensive beauty. Surely expensive products would make me feel more beautiful than the bargain brands.

It was the middle of the day on a weekday. There weren’t any other customers. I found the “beauty-adviser”—not a sales clerk like they have in department stores—I would be doing my buying from a beauty professional.

I Asked For a Make-Over.

In department stores, the customer can sit in a cushy swivel chair and have the beauty adviser do her makeup. As I slid into the chair, I felt like a movie star. Tell the director I’m “in make-up” getting ready for my big scene. (The free makeover isn’t exactly free—while the women being made-over are not required to purchase anything, they usually do. I ended up spending close to $200 that day.)

The beauty adviser, I’ll call her Darla, began by taking a cotton ball soaked in toner, to clean my face. She then applied moisturizer. Now my face was ready to be transformed.

First she applied primer. This is a colorless lotion to make the skin nice and smooth. Then base and blush (foundation and rouge as they were called when I was young) were applied with brushes. Under-eye concealer came next. The eyes needed eyeliner, three different colors of eye shadow, eyebrow powder, mascara, lip primer, lipstick, and lip gloss. A dusting of loose powder finished it all off.

The Eye Accented with Eyeshadow

The beauty adviser went too far with the eye shadow.

The beauty adviser went too far with the eye shadow.

After Each Step, I’d Look in the Mirror.

The base looked fine, evening out the color of my facial skin, hiding blemishes and brown spots. The blush highlighted my cheekbones and added a youthful glow.

However, I had a problem when we got to the eye shadow. I had chosen a silver-grey shade of eye shadow. Darla made me look like I had taped a silver teaspoon to my eye. When I saw it, I took a tissue from the box on the counter and wiped most of it away. She looked dismayed as I wiped away her artistry.

“All I need is a slight glow,” I told her. She silently picked up the eye shadow applicator and reapplied the color with a lighter touch.

In 30 minutes time, the cosmetics had worked their magic. I was very pleased as the plain me was submerged and the new improved me emerged.

“What a Transformation. You Look Beautiful.”

Those words were spoken by the beauty adviser from the Estee Lauder counter. (I’ll call her Vera.) I hadn’t noticed, but the beauty advisers from the other counters, having nothing else to do because there were very few customers that afternoon, had been watching my progress. They all chimed in along with Vera with compliments. Music to my ears.

I looked in the mirror. It was true. I looked radiant. I decided I looked ten years younger.

“I’m looking pretty good for a 68-year old woman,” I said, to Vera.

I’m vain about not looking my age. I’m lucky to have been born with Mediterranean skin, compliments of my Italian grandmother—it doesn’t crack and wrinkle as much as fair skin

Vera repeated, “You look beautiful.”

I gently chided her. "Your supposed to say, 'You don't look 68.'"

Looking in a Mirror

I admire my new look in the mirror.

I admire my new look in the mirror.

I Assessed Vera's Appearance.

Vera looked to be about my age.

She was petite and thin with short very dark brown hair. Her dark eyes were accentuated with heavy eyeliner and lots of green eye shadow and dark mascara. Her face was very obviously made-up, too much dark blush on her cheeks, and bright red lipstick.

I suppose the beauty advisers are required to wear a lot of make-up. They have to show off the product and set the example. However, all I thought when I saw her was, “Older women should not wear so much make-up.”

Darla, who had just applied my makeup, also wore a lot of makeup. She was a beautiful young woman, in her early 20’s, of indeterminate ancestry. Her eyes suggested Asian, but her skin color hinted of African. Her round face was unblemished, her skin as smooth and dark as a glistening plum. Like Vera and the other beauty advisers, she looked obviously made up, but on her young face, it looked good. She looked dramatic.

Secretly, I Was Comparing Myself to Vera.

Vera had wrinkles. It probably wasn’t too hard for her to read my thoughts. She said:

“YOU are supposed to say, ‘Thank you.’”

Now the color in my cheeks was due to more than makeup. I was caught out. My vanity was showing.

A poll for the ladies:

Makeup can make a woman feel more feminine and more sexy.

Makeup can make a woman feel more feminine and more sexy.

A Comparison of Department Store and Drug Store Cosmetics

Are department store cosmetics worth the extra money. It depends. In some cases the better quality is important, and in some cases it is not very important. In some categories, there really are no, or only minor, differences.

This website gives excellent information to help you decide if you should spend the extra money or not.

Drugstore vs. Department Store Makeup: Whose Product Is Better?

A Lancôme Makeover

© 2015 Catherine Giordano