In-store makeovers can be dangerous. You may end up looking beautiful in the store but clownish in normal light. Or you might give in to sales pressure and spend lots of money. If you do get a good makeup artist, a makeover can be a great way to learn new techniques and play with colors.
Who does the prettiest makeup? We tested four stores. At each, I said I wanted makeup for a formal event and would wear a little black dress.
Store: Ulta, 6575 Frontier Dr., Springfield; 703-971-7900. A beauty emporium stuffed with luxury and drugstore-brand cosmetics, hair, and skin products.
Makeover cost: free, although it is expected you'll spend $25
Store vibe: Young, fun, and casual, but many makeup testers were broken or messy.
Service: Though the store wasn't crowded, Nicol, the makeup artist, was pulled away twice to help at the register.
The makeover: After gauging how wild I was willing to go (orange eye shadow?) Nicol focused on my eyes. Without cleaning my skin, she blended a purple mix of Urban Decay shadows on my lids. Though I asked about foundation, she didn't use any. She finished with Studio Gear's sparkly rose blush and metallic mauve lip gloss.
Products I liked most: Studio Gear lip lacquer (Flirty, $14) and Bourjois Extra Lengthening Mascara (Noir, $12)
Cost If I'd bought everything: $107
My reaction: The dark-purple eyes were jarring. In natural light, the blush looked too strong for my fair skin. Though Nicol was nice, she was so busy that I hesitated asking her to change anything.
Store: Lancôme counter at Neiman Marcus, 5300 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-966-9700
Makeover cost: free, although it is expected you'll spend $50
Store vibe: Haughty. It took several minutes for the two saleswomen talking behind the counter to notice me.
Service: Lucy, the makeup artist, was upbeat, if brusque. She did more commanding ("Look up!") than chatting.
The makeover: Lucy removed my old makeup and moisturized my skin. She painted on pale foundation with a brush, then blended bright-pink and copper shadows on my lids. She gave my lips a soft, shiny lilac.
Products I liked most: Rénergie Lift foundation (Porcelaine 30, $36), Juicy Tubes lip gloss (Blueberry Blast, $15.50), Artliner eyeliner (Blueberry, $25.50)
Cost If I'd bought everything: $209
My reaction: I'd expected Lancôme to give the most matronly makeover, but I left looking fresh and modern. Lucy's color choice was spot-on. The only downside: The look required so many products.
Store: MAC, 3067 M St., NW; 202-944-9771
Makeover cost: product demo is free; $60 purchase for full makeover
Store vibe: Flashy and trendy. Glaring overhead lights make it hard to see what the makeup looks like on your face.
Service: Jerry, the makeup artist, seemed blasé.
The makeover: Jerry picked lavender and frosty pale green for my lids, a light purple lip gloss over neutral lipliner, and rosy pink blush.
Products I liked most: sheer blush (Coygirl, $16.50)
Cost If I'd bought everything: $66.50
My reaction: The look was too subtle for a formal event (it was more suited to a normal night out). I left wishing Jerry had spent more time and energy on me.
Store: Laura Mercier counter at Nordstrom, Montgomery Mall, Bethesda; 301-365-4111
Makeover cost: free
Store vibe: friendly, glad-to-help staff
Service: The two makeup artists were the most attentive of any I'd worked with–but the counter was so crowded that they were often pulled away.
The makeover: After my face was cleansed and moisturized, Marie asked which colors jumped out at me. I chose a copper and an iridescent blue for eye shadows. Marie taught me tricks to put on mascara–if you wiggle the wand at the base of your lashes, it makes them more defined–and applied "Laura Mercier's favorite" gloss-over-lipstickcombo.
Products I liked most: tinted moisturizer (Nude, $38), lip gloss (Champagne Glace and Rose Glace, each $18), lipstick (Primrose, $18)
Cost If I'd bought everything: $303
My reaction: I loved my glowing skin and smoky eyes–and Marie's honesty: When I asked about an exfoliator for my dry skin, she recommended an inexpensive drugstore brand.