Makeover Week: How I Got A Makeover And Still Wound Up Looking Like Virginia

When I turned in the manuscript of my book (now titled The Power of Glamour, with publication set for next November), I thought I’d get a makeover, for two reasons. The first was practical. I’d been on a sort of hair-dressing strike and hadn’t had a haircut in nine months or seen a colorist in nearly two years. The second was intellectual. The makeover is modern glamour—or glamorous modernity—distilled to its essence: transformation made possible by expertise.

Glamour isn’t a style. It’s something you feel. You’re flipping through a magazine and suddenly feel transported: that dress, that room, that vacation spot, those shoes—something speaks to you, pulls you into the scene, and makes you feel that if only you inhabited that alternative reality, life would be perfect. That’s glamour at work. It makes the ideal seem attainable.

To an audience gazing at before and after pictures or the “reveal” scene in a movie or reality show, the glamour of the makeover taps two longings: to be beautiful, certainly, but also to be truer to your inner ideal. The outward transformation signifies, and enables, movement toward a better life.

But what if you just want to look better? And what if the expert you trust with your public self makes you into someone you don't identify with? Movies and reality shows play that tension for drama and laughs. In the dramatic reveal in Miss Congeniality, the once-slovenly FBI agent Gracie Hart struts out of the aircraft hanger where she’s been worked on by a dozen pink-clad beauty experts. She swings her perfectly styled tresses and attracts admiring male stares with her short, skintight dress. But the new Gracie—who looks remarkably like Sandra Bullock—is as grouchy as she is beautiful. The makeover wasn’t her choice, and she hasn’t embraced her new persona. “I am in a dress,” she growls to her amazed partner. “I have gel in my hair, I haven’t slept all night, I am starved, and I’m armed. Don’t mess with me.”

Thinking about the possible results of a real-life makeover, I knew I wouldn’t wind up looking like a movie star or supermodel. But I worried that I might not look like myself. Makeovers and I didn’t have a happy history. The closest thing I’d come to “before and after” were the beauty treatments I got in the run-up to my 1986 wedding. When my mother treated me to a makeup lesson at a modeling school in my South Carolina hometown, I repaid her generosity by freaking out at the heavy-handed results. The new look seemed to represent everything I wanted to escape by hightailing it out of the South. And when I had my hair styled for my bridal photos, I spent the ride from the hairdresser to the photographer combing out my hair and complaining, “I look like a country music singer!”

This time, I chickened out. I got a basic trim, went back to my old colorist, and waited for my editor’s comments—which, quite unintentionally, reopened the subject. As I revised the manuscript, I decided it needed a short sidebar on “The Makeover.” Along with research that included movies, books, and reality shows, I wanted to interview someone who did them.

The easiest way to do that was to book a makeover with Diane Gardner, a Santa Monica hair-dresser and makeup artist who specializes in makeovers and had rave reviews on Yelp. I could see how she works and, while my color set, ask her questions. (DG ran an edited version of our interview on Tuesday.) And that’s what I did.

Fortunately, Diane is not from the Eddie Senz school of bossy makeovers. After talking with me a little about what I wanted in my hair—longish and blonde with a white streak, but not one quite as large as nature supplies—she proposed putting a bit more color next to my face and blending a highlight and lowlight with the white. Cutting the length so that it hit my shoulder blade would give the hair movement—a clever idea if you don't want to go above the shoulders.

Virginia Postrel before and after makeover by Diane Gardner

My before and after, by Diane Gardner

My simple skincare routine—Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Anti-Blemish Cleanser in the morning shower and an Olay facial cloth (cut in half) at night, plus plenty of sunscreen—met with Diane's approval. A Chanel devotee, she recommended Chanel Vitalumiere foundation in Ivoire/Gentle Ivory, for its light-reflecting properties. Rub it in with your fingers, like a moisturizer, she told me.

Next, she lined my eyes with Chanel's creamy eye liner pencil in Blue Jean, a navy with a bit of shimmer. She put a light, pinkish shadow from the corner of each eye toward the middle, then a darker color from the middle outward, blending the two to avoid a sharp line. (Chanel's Berry/Rose pairing works well.) Don't extend the shadow beyond the eyeball, she instructed, or your eyes will look droopy. She used L'Oreal Voluminous mascara in black-brown on my top lashes and Maybelline Lash Discovery mascara with the all-important mini-brush on my bottom lashes.

She put Chanel Rose Bronze powder blush just under my cheekbone and the apples of my smile, with a touch along the jawline. Finally, the most important element: Chanel Correcteur Perfection Long Lasting Concealer in #10 beige claire. Dot it on, she advised, and let it dry a minute so it won't run. A bit of light lipstick and some translucent powder finished off the look.

At the end of the process, I had what I'd hoped for: a better, more polished version of myself.

Don't forget to enter our special Makeover Week giveaway of IntésivEye eye-makeup remover pads. Details at the post below.