And with that I've learned a very important lesson about how a woman buys makeup, and what it takes to sell it: If you can't quickly give her exactly what she wants, or at least offer an alluring facsimile, she leaves, pronto. The salespeople at the Bobbi Brown counter evidently know this very well, because in my several hours there, I saw no one go away empty-handed (except—sorry, Bobbi—Ms. Freit Shimmer).

Another middle-aged woman approaches me. (Are they attracted to me because I'm also middle-aged, and therefore less threatening in some way?) "What brings you to Bobbi Brown today?" "I came with a list, actually," says this woman. "Oh, how nice—for gifts?" I ask. "No," she says, "all for me, actually." She digs around in her bag and pulls out a large, white, lined sheet of paper. "Okay," she says, "I need a shimmer brick, and a bronzer blush, and a foundation, and I need to replace this old lipstick." She extracts from her bag a Bobbi Brown lipstick that has been rubbed right down to a nub; it's a very well-appreciated lipstick. A salesperson has magically appeared behind me. "What's your name?" she asks. It's Beth, and Beth is graciously invited to have a seat. "I'm running out of time," she says casually as she arranges herself on the high chair. "You'll be more comfortable," says the salesperson, who, between soliciting the information she needs from Beth about what she's looking for and gathering products, applying them with the speed and precision of a skilled surgeon, has made Beth look absolutely radiant. She buys more than she had on her list; nevertheless, she's quite pleased. The curious, captivating thing is: If you saw her, you would understand. She looks as if she's just returned from a long, relaxing vacation in a warm climate. Her entire demeanor has shifted from pressed to pacific. The transformation is remarkable, and she knows it. But neither Beth's transformation nor Phyllis's have come from the makeup alone. For a short time in a day most likely spent taking care of others, they have been well taken care of themselves, asked about their preferences, their feelings, their needs. Where else does this so reliably happen to a woman than at the makeup counter?

And where else do we so reliably celebrate our potential to be beautiful, which reminds us we're here, alive, in the game. Making up, brightening and revitalizing our looks—the skill and the artfulness of it—can be one of the most exhilarating of women's sports. No wonder we love shopping for a delicate baby pink blush, a cool dove gray eyeliner, a rich mauve lip gloss—makeup is the equipment, the sport gear that keeps us happily in play.


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