Admit it. haven't you sometimes thought to yourself, "If I had the kind of money that Meryl Streep has to hire the best in hair and makeup, I could look that good?"

Well, in many cases, it's probably true. There are a handful of models and actresses who look fabulous in any old sweat shirt and a face devoid of makeup, but a great many more require the expertise of high-paid hair, makeup and wardrobe artists -- and flattering camera angles -- to achieve their memorable image.

(Remember, old photos of Marilyn Monroe or Madonna as their original brunet selves? Neither was quite as breathtaking as their painted, platinum versions.)

We interviewed top make-over experts to find out what the average person can do to make the most of their looks, without the budget of a movie star.

The most frequent piece of advice was "make the most of your assets, don't try to camouflage them."

(After all -- to keep things in perspective -- model Linda Evangelista and actresses Cher and Demi Moore all lost their distinctiveness when they tried to switch from brunet to blond).

Model Laura Cayouette, featured here, had already posed for several photographers before sitting for our make-over feature.

"Her hair is beautiful and naturally curly, so we decided to make the most of it," says photographer Samantha Swann. "But before, when she used to walk into studios, people would always sigh and say, 'Whatever are we going to do about your hair?' And they would straighten it and slick it back.

A former model herself, Ms. Swann recalls that while modeling in her 20s in Europe she used to try to imitate others to the detriment of her own natural strengths.

"Jan Stephens [the makeup artist for the photograph] was a really big model then -- she had about 11 magazine covers come out all at once. And I used to sit beside her and try to copy her makeup. But she had very dark hair and pale skin and I was blond and tan and I always ended up looking awful whenever I tried to imitate what she did. Even now, she can get away with three times more makeup than I can."

In her expert observations of cosmetic application, she says the most common mistakes women make are applying either no makeup at all or too much.

Another frequent error she sees is a failure to make new changes as a woman ages and styles change.

"Maybe they've done something successfully at some point in high school when they're young and pretty," she says, "but then they never modify the look to take into consideration that they're 30 or 40 and not 15 anymore -- the makeup might be too heavy or the hairstyle too structured for today."

At David Kibbe's Metamorphosis salon in New York City, which has been featured on Oprah Winfrey and the Sally Jessy Raphael TV shows, a transformation can last nearly 12 hours and cost $400.

Clients discover their bone structure, their most flattering hair color and wardrobe shades, receive two hours of instruction in cosmetic application and are even advised as to their most appropriate customized fragrances.

One of most frequent myths the salon staff has come across since it opened 10 years ago, says manager Madeleine Griffin, is "everybody thinks they look good in black. But really, only true winters should wear black."

The other popular myth, she says, is that "as you get older your hair should get lighter; we don't believe that at all.

"David's philosophy is that there are no such things as flaws, one must learn to accept oneself as one is. Heavy women come in thinking he's going to tell them to lose weight, but he doesn't. He'll show them how to wear clothes that are right for them and suddenly they look like they've lost 20 pounds."

Something as simple as correctly blow drying your hair can make a significant improvement in one's appearance, says Laurie Kvech, manager of Gloria Brennan's The Salon in Pikesville, where make overs run closer to $160.

"You can get the most volume from your hair if you apply the mousse or gel -- or whatever it is you use that's best for your type of hair -- starting at the scalp and then moving out with less lTC at the ends. You should then also blow in the opposite direction from which the hair is going to fall. People can also save time, if they only use the brush after they've dried the hair. You just style with a brush when it's damp."

Incorrect blush application is another common problem, she says. "Many women spread it over the entire cheek, but depending on the face, it should go just beneath and just above the cheek bone."

Correct application of lipstick and selection of eye shadow are two areas where women can learn a great deal, according to Ms. Brennan, owner of The Salon.

Too often, she says, an eye shadow is chosen because it's dramatic, not because it brings out the color of one's eyes.

The most flattering shades, she says, are soft brown, taupe, gray and soft plum. "These will not overwhelm the natural color of the eye, but bring out the best," she says.

"And stay away from iridescent shadows, especially if you have some wrinkles, because it just pronounces them."

For the best-looking lips, her advice is to "line the lips with a lip liner, and then apply a little powder to put a layer of binding and then a layer of lipstick, blot and reapply. If you tend to lose your lipstick easily, you can also use your base first."

Ms. Stephens, the makeup artist, who's been painting faces for 20 years, has her own favorite lip tricks. She favors doing without lipstick altogether, using only a lip pencil over the entire lip and then softening and blending the colors with something like Blistex.

To start your makeup, Ms. Brennan suggests a translucent liquid toner. If ruddiness tends to show through your foundation, she advises a toner with a green cast. For sallow complexions, she achieves a rosy glow with a light lavender toner.

One of Ms. Stephens' pet peeves is too much contouring. "Makeup is not there to camouflage, but to enhance. I look for proportion. If a face is out of balance, if the nose too large, eye too small, you find a way to balance. A lot of people would just shade a large nose, but if the eyes are inset or the brow bone strong, it could just emphasize that. I might dot the end of a nose if it's bulbous, or if it turns down, I might add a light dot higher, but I never use dark, I always work with the light. The one feature I try to emphasize on everyone is the mouth."

MA She points out that our make-over model Ms. Cayouette has dis

tinctive upper lids that are part of her natural beauty. "A lot of people are having surgery to get rid of that, but heaven forbid if Lauren Bacall had done that -- she just wouldn't be Lauren Bacall. People don't realize when they try to look like Christie Brinkley, they're getting rid of their own natural beauty."

While Ms. Stephens experiments with the latest cosmetics, her all-time favorites are drugstore items. Panstick base by Max Factor may be heavy and oil-based, she says, "but I haven't found anything that works better, even though I don't think it's good for the skin if you use it a lot."

Her final tip is, "Enhance what God gave you, and please, everybody, stop perming your hair."

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