Never too late to be fab

“It hit me in January,” says Julie Neubauer, a project manager living in Circle Pines. “It began with headaches, and being tired, and problems I didn’t have when I was younger.” The 47-year-old mother of three decided those problems were a sign that changes needed to be made. She eliminated caffeine and carbohydrates from her diet, upgraded her vitamins, and mapped out a near-religious workout regimen. The payoff? Eight inches melted off her midsection; she’s continuously dropping dress sizes; and sleeping through the night is the norm, not a novelty.

While those results might be more than enough for most people, Neubauer felt this new phase in her life wasn’t being reflected in her outward appearance: she drove the same SUV, wore the same easy ponytail, and left the house with the same simple swipe of mascara. There was only one cure for her case of the blahs: typing “makeover” into Google. That’s how she ended up at Christopher Hopkins’ Minneapolis salon reVamp! at 6 a.m. on a morning in May with plans for a complete overhaul.

The new you

Hopkins is known as The Makeover Guy (that’s actually trademarked) and his new book, Staging Your Comeback: A Complete Beauty Revival for Women over 45 (Health Communications Inc., $22.95), cements his place as the go-to master for women looking to re-energize what he calls their “second act.” “I’ve always enjoyed the process of making someone look younger. You can do a 25-year-old woman and make her look prettier, but she can do that herself. A makeover responds more on a woman who appreciates it so much more.”

What sets the tall, energetic Hopkins and his book apart from the mainstream is the fact that his advice is accessible and realistic — a point of pride for him. While flipping through a magazine at his modern salon, Hopkins pauses on a glamorous advertisement featuring model Christie Brinkley. “Now look at this: she’s 50-something and she’s been totally airbrushed and smoothed out,” he says. “That’s frustrating to me. Sometimes the information out there doesn’t inspire women. You don’t feel good when you see this.”

And at first, you might not feel good when talking to Hopkins: he is unabashedly blunt when talking about what works and what doesn’t. While explaining the importance of understanding your silhouette (his book devotes a section to assessing what body type you have in order to flatter your attributes and hide your flaws) Hopkins describes a nearby employee as “pear-shaped,” much to her consternation. “Well,” he explains as she frowns, “you have a fuller hip from behind.” That’s exactly the type of tough love Hopkins says he has to dish out to clients (at $195 for a first-time cut and $75 for a consultation) that try to justify their outdated looks. “I get a lot of the same excuses: I don’t have time, I have five kids and I get up at 4 a.m., I’m a no muss/no fuss person. I always say, ‘You used to be.’ We can all find time for certain things.”

Yet Hopkins understands that fashion and makeup can be in intimidating at any age. “These magazines say throw on a cute crocheted jacket with a fun little tweed miniskirt and some Chanel pumps with a hand-beaded bag. Well pffft! What the hell does that mean to anyone? Where are we supposed to get any of that?” he questions. That’s why Staging Your Comeback is designed for Midwestern women who want a primer on how to do it themselves. “I’ve gotten so many e-mails from women around the country who said ‘this finally made sense to me!’ It’s really for the non-downtown Chicago/New York/LA people.”

From drab to fab

When Neubauer walked into reVamp this spring, Hopkins instantly knew she was the perfect candidate for a second-act makeover. “She had on no makeup, a ponytail, and just looked sort of blah and frumpy,” Hopkins candidly explains. “You know, she could have been a world traveler who speaks fluent French, but you’d have no idea because you assume she’s some mom from a small town who is really conservative and wouldn’t get you.” Underneath the assumptions Neubauer was a woman who had traded in her old SUV for a fully loaded Lexus and was preparing to enjoy an empty nest — and maybe dating — when her youngest heads to college in the fall; Hopkins decided it was time for her clothes, hair, and makeup to reflect those changes. “She said ‘I am ready to be me again’ after years of focusing on her kids,” he explains.

It was a nerve-wracking three hours for Neubauer, who sat quietly through a full face of makeup (along with instruction on how to do it herself), hair color that gave her more depth and dimension than her usual all-over bland color, and a shorter, choppier haircut she couldn’t stop running her hands through. After a talk with Hopkins about clothing choices and accessorizing, Neubauer took her first full look in the mirror and couldn’t hide her surprise — nor her happiness. “I had no idea what to expect, I just went ahead and trusted him,” she says. “It doesn’t look like me! I’m not the same drab person. I felt dragged down and old before, but not now!” As Neubauer modeled her new look for reVamp! employees she started organizing her keys and purse in order to head to a regular day of work — which caused a veritable uproar in the salon. “You can’t just take that look to work!” cried one stylist. “Go shopping! Go out on the town!” It was clear the makeover was more than just physical as Neubauer looked around and flashed a mischievous smile. “Maybe I will!”

Monica Wright is Minnesota Good Age’s assistant editor.

Makeover tips for Midwesterners

Makeup

Do:

• Keep nails manicured. Pastels and natural French nails never go out of style.

• Use foundation. Uneven skin tone can pack on an extra 20 years!

• Consider tinting graying or too-light eyebrows.

• Update! If you’re wearing the same makeup you wore in your 20s and 30s it’s time for a change.

Don’t:

• Use dark lipstick — it instantly ages.

• Use extreme polish colors;  dark colors highlight aging hands.

• Be afraid of makeup. reVamp! esthetician Amy Goulett says most women over 45 “are a little too cautious. Really apply that mascara, get down in the root. You don’t need a lot of makeup, but really commit to doing it.”

• Opt for shiny or frosty makeup. Hopkins says extreme glosses, dewy foundations and sparkly bronzers are no-nos in the second act.

Fashion

Do:

• Invest in good shapewear, which gives support and eliminates panty lines.

• Use V-necklines to elongate a short neck.

• Add accessories —  “the ultimate attention-getters.”

• Get fitted for bra size regularly, as bust size can shift with weight gain/loss.

Don’t:

• Wear tapered pants; they make hips look wider.

• Follow every trend. “Adapt the ones that flatter your body type,” says Hopkins.

• Assume youthful clothes will make you look younger, too. Fishnets, mini-skirts, and low-rise jeans shouldn’t be in your vocabulary, let alone your closet.

• Toss all your great sleeveless tops because of aging, jiggly arms. Throw on a shrug, sheer blouse, or shawl.

Hair

Do:

• Consider a short cut. “Short hair … can look good on anyone,” according to Hopkins.

• Bring in photos of styles you like.

• Ask women with haircuts you envy for the names of their stylists.

• Consider haircuts with diagonal lines that will lift the eye and face.

Don’t:

• Think thinning hair means the end of stylish cuts. Hopkins says the right style can give the appearance of thickness.

• Be afraid to move away from a perm rut: it can be liberating, according to Hopkins.

• Opt for bangs just to cover forehead wrinkles.

• Be afraid to embrace your gray because you can always go back to coloring.