For the start of any ordinary year, a few resolutions may fill the bill. But for the dawn of a new decade, more drastic measures are called for -- changes that are at least skin deep.

Cleopatra faced the vagaries with kohl, henna, and a little help from the high priests. Today the high priests have moved out of the temple and into Bloomies. Or Arden's. Or a dozen other department stores.

In searching for a little miraculous help the other day, we found the ritual and its cost vary from place to place. We held out for freebies, and as the recruit for the new face picked Annmarie Gourley, just turned 30.

First stop was the Merle Norman studio on Capitol Hill.

"Can you make me up?" asked sacrificial lamb Gourley.

"Well, I'd like to," said the makeup artist, "but I have a woman coming in for lashes in a few minutes . . .

"Is it free? Well, it's usually if you need something and I do the shading."

This sounded fraught with obligation, somehow, so we trudged, with Annmarie's face naked to the world, to Friendship Heights, locale of several temples to youth and beauty. Not all of them were doing makeup that day, but at Saks Fifth Avenue the miracle was working in full swing.

A teenager in Calvin Klein jeans was sitting on a stoll being made up by a Calvin Klein makeup artist. We got in line behind the stool, but were told that another artist, Debbie, could take us right away.

"Do you have anything on?" asked Debbie, as she patted Annmarie's cheek. "Oooh, dry, you need moisturizer," she prescribed.

"Is there any obiligation to buy?" rejoined Annmarie.

Well, yes, Debbie allowed, there was a $12.50 minumum purchase required. We demurred.

"But that's nothing," urged Debbie."A lipstick and a blusher and that's it."

That helped us decide and we went on to Elizabeth Arden.

Once behind the red door at Arden's Chevy Chase establishment we found we had two choices. We could go to the upstairs salon and pay $15 for a makeup application, or we could try our luck on the sales floor. Naturally we opted for the latter, hoping for a freebie.

"Yes, I am a makeup artist," the young man behind the counter told us. "My name is Gary."

Gary definitely thought he could help.

"You need color," he said, furrowing his brow sympathetically. But there would be a minimum purchase requirement of $10, "because you are receiving a service," he told us.

We told him we'd think it over during lunch and headed for Hamburger Hamlet next door. While we waited for a table, Annmarie, smarting from Gary's remark, dashed into the powder room and put on some of her own makeup.

"I couldn't stand it any longer," she explained.

Luckily we had brought along cold cream and made her take the makeup off in the car on the way to our next makeup hunting grounds -- White Flint.

In Bloomingdales at White Flint we had our choice of several artists, but chose Florence of Charles of the Ritz, who had the shortest waiting time. While we waited, Annmarie ran into an old friend she hadn't seen since high school.

"I had to run into Lucia Beederman without any makeup on," she lamented. But not for long, for Florence was about to fix her right up -- and with no obligation or minimum purhcase requirement.

First came cleansing cream, then skin freshener, then moisturizer.

"These are all classified by the FDA as over-the-counter drugs," said Florence, "They're greaseless."

As Florence worked, Annmarie's husband Jay documented the event with photographs. Although Florence was unruffled, the flashing strobe did attract considerable attention.

"Is she somebody important or does he just like to take pictures?" wondered a customer.

"Do you use an eye cream? asked Florence. "You should."

Annmarie thought she could just get by with a moisturizer, but Florence said no.

"A moisturizer draws the moisture out, so it might make your eyes puffy. An eye cream is a lubricator," she advised.

As Florence applied three different shades of eye shadow to Annmarie's lids -- light near the nose, then darker -- a woman in a magenta blouse and a Bloomie's badge arrived to ask what we were up to.

"Excuse me, I'm from Bloomingdale's sercurity," she informed us. "Do you have permission to take pictures in the store?"

Jay Gourley, who once stole Henry Kissinger's trash for the National Enquirer and who has been thrown out of tighter spots than Bloomingdales, reassured her:

"It's all right," he said."Check with you superiors."

Mystified but somewhat mollified, she disappeared, leaving Florence to concentrate on the choice of a mascara color.

"Want to try the green mascara?" she asked. "It's dark. It's like a pine."

As she applied the mascara first to the top, then to the bottom of Annmarie's lashes, the fuzz returned -- with reinforcements. They were two fairly husky men and they were dressed in plain clothes but when they said they were from the security force, we believed them. They didn't believe us, however, when we told them it was all right. They kept holding their arms in front of the camera whenever Jay tried to shoot a picture.

"You'll have to go upstairs and get permission," they insisted politely. But since we didn't want to blow our cover -- we wanted to get the same treatment from the makeup artists that anyone gets -- we decided we already had enough pictures.

After Florence finished taking care of the bridge of Gourley's nose, which gets shiny sometimes, we thanked her and left. She seemed so relieved to see us go she didn't even ask if we wanted to buy anything.

We wanted to try some of the other makeup artists at White Flint, but since we had the feeling that someone was following us around the store we decided to beat a retreat to the Tyson Corner Bloomies. Annmarie protested that she wanted to keep her new face on for a while but, after documenting the results with a camera, we attacked her with cold cream -- Pond's Cold Cream, $1.99.

We walked gingerly around the Tysons Corner Bloomies for a while and then, satisfied that the White Flint branch hadn't alerted its sister store, we made a beeline for the Cardeaux counter, where a makeup artist named Patricia assured us there would be no obligation.

There was a short wait, so Annmarie sat down and looked at some brochures. One of them turned out to be a guide for the makeup artists. Don't pressure your customers, it admonished. Encourage them. If it looks as if they're not going to buy, give them a brochure about the makeup. It may give them second thoughts.

"I saw you reading that thing over there," said Patricia when Annmarie's turn came, "It's really not for customers. There are no secrets in it, but it's our guide . . . What do you wash your face with?"

When Annmarie confessed to soap, water and a washcloth, Patricia was horrified. Cleanser wiped off with cotton was the proper method. Then came moisturizer.

"This has collagen in it. That's a substance that's in babies' skin," said Patricia, not explaining how the substance got from the baby into the moisturizer.

Next came a light foundation and something "to take away the dark circles under your eyes," which Annmarie protested she didn't think she had. Then came eye color -- brown on the brows, the lids, and even under the eyes near where the circles used to be. Lips were next, and Patricia had Annmarie line her lips with the brown end of a reversible lipliner, then fill in the outline with lip cream and a brush.

By this time, Annmarie was looking gorgeous and, with no flashing strobes and security cops to distract her, was experiencing a breakdown in sales resistance. But she wasn't, she warned Patricia, going to spring for everything.

Patricia understood. It was O.K. to use your old eye and lip makeup, she said, "but you really need this cleanser. Don't abuse your skin with soap. And the moisturizer. Your skin is so dry . . ."

By the time she had purchased the bare essentials, the tab was $53.75.