At 53, Marvin R. Morrison is a tall, somewhat portly but distinguished-looking New York lawyer. A golden tan and neatly trimmed beard add vigor to his appearance.

Over the years, he says, people often have mistaken him for being years younger. Recently, though, he noticed that age was catching up on him: Bags had formed under his eyes.

He called his friend the plastic surgeon.

"Why not?" he asks. "People aren't afraid of jogging," when they want to improve their looks. "They're not afraid of dieting or of using hair preparations. Yet in this particular field they seem to be reticent."

At his age, "It's harder for me to diet. I associate with a lot of young people. I'm an active skier and sailer. So I had my eyes done. I feel pleased about it."

Morrison is part of what New York plastic surgeon James J. Reardon, who performed the operation, sees as a rapidly growing interest among American males in cosmetic surgery -- the face-lift, nose-job and eyelid tuck once popular almost exclusively with women.

Five years ago, about 10 percent of Reardon's patients were male. Now, he writes (with Judi McMahon) in Plastic Surgery for Men (Everest House, $14.95, 223 pages), "as much as 30 to 35 percent of my practice is . . . devoted to male plastic surgery." Reardon, 41, is director of the Cosmetic Surgery Center of New York and teaches at both Kings County and Methodist hospitals in Brooklyn.

The modern male, he says, is much more aware of "what was once only a woman's privilege: a sensible preoccupation with good grooming." As men who took efforts with their appearance lost the "stigma of narcissism and effeminacy," it was "only a matter of time until they would begin to pay attention not only to their physiques and their clothes but to their complexions."

Plastic surgeon Harry C. Stein, who heads the Cosmetic Surgery Center of Washington, says he, too, is seeing increasing numbers of males -- 30 to 35 percent of his patients -- in his West End clinic.

"There are lots of career-oriented men and women," says Stein, "who have to look good." The men tell him, "I've got a scar here that distracts me. People are staring," or, "My nose was injured and it makes me look harsh."

Around the eyes, he says, is where most people see their age showing. "They don't want to look like they're suffering from a hangover."

Consider it unmanly vanity, but the facts of life are, says Reardon, that attractive people are "presumed to be more successful in business" as well as "kinder, warmer, more sincere and more sociable than more homely people. While this is a broad generalization, as my own practice indicates, more and more men are agreeing with this.

"You're seeing more and more cosmetic surgery on both sexes," he says. "It's coming out of the closet. You don't have to apologize for having it done." (Many of Stein's male patients, however, are still very secretive about it and on the telephone won't tell the receptionist what they want.)

Reardon's and Stein's male patients include blue-collar workers and business executives -- some recently divorced and in search of romance -- as well as models and actors whose face is their meal ticket. They range from the teens to the 70s.

"It's not the lunatic fringe," says Reardon. "The most common are men in their 40s and 50s for eyelid and facial surgery."

Some potential clients, especially those with emotional problems, he dissuades from surgery after a pre-operative interview.

"If they are looking for something to change their life style, that's the wrong reason. If they say, 'I'm not getting a job because my nose is too big,' that's not true."

A husband and wife research team at the University of Southern California would agree. Plastic surgeon John M. Goin and psychiatrist Marcia Kraft Goin caution that people "who are recently widowed, divorced, have had some setback in their careers, or have recently had an experience which to them is of major emotional significance," are not good candidates for cosmetic surgery, especially involving the nose.

In their new book aimed at plastic surgeons and psychiatrists, Changing the Body: Psychological Effects of Plastic Surgery (Williams and Wilkins, $30), the pair note that the nose, for various reasons, is one of "the most psychologically loaded structures upon which the plastic surgeon is asked to operate. It is risky to operate on patients who have not disliked their noses at least since adolescence."

When "an adult suddenly develops preoccupations with the appearance of his nose he "may be hoping unrealistically that the operation will resolve his personal crisis."

Sometimes, Reardon acknowledges, he has accepted the wrong patient, including a woman who complained after her operation: "My husband left me anyway." Or the woman who had 6 pounds removed from her breasts, which -- to her dismay--suddenly gave her a clear view of her stomach. Her wail to Reardon: "You made me fat."

Still, say the Goins, "the more common situation" in nose and other plastic surgery is "psychological success." From what Reardon's patients tell him, he is convinced of psychological benefits:

For some, like Morrison, it's a matter of combating age: "Wrinkles, drooping eyelids, undereye pouches, sagging chins, crepey necks. You wake up and say, 'Now is the time to do something about it.' "

For others, it's a lifetime wish to correct what Reardon calls "nature's more visible mistakes": cleft palate, jaw disformity, disfiguring nose, excessive breast development. "It's something they noticed all the time, but they didn't have the money, or their parents wouldn't let them. But now that they're out on their own . . . ."

Among Reardon's recent patients: a college student who requested "sanding" of his pockmarked face;a teacher and an actor asking for nose surgery; a 23-year-old accountant who had his ears "pinned back."

A retired landscape architect in his 70s -- "who got caught in the economic crunch and had to go back to work" -- had a face-lift which, says Reardon, "gave him the confidence to compete in the job market."

(While about 70 percent of his work is cosmetic, Reardon continues to perform repair and reconstruction work resulting from injuries or the removal of cancerous body tissue. An entire ear, for example, may be rebuilt.)

Increasingly, says Reardon, cosmetic surgery is being performed in outpatient clinics under a local anesthetic with patients going home the same day -- though more complicated cases may require the resources of a hospital and a stay of a few days. There is some swelling and a black and blue look around the eyes during the early recovery period from facial surgery. In a nose job, the cast doesn't come off for about a week.

Occasionally he gets clients with unrealistic expectations: They want to look like Paul Newman or to pass for 30 years younger.

"What you should strive for," he tells them, "is to look refreshed -- less tired and aged -- to be content with looking better and not looking 30 years younger."

Often, if you have taken a vacation to have the operation, friends and co-workers will be aware only that you have a rested appearance. If you are shy about it, "A change of hair style, a new growth of beard, or a mustache may be used, if you like, to throw colleagues off guard."

"For some men, it permits them to be more aggressive; for others, to exhibit more confidence; and for most, a feeling of being refreshed."