In the cool, climate-controlled surreality of the White Flint Mall, there are a lot of ways to lose an afternoon in a daydream or two. For young girls enthralled by the powers of powdered glamor, one of them is a shimmery little makeup counter called, appropriately enough, Over the Rainbow.

Young girls gather there like moths lured by the bright lights and the talents of the saleswomen, who with their brushes and blushes can paint a touch of sophistication on cheeks still buried under baby fat. Barely over the brink of adolescence, the girls come to try on a fantasy, to disguise the uncertainty of those anxious years in confident colors, and to play at a maturity that disappears with the soap bubbles.

Anamika Krishna lifts her face and closes her eyes as makeup saleswoman Ellen Sue Gross applies blush, lipstick and silvery blue powder. Krishna is 15, with shoulder-length dark hair and a tendency toward the kind of relentless self-criticism common to an age that finds itself in a state of constant change.

The idea is to emerge a shade closer to the cover girls who's bright eyes and ecstatic smiles shine amid the italics and exclamation points of the glossy magazines--to look, says Krishna, "like people in California, with the perfect figure and perfect face. . . ."

She ticks off some of the ideal faces, denizens of a distant galaxy. "People still think Brooke Shields is gorgeous, they'd like to look like Victoria Principal on 'Dallas,' and Christie Brinkley is at the top of the list."

And who would Krishna herself want to look like? "I shouldn't want to look like anyone else since I can't look like anyone else," she says, repeating the sort of wisdom one hears a lot at her age. "But if I were pinned to a wall, I'd say Jacqueline Smith."

When Gross is finished, the face that stares out at Krishna from the mirror is at odds with her blue shirt and jeans; it is an older version of herself whose sophisticated air settles uneasily on her young features.

But once outside the store, the eyes that peer out from under the spiky lashes are not fooled by the mirror's version.

"I feel like I'm hiding behind all this stuff to make me look like somebody else," she said. "The minute I was out of the store, I wiped off the lipstick. I can't talk with lipstick on."

All afternoon, the girls drift in and out, usually on a cloud of giggles that evaporates the minute they begin to talk about their faces. "They are very interested in the makeup even if they don't know how to wear it," says Gross. "And they buy. Last night I had a couple come in with Mommy's credit cards and spend $30."

In a way, the transition from childhood's end to a preliminary course in the artifice of beauty is made all the easier by the ways in which the wares at Over the Rainbow are packaged. The palettes and tools have much in common with those of an earlier age. There are glass jars filled with makeup the color of penny candy, fat crayons with which to paint the eyes every conceivable shade of allure, and shades like pink ice, peppermint fizz, cotton candy, and peach melba.

For the younger girls, the moments spent mooning over the makeup are an exercise in fantasy. They come in looking not to conceal, but to reveal, for the blushers that might locate a hint of cheekbone, for the miracles that might advance time, rather than stop it in its tracks. Afterward, they sheepishly ask a girlfriend: "Is it too much?"

As she dips into a sample of pink lip gloss, 13-year-old Laurie Ginsberg stops chewing gum to pout into a small mirror, and the image is reflected in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors shining in the icy lights and neon letters that spell out the shop's name. Her gold watch, bracelet, rings and pearl earrings are set against a spotless white sweatshirt and pink shorts. When she smiles, her eyes and her braces glitter.

Laurie is accompanied by Julie Magaziner, also 13, wearing what she says is her usual--lip gloss, a trace of eyeliner and invisible mascara with her jeans, blue Polo shirt and white hair ribbon. They frequent the makeup store, "whenever we're at this mall--once a week or once every two weeks," Laurie says.

The girls live in Potomac and attend Cabin John Junior High School. The money for the makeup usually comes from allowance and babysitting funds, they say, though they're flush right now after their recent Bat Mitzvahs.

They leave, only to hesitate once outside the store. Laurie returns to buy the $1.25 blue eyeliner she'd tried on earlier. With a flash of metal, the girls are off.

For Andrea Neuman, 16, the stakes have become much higher. Something that might help emphasize eyes that change from greenish brown to dark brown is the short-term goal this time around, she says, but "the general purpose of makeup is to attract men. It's that blunt," she says.

Boren attempts to wipe off Neuman's teal eyeliner, gives up and goes to work, adding makeup on top of the thick lines under her eyes. "Always put the dark color in the crease, the light color on the bone. It makes the eyes look bigger," she says. Neuman's small gold hoop earrings and plain red T-shirt and jeans are in quiet contrast to all the talk about shimmer and shadow.

The look adds up as Neuman's face is revamped. Each promise has a price: a blush brush for $5, a lip brush for $3.50. Two types of eye brushes at $3.50 apiece. Gloss, $4.50; lipstick, $5; a two-shade eye powder "duo" at $6.50; a single-color eye shadow, $5; mascara, $5.50 and eye base, $5.

Potential total: $47.

"Do I really need the base?" Neuman asks. In the end, she narrows her needs to the base, powder duo and one brush. She borrows $2 from her girlfriend and they leave with $1 plus bus fare between them.