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Preparing for 9 to 5 (Again)

BEFORE YOU RETURN...

Reassess your before-baby beauty and style choices. Must you really shampoo every day? Are concealer and foundation essential?

"Adjust to wearing less makeup," says New York City cosmetics entrepreneur Bobbi Brown, who's expecting her third child this summer. "Having a baby teaches a woman to be more forgiving of herself." But that doesn't mean being neglectful. At least two weeks before you're due back at work, reserve a baby-sitter for a couple of hours on a few days and:

Get a good, easy-care haircut. A cropped style looks chic and (even better) instantly "done" in the morning. Above-chin haircuts do require frequent trims, typically every four to six weeks. Longer hair can go eight weeks between trims, but may need blow-drying after you wash it.

If you want the convenience of short hair but like the feeling of long, try a layered shoulder- or chin-length cut, says Lisa Baltazar, a mother of two preschoolers and a stylist at Nubest & Co. Salon in Manhasset, NY. "If it's long on top, even short hair will move and feel longer," she says.

Baltazar recommends color as a postpartum pep-up. "Hair can lose some of its luster after pregnancy," she says. Highlights take an hour or so in the salon, but should last for several months. They won't cover gray; for that, you need semipermanent color. It's faster -- about 30 minutes to process in a salon -- but roots may begin to show in four to six weeks.

Baltazar advises against a radical haircut now: "If you're still feeling a bit heavy, a short cut can make you feel more exposed."

Get your makeup done. Department-store cosmetics counters offer this service free. Choose a company with a realistic approach, such as Prescriptives or Clinique. Tell the beauty adviser you want a look you can do in five minutes, and time her as she works.

You are under no obligation to buy anything, but you might want to splurge on a "treat," something that gives you an instant lift. For spring, Brown suggests a dewy cream blush or one of the new pink lipsticks.

Then have your brows shaped at a nearby salon. It'll brighten your eyes and open up your face, so you look more polished even without eye makeup. You can maintain the shape with occasional tweezing.

Get some new clothes. While some new mothers fit into all their prebaby work clothes, most need interim pieces. First, check your maternity wardrobe; early-pregnancy clothes might come in handy, assuming you can stand to wear them again. Second, if you can, pick up one or two style-conscious pieces. They'll help you feel up to date and boost your self-esteem.

Shop by yourself or with a friend, advises Catherine Woods, a New York textbook-publishing executive: "I shopped while on maternity leave, but took the baby with me, so I couldn't try anything on." She ended up compromising on "matronly" clothes. For a while her back-to-work mantra was, "I hate this, but it's clean and it fits."

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