I've just done one of the scariest things a man can do. No, I haven't killed an animal with my bare hands. I haven't gone head-to-head with a home intruder. I've walked alone, without a lady-friend chaperone, into a Mecca Maxima store.

The makeup section of any department store makes me feel very uneasy. You're forced to wade through that intimidating maze of fluorescent lighting and white-coated, dewy-skinned shop assistants and enormous images of Keira Knightly. Just to get to the section of the store you actually want. Everyone is so smiley and eager to ask you if they can help, but leave you screaming inside, "I'm just here to buy undies and socks!"

The thought of going into a bona-fide makeup store (especially one that has "max" in its name, giving off American-style hypermarket vibes) is thus something I've never wanted to do.

The queue to enter Queen Street's Mecca Maxima cosmetics store on the day it opened, last year on August 3. Photo / NZME still from Focus video
The queue to enter Queen Street's Mecca Maxima cosmetics store on the day it opened, last year on August 3. Photo / NZME still from Focus video

Why did I need to go into a makeup emporium? There is no shame in men wearing make-up in general. Up until now, however, I've never done it. Yet I've now reached that age where I look in the mirror on a Saturday night or at photos of myself, and my eyes look tired. My dark circles, combined with my overhanging brow, sometimes make me look like I haven't slept since 2014.

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You would think there'd be a simple remedy for a man here. Sneakily throw some supermarket concealer in your trolley during your weekly shop, rub it under your eyes before a night out, and have all your mates wonder (but not ask) why you look so fresh.

Yet when you're a man there are two issues at play here. First is the internal shame in using makeup. Completely unjustified and societally-constructed, but it's there for most of us. But more importantly, nobody taught us a goddam thing about make-up. I don't know a foundation or a blush from a jar of cinnamon, let alone the techniques for pounding them on the face. Nobody ever thought us dudes would need this knowledge.

So there I stood, standing outside Mecca looking at the 100 or so women inside. I took a breath and slinked in. First to the perfume area. Then to skincare. Finally to the first section comprising hundreds of shades of of beige and pink. And guess what? Nobody even looked at me. I could have been in the paint aisle at Bunnings.

I politely rebuffed staff asking if I was looking for anything in particular, determined to find my concealer on my own, dab a sample to get a skin match, and get out of there. After about 15 minutes in there, though, so confused and overwhelmed at the options, I was asked once again if I required assistance by somebody else. "YES!" I basically shouted at her, "I NEED HELP!"

I told the shop assistant why I was there. She asked me about my needs, and told me I had "great skin". I swear, that tiny compliment perked me right up and gave me the confidence to be there. My internal monologue went, "Stuff it. I'm here. This professional makeup person already thinks I look good, I'm going for gold".

I asked her to sit me down and teach me how to apply makeup in front of a mirror. I learned about primers and sponges and blending. She taught me about mattifying – meaning taking away the shine from my forehead in photos. I felt like I was at a day spa and everything was free.

I ended up spending over $100 on products ranging from blotting paper and sponges to primer and concealer (no journalist freebies by the way, Mecca isn't paying me to write about them). I don't think I've ever had a better customer service experience in a retail space. I felt un-judged and welcome, and I opened my wallet because of it.

Guys, if you want to look just a little bit better, whether for Instagram or your real life outtings, consider a bit of makeup. It's not girly or noticeable. It just makes you look more alive. Actually, done properly, it's invisible – especially when you learn the true tricks from a pro.

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