the glint of your eyes

A recent online interview from a dear friend of mine who interviewed her mom…

Daughter: So what did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20’s?

Mom: Well, you worked in an office and you just got ready in the morning and wore your regular make-up. Pancake makeup was the big thing and lipstick, that’s really all you’d put on. I’d get my pancake makeup at the dime store, probably the Woolworth or the Kresge dime store in Chicago.

Daughter: Would you get your makeup around where you worked?

Mom: No, no, you got it in your neighborhood. You didn’t wear a lot of makeup and you didn’t have to buy a lot of makeup. It lasted a long time. My mother didn’t wear much makeup. And you didn’t wear it at all in high school or in grammar school. They’d tell you to go home and wash your face.

Daughter: They wouldn’t just tell you to go into the washroom and wash the makeup off your face?

Mom: No, they’d look at you real close because some girls tried to wear real light color. But I wasn’t that crazy about makeup. You dressed up if you went on a date and then you wore makeup and stuff like that.

Daughter: When I remember you putting lipstick on, I’d always see you grab a blue tissue after putting on a gold tube of Coty lipstick and you’d always dab your lips with it.

Mom: Yes, to blot it off. We never wore eye makeup. You didn’t think it was right to monkey with your eyes. So you just had your pancake makeup on and your lipstick and away you went.

Daughter: When you got your pancake makeup, were you able to test it out at the store at all? Now there are thousands of shades ….

Mom: There weren’t that many, maybe 8 or 10. You kind of knew what shade you were and you could always test lipstick out on your hand.

Daughter: Were Coty and Max Factor the names then?

Mom: Yeah.

Daughter: But I imagine there weren’t near as many shades as there are now.

I heard you talk about putting a line up the back of your legs and that people were like-minded about conserving nylon…

Mom: Oh, back then you were always asking “Are my seams straight? Just like you’d say is my slip hanging out? I used the word slip…others would say petticoat. Your seams had to be straight. Actually it was with the girls a bit older than me. I wore bobby socks. Before nylons were silk stockings. You tried not to get a run in your silk stockings.

Daughter: And if you did get a run in your silk stockings?

Mom: Well then you used fingernail polish to try and stop it. Some girls would put on leg makeup and then put a line up the back. In Chicago, you all went to the office and looked very presentable.

Daughter: So, lipstick and pancake make-up and would you use your lipstick for blush?

Mom: No, not really. Would you pinch your cheeks and try to make them look rosy? No, that was before my time when they didn’t wear makeup. I’d say 1910

Daughter: Did Great Grandma Jane wear a lot of make-up?

Mom: My Aunt Irene did but I thought my mom was prettier by not wearing it.There were some people who spent a lot of time with their makeup and their hair. I always wanted to run out and do what I was going to do. I never wore perfume either.

Daughter: Would you say your ideas about makeup have changed throughout the years (it’s been about 50 years)…..

Mom: (laughs) No, they really haven’t. I think you should look as nice as you can and when you go someplace special. I still basically use the same things: a little foundation, a little lipstick, and put a little rouge on…

Daughter: I think I remember you saying “Get ready and be done with it”

Mom: Well there was only one bathroom (Bangs knuckles on the table). No one sat in front of the mirror for hours or she was a prima donna. You would get ready and be done with it. Besides, every night I was either in choir meeting or in…well, I was taking flying lessons. I was in civil air patrol. Every night I was doing something. So after you came home from school and ate, you were interested in those things. People were not so interested in how they looked. People were more concerned with your honesty, your character.

I think you were really interested or you really admired the girl with the cashmere sweater who had bobby socks to match (laughs). People were very clever with sewing too, so if everyone was wearing a broomstick skirt and a peasant blouse… Grandma Jane had a license. She had one of the first permanent wave machines. She always washed, curled and set hair.

Jean Harlow

Daughter: Did she do hair color?

Mom: The red was called Henna. The blonde was Jean Harlow who (in real life) used peroxide and didn’t live long.

Daughter: Which is why I remember you always telling (my sister) Loretta not to color her hair.

Mom: I’ve never had my hair colored or tinted. And Grandma Ella wouldn’t either. It’s not that she was trying to look younger. She didn’t want to tell Judy and me but we knew. They went gray very early, and personally, I think it’s attractive.

I think your skin, eyes and hair color all go together. You want to look nice and you do want to follow what the fashions are. But you don’t want to be self-absorbed. You liked things to match. And we didn’t wear earrings. Only people who were Italian or Spanish wore earrings. It was their culture. So you didn’t wear any earrings except screw-type for…

Daughter: The prom or a date? Would you have worn your mom’s?

Mom: Well, you didn’t buy stuff like that for yourself.

Daughter: If your ideas about beauty are different, why have they changed throughout the years?

Mom: I always thought my mom was modest. I loved her and admired her as graceful, gentle, very kind. Other women were maybe more flashy or made-up but…

Daughter: I think it’s… the glint of your eyes.

Mom: Aw, thank you Sweetheart. Well I’ve seen through the years that physical beauty is sometimes a handicap because people don’t look much further. Same thing with being too handsome as a fellow. You want someone rugged or with a square jaw. You want a person who ….. well whatever you’re attracted to. But I think being too beautiful can be a handicap. God can use anything. He made us…

But I think you look in the mirror, it’s all finished and you’re off to catch the street car!

Anonymous, 80

Illinois

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Bobby socks and a pink satin ribbon

What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s?

A lot of my personal ideas of beauty came from my mother…not that she was really a beautiful lady but she had a lot of sense of fashion. Even though we didn’t have any money because they were immigrants from Mexico, she was so clever. She would go to second hand stores and buy me all these little French wool suits…all these beautiful little clothes so I would look well groomed. So grooming is what I consider what it means to be attractive. As I grew up and was in my 20s, I started to work (at 20) so I always dressed in the style of the ‘50s. That was suits, hats, white gloves, purses and heels to go to work. Everything was important.

I never wore a lot of make-up because my parents were very strict. I always had to look decent like the other ladies. That was my introduction to beauty, and I still carry that even at this age.

Hairstyles were simple. When I was in my teens, I had long black hair which I used to wear in a ponytail with a ribbon. It was bangs, a ponytail with ribbons, and typically, full skirts with bobby socks. If you were lucky enough to own a cashmere sweater, that was part of the look.

At the age of 16, one of the things I was able to do with my first job for the post office during the Christmas holidays, I saved enough money to buy a cashmere sweater. So I had my cashmere sweater for Christmas. That felt pretty good. It was pink, and my mother made me a full skirt in lavender. So I wore that with a pink satin ribbon in my hair, and white buckskin shoes with white bobby socks. I thought I looked pretty good.

For work I wore white gloves and gabardine suits. The brand name that every young woman wanted to own was the RosenBlum Gabardine Suit. You could get those in the Emporium, which was a wonderful department store here in town, or Macy’s. All the good stores carried Rosenblums. They were just tailored suits with straight skirts.

As I started to work and was able to buy my own clothing, I would save money and be able to buy something. In those days, it wasn’t really credit cards, it was lay-away. If you put $1 or $2 away on a suit, eventually you’d own it. That’s how my mother used to buy me clothes. She used to make a lot of my things, but if she saw something when I was a little girl, she’d say “Let’s buy you that coat. It’s a Shirley Temple original.” She would put a dollar away or $.50 until I had it.

At 18, I remember I did have acne. So I was very careful. I tried to use less and tried to do whatever the doctor would recommend. I didn’t use a lot of make-up, but if things were not too clear on the face, that’s when I discovered what they called pancake make-up. It was in a little jar and creamy. That still have it, but they don’t call it that anymore.

I would try to cover up some of my blemishes. It didn’t really do any good. I didn’t wear eye make-up and I don’t need eyebrow (make-up) because I have thick eyebrows. It was usually lipstick and some sort of make-up on your face. When I started high school, I wore lipstick everyday. The make-up I didn’t wear everyday, only maybe if I was going out on a date.

What does beauty mean to you now?

I love fashion. I can’t help it. I grew up with the way my mother was, making my clothes and then I made my clothes. She insisted I learn how to sew. I started to make my clothes, and I did for my daughters. I still love clothes.

I love hats. I’ve always loved hats. Even when I was working at 20, I wore a hat everyday. I feel incomplete without a hat. I’m lucky that my daughter gives me a lot of her old things. I have a pretty large wardrobe because they’re hand-me-downs. No different from the time I was a child and my mother would go to thrift stores. To this day, if I see something that I think Oh, this will be good for a performance or for a show, I buy it.

Have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?

When I was young, I would dress for the office – the professional look. Then I married and became a mom, I was casual. I tended to my children. I wanted them to develop in a certain way, so I was involved in their activities. I was that kind of a mom…Girl Scout leader, whatever it had to be, I was there for them. As I retired and it was just my husband and me, I was very casual again.

But now in the last 10 years, and even more so since I started this dance class (as the teacher), I want to dress up. The image is not because I want to show off. I’m trying to convey that a dance instructor should look a little different. And maybe some of the ladies will be willing to try something different. You know? It’s happening. I see the ladies fixing themselves up more for coming to the Center and my class. They even change their hair-dos. And they’re starting to wear a little lipstick. It’s not vanity for them. Especially with ballroom dancing, you’re pretty elegant. You’re supposed to look that way. It may be a lost art, but I’m sort of continuing that. That’s how I see beauty.

Lupe, 78

San Francisco, October 2010

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