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.
San Francisco, October 2010