Back in 1958 I started work in Liverpool city centre. I’d toddle off to Lewis’s during my lunch hour. Entering by the doors near Central Station in Ranelagh Street - which in those days was on a bus route so the smell of diesel fumes was strong - was sheer heaven as one was almost immediately inside the toiletry, make-up and perfume department. Scented with the products of Goya, Cote, Yardley, Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden and even Rimmel I’d be almost giddy with delight. You name it and there was a counter for it. I doubt I was the only teenager who’d try out a free dab of this perfume or that. In those days I couldn’t afford to buy such luxuries so had to make do with soap and water and a wash down as we had no bathroom.
What sent me off down Memory Lane in this direction?
One of the women in the changing room at Total Fitness health centre was using moisturiser after her swim and we got talking about how we never put anything else on our skin these days. But she did love perfume and that comment reminded me of my mam and the little bottles of scent she had on her dressing table in the old days. Favourites were Evening in Paris and Californian Poppy. Being of the same generation as myself, the mention of them struck a chord with my fellow swimmer who also liked a touch of lippy. Her mother had been a great believer in lipstick as a morale booster. As for Mam she always used lippy as she called it come Saturday evenings when she and Dad went to the pictures.
One of my favourite shades as a teenager was Coral. In fact if my memory serves me right, it was probably the most popular one going in the late fifties.
Even then I never put anything on my skin, except Nivea or Astral sun cream when sunbathing. Mam’s favourite skin standby was Pond’s Vanishing Cream. I always presumed it was the cream that vanished once on her skin but thinking about it now presumably she used it hoping it would make any wrinkles disappear. I knew girls who used Max Factor’s pan stick which completely covered the skin like a beige mask.
When I did earn enough to splash out on perfume, I bought Yardley’s Lavender Toilet Water or Attar of Roses. Eventually I graduated to Sandalwood, Coty L’Aimant or Tweed by Lentheric.
In those days we used a lot of talcum powder. Is it only me who never uses talcum powder these days? Avon’s body lotion has taken its place in the hope that it will keep my skin from looking like a prune.
Yet I must be getting old because I remember when shampoo used to come powdered in packets called Amami and we rubbed it into our dry hair. Oh the joy when I switched over to liquid gold in a bottle called Sunsilk that left my hair squeaky clean.
I only ever expected my boyfriend and the men in my family to smell of Brylcreem, clean skin or sweat. It was to be a few years before they began to use Old Spice shaving soap and aftershave. As for deodorant that was a toiletry of which we gave little thought. The men used Lifebuoy soap and we girls used tablets of Lux, Camay or Pears translucent. I do remember Dad also washing his hair with the Sunlight soap Mam used to scrub the collars of his shirt. He being a plasterer he often came home with hair thick with powdered plaster.
Times change and these days a waft of fragrance can be left in their wake when one of my sons pass before me down the stairs on their way out. The male is no longer looked upon askance or asked with a suspicious look, ‘What’s that smell?’ They, too, have discovered they like a heavenly scent for themselves. And us women like it - in moderation.