We asked our own mothers to share beauty memories and the lessons they learned from the generation before them
As a little girl I learned quickly that women spend considerable time in front of mirrors—scrutinizing their faces, putting on makeup, futzing with their hair and generally preening. With great fascination I witnessed my mother applying rouge and lipstick, shaping her eyebrows and styling her hair, usually while in a hurry to get somewhere. A tall woman with enviable cheekbones, expressive eyes and a warm smile, she always took care to look natural, conveying the message that “less is more” when enhancing one’s features.
Similarly, a favorite aunt, petite with dark, naturally curly hair, was fascinating to observe as she was an absolute perfectionist and never allowed anyone or anything to rush her beauty regimen. I can still picture my five-year-old self watching as she sat at her dressing table, carefully choosing the appropriate shade of lipstick after her foundation , rouge and Maybelline cake mascara were judged to be “just right.” She would dab the rich color onto her lips, pressing them together for even distribution; then she would take a tissue and blot until the lipstick was almost gone, leaving only the slightest trace of coral or red. That was the part I couldn’t understand, as I loved the look of really red lips and wondered why she took so much care in putting it on only to wipe it off!
In later years I realized she and my mother, believed makeup should not be the first thing one notices and that it should not be applied with a too-heavy hand. (In addition, they did not color their hair—though they spent many hours at the beauty parlor in curlers!) To this day, these lessons continue to serve me and my daughters well, as I’ve passed down this natural aesthetic to them, too. –Carlyn Romeyn
My mother stressed a more natural beauty routine than a glamorous one and had several “tricks” she taught me. I grew up in a small town in Southern California where we didn’t have any department stores, only the drugstore downtown, so we made some of our beauty products out of things from the kitchen: an egg-white mask was great for tightening the pores and softening the skin; equal parts witch hazel and Fuller’s Earth mixed to a paste worked well on teenage skin to help loosen blackheads; soaking nails in warmed olive oil was also a great moisturizer for the hands; a vinegar rinse (water with a couple of hefty splashes of cider vinegar so you didn’t smell like a salad) supposedly made my hair shinier; and plain white baby powder was a quick dry shampoo if you didn’t have time to wash your hair.
We slathered our skin with baby lotion, our faces with Ponds cream and then at night rubbed Vaseline onto our feet and covered them with white cotton socks. To this day, I think Vaseline is one of the best (and cheapest!) treatments for soft feet.
Even though most of her beauty regimen emphasized a clean, scrubbed and healthy look, for an evening out I remember my mother matching her nail and lip color in a bright—but tasteful—shade of pink. She used a light brown pencil to fill in her eyebrows and then followed with cream blush and Coty pressed powder to complete putting “her face on.” Since we didn’t have department stores, a fun trip was to the downtown drugstore to see the newest in Revlon products. I remember slowly spinning the product wheels and looking at the glass shelves for the newest things. I could spend ages going up and down the aisle (note the singular aisle) to see what they had. Perhaps the greatest thing that I learned from my mother was that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on beauty products to have great results. –Kathie Johnson