The other day as I was sorting and cleaning out my copious supplies of pricey cosmetics and toiletries it occurred to me I could open my own Shoppers Drug Mart, and I’m not proud of it. That caused me to reflect on how this insidious habit began in 1965. I was living in Willard Hall, a girls’ residence at 20 Gerrard Street East in downtown Toronto. My move into Willard Hall at the age of seventeen marked the beginning of new adulthood, when I left home and began working for the telephone company. It was a jumping-off point for small-town virgins coming to seek their fortunes in the big city. I was now exposed to sophisticated city girls who knew things—things I’d never even heard about before. This included insights into fashion and beauty that were considered frivolous and vain where I came from. Allow me a trip down memory lane with some of my Boomer friends as we remember the way it was.
All of a sudden I was living with girls who wore makeup, knew how to create amazing hairdo’s, spent their wages on the latest British street fashions and even purchased fashion magazines. My girlfriend Linda who worked with me at Ma Bell was taking modelling classes at The Walter Thornton Agency so she was particularly au courant. Linda introduced me to my first compact of Max Factor blusher with the little brush. At $3.99 it was an atrocious price when my weekly salary before taxes was only $55.00. But the effect it had on Linda’s cheekbones when she expertly brushed it across her cheeks was dramatic so I had to get one.
The influence of all the girls living at Willard Hall was inspiring. Diane, who roomed across the hall first made me aware of the importance of lingerie. After the release of Georgie Girl, Lynn Redgrave’s iconic 1966 debut movie, Nancy went on the hunt at the Evangeline store at Yonge and Carlton Streets looking for a mini-length demi-slip (bra and slip combo) worn by Charlotte Rampling in the movie. In fact, Charlotte Rampling’s character was a totem for those of us from small towns with straw still stuck to our new platforms. Was it possible that someone outside our residence was actually seeing their lingerie? Ah! The sexual revolution was happening.
By watching the other girls in our common washroom, I quickly absorbed more secrets and tricks to putting your best face forward. Beauty products were less abundant then and we were very careful about how we spent our pennies so improvisation was essential.
A few of the girls living in our residence were attending hairdressing school and came into the diningroom sporting the most incredible haircuts and trendy do’s. One particularly exotic creature, Nina was tall, lean and beautiful. Nina’s hair was coloured the richest shade of chestnut I’d ever seen and she’d bravely had her straight, shiny hair cut into an asymmetrical version of the Sassoon five-point cut that was all the rage at that time. My room-mate Liz and I had been successfully and economically cutting each other’s hair into neat blunt cuts but decided we should now throw a bit of colour into the mix. Off we went to Kresgie’s on Yonge Street where we each purchased a box of Clairol’s Nice ‘N Easy in Strawberry Blonde for $1.99. Thus began a life-time of root touch-ups every six weeks. I never did roll my hair in orange juice cans or rinse it in a mixture of sugar and water for extra holding power, but I certainly knew girls who did both.
Before long I was applying Cover Girl liquid makeup and Mabelline Great Lash mascara with the best of them. The white lipstick we used as a base for other colours of lipstick to prevent them from turning red doubled as under-eye concealer. In fact, lipstick was also used as blusher and at a much more agreeable price than Max Factor’s blusher—a 2-for. In the sixties we used Mabelline’s stubby red eyebrow pencils for shaping our brows and it wasn’t until the seventies that we plucked our eyebrows into extinction. Eye-liner came in the form of a little dry cake of Revlon eyeliner that we applied with a wet brush. Nail polish was a single bottle of Revlon’s Café au Lait with no top coat, no base coat and definitely no regular trips to the mani-pedi salon—it was strictly do-it-yourself.
The girls who were being subsidized by their parents (I was definitely not one of them and neither were my girlfriends) would wear expensive L’Air du Temps or White Shoulders fragrance. Since I could never afford such an extravagance, at lunchtime I’d zip off to the little drugstore in the office building on Edward Street behind mine where I’d generously spritz myself with pricier scents from the counter-top testers. I practically asphyxiated my co-workers when I returned from lunch in a haze of lily-of-the-valley or Persian lilac. But I did manage to scrape together the funds for the smallest-size bottle of Estée Lauder’s Youth Dew which seemed very classy and exotic.
One day I noticed the girl at the next sink in the washroom scouring her face with a sandpaper-like compound called Snap which, when mixed with water was originally designed to remove axle grease from mechanics’ hands. She said her doctor had recommended it for her acne. Naturally I got on that bandwagon too and followed it up with Bonne Belle’s Ten-O-Six Lotion, an astringent in the days before it was called toner. Moisturizer hadn’t yet entered our beauty regime. It’s amazing I have any epidermis left.
Boomer girls in the sixties washed our hair twice a week and when our bangs got oily we hit them with the giant fuzzy puff of bath powder that always sat on our dresser. As a bonus, it added volume too. We also kept a little plastic container of Nuvola dry shampoo to shake into our roots in emergencies. Nuvola was like a mixture of talcum powder and cornstarch but it achieved the desired effect. It cost $1.29 which was a bit pricey but the little plastic lavender-capped container lasted forever.
suntanning was de rigeur and we faithfully slathered our bodies in Johnson’s baby oil with a few drops of iodine mixed in to enhance the frying properties. The resulting blistering sunburns were diligently treated with Noxzema until our skin fell off in sheets. The resulting blotchy tan was not attractive but more importantly, we’re now paying for our sins by seeking out expensive laser and lightning procedures to restore our damaged skin.
Every night we slept with a partial or entire head of hair encased in brush rollers to beef-up the bouffant. Bangs were scotch-taped to our foreheads to keep them straight and in place. Blow dryers had not yet been invented so twice a week we sat for an hour or so under an inflatable plastic hood that blew hot air through a plastic hose into our rolled-up “do”. Long, luscious locks like Jean Shrimpton’s were the goal.
Back to the future—2014. How could some simple makeup essentials and a teasing comb turn into the horror of consumerism that has become my bathroom cupboard today? Looking back, I should have stuck with my original formula: wash my face and body with a single bar of Dial soap; baby shampoo for my hair; Tame Crème Rinse; set, dry hair; spritz on a bit of French Formula hair spray; touch of Cover Girl face powder to hide the sun damage; a single eyebrow pencil to fix my earlier plucking disaster; a couple of swipes of cheap mascara and we’re good to go. If I could follow that regime I’d be able to live in a smaller house and would save thousands of dollars on false promises. But what would I do with the bags and bags of products collecting dust in my cupboards. Too bad consignment stores don’t take slightly used bottles of hair products, face and body moisturizers, makeup, nail polish, cleansers, serums and toiletries.
Being a single girl back in the olden days, the swingin’ sixties was an incredible pleasure and a unique experience I love sharing with my Boomer girlfriends. Come to think of it, upon reflection, I’m pretty sure some of those Willard Hall girls weren’t even virgins.