Scents touch a special chord, not only in our olfactory systems but also in our hearts and in our brains. We all can relate to a certain scent transporting us to another time and place. It’s a magical transformation. The smell of certain things baking in the oven may take us back to our mothers’ or grandmothers’ kitchens. Being near water may remind us of all those carefree days as children swimming in the lake or nearby river every summer. The fragrance of certain perfumes may transport us to memories of loved ones and ones we’ve loved. Whenever I open my late mother’s jewelry box, the lingering scent evokes the inside of her house and memories come flooding back. Sometimes, people who have lost a special person, keep a bathrobe or favourite sweater that carries the scent of that person, to provide comfort.
Ever since the days of owning a single bottle of (cheap) Evening in Paris cologne purchased at the local five and dime store and proudly displayed on my bedroom dresser when I was a teenager, I’ve been charmed and affected by fragrance. I love the different moods each one presents. I adore the beautiful bottles. I feel so feminine and uplifted when I spritz myself each morning. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a sizeable collection and even though many, if not most of my bottles are probably past their best-before date, I cannot part with them.
When I first started working for Bell Telephone on University Avenue in Toronto in 1965, my girlfriend and I used to go into the drugstore behind our office building on our lunch hour and spray ourselves with generous quantities of expensive perfumes we couldn’t afford to buy on our clerk-typist wages. White Shoulders and L’air du Temps were always favourites. I’m sure there were many days when we came back into the office after lunch nearly asphyxiating our coworkers after we’d doused ourselves in lilac or lily of the valley perfumes of questionable quality. As they say, ‘those were the days, my friend’.
There was a time in the ’80s when blooming boomers were encouraged to adopt a ‘signature scent’. Offices were awash in Opium, Red Door, Obsession, and Poison. One of the girls in my office came to work every day drenched in Cartier’s expensive La Panthère. I’ve never been able to limit myself to just one fragrance. Some days I’m in the mood for floral; other days I lean toward citrus or spicey. Does anyone remember wearing Shalimar or Estée Lauder’s Youth Dew in the ’60s? Or Elizabeth Arden’s Blue Grass? We were so sophisticated. When I worked in Eaton’s College Street store’s cosmetics department in 1970, we had people who came in purposely to buy giant bottles of 4711. We also sold a lot of Jean Naté, Yardley’s Lavender and Chantilly in the pink bottle. Remember them?
My favourite fragrance is called Émilie by French perfumier Fragonard. Émilie is a blend that includes my favourite flowers, rose, and jasmine. I first experienced this fragrance in 2012 when I toured southern France with a group of ladies guided by decorating and style guru Kimberley Seldon. We toured the Fragonard factory in Grasse, France where we were able to see how they gather the blooms, then distill and manufacture the various fragrances according to which flowers are in season. I also once toured a small, second-floor perfume museum near the Opera House in Paris and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
After I originally purchased a tiny atomizer of Fragonard’s Émilie and it turned out to be so amazingly beautiful, I went to the internet the following year to order more. A few weeks later, to my great delight, a more substantial bottle arrived in the mail, all the way from France. Sometime later, however, I was disappointed to receive a notice from them that they would no longer be able to send it to me as postal regulations forbid certain chemicals and liquids being sent by mail. I guess I’ll just have to fly to France to restock. It’s available on Amazon from third-party sellers but I’ve never ordered from them so I can’t vouch for their authenticity. I did manage to pick up another bottle a couple of years ago when I was In France which should last me long after I go to the ‘home’. I only hope my fellow residents will enjoy it as much as I do—cough, cough.
What seems to distinguish the Fragonard perfume from so many (and there are soooo many) available on the market today, is the purity of the fragrance. Perhaps it’s just me, but whenever I try a sample of some new fragrance being launched, I find it inevitably leaves an unpleasant chemical smell on my skin, not the clear floral fragrance I’m looking for. So many perfumes today, even from the major perfume houses, contain so many synthetic ingredients that they all smell the same. And, as we all know, each one reacts differently with our individual body chemistry. Chanel No. 5 always smells like ginger ale on me while it’s divine on a friend of mine.
One day when I was in the Hudson’s Bay store’s perfume department, a customer produced a small gold atomizer like the Fragonard one I bought in France, asking the sales associate to find something similar. Her daughter had bought it for her, also in France, and she wanted to replicate it. ‘Good luck’, I thought, as I meandered off. I once read somewhere that Michelle Obama wears Cartier’s Délice which has a delicate cherry essence. I couldn’t get myself off fast enough to Holt Renfrew to spritz myself from the tester, hoping to capture just a tiny bit of her essence.
Even the scent of sheets dried outside in the fresh air is enough to send me into paroxysms of bliss. A whiff of fresh spruce can return me to the Christmas trees in my childhood home. Does the smell of wood smoke remind you of summer camping trips? The smell of Neutrogena soap always puts me in the hands of Dr. Cornish, an old dentist I had fifty years ago, in the days when dentists didn’t wear latex gloves, just washing their hands for every new patient. The unique scent of old-fashioned ivory soap reminds me of time spent as a child at a friend’s cottage.
Perhaps my aging nose has lost some of its sensitivity as the years go by. As my sense of smell diminishes, I pity the people fainting in my wake as I stroll down the street in a suffocating cloud of my floral scent du jour, oblivious to those with allergies or an aversion to fragrance. I absolutely adore fragrance and will never stop wearing it. For whatever effect scent has on our brains and hearts, I’m not going to deny myself.
Are you a fragrance aficionado like me? What’s your favourite and what memories does it evoke?
Type A personality types who must be constantly busy and productive must also be constantly exhausted. Or maybe I just wish that so I don’t feel guilty about not being as virtuous as they are. Much as I wish I could be like them, that’s not the way I was engineered. My mother had to register me in morning kindergarten so I could nap in the afternoons and unfortunately, the habit stuck. I still love to nap in the afternoons. It was inconvenient when I was working (!!) but now that I’m retired I am free to do—not entirely without guilt but it helps if no one else is home to make me feel like I should be doing something productive. I guess I’d describe myself as Type D-minus. Having nothing on my agenda and lots of time to devote to it is my idea of a perfect day.
Life wasn’t always a week of Saturdays which is why I appreciate retirement so much. During all those years of getting up in the dark, driving to work in the dark, driving home in the dark, preparing a meal, doing chores and never getting enough sleep I only dreamed of the schedule I enjoy today. Sometimes at work, I’d be so totally exhausted I’d feel like my head was going to thump down on my desk. It was everything I could do to keep my eyelids from slamming shut. Sleep deprivation is a common affliction among working people and we’re made to feel guilty if we aren’t giving our jobs one hundred and ten percent. I think millennials have turned their backs on that attitude, which is another topic for another day. It was different for boomers and even more so for our parents, The Greatest Generation.
Retirement has afforded me the time to be my own boss—a well-earned luxury and a privilege. Spending a day in my own home doing whatever I want is a complete and utter joy. Most of the time I don’t even put the radio on as the news or a talk show that focuses on political or social conflicts only spoils my tranquility. Daytime television is verboten unless I have a pile of ironing to do. Then, I set up the ironing board in the living room and iron while I watch one of my favourite PVR’d shows. I read voraciously; I compose my rants for Boomerbroadcast; I sit in the yard; go for a walk; putter about the house; generally I live my best life.
That’s not to say I’m anti-social or inactive. Not at all. Lunches with girlfriends are great fun. We now have the time and energy required for entertaining at home from time to time. Attending seminars on subjects of personal interest, visiting friends and indulging in hobbies are all part of retirement life. Even having the luxury of being able to go grocery shopping on a quiet Tuesday morning is an utter joy. There are always new sights in the city to see, new movies to check out or author readings to attend. Many boomers are dedicated volunteers, contributing generous, unpaid hours to various community services.
But there’s nothing quite as delicious as a day chez moi. Too many of those days would, of course, be sad but that’s not what we’re talking about. I’ve spent considerable time and a little bit of money getting my home to be a place of complete comfort and joy. My boomer gal pals have also created colourful, creatively decorated homes that they too enjoy and enjoy sharing with friends. We’re nesting and loving it.
Now that I’m in my 70s (Yeoww! That number still blows my mind), I’ve become philosophical about my time left. It could be 20 years, which will fly by far too quickly, or it could be 20 minutes. As we’ve watched some of our friends cope with illness and others pass away, we have a greater appreciation for the time we’re enjoying now. Every day is truly a gift, wherever and however I choose to spend it. And for that, I am truly grateful. How do you spend your days of eternal Saturdays?
I’ve added a new section to Boomerbroadcast called My Favourite Things to the menus at the top of the page. One of the subsections is Fashion Favouriteswhich I intend to expand as I discover fashion items friendly to boomers. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I’ve also includedLinks I Like for blogs and Facebook sites for baby boomer women’s fashion advice I enjoy following. There’s such a dearth of inspiration out there for baby boomer women in the world of fashion, that we have to share whatever we find. The magazine industry has forsaken us. It’s not as if I look to Vogue for the latest in how to camouflage boomer waistlines (or lack thereof) or the best high fashion shoes with industrial strength arch supports, but I do look to magazines for basic inspiration and find them sorely lacking.
I clearly remember my very first magazine subscription. It was Chatelaine, the ubiquitous Canadian magazine for the so-called modern woman. The wonderful feminist and women’s advocate Doris Anderson was the editor. The year was 1968 and I was living in my very first apartment by myself, on Vaughan Road in Toronto after spending the previous three years living with a series of agreeable and not-so-agreeable roommates. I was so proud of that place because it was all mine. It was a bachelor apartment in a prewar three-storey walk-up with no elevator, no communal laundry room and no counter in the tiny kitchen. It did have two old white enamel sinks on the kitchen wall and a genuine old clawfoot bathtub (no shower, naturally) in the tiny bathroom. It also had an unlimited supply of mice which I gave up trapping after I’d disposed of nineteen of the cute little creatures. Subscribing to a ladies magazine was an affirmation that I was an independent grownup, a career gal who could be trusted to be at the address I gave them and pay the annual subscription fee.
Over the years, my love of magazines developed into a bit of a problem. I became a magazine junkie. At its peak, not that long ago, I subscribed to eighteen magazines a month. I’d be truly annoyed if a day went by and there wasn’t a new magazine in my mailbox. I loved magazines—their editorial content, their glossy pictures, the quality of the paper, the fold-over perfume samples, even the advertisements. I couldn’t wait to make a pot of tea, sit down with my marker pen whenever a new one arrived and go through it slowly, page by page. It was even my dream to be a magazine editor in my next life.
Things have changed. Just like my favourite women’s shows on Sirius XM radio, the good ones started disappearing. MORE magazine, one of my favourites was cancelled about three years ago. Easy Living from the UK was cancelled but I managed to replace it with RED, which is similar and I get it online cheaper and faster than waiting for it to arrive at Chapters/Indigo. Then, some of the decorating magazines that I got from the U.S. like Veranda and House Beautiful just became too weird or too arty so I let them go. But, out of patriotic loyalty, I kept up my subscriptions to Canadian decorating mags like Canadian House and Home and Style at Home. But their too-frequent features on mid-century modern and reviving 70’s avocado green and macramé are starting to concern me.
My love affair with fashion magazines however is in serious jeopardy. I much prefer ELLE Canada over the American edition but their targeting of the 18-35 demographic continues to annoy and frustrate me. LouLou is gone. Maclean’s has cut back from once a week to once a month and after more than fifty years of subscribing to Canada’s stalwart Chatelaine I’m actually considering not renewing my subscription. They’ve cut back to bi-monthly and it’s a pretty lean publication geared more to young mothers who probably don’t have the time or inclination to even read Chatelaine. What’s a boomer gal to do?
Vogue is the source of most of my delicious criticism, however. I love to poke fun at Vogue and I’ve concluded that the only reason I still subscribe is because Vogue has become my most prized source of derision. And, the September issue alone costs as much on the newsstand as my entire year’s subscription. What would I have to bitch about if I didn’t get my monthly Vogue? Its level of irrelevancy is astounding. Where fashion magazines should be inspirational and somewhat aspirational, Vogue is an exercise in complete idiocy. I still like the folded perfume samples but only the old classic French scents. As an old classic myself, most of the new fragrances all have a common chemical kind of smell that makes it impossible to distinguish one from another. Maybe my nose has lost its sensitivity but I don’t think I’m that old.
How do the fashion mags retain their credibility and more importantly their readers with the ridiculous nonsense they put out each month? It’s no surprise magazine publishing is in peril. Boomer gals love fashion—after all, we’re the ones who launched mini skirts, platform shoes and pant suits in the workplace in the sixties. But once we pass the age of 35 we’re suddenly invisible. I still have to wonder how the under-35 demographic can relate to $5,000.00 handbags and scraps of rags photographed on anorexic teenage models leaping over garbage cans. I also subscribe to InStyle but I find their emphasis on skinny, young celebrities in evening gowns off-putting. Hard to relate. Rod Stewart sang our tune perfectly so long ago when his Dad said, “We looked ridiculous”. That’s what most fashion mags are offering up today.
Back in the sixties and seventies when we were all whipping up our little A-line dresses and flared pants on our handy-dandy Singer sewing machines, we considered Vogue patterns the epitome of style and taste. Butterick, Simplicity and McCalls patterns were good for everyday fashions but for a special event a Vogue pattern tipped the balance for chic. We got our fashion inspiration from Vogue magazine and our lifestyle guidance from Cosmo’s Helen Gurley Brown. Easy peasy.
Where does a boomer gal go for fashion inspiration today? We used to rely on quality magazines like Vogue to provide us with reliable fashion direction. Most of my own fashion inspiration these days comes from like-minded bloggers and observing street fashion when I’m out and about. I frequently approach women on the street or in the food court and ask where they got a particular item they’re wearing, or who cut their hair. Fashion magazines offer nothing relevant to baby boomer women. We’re forced to find our own inspiration outside the publishing industry. I’ll never understand why the Anna Wintours and Grace Coddingtons of the fashion world are so revered. Perhaps there was a time when their declarations held water but exactly who are they serving today? Certainly not real women. Definitely not me and my boomer gal pals. I’m tempted to dust off my old Singer and see if I can’t create something on my own that is wearable, flattering and inspired.
There are a few retailers now who are addressing our demographic. Chico’s recently came to Canada but I’m still waiting for others who are sensitive to our taste in fashion. Chico’s has an affiliate lingerie business SOMA that has wonderful, appropriate lounge wear, lingerie and bathing suits for women our age, but so far they’re only in the U.S. J. Jill is another one which hasn’t arrived here yet but has great fashions at affordable prices. They both have wonderful on-line stores but the cost of importing and shipping combined with dollar exchange is often prohibitive. I’ve also had great luck buying Eileen Fisher pieces on sale at various on-line sites but it requires patience and an American delivery address. I’ve scored some EF pieces at up to 70% off which puts her fashion items more within reach of our budgets.
Since fashion mags don’t address what we’re looking for in fashion (and we do have money to spend), I’m sharing some sites that I’ve found to be targeted to our specific tastes, requirements and lifestyle. Check out Links I Like at the top of the page and under My Favourite Things,open the Fashion Favouritessection for some brands I like. I’ll keep adding to these menu items as I discover new sources. If you have any suggestions to share, I’d love to hear them. You’re beautiful mes très chères.
My friend Margaret had already purchased the 10X magnifying mirror—before I could warn her about the consequences. As we progress along the aging continuum (how’s that for euphemizing ‘getting old’?) we often need help chasing down those errant eyebrow or chin hairs. Over time, we move from 5X to 7X and we’re now at the 10X stage which can be truly traumatizing when we go exploring.
If you want to restart your sluggish heart or enact your own version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, then checking out your face in a magnifying mirror is guaranteed to get all your bells ringing. The reason our eyesight gets weak as we age is an earned kindness. We were never intended to see the resulting wrinkles, pitting and pigmentation we’ve acquired over the years. When we look in the (regular) mirror we hazily see pretty much the same face that stared back at us in our twenties, and that one was rather pretty. Why spoil the illusion by getting a magnifying mirror? In fact, they’re so distorting it’s impossible to cram your whole face into one full-size shot to apply makeup and we are forced to view our imperfections pixel by pixel. Downright horrifying.
Those pores and fine lines I keep working so assiduously on trying to wrangle with expensive lotions and creams appear like moon craters. Stray chin hairs look like birch trees in a field of dried grass. Tiny wrinkles become trenches. And, I’ve discovered, it’s not just men who get unsightly nose hairs. It’s best not to be confronted with the harshness of all that reality. I was much happier and prettier before burdening myself with a magnifying mirror. Facing the truth in the mirror can be very demoralizing.
Makeup mirrors should come with a warning label. At the very least, they should have a decal affixed, like on the side mirrors of cars: “Image may appear scarier than it really is.” It’s too late for me and my friend Margaret but I’m warning you. If you’re contemplating buying a 10X magnifying mirror—DON’T. Just slap on the spackle, paint those eyebrows somewhere in the middle of your forehead, add a slash of blusher and put on a great, big smile. It’ll remove years. Face it; you’re the best you’ll ever be; you’re still able to admire yourself so be thankful and celebrate it.
I rather liked my letter to Santa last year, so I’ve decided to repost it in case he didn’t get it in time to fulfill my wishes:
Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas this year is . . .
For the most part I’ve been a very good girl this year, more nice than naughty and I’ve generally tried to be a better person throughout the year. By Santa standards that should qualify me for plenty of loot under the Christmas tree but the truth is I don’t want or need a single thing. I’m incredibly lucky and the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. This was not always the case. In fact, it’s the bumps in the road of life that make us truly appreciate the good times. Boomers are now reaching the age where we’re losing friends, partners and family members at an increasing rate. Where we once spent a lot of time and money attending bridal showers, lavish weddings and baby showers, we now attend too many ‘celebrations of life’. Which is why I’m celebrating the life I have now, every single day.
Over the years, holiday arrangements with family and friends gradually evolved toward less gift-giving and more sharing of good times. I’ve even heard about parents withholding some Christmas and birthday gifts from the grandchildren because they already have too much and don’t appreciate it. We still remember the younger grandchildren in our family with gifts from Santa but that’s only until they’re launched. Everyone has more than enough in material goods and we no longer need to populate landfill with our accumulated and discarded frivolous consumption.
Not having to troll the crowded, over-heated stores and malls for questionable gifts that will only end up at a charity shop has been incredibly freeing. No more Secret Santa exercises and no more heart attacks and bouts of depression when we get our January Visa statement. And, how much does one really need when we have each other? That’s more than enough by anyone’s standards.
So, to wrap up, dear Santa, here’s my wish list for this year:
Love, caring and an end to the violence for all victims of abuse.
A warm, safe bed and home for the homeless.
Free medical care for the sick and ailing.
Plenty of healthy food for the hungry.
Hope for the hopeless.
Love and a safe environment for all the world’s children.
When I walk into a department store at this time of year I feel like a mouse standing in front of a trap loaded with lovely fresh Gruyère, wagging my cute little tail with a sense of anticipation and a teensy bit of caution. My nose and my credit card are twitching, my ears are perked up taking in the cuddly Christmas music and my belly is calling out for gratification. I want all the cheese and I want it now. The cosmetics department is strategically positioned at the entrance to every store because that’s how their marketing gurus bait us as soon as we walk in the door. It’s particularly hazardous during the holiday season because everything is festooned with sparkles, sequins, tulle and ribbon unlike any other time of year. And what girl can resist bling? Visions of sugar plums dance before our innocent, unadorned eyes.
Speaking of eyes, have you tried the latest bedazzled glittery palette of eye shadows? Electric turquoise, sparkly bronze, shimmery green, deep sea iridescent blue; they’re all on display and irresistibly packaged with a bonus highlighting apricot blusher in a clever little compact resembling an evening clutch. With a little leopard motif. And if I spend just $65.00, I can score a travel case loaded with more than $400.00 worth of products for a mere $85.00 extra. By my calculations, that’s a savings of $315.00? How can I resist? The fact that the travel case and most of its contents are of no use to me is irrelevant. I’m smitten. Hooked. Sucked in. But not quite.
Then, there’s perfume. The bottles enchant me; the fragrances rarely do, which is why the fragrance companies hire top designers to create new, glamorous decanters that gullible people like me can’t resist. And at this time of year, they’ll toss in a cute purse-sized atomizer and a lovely bottle of matching body lotion exquisitely packaged in a gilded gift box with pink and gold grosgrain ribbon. My heart is screaming “Load up” while my brain says, “Whoahh girl! You already have #$%^ bottles of perfume and you’re running out of spaces to put them.”
Due to my advanced age, I’ve been down this road before. Over the years I’ve learned to resist the cosmetics sirens calling my name. I even have photographic evidence to remind me of my previous falls from sanity. The only solution I’ve found to avoid these seasonal promotions is to avoid department stores altogether until mid-January. I should be able to accomplish this because in our world of over-abundance and rampant consumerism, my family and friends have reached a “No gifts” agreement which suits us just fine. I may not be sporting the latest fluorescent yellow eye shadow or be wearing a debt-inducing glamorous new sparkly outfit this season, but that’s OK. I just wish January would hurry up and get here before I make a grab for the cheese, which will just leave me feeling constipated and hating myself. That would not be in the spirit of the season at all.