Perfume – or Scent as we called it then.

First of all, I want to say that I love perfume so the research for this post has been very enjoyable. I feel undressed without a hint of perfume about me, however subtle. I have been known to ask perfect strangers what perfume they’re wearing when I smell one I like on them.

Secondly, my friend Sue suggested this topic to me. Unfortunately, Sue is anosmic so has no sense of smell whatsoever, although she is able to remember the smells she used to like before losing the ability to smell them.

Here are a few quotes about perfume:

A woman’s perfume tells more about her than her handwriting. — Christian Dior

Perfume is the key to our memories. — The Perfume Garden

What do I wear to bed? Why, Chanel No. 5 of course. — Marilyn Monroe

Long after one has forgotten what a woman wore, the memory of her perfume lingers. — Christian Dior.

So, getting back to the 1950s and 60s. When I was a child we knew it as scent, not perfume or fragrance. It usually came in tiny bottles and was dabbed out direct from the bottle onto the skin. Always behind the ears and on the inside of the wrists. From being very young I was always intrigued by perfumes. Top of the range perfumes were around at that time – Chanel, Dior, Estee Lauder and Guerlain, for example. But none of the mums and aunts I knew in the 50s wore any of those. I’m sure they weren’t sold in your average small town Boots or chemist’s shop. So this is my own memory of perfume in the 50s, not a definitive history.

Many perfumes were simply flower perfumes. Probably one of the first I ever owned was a little bottle of Devon Violets bought in Devon with holiday spending money. Then there was Apple Blossom, English Lavender, Lily of the Valley (Muguet des Bois if you were feeling posh!) and various rose perfumes.

il_fullxfull.823448472_rayw    nd.12518   c303b9b5591ce927917988bce47ad84e

There was also something known just as eau de cologne. I believe the one known as ‘the original eau de cologne’ is the famous 4711 which I didn’t come across until the 1970s. The non-specific eau de cologne I remember was splashed around by ladies in hot weather, dotted onto cotton hankies and dabbed on the temples if one had a headache.

220px-Eau_de_Cologne_1280470

For going out, (which my mum and dad didn’t do very often!) my mum’s ‘best’ perfume was White Fire. If I smelled that now it would take me right back to my mum getting ready in a pretty 50s full-skirted dance dress, a stole and dabbing scent from her tiny bottle of White Fire. I have looked it up and it was made by Grossmith. They still make perfume and at some point there was talk of White Fire being re-released but as far as I can see it hasn’t been.

BxzkcJpIIAAUbgB         download

The other ‘best’ perfume I remember my mum having in the 1950s was Evening in Paris which sounded so glamorous to me!

As children, we loved making perfume in the summer. We would gather up rose petals, crush them in water with a little salt then decant the resulting ‘perfume’ into old aspirin bottles or whatever we could find that was available. This was given as presents to our mum, our grandmothers and various other relatives – and was probably vile!

Moving on the men’s fragrances now and the one which springs straight to mind is Old Spice. Looking up the history of aftershave when researching for this post, I learned that aftershave began as an antiseptic to prevent nicks and cuts becoming infected, progressed to include skin calming ingredients to ease the sting of freshly shaved skin, then was enhanced by the use of perfume. Old Spice was launched in 1937 – as a women’s fragrance. Old Spice for Men arrived the following year.

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However, this blog is based on personal recollection and it seems to me that when TVs and TV advertising entered our homes men were suddenly exposed to ads for Old Spice aftershave featuring impossibly hunky men and rugged sailing ships. I know that in our house it was only after seeing the ads that we started buying our dad aftershave for birthdays or Christmas. I can also remember us thinking we were extremely modern when we bought our dad some pre-electric shave lotion when he acquired his first electric razor.

I will probably write a Part 2 at some point and talk about some of the new fragrances which came out in the 1960s.

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Good Old-Fashioned Soap and Water.

Soap is an essential item in everyday life but we don’t often look closely at its story. It has been around for thousands of years having first been used by the Babylonians and Sumerians. Soap has been important to us for many hundreds of years but not for cleanliness and hygiene; it was an essential part of the textile making process and was used to remove grease from wool and cloth ready for dyeing. By Victorian times, there was an increased awareness of the role of soap in the prevention of disease. Working class families used bars of carbolic soap for washing floors, clothes and bodies. In the late 1800s, branded soaps were arriving on the scene.

93c73029-4b12-4f70-82ff-313c5117b7f4              Unbranded carbolic soap.

soap_lifebuoy_85g             Lifebuoy soap.

 

Lifebuoy soap was one of the first, invented in 1894. By the 1930s it was sold in two sizes – the larger bar was known as Household Lifebuoy and was for cleaning homes and clothes. The smaller bar was for personal use.

By the 1950s, when I was a child, soap powder was available so clothes were no longer washed with bars of soap. My mum favoured Daz. There were milder, sweeter smelling toilet soaps available which were advertised as being good for the complexion.  Compared to using carbolic soap on the face, Palmolive, Camay or Pears must have felt luxurious. The ads would have had us believe that in order to achieve a perfect complexion all that was needed was the right soap! We always had Lux in our house.

Soap-Ad-1953         I still love the smell  of Pears soap.

Soap-Ad-1950

This is quite a claim!

 

e2d6b7ccb2d10919b426f530afa99361            soap          128a791b4706689570bb1db48ab3fc43

It all seemed to be about looking like a movie star and pleasing your man.

camay            l-nwgpwyqur95b7y        lux

There is now a bewildering amount of skincare products available. There are cleansers, toners, serums, night creams, rejuvenating creams, etc etc. The adverts still lead us to believe in the amazing properties of these products – but advertising laws are stricter now and the cosmetics companies can no longer make the claims that were made in the 50s and 60s.

f7f47eca698ffe5b31366f47db34264b      IMG_6033  silverberg-store-picture

Since this post has turned into a potted history of soap, I’m including a few advertisements from before the 1950s to entertain you.

Soap-Ad-1911           1911 – the earliest days of motoring.

Soap-Ad-1931       1931

Soap-Ad-1933     1933

 

1950s Mums and their weekly hair dos.

My daughter recently drew my attention to an article on the demise of the shampoo and set and suggested it might be a good subject for a blog post. So I started thinking and I kept remembering more and more things – here is the result.

Back in the 1950s when I was a child nobody had showers in their homes and the norm was for people to bath once a week. Going back even further, houses didn’t even have running water and baths. In towns and cities there were public baths which were places where you could go to pay for a cubicle with a bath in it and running hot water. That’s why many of our older swimming pools here in the UK are known as ‘the baths’ because that’s how they started.

public baths

This bit of background is to help explain why the weekly visit to the hairdresser was so important. Nowadays we go to a salon every so often for a decent hair cut by a proficient stylist. In between cuts we wash and style our hair ourselves, most people daily. In the 1950s the current hair styles for women were all quite bouffant and structured. It was not a look which could easily be achieved at home with the equipment and the bathrooms we had at the time.  Once a week a woman had a ‘shampoo and set’ or a ‘hairdo’ at a salon. The hair was washed, covered in setting lotion, set in rollers and dried (baked!) for ages by a massive metal hood drier under which the client sat. If the hair was straight or very fine a perm was essential in order to achieve the desired look. The trim was incidental and was added to the procedure every few weeks to keep the do in shape. It seems strange to us now but visiting the hairdresser weekly was seen as normal rather than extravagant.

50s hair driers         Women's Hairstyles in the 1950s (6)   Elizabeth-Taylor-1950s-hairstyle-9   1950s

The usual sight at a ladies’ hair salon and some of the current styles.

During the week in between the hair was kept in shape with the help of rollers. These could be put in at night and slept in or put in in the morning and left all day (under a net or a headscarf) until being combed out later in the day before the family came home.

My mum had a shampoo and set every week of her adult life. She also slept in rollers. She never needed a perm as she had naturally thick, wavy hair. I remember that when we went on holiday for a fortnight in the summer holidays my mum would visit a salon in the place we were staying for a shampoo and set in the middle of the two weeks.

This is what was used then . . . . . . . .

rollers            rollers 2   hair-spray-helene-curtis-ads-1950s.jpg    setting lotion   50s hair

 

and what can be used today.

ghd   tongs 1

serum         blow-dry-hair

 

 

Home Made Clothes and Entertainment

When I was a teenager in the mid 1960s my friends and I were all caught up in the fashions and music of the times. We lived in a remote area,  money wasn’t plentiful and as we were still at school we didn’t have spending money apart from a bit of pocket money.

The latest single (known as a 45) was saved up for or, if you had a birthday coming, up you might be bought it as a present. At home, my dad bought a reel to reel tape recorder, I remember it was a Grundig TK14. We used to tape pop songs from the radio (I believe it was illegal but we didn’t know that) by holding the microphone near to the speaker of the transistor radio. The quality must have been terrible but we were happy! You had to be smart on the record button to make sure you didn’t get the presenter’s voice at the beginning and end of the song.

dansette01      TK14 good pic

My brother, sister and I used to have fun pretending to be radio presenters and putting our own commentary on the tape in between songs.

I loved Honey magazine and used to read each issue cover to cover many times. My mum was an excellent knitter and sewer and made most of our dresses, jumpers and cardigans. Once I spotted a delightful green dress in my magazine and showed it to my mum. She copied it for me by combining three different dress patterns and I was SO proud of it! I think I wore it all the parties and dances I went to that year. The picture and the patterns aren’t the actual ones but similar.

green dress                    Dress5                         mccalls-8755

I had a lovely pair of cream T-Bar shoes for best which I wore throughout one year with a camel coloured A-line dress. The following year camel was out and turquoise was big so I bought a Lady Esquire shoe dye and dyed the shoes turquoise. My sister and I also used to use Dylon dyes to give clothes a new look.

60s shoes                                     shoe dye

One winter, when capes were in fashion, I longed for one. My mum had an old policeman’s cape which had belonged to my dad’s policeman brother. She cut it down for me, put new fastenings on it and lined it with emerald green satin from one of her old dance dresses. I thought it was fabulous!

 

cape