Monday, May 21, 2007

Final question in our etiquette quiz: Why is it that young ladies were once counseled not to wear perfume or large pieces of real jewelry before the age of thirty?

This is an old rule that has persisted in some form or another even up until today. However, in our times, we do not follow it so strictly as it was followed at the height of the Victorian era.

It used to be strongly felt that a young lady's fresh and natural beauty needed very little ornamentation. It was also thought that she should not wear real perfume, but only the lightest scent, as she needed little fragrance other than to keep herself fresh and clean. Similarly, it was thought that her youthful beauty was most flattered by wearing fresh flowers in her sash or as a corsage instead of by wearing jewelry. If a young girl did wear jewelry, it was delicate in nature. Larger and more ornate pieces were left to the more mature woman.

In her book, "Trying to get to Heaven," actress Dixie Carter says that she was alarmed to find brown spots on behind her ear and on her neck. This was not too long after she turned thirty. Fearing that she had some unknown skin disease, she made an appointment with the doctor. He laughed and told her the brown spots came from some kind of interaction with her perfume and her skin. He said the spots were perfectly harmless. Since she had followed the old Southern rule and had not worn perfume before the age of thirty, she had never encountered this problem. She learned to rotate the spots where she places perfume so that these brown spots do not occur. (I have never had this type of reaction from perfume, but apparently, some people do).

I grew up in Atlanta in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Most of my friends and I were allowed to wear eau de toilette, cologne, or even a very subtle perfume beginning in our early teens. Because retailers were appealing to the huge baby boom generation, they made several scents that were light and delicate and suitable for young women. (Anyone remember Yardley perfumes? How about Love's Baby Soft, which smelled like baby powder? Some of my friends and I even used real baby powder as a way of achieving a light, fresh scent,) There were even children's versions available that could be worn by little girls -- but these were used only for playing dress up and not on a daily basis.

I picked my signature scent -- Shalimar -- at around age 16 or 17. In truth, it is a bit heavy for a girl of that age. But, that was my choice. My father would buy it for me for Christmas, just like he bought my mother's favorite -- L'Heure Blue -- for her. So, that scent now has sentimental meaning for me. I'm glad my father buys it for me, because our budget doesn't allow for the price tag! I did not then and do not now wear Shalimar every day, though. I often wore lighter scents.

Though we were allowed to wear some form of fragrance and to use skincare products, few of us were allowed to wear facial cosmetics or to shave our legs as early as we would have liked to. Of course, we all wanted to be glamorous and grown-up, like the models we saw in fashion magazines. And, there were always a few families who pushed the envelope and let their daughters wear mature fashions and cosmetics much sooner than other girls were allowed to. The rest of us didn't know how lucky we were to be protected from growing up too quickly!

For the main, most of my parents' generation believed that young girls were not mature enough to handle looking like adults before their time. Actually, some adults were very conservative when using cosmetic enhancements themselves. My mother, who was an extraordinarily beautiful woman, wore only lipstick and a bit of blush throughout her entire life. And, her skin remained gorgeous well into her mature years. It was only when she contracted a terminal illness that she began to show her age. Similarly, my mother-in-law never wore foundation until she turned thirty-five. I look at photos of my mother and and of my mother in law when they were young and wore no makeup, and they both looked beautiful and elegant.

My father had a saying, "Why gild the lily?" He meant that a lily was beautiful enough in its bloom without trying to coat it with gold; or, in other words, a young girl's fresh face was lovely without covering it with artificial color. He was fond of saying this to me whenever he thought I was wearing too much make-up. He persisted in saying this until I married, when my husband took up the cause.

Dh often complimented me by saying, "You know, you are so pretty just as you are. You don't even need makeup." Funny how both men quit telling me that I didn't need make-up once I passed thirty-five or forty. LOL.

When I look back on it, I realize that there were certain milestones that my friends and I were gradually allowed to pass on the route to becoming adult women. Our parents believed that there was a certain birthday for each of the following:

1) The age a girl got her her first stockings (pantyhose today).
2) The age a girl wore her first pair of heels (no stilettos, of course)
3) The age a girl and her mother purchased her first training bra. (This was tied more to need than to a specific birthday.)
4) The age a girl might discreetly cover a shiny nose with a bit of powder from a compact (often around thirteen). About this time, a girl might also be allowed to use a bit of clear lip gloss.
4) The age a girl finally, finally get to use a little mascara and some blush. Eyeshadow came somewhere in there.
5) The age a girl was first allowed shave her legs.
6) The age a girl might go on a "real" date.

The years for each of these milestones varied slightly from family to family. But, in general, our parents supported each other in the belief that young girls should dress appropriately for their age. Parenting is never easy, and we baby-boomers were by no means a picnic to raise. But, at least my parents generation presented somewhat of a united front. I know mothers of young girls now who either get little support or even opposition from their friends when attempting to help their daughters dress age-appropriately.

As much as my generation chafed at having to wait for certain things, there was an air of sweetness to these rites of passage. We learned that none of these things were to be hurried. Each one was a step along the way. When each one arrived, it was to be celebrated. Attaining these milestones one by one gave a girl the sense that it was a very special thing to grow up to be a woman.

Also, there was a distinct difference between the dress of a little girl and the dress of a mature woman. Dress for the preteen or teen girl was somewhere in between -- not little-girly, but still with a youthfulness appropriate to our years.

Of course, we were the generation that popularized jeans and broke down school dress codes. I lived in a conservative area, and our school was probably one of the last to cave in. But, eventually, we pushed until we were allowed to wear pants and jeans to school.

This massive shift in clothing styles that took place during my teens further divided adult clothing from teen clothing, though perhaps not beneficially so. We went from being a very neat lot to being a very scruffy lot. Some middle-aged adults tried to wear the styles of the young, but these experiments seldom came off very well.

Even then, however, you seldom saw girls below the age of twelve dressed as little miniature adults, as you do today. Much of our society seems bent on pushing seven year olds into the same type of outfits that Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears wear.

Today, when I look at little girls, who are decked to the hilt in "adult" fashion, I feel a bit wistful for them. Actually, many an adult woman would blush to wear styles that are now sold to little girls. But, I do wonder if some of these girls are going to look back one day and feel that they missed a part of childhood.

Preteens probably have the hardest sailing in this area. Going through puberty is fun, but also challenging. Why make it harder for young girls by allowing them to dress in such a way that calls attention to their developing bodies?

Of course, the young are always impatient to grow up. My friends and I certainly were! And, thus, it has probably always been. In the days when a girl had to be sixteen to put her hair up, girls in braids begged to be able to wear their hair like a "grown-up".

Yet, until our formative years have passed, we can't fully appreciate how sweet our youth is. Therefore, its up to adults -- who should understand this concept -- to help a children slow things down and to enjoy the process of growing up.

Some of us would find the no perfume/no jewelry until thirty rule a bit extreme today. Some of us might have convictions that women of any age should not wear jewelry or makeup. Many of us fall somewhere in between.

Maybe, we can all give some thought to the principle behind the rule. Perhaps, we should think of ways to help our girls and our boys to dress and act in ways appropriate for their age. How we each decide to put this principle into practice may vary. But, we probably all agree that it's a wise idea.

After all, a young girl's face and form is lovely simply by virtue of innocence and of youth. Perhaps, my father has a good point. Why gild the lily?



Anonymous said...

'Why gild the lily' I agree. I wear little make-up myself still. I was not allowed to wear makeup or get my ears pierced until I was much older than my contempories. Children grow up too fast these days.

Jean in Wisc said...

What a walk down memory lane--Love's Baby Soft! A friend always wore this. You've shared a lot of thoughts that I have never put into words. I've loved every stage of raising my daughter--and look upon next year's transition from homeschool to college with a bit of a sigh of joy and sadness. It has been a delight to have a young lady in the household :-).

Thank you--

Elizabeth said...

Hi Sarah and Jean,

Sarah, I have a funny story about not being allowed to pierce our ears until we reached a certain age. A friend of mine wanted to pierce hers so desperately that she pierced her own -- while her parents and sister were not at home! Ouch! The trouble was, she got one a little off center. Therefore, she felt she could never wear hoops or anything that would show the holes. She wore only big earrings that covered the entire lobe.

Hi Jean --

Someone else who remembers Baby Soft!

Yes, it's sweet and just a touch of sad to watch a daughter grow up, isn't it? My daughter got married last year, and I've loved seeing how happy and grown-up she is. But, I do sometimes miss the days when my kids were at home.

Karen said...

Oh have you brought back memories! I do so agree that life for girls today is radically different than those "good old days" (although sometimes they didn't seem quite that good at the time). I remember Love's Baby Soft....or even better, we would use "Baby Magic" lotion and "Baby Magic" powder (Johnson & Johnson's if the other wasn't available)- all of us girls would smell so fresh and clean and soft. I still love that smell. The first "grown-up" cologne I remember having was "Jontue"-worn discreetly and sporadically while in high school. And make-up...I still remember when my mother bought me a soft pink lipstick and some translucent pressed powder, both by Bonne Bell-I hardly ever wore either but oh how I loved having it. So very different from young girls today....they have a full face of make-up on when they are in middle daughter (now 21) never went that route...she would call these girls "hootchie mamas"-lol...a common middle school phrase used during that time. I remember anticipating with so much excitement every "milestone" during my growing-up years. You just didn't wear makeup, get your ears pierced, or shave your legs before a certain age. Girls now have all of that "behind" them by the time they are half-way through middle school - no milestones such as these to look forward to. They are forced into adulthood so fast-with peer pressure, media standards, etc. Clothing is another thing- and SO very different. We had to wear dresses to school until they changed the dress code while I was in middle school-even then, if you wore pants, it had to be a pants-suit (very dressy). I don't think jeans were allowed until close to my graduation from high school. I think I only wore them a couple of times at most. It is all so very different now. My children wonder at those times and think the way things were done is so strange..they can hardly imagine having the "restrictions" we had and think we were so "repressed". Funny, I didn't feel deprived at all...I always had something to look forward to and my journey from girlhood to womanhood took years (compared to now when girls have seen all, done all at such a young age.) These poor girls are being cheated out of the special moments and milestones that used to mark a girl's progress towards womanhood. So sad.

Karen said...

I just wanted to add one more thing..since it just came to mind. Remember the shampoo "Gee you Hair Smells Terrific"? Who could miss wearing cologne when you were so thrilled about the smell of a shampoo! There was another shampoo popular then..but I can't quite remember the name.."Lemon" something....does anyone remember this shampoo? (I'm going to go crazy trying to remember the exact name now that it has come up in my thoughts).

Elizabeth said...

Hi Karen,

You brought back so many memories! Bonnie Bell cosmetics! Jontue! And, Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific shampoo!

I remember Bonnie Bell had a gentle face cleanser, too.

I can't remember the name of the lemon shampoo, either, but I do remember that it was around. We were all about having a fresh, clean scent to our hair back then, weren't we?

And, of course, on those rare days when you couldn't shampoo, you sprayed in P-s-s-t, and combed it out.

There was some other fragrance that was really popular with young girls, but I can't think of the name of it. I think it had a hint of jasmine in it, and we all thought it was exotic.

I agree that many things in the good old days weren't always so "good". Every era has its challenges. But, girls sure do miss out today by being allowed to rush so quickly into adulthood, don't they?

Capri said...

Hi folks,

Does anyone remember a Bonnie Bell product from the 70's that was a thick amber liquid that was great as a shampoo and body wash all in one? It was perfect for camping. I wish I could find it again and have done tons of research looking for it.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Capri,

Was it the Bonnie Bell cleanser that you used with cotton puffs or a washcloth? The one I'm thinking about didn't need water; you dabbed it on and off.

Anonymous said...

Hi there Elizabeth,
No, it was not the Ten O Six lotion (adored that too), the stuff I mentioned before was thick (like molasses). It was either a shampoo or a body wash or an all in one... sigh :-D
Thanks for the reply!

Elizabeth said...

They have a lotion deep cleanser now; I don't necessarily remember it from back in the day. It's amber colored and is probably thick since it is a lotion. I found it at an online drugstore.

Here's a link to the Bonnie Bell Home Site's Heritage page. It does have an amber colored body wash,but I don't think it's from our era.

Would you believe that Wickipedia has an article about Bonnie Bell.
I thought Bonnie Bell was founded in the late 60's or early 70's, but it's actually been around since the 20's!

Capri said...

I saw that WIKI article - huh, interesting stuff.