My Mother’s Sense of Fashion
Remembering stylish clothing and stirring perfumes
Memories reach beyond events to encompass the sights – and smells – of our past. Julia Nunnally Duncan recalls her mother’s sense of fashion, both her clothing and her fragrances.
Although my mother had an humble upbringing in a Western North Carolina cotton mill village and became a textile worker herself, she always had a sense of fashion. She and her sisters knew how to dress stylishly, probably being influenced by movie starlets of the 1930s and 1940s.
During my childhood in the 1960s, my mother wore colorful full-skirted dresses and patterned sleeveless shifts and neat pedal pushers with crisp white blouses. She had an array of necklaces and earbobs that she wore as accessories. For a time, she visited a downtown beauty shop to have her hair fixed in a chic beehive style. Every weekday morning before work or on the weekends before shopping or church, she stood at her bedroom dresser mirror, brushing, teasing, and spraying her hair and applying makeup. The cosmetics she used were Jergens face cream, Lady Esther face powder, Maybelline cake mascara in a little box with a brush, and Revlon “Love That Red” lipstick. After she applied her lipstick and blotted her lips with a tissue, she gazed into her dresser mirror, making sure her hair and face were satisfactory.
She liked perfume. Her favorites were Windsong, Woodhue, and Evening in Paris. As a child, I would go to her dresser and pick up each bottle and unscrew its lid to sniff the scent. Windsong emitted a citrusy-floral scent; Woodhue, a spicy, cedar-tinged one; and Evening in Paris, a rich floral one. As I pressed each bottle opening to my nose, some of the liquid would stick to my nostrils, filling my senses with fragrance.
My mother often told me a story about her Evening in Paris perfume. During World War II, she said, while my father was in New York training as a Merchant Marine, he bought her a boxed set of Evening in Paris perfume and talcum powder.
“It was a nice set,” she said. “But after he gave it to me, I ended up spilling most of the perfume. I hated I did that.”
Two decades later in the 1960s, however, the Evening in Paris cobalt blue perfume bottle still held enough perfume for me to smell, and much of the talcum powder remained in its blue bottle. While the perfume bottle was eventually discarded, the talcum powder bottle stayed on my mother’s dresser into my adulthood. One day I asked her if I might have it as a keepsake, and she gave it to me. I still treasure it, along with other of her things that I’ve inherited.
Although I share my mother’s affection for Windsong, I rarely use perfume. And I’ve never cultivated her flair for hairstyle and makeup. But I enjoy remembering her sense of fashion. Today when I hold the shaker holes of her Evening in Paris powder bottle to my nose, I’m taken back to the 1960s. The sweet, familiar scent is a reminder of my lovely mother and of a time when I stood at her dresser, fascinated by the fragrances hidden in her perfume bottles.
Julia Nunnally Duncan lives in her hometown Marion, North Carolina, where most of her personal essays and poems are set. Her 10 books of prose and poetry include an essay collection, A Place That Was Home(eLectio Publishing), and her essays often appear in Smoky Mountain Living Magazine. Julia is retired now from her profession as an English instructor, but she stays busy writing, gardening, and spending time with her husband, Steve, and their daughter, Annie.
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