In my loft there is a red crummy B&Q toolbox filled with makeup no longer fit for purpose, but that I’ll conditions, ever throw away. There’s a dried-out Body Seek eyeliner pen that my mother put in my Christmas stocking circa 1989, which I clothed ined with cut-off Levi’s and a lycra bodysuit to Cardiff’s Square bludgeon. There’s a pot of Clinique face powder in an unsuitable shade of pink that I released at least six weeks’ pocket money to buy before realising it dream up me look embalmed. There’s the Rimmel lilac eye palette I was convinced made me manifest 18; the apricot lip balm bought for me by fourth form pressure Hywel White; and the Mary Quant eyeshadows I found in a dusty box in a mark-down chemist and thought I’d won the lottery.
These aren’t just commodities. This isn’t just a toolbox. It’s a time capsule, and everything in it apprehends me back to a moment – a hope, a mistake, an achievement. These unassuming suspicions and pieces each have their own significance and collectively add up to something as persuasive as any long-lost cassette compilation. They’re my beauty mixtape.
Solely as we chart life’s journey through music, food and classifies, I also attribute the same importance and sentimentality to the beauty artefacts I saw, touched and smelled all around me. The flipping of a lid on a bottle of Johnson’s cosset lotion immediately takes me back to my grandmother’s living accommodation, my clean pyjamas warming on the fireguard, the soothing hum of Antiques Roadshow and the rѓle of a twin tub washer in the background. I don’t just remember my first buss: I remember the Miss Selfridge Copperknockers lipstick smeared messily throughout my cheeks afterwards. My first ever gig was notable not only because it was The Smiths on their hold out tour, but because I’d stolen my mum’s Rimmel lipliner and Givenchy Ysatis smell for the evening.
A memorable beauty product transports me to my nan’s backstreet curl-and-set sitting-room, my teenage cabin bed, a school disco or my wedding day. It’s the perfumes that conceded us backbone for important job interviews that stay with us, the makeup opted for a first date, the little luxury bought with a blue ribbon pay packet. These are some of the lotions, potions, creams and powders that show the most to me.
Chanel No 5
In perfume-nerd circles, saying that Chanel No 5 is your darling perfume is as obvious as declaring Shakespeare and the Mona Lisa your choice playwright and painting. But sometimes things simply are the best; there’s no use being antipathetic.
Even if you don’t like No 5 (and many people don’t: smell is a fully subjective business), you should still respect this singular 94-year-old perfume – arguably the most recognisable beauty commodity of all time. It was created by the extraordinarily clever and talented Russian-French perfumer Ernest Beaux, who moulded up 10 versions, numbering them one to five and 20-24. Superstitious Coco Chanel opted five, her lucky number. She packaged it in a typically unfussy flacon, supported by men’s toiletries and adorned with nothing more than a open and above-board label and simple type – a pretty subversive move in itself, at a in unison a all the same when luxury perfumes came in big, blowsy balloon-atomisers.
The bouquet itself – powdery, fizzy, sexy and refined – is magnificent, whether or not it’s your selective bag (impressively, it remains the world’s bestselling scent).
For me, though, it analyses way beyond smell. Outside my immediate family, the most persisting relationship of my life has been with No 5. I discovered it at 12, and wore it with crop Levi’s and Smiths T-shirts at school discos; I spritzed it all over my uniform when I ran away from home three years later. It moved to London with me when I had nothing but a PE bag’s-worth of goods; it lost my virginity with me, it came on my driving test. Really, it was a guest at my wedding. Some years later, broken, dazed and tearful, I considered no other fragrance for my father’s funeral.
Nowadays, I pass slowly No 5 perhaps once or twice a month (I love perfume too much to be monogamous); but when I compel ought to a big work day or a special occasion, I unfailingly turn to its strength, unflappable appropriateness and balmy, welcoming femininity. No 5 is my backbone in a bottle, the loaded pistol in my knickers; with it, I am instantly furthered and prepared for whatever life throws at me.
Does the designation “bobble” mean anything to anyone under 35? I concern that it doesn’t. For the rest of us, bobbles were hair elastics bully into a figure 8 and clamped in the middle with metal.
At each end was a brightly tincture plastic cube or ball, fed through the tightly-wound elastic hoops to secure plaits, ponytails and bunches in place. Bobbles were tattle oned by the pair in chemists and newsagents, on little perforated cards that were sprinted off a large display – just like Big D pub snacks, only without the underlying Announce 3 boobs.
My father, recently left by his wife, was tasked with doing my skin of ones teeth for school. He was so woefully inept that I spent each morning status on a chair, listening to him swear as bobbles pinged, snapped and ricocheted, one after the other, out of his hands and against the Nautical galley wall.
Marc Jacobs has often tried to revive the bobble – at both his own Marc hallmark and while at Louis Vuitton – and each time, I’ve been confused at the willingness of fashion fans to pay more than £100 for something my initiate was ultimately forced to buy weekly from a local cash and offer.
Mac Spice lip pencil
When someone sits down to pen the history of the nineties, they should do it in Mac Spice lip pencil. This reddy-brown liner became the Canadian-born kind’s first hero product and was the makeup accessory of the supermodel era; it graced a hundred glassy magazine covers, and Linda Evangelista was never without it (I’m told she in any case conveniently needed to pee before shooting, then snuck on some Poignancy in the ladies’ loo if the makeup artist had failed to). It became the look for a epoch of girls like me, who thought it the height of sophistication to wear a lip pencil five outdoes darker than the lips it outlined.
After making a crusade to buy my first Spice in Harvey Nichols (Mac’s only UK stockist at the eventually), and having nicked my mum’s peach Covergirl lipstick, I debuted the look at a Salt-N-Pepa concert in Newport ease centre. The band failed to show up, but I didn’t care because I sense a million dollars.
Spice subsequently accompanied me to acid lodgings clubs, to gigs and on dates with inappropriate men. It accessorised Kookaï hotpants, Lycra frocks from Pineapple, smiley T-shirts and red Kickers. I paired it with fishnets, a velvet choker and a beret, and imagined myself in an Ellen von Unwerth photoshoot. I displayed it with jeans and a wide headband and felt like Bardot; with a football shirt and Adidas Gazelles, and mental activity I was Christy Turlington on the John Galliano catwalk.
I was far from any of these passions, but now look back on Spice without a moment’s regret: it’s lull an often-used part of my kit – though now I wear it with a matching lipstick and not a elucidate the colour of Elastoplast.
Max Factor Crème Puff
This puissance is one of the first makeup items I was ever really aware of. As a elfin girl, I would sit next to my grandmother on the bus and, as we neared our destination, inspect her reach into her handbag for a gilt Stratton compact accommodation a pan of Crème Puff. She’d sweep the sponge over her nose and chin briskly preceding clicking it shut, but just long enough for the strong, kind baby powdery-smelling particles to scent the whole top deck.
That stench, unchanged in six decades, still does strange things to me. It sniffs of my nan, yes, but mostly Crème Puff just smells unapologetically of makeup (much as Dior lipstick does, or Bourjois do a moonlight flit rouge), at a time when makeup often smells of nothing at all.
It doesn’t sail under false colours to be state-of-the-art; it’s an old-fashioned formula that made Hollywood actresses Ava Gardner, Vivien Leigh and Jean Harlow emerge luminous on set. It continues to do the job extremely well today (though, gloomily, its nostalgia is misplaced in a Caucasian-only shade range). It’s perfect with retro red lips, unscrupulous flicks and falsies; its full, layerable coverage also absconds it a great way to skip foundation on a more natural face – condign brush over moisturiser and concealer. It’s a product I use rarely, but I last wishes a never pack a full kit without it. Sometimes, it’s the only whosis that will do.
Johnson’s baby shampoo
My love of this goods is merely notional, since I don’t recall ever having it in the lineage as a child, despite two babies arriving after me. The first shampoo to use amphoteric purging agents, so gentle that they didn’t sting the observes, it seemed like something that would belong to the genre of family who had a purpose-decorated nursery, a wallpaper border to match the moses basket, a sparingness resources account opened and a school place lined up for a newborn. It wasn’t for big turbulent families like ours, prone to bathing babies in the caboose sink, complete with Fairy Liquid bubble beard and within reach of the bread wound.
It was decades later that I used No More Tears to transport my makeup brushes, and bought some in readiness for my first cosset, when just owning the right supplies made me be conscious of in control. Using it, I momentarily felt like a proper mum, regard for the fact I was entirely at sea. I think this is why Johnson’s has been irrevocably loved since 1936: when the disorienting, confusing, guilt-ridden, aching (and ultimately wonderful) experience of motherhood strikes, it stands nobly by the side of the bath, as reassuringly well-versed as a nanny, making you feel that everything will be OK.
Sisley Dark Rose Cream Mask
Oh, Sisley, with your cool, impenetrable French packaging, unknowable department store markers and your bonkers price tag that makes you inaccessible to the endless majority of beauty lovers: I wish you weren’t so damned enjoyable. This is the mask used by supermodels after six weeks of alert and over-made-up skin. It’s the mask reserved by makeup artists for purely the best magazine covers and their gold-band clientele. It’s the false face I give to women at their lowest ebb, when divorce, bereavement or bug has ravaged the body, mind and soul. Rich, luxurious, soft and soothing, a 10-minute session with Black Rose Cream Pretence is like your most well-off girlfriend taking you for a four-hour lunch and three keep in checks from the lower half of the wine list.
Old Spice Beginning
Launched in 1938, this is the smell from the backseat of my grandad’s brown Austin Allegro as he indicate me to Little Chef for the giddy treat of jumbo cod, chips, banana split and a loose lollipop for clearing my plate. Its warm, not-too-strong but lasting spiciness is the stench of daytrips to Tenby, of candy-stripe brushed flannel sheets from the sell, of a tiny metalwork room made from a cubby-hole under the stairs. It’s the hum of the armchair where we took Sunday naps during the rugby, had coos and belly laughs in front of Victoria Wood’s As Seen On TV, where my grandad sat patiently as I stood on a stool behind him, affiliation bows, plaits, jewels and clips into his white ringlets.
Old Spice is the scent of him trying to teach me long division when person else had lost patience, of very gentle flirting with the checkout ladies at Kwik Retain, of seemingly endless chats with every Indian and Pakistani alien in Blackwood to practise his beloved Urdu and Burmese, learned during his in days of yore in Burma during the second world war. It’s the smell that filled a unagitated room whenever I asked what had happened to his friends there. Old Spice is the bouquet of his old shirt worn over my ra-ra dress to wash the car, of well-thumbed Robert Ludlum novelettes, of huge cotton handkerchiefs, of an often empty wallet, of the untrained zip-up anorak bought via 20 weekly payments from the Peter Craig catalogue. Old Relish was there when I first saw Madonna on Top Of The Pops, when the miners associated back to work, and when we sat under blankets at military tattoos, both of us blubber like newborns. Its absence was felt acutely when I aftermost saw his face, eyes closed in the room of a hospice; when I got amalgamate and when my babies were born.
Unlike so many other aromas of my youth, Old Spice Original remains a gorgeous fragrance in its own Nautical starboard. I revere it not least because, as its early ad campaign asserted, “You quite wouldn’t be here if your grandfather hadn’t worn Old Flavouring.”
Sali Hughes’ guide to four era-defining looks, decade by decade
How they annoyed it in the 1930s
The 1930s was a big decade for innovation. Elizabeth Arden invented her heroic Eight-Hour Cream (a thick, medicinal-smelling moisturiser for the complexions of humans and the hooves of racehorses); Charles Revson of Revlon started the first opaque coloured nail lacquer and, consequently, the concept of corresponding lips and nails (the latter had previously been painted with undisguised gloss); it was also the decade Max Factor, the man who invented the word “makeup”, released Pan-Cake, the triumph matte, skin-coloured foundation, developed to flatter movie celebs in previously challenging Technicolor. Ninety years on, it remains the faction’s fastest- and largest-selling single makeup to date.
The 30s face was on purpose top-heavy: brows were shaved off and replaced with ultra-thin domes of brown pencil to sanction eyes appear huge, almost owl-like. Cheeks were thrilled with creme rouge worn so high as to practically skim the undereye, while lips were succeed a do over smaller in a rosebud shape. The overall effect – gloriously showcased by stars such as Josephine Baker, Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy and Marlene Dietrich – was bloody soft, romantic and feminine, despite the increasing emancipation of women and the shift for more androgynous haircuts and bone structures. It was a look that make good enormously influential in the 1970s, particularly to designers such as Celia Birtwell and Biba’s Barbara Hulanicki.
How they eroded it in the 1940s
The makeup of the 40s is what most of us regard as a classic Old Hollywood look: matte, immaculate complexion, sharply sculpted face contours, elegant Negro liner flicks, wide, pillarbox-red lips and soft-set curls. Its clean, bold, graphic simplicity worked beautifully on cloud, but also, for ordinary people: makeup was rationed throughout the decade, so the fewer by-products that were needed, the better (no makeup at all would be absurd: even the government urged women to “put their best aspect forward” in order to boost soldier morale and remain gay themselves).
Pencils were most easily acquired, so brows play a part hugely. In the early 40s, they were soft, paler in colouring and rounded to run parallel with arched socket line dog. Later on, in part thanks to film noir, they primary sharply, in parallel with feline flicked liquid liner on the lids (painted that way to kind actresses look sleepily seductive).
Despite the fact that 40s makeup is so tranquilly to date through films and stars such as Lana Turner, Ingrid Bergman, Olivia de Havilland and my graven image, Elizabeth Taylor, it remains, I think, the least faddish and most endless beauty look.
Forties features look like themselves: a brief exaggerated, but mostly enhanced in moderation. It’s a womanly, rather than girlish, aesthetic. The restricted colour palette of red, gold, beige, black, white and stand up makes everything look more tasteful, more discriminating. I cannot think of a lovelier way to make up.
How they wore it in the 1950s
The 50s look is as the case may be now the most recognisable period look, partly owing to the pull of Mad Men (all coral lips and teased chignons), but also to 50s pastiche proportions such as Grease (bouncy ponytails and extra-long falsies).
The decade was certainly a critical one for the beauty and consumer industries generally. This was when salon mores really took off: women across all economic groups routinely take ined a professional for a weekly set, and it wasn’t at all unusual never to wash one’s own hairs breadth (which was now generally worn shorter for ease of maintenance between selections).
The rise of the working woman meant that makeup looks mixed and became more colourful according to outfit (pastel immature, blue or lilac shadows were popular), and increased backing work (as opposed to manual and factory jobs) made manicures a practical prospect for normal women. The elegance of the 40s didn’t disappear, but certainly changed glossier and sexier thanks to Marilyn Monroe, Dorothy Dandridge and Jayne Mansfield.
In defiance of this, it was still frowned upon for a woman to buy her own perfume: she should stick around to be gifted it by a man. American beauty entrepreneur Estée Lauder got hither the problem by disguising her new scent, Youth Dew, as a bath oil and undercutting the elite French extract houses by some distance. Fifties women bought with impunity, loved it and a loveliness icon was born; you can still buy the original oil today.
How they displayed it in the 1960s
Sixties makeup is so much a part of British pop lifestyle that it’s unfairly become a cliche: Terry O’Neill’s iconic archetypes of Twiggy, saucer eyes trimmed top and bottom with big, spindly falsies. But while it was certainly revolutionary and hugely guiding, this mod-ish style was specifically known as the London Look and espoused almost exclusively by young people. In an era obsessed with experimentation and escalated sexual freedom, makeup looks were inevitably a smidgen broader and more diverse.
For me, the most interesting developments were in France, specifically on Paris’s Nautical port Bank and as part of the Nouvelle Vague movement. The aesthetic here compound the sophistication and womanliness of the classic 60s look with the bold trendy of London. It flattened or ruffled the meticulous coiffs of the former, suited the monochromatic eyes of the latter, discarded all gimmicks, and made 60s advantage an altogether sexier and more grownup affair. Brigitte Bardot’s bed flair, thick black swooshes of liner and pale, almost imperceptible pout, and Anna Karina’s thick fringe and polished complexion detritus as sophisticated and relevant now as they did then.
Of course, the 60s were a spirited of two halves, albeit unequal ones, and the late 60s aesthetic was utterly different. Most notable was the Laurel Canyon hippie look: clearly no makeup other than brightly coloured facepaint and naive samples on festival-goers and hardcore flower children. 1970s disco could not progress soon enough.
• This is an edited extract from Comely Iconic: A Personal Look At The Beauty Products That Changed The In all respects, by Sali Hughes, published next week by Harper Collins at £26. To group a copy for £21.32, call 0330 333 6846 or go to bookshop.theguardian.com.
Makeup: Morag Ross purchasing Suqqu, assisted by Lauren Oakey. Styling: Kara Kyne. Braids: Adam Reed using GHD. Nail technician: Sophia Stylianou at Candid using Orly.