My 100-Year-Old Grandma Talks Old-School Beauty
Trying to keep up with the latest beauty treatments can be stressful. To gain some perspective, I asked my grandma about her beauty routine in the 1930s, when a little Ivory soap and lipstick went a long way.
If you’re ever worried you’re not getting enough microdermabrasion or wearing enough sunscreen, try looking at beauty through a historical lens.
According to my grandma, a young lady’s beauty routine didn’t always involve fancy procedures. In fact, it didn’t even always involve non-fancy procedures. Back in her 20s—when she was a member of the first graduating class of Brooklyn College—she stuck to a very minimalist, soap-centric regimen. (That was during the Great Depression, when it was hard to afford the basics, let alone makeup.)
My grandma has stayed low-maintenance to this day too, though she did draw on her eyebrows for her 100th birthday party in early February. When we weren’t busy eating birthday cake, we talked about her beauty regimen, and beauty treatments in general, back in the 1930s.
One note: My grandma can hear my dad’s voice better than mine, so he sat in on the interview and makes occasional cameos.
Mae: What was your daily beauty routine like in your 20s? Did you wash your face everyday? What makeup did you wear?
Grandma: I was a very simple person. I didn’t use too much. I used lipstick, a little rouge, but that’s about all.
M: Did you wear foundation?
G: I wasn’t a floozy girl. I wasn’t a party girl. I wasn’t that kind of person.
M: Did you wash your face every day?
G: My teeth I washed every day. I don’t remember showering every day.
M: Did you shower…pretty often?
G: I didn’t shower. I bathed, I would say, about four times a week.
M: Did you use bath salts? Soap? Bath accessories?
Dad: Rubber ducks?
G: Soap. Ivory soap. Today, though, I use, what’s the rage? Dove? I’m not so keen about Dove, though. It melts too fast, and it doesn’t foam as much [...], or whatever.
M: Did you shave your legs? Was shaving your legs a thing when you were 21?
G: I’m not a hairy person. The only hair I have is there [gesturing to head] and you know where.
M: [Laughs.] In terms of lipstick and blush, what colors did you use?
G: Not much lipstick. And eyebrow something, maybe. The lipstick was dark red. Dullish red. The rouge was pinkish. A little darker than pink.
M: And where did you shop for your makeup?
G: Probably in Woolworths. And weekends, everyone was out to have a date. But my friends, we didn’t have dates. But if it was in the summertime, I’d go up to the roof, dressed like you.
Dad: In short shorts like that?
G: Yeah! And I’d go to the roof, and I’d get a sunburn. So that I [would] look tan.
M: Did you wear sunscreen?
G: No. I don’t think so.
M: Do you remember beauty treatments that were trendy back then? Even if you didn’t use them?
G: Girls would always go to the beauty parlor. They did their hair. They did their nails. They did their toenails. The color was always red. Bright red.
M: What were hair trends? Was big hair a thing? Or ponytails?
G: No, bobbed hair. Bobbed. Mine was always fuzzy. I couldn’t take the wildness, so I did try to straighten it at the beauty parlor. They put some stuff on the hair—a gel, maybe, it was greasy—and then they have to put a clock on it. Otherwise, the hair would burn. And one day, they overlooked the time. They burnt my hair.
Dad [joking]: And that’s how your hair got to be what it is today!
G: No. Now my hair is great. I mean, I have a ponytail!
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Mae Rice is a staff writer who writes about eyelash extensions, French food, what "business casual" even means, and other style and food topics.