Although certain candies bring back really sweet memories of childhood, I’ve been thinking lately about some of the bath and beauty products from my youth. These items are associated with vivid memories of a simpler time, devoid of all the gadgets and high tech products kids have today. Some of them, like unopened feminine products from yesteryear, are actually collected now for their nostalgic factor – I have personally sold a few on Ebay. If you have any products you used in your youth that bring back memories, whether fond or angst-ridden, please share.
Procter & Gamble introduced Prell shampoo in 1947. Growing up, the clear green concentrate packaged in a tube was my family’s shampoo of choice. The color really looked radioactive, but the plastic tube was ingenious – lightweight and no risk of breaking a glass bottle. Although Prell was also available in a plastic bottle, the tube is what I associate with its iconic image. According to the website, in 1955 Prell was marketed for “women who wanted their hair to have that radiantly alive look”. Honestly, I cannot remember if the shampoo was good for our hair, but thinking about it brings back a host of memories. Procter & Gamble sold Prell to Prestige Brands International in November 1999. Prestige sold Prell, along with its other two shampoo brands (Denorex and Zincon) to Ultimark Products in October 2009 in order to focus on other product areas. Much to my surprise, the tubes are available for purchase on Amazon.
While I didn’t use this, I fondly remember my mom rubbing this product in her hair. Dippity-do looked like pink Jello, but it sure didn’t smell like it. I can close my eyes and almost conjure up the smell of this ubiquitous setting gel. I guess my mom didn’t need the extra strength when she used curlers, because we always had the pink variety in our house. The regular jar said: “After Shampooing – apply to damp hair – comb through, set. Or apply to each strand as you roll. Between Shampoo Styling – apply each stand of dry hair as you roll; or use to smooth wild hairs, flatten bangs, etc. The Gillette Company, Personal Care Division, Chicago, Ill 60654 Made in U.S.A.”
For as long as I can remember through the early 1980s, my mom always had several jars of Dorothy Gray cold cream on her bathroom counter. I sometimes used it as a body cream, which I’m certain my mom did not appreciate. I remember that it had a very distinctive smell and texture. I know that my dad bought this at Walgreens and it was in an iconic bluish gray jar. I certainly didn’t know about this wacky TV commercial until now – from the 1950s, it likely aired a decade before my mom used the product.
Bath Soaps – From Practical to Weird
My parents sometimes went out of their way to purchase really special things –most of the products were edible, satisfied my dad’s sweet tooth, and contributed to our cavities. But they also ordered special soap for as long as I can remember. We had boxes and boxes of John Wanamaker soap made especially for hard water. I remember my mom packing a few bars in my trunk when I went off to my first year at RISD in 1976. I have to say that the bars lasted far longer than any bar soap currently on the market. Each box had 12 bars of soap and came in very mild scents or unscented, and in a rainbow of pastel colors. Since our two main bathrooms were beige/yellow and blue/peach, most of the bars my parents bought were those colors. It was kind of sad when they went out of business, although my parents stopped buying the soap by the end of the 1980s. The New York City Wanamaker’s store on Broadway was replaced by Kmart in 1996.
OK, so I guess we lived in simpler times before kids were so incredibly jaded. Yes, I’m talking about getting a kick out of soap, Fuzzy Wuzzy soap to be exact. Of course after my mom bought each of us one of these, the novelty quickly wore off, so perhaps we were not all that different from today’s kids. Yeah, I still think we were. In any case, this had to be one of the zaniest products somebody concocted. Made by Aerosol Products, five different rather crude animals grew fur that looked more like a huge dust or fungus build-up. After that, you simply used the soap and could hardly wait until it was used up so you could get the little gumball prize inside. The fur was weird, but the idea of a toy in soap certainly got kids to take baths. These days this type of thing would never pass muster because the toys presented a choke hazard, and I doubt they had an age warning.
I roped my mom into buying me one novelty product from the Fuller Brush man. Those were the days of door-to-door salesmen and women. I remember my mom actually purchasing a brush from the Fuller Brush man – a clothing lint brush. The Wee Silly Three (Men in a Tub) novelty soap was pretty goofy and I remember sharing it with my little sister. My mom never bought any Avon Products because we didn’t have a saleslady in the area, although my older sister briefly worked for a competitor called Vanda Cosmetics.
Silly Soap was another novelty intended to make kids want to take a bath. Once again, we convinced my mom to buy a can, but just once. The only thing I really remember is spraying this all over the tile while taking a bath. She did, however, buy us plenty of Soaky bubble baths, and I even had a Paul McCartney one that I would love to have back today!
Lemon Tree Very Pretty
I remember that lemon-scented beauty products reached a zenith of popularity in the 1970s. My older sister had several of these products and I implored my mom to buy something lemon-scented for me, but she didn’t cave on this request. Clairol’s Lemon Go Lightly was just one of the hair lightening products my older sister used. Perhaps she was jealous of our little sister – the golden girl with blonde hair and blue eyes among a family of brunettes. Love Cosmetics launched its popular line of lemon cosmetics in 1970, but there were others.
Bustline Enhancer a Bust
One night I was in bed and I heard a weird noise emanating from my sister’s bedroom. I got out of bed and peered through the keyhole in my sister’s door and saw my sister using this ridiculous-looking device with my mom’s supervision. I have no idea how my older sister convinced my mom to buy the Mark Eden Bust Developer. The piece of crap was abandoned a few weeks later and I found it in the hall linen closet. Like so many other consumers, my mom got ripped off by this medical quackery.
Right Guard Aerosol
Whenever I smell anything slightly reminiscent of this awful scent, it brings back a flood of not so pleasant memories. Some people have an aversion to certain smells, and for me Right Guard is one of them. In fact, I worked at a company some years ago where a co-worker must have been using this spray as a foot deodorant and the smell made me gag. I didn’t think I could stand working right next to this person’s cubicle, but thankfully, she stopped using it and at some point we became good friends.
The worst memories of this product are associated with high school gym class. The smell of Right Guard will forever be tied to the hideous one-piece royal blue snap-up gym suits we had to wear at Niles West. Right Guard seemed to be the deodorant of choice back then and the smell mixed with body odor and stinky feet was overwhelming in the girls’ locker room. I imagine it was even worse in the boys’ locker room, but since I never set foot in there…
Angst-Ridden Puberty Products
Well, I am bringing my dear mom back into this discussion, because she was very remiss in her mothering skills in this regard. She never told me about getting a period, and lo and behold, one day I was bleeding, and it happened when I was away from the house for several hours with my dad. When I got home I was a bloody mess and my mom was sympathetic but very matter-of-fact. Thus began my horrible relationship with surfing the crimson wave, as Cher so colorfully labeled the curse in the movie Clueless. Horrible cramps and PMS accompanied my period from the age of 12 to menopause, which has still not reached its final stages. Having a period for 44 years is absolutely frigging unfair and insane!
Back in the Stone Age when I was an adolescent, the range of female products was sparse compared with today. My mom would not let me use tampons and Stayfree sanitary napkins were not yet on the market. So I had to wear one of those wretched belts that dug into your skin with what seemed like enormous Modess pads. When I got my period, the dress code had just changed so I wore skirts quite a bit in 7th grade. I vividly remember wearing my favorite white bell bottoms that had blue and red pinstripes and bleeding through the pants. I was petrified that a boy would notice this and make fun of me. And some of the girls at my junior high school were disgusting slobs – they would leave their bloody sanitary napkins on the floor of the bathroom and not bother flushing their bloody mess down the toilets. This problem reached epic proportions at one point, causing me to have to hunt all over school for a clean stall.
When I told my mom how unfair this all was, she came up with what is likely the dumbest thing she has ever said in her life. “Well, honey, everything equals out, after all, men have to shave every day and support their families, so we have to endure this.” Good God, mom, I love you dearly, but being a byproduct of the 1950s did not help your three daughters deal well with puberty!
Ah, memories of the way we were. Thank goodness we’ve come a long way baby!