Excuse me for dating myself. I know today’s wanna-be-grown-up little girls wish for cell phones, tattoos and plumped lips. But the progression to womanhood looked different for girls of the 1960s as we searched hopefully under the Christmas tree.
In elementary school, we all wanted to have our ears pierced. But our mothers wouldn’t allow it until we turned fourteen. So we strung little beads onto staples, which we bent and squeezed onto our ears to fake the look. One clever girl earned our admiration when she showed up with staple-less, silvery studs. She claimed to have gotten her ears pierced and gloated in our envy until one of her little “studs” fell off. It was actually a small piece of aluminum foil she’d expertly rolled into a tiny sphere and attached with glue. The liar.
But I digress.
Since pierced ears were out of the question for several years, what was the next-best thing for an almost-nine-year-old girl? Nylon stockings. Silky sheer, seamless stockings manufactured in the shape of legs—complete with shapely calves, narrow ankles and reinforced toes. They reached to your upper thigh and were to be held in place with garters. We all wanted the stockings for a more grown-up look than the knee socks we wore with our school-required skirts and dresses.
Note that pantyhose, that amazing product that required no garter belt, wouldn’t come onto the market until around 1969. That’s when Hanes introduced its unmistakable white plastic eggs, each of which contained a shapeless nylon ball that pulled on like panties and adapted its sheer magic to the shape of your legs. So until then, garters were necessary.
Our mothers never left the house without stockings on their legs or lipstick on their lips. They all had their favorite shades of lip color, chosen from among tiny, white sampler tubes provided by the Avon lady. So of course we young girls wished for lipstick as well—just a little pale pink to start.
In 1964 when the week of Christmas rolled around, a silver tinsel tree glistened in our living room, its colors changing in rainbow fashion thanks to a lamp with a rotating color wheel. Under the tree, our parents had placed two wrapped gifts each for my brothers and me. One of mine was a soft package with a cylindrical lump. The other—could it be?—was exactly the right size and shape for a lipstick.
As soon as I caught sight of these, my fingers itched with curiosity. Finally capturing an opportunity to steal a look, I slid on my stomach and reached for the soft package under the tree. Carefully, I peeled back the tape at one end. Oh no! Whatever it was appeared to be neatly wrapped in tissue paper. I dared not unwrap it further for fear of doing damage, so I retaped it and moved on to the
small, lipstick-shaped package.
This time, my careful untaping paid off! It revealed a pale pink label on which was printed “Avon Lip Pomade”! I had no idea what “pomade” was (maybe a color?), but my heart pounded with excitement. I restuck the wrapping paper and began the agonizing wait until Christmas, when I could legally open my lipstick.
On Christmas morning, after waiting impatiently for my brother to unwrap his magnetic football game, I grabbed the mysterious soft package. I ripped it open, tore through the tissue paper and discovered a long pair of white knit stockings! And what did I unfurl from a clear plastic cylinder but a soft panty that dangled garters! The stockings were not made of sheer nylon as I’d imagined, but who cared? They weren’t knee socks, and they were to be held up with garters! I couldn’t wait to put them on!
But I knew there was even more! I made a show of surprise while unwrapping my lip pomade. I rushed to a mirror and slicked it on as I’d seen my mother do. Though my lips bore no detectable color, I sashayed back into the living room to show off their new sheen. I blushed with newfound maturity.
If I remember correctly, I wore that garter get-up all the time—even under layers of pants and snowpants. And I never left the house with bare lips again.
Christmases to come would strew other gifts along my path to womanhood. My own copy of Seventeenth Summer, a teenage tale of first love. An “English” bicycle you could pedal backwards, with changeable gears that emitted that fancy clicking sound you could only mimic with your regular bike by clipping playing cards to the spokes. A subscription to Ingenue magazine, with articles like “What to Give That Special Boy” and “The Pain of Being Beautiful”.
But never again did that tinsel tree shine as brightly as it did on Christmas of 1964, when my gartered stockings and satin lips glowed in the reflection of its rainbow colors.
P.S. On the morning of my fourteenth birthday, I numbed my ears with ice and speared them with a yarn needle. Oh yes, there was pain, and a horrific popping sound as the needle pierced the skin. But, finally inserting real studs into my real pierced ears, I triumphed!