I was going to write about jackets.   Another possibility was makeup for older women. But instead I’m going to write about my mother.

We’ve just had Mothering Sunday – what a humungeous commercial enterprise it is with supermarkets stuffed with chocolates and bucket loads of flowers and numerous, fairly useless, pink and tastefully grey trinkets. Glad to say I didn’t get any of that – not keen that Mr Walmart &/or Sainsbury’s should have any of my kids’ hard earned cash. Instead I got cards from my two with, inside, some beautiful meaningful words written by them – lovely.

But the day got me thinking about my mother who died nearly twenty years ago.

My earliest memories of my family are of my parents, sister and myself, living in the suburbs of London, in the 50s, in a three-bed semi filled with utility furniture supplemented with Indian rugs, throws and side tables; a legacy of my father’s India days. My younger sister and me were typical 50s children, we played in the street, wore Clarks shoes with the cut out diamonds in the leather and walked two miles to school.  My father travelled to the City by tube, and my mother was an archetypal 50s housewife, always at home, always cooking; a good plain cook of stews, roasts and chops.

But all was not well. My mother had depression, which was severe at times. There wasn’t much in the way of treatment in those days, but she finally found some outpatient care and it came under control, of sorts. I took up psychiatric nursing after my general nurse training, in order to come to terms with my mother’s illness, which I saw mainly as a result of being intrinsic to her personality and being a housewife trapped at home. My whole quest in life was, therefore, to never be a housewife and never, ever, be like my mother.

Mother aged 20Yet, I am my mother’s daughter, and now, from a distance, I acknowledge how much I am like her, and, how much I owe her. What’s more through doing some family history and looking at old photographs I can see how very beautiful she was. Here is one photo of her taken in 1935.  There are also, I now realise, reasons for her depression.

So where did my love of makeup and clothes come from – my mother, of course!

If I close my eyes and imagine her bending down to kiss my younger self, I can feel her skin touch mine, her breath is sweet and her mouth coloured a rich red from an ever-present Helena Rubenstein lipstick. Every morning when we are not rushing off to school she sits in front of the mirrored utility dressing table and puts on her ‘face’ and as I sit near her on the bed I watch its careful application.

Over the years the ‘face’ didn’t change and she never became familiar with techniques such as eye makeup, instead, well into her old age she retained that evocative 1930s Bette Davis look; plucked eyebrows, white face powder, red lipstick and beautiful heavy lidded poached-egg eyes hidden behind dark horn-rimmed glasses.

So, it’s imprinted in my DNA to put on makeup. But as for fashion, in her latter years, my mother loved clothes only of the Crimplene kind, that rather harsh, garish material that was so popular in the 50s and 60s. In fact, that is all my children have ever seen her in. A Crimplene dress?   That is granny.

But, I can see from photographs that, before she married, my mother wore the most beautiful stylish clothes. So I am assembling an illustrated book, with photographs of my mother (and my grandmother and great grandmother), along with some family history and a few throwaway remarks on the history of photography and fashion. I’ll let you know when I complete it!

These buried memories that surface from time to time will be familiar to those of you who have lost their parents. It is a pleasure now to remember my mother, although the feeling is often tinged with a touch of sadness and regret. Inevitable, I guess, but even so, I thank her for the life she gave me and accept that my love for her has grown rather than lessened with the years.   Our mothers stay with us, no matter what.

But tell me, did your mother wear Crimplene?

That’s all for now, back to clothes next post!

With love, Penny

The frugal fashion shopper


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4 thoughts on “A tribute to my mother – a wearer of Crimplene and Helena Rubenstein lipstick

  • 2nd April 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Dear Penny,

    I found this a lovely post. Not only does it evoke memories of my own young mother’s makeup routine but it spoke frankly of mental disorder which was not so freely talked about when our mothers were young. It is a tribute that we are frank today, and with good reason. It is no longer seen as something to hide, any more than is diabetes or arthritis.

    I look forward to your blogs on both jackets and makeup.

    Thank you, Penny,


    • 3rd April 2014 at 7:51 am

      Dear Margaret

      Thank you for comment, especially about how we can now talk far more freely about mental health.

      Yes, my poor mother and her depression; I wonder if younger people realise but there was very little in the way of options in those days, in the 50s even into the 60s. There were tranquillisers or the local ‘mental’ hospital – talking therapies were practically unknown in the suburbs. I know she took tranquillisers for years and then when I was a student nurse she told me that she had been due to go into the local mental hospital but had refused at the last moment. Fortunately, the hospital where I was training as a general nurse had a pioneering & radical way of treating ‘mental’ patients – through outpatients! Even more pioneering it used ECT – yes ECT. Despite our way of looking at it now, having got my mother to go to this department, ECT worked on my mother and got her out of a very deep trough. And new drugs started coming on to the scene and when she dipped again a few years later she had those – the ones where you can’t eat certain things. And so it went on.

      But years later, from gleaning new information from a friend of hers who is still alive at 99(!) and looking at my mother’s life from a feminist perspective there were good reasons for her depression.

      Thank you again, Margaret, for your comment, although, having trained when going to hospital for your mental health problem was the norm, I think we have come too far the other way, and the lack of beds for people with serious mental illness in the UK is a real problem today.


  • 23rd April 2016 at 10:33 pm

    Hi Penny,

    I have just discovered your blog through Tricia Cusden’s blog last Sunday. I have recently started wearing the look fabulous forever makeup and always look forward to Trucia’s blog each week and now have found your brilliant blog.

    I love your blogs about all the bargains you find and was browsing through your archives and came across your blog about your Mother and the crimplene dresses she wore which I can totally relate to as my Mother was a big crimplene fan.

    My daughter is getting married in September and I have started to give some thought to what I should wear and we have been talking about what my Mother wore to my wedding in 1974.

    My Dad was a real snappy dresser and had a new suit made at a local tailors and he was keen on my Mother wearing a great outfit. As we lived in London he took her out each Saturday to Harrods, Selfridges, and all the large department stores but with no success and she ended up buying a plain navy coat and a navy and white crimplene dress. My Mother said it was an outfit she felt comfortable in and she could wear it when she went shopping at the weekends!

    The next problem she had was that she had to wear a hat. She had never bought a hat in her life and ended up wearing a navy hat that the local GP’s wife lent her (My Mother used to clean for them). To top it all when my Mother showed the GP’s wife the photos she told her she had the hat on back to front!

    It was a very stylish affair though as my Mother In Law wore a lilac dress and jacket in … you’ve guessed it ….crimplene yuk!

    Finding something to wear at my daughter’s wedding is a work in progress so I don’t know what I will west but I know it will not be in crimplene.

    • 25th April 2016 at 7:41 am

      Hi and good to meet you and thank you for your wonderful description of your mother and her wedding outfit. Yes my mother also thought crimplene comfortable to wear and so very practical. And to be fair to her I remember in the 50s she had to iron those full-skirted dresses for both me and my sister and herself – so to not have to iron was heaven for her! Good luck with your outfit – it will be brilliant x

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