Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Powder Up

It has been hot as heck in New England which is unusual. Does anyone remember the opening lines of To Kill a Mockingbird? Grown up Scout recounts the hot as Hades summers in Alabama and how the ladies of Macon turned into tea cakes by late afternoon; their talcum powder like melted icing mixed with rivulets of perspiration.

I’ve been intrigued by powder boxes and their contents since I watched Since You Went Away last Christmas. Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert) receives a powder box from her missing- in- the- war husband which was wrapped and sent months before his disappearance. Husband Tim’s accompanying note tells Anne that the powder box is not “so fair” but it can't be resisted because it is also plays their special song. She weeps over this lovely, heavy, round and footed box with a hinged top. I started looking for a powder box for talc but they are hard to find and the ones on eBay are much worn. Most likely, Anne's box is for face powder.

My grandmother introduced me to talcum powder in her 1930's bathroom. Among the things that captivated me in that fascinating room was the built-in water goblet holder, a claw foot tub and a square pink box on top of the commode. This box contained fine, fragrant talcum powder and lying on top of the powder was a snowy hand mitt placed on a small net screen. It smelled divine and I know more than once I made a bit of a mess with it. No one minded about messes at this house, however. My grandmother often gave me boxes of talcum powder for Christmas and birthdays and they always had a soft hand mitt.

While doing clinical work in a nursing home one summer years ago, I noticed how common it was for the female residents to have talcum powder in pretty tins which were sprinkled on them as part of their bedtime toilette. In fact, the halls reeked of the stuff but it was a pleasant smell that I came to expect as I performed my duties each night as much as I expected the music of Lawrence Welk in the background from every TV set. This led me to believe that the use of talcum powder was a thing of a certain generation. I imagined these lovely elderly women in their younger days, dressed in tea or afternoon dresses and smelling of lilac, lily of the valley, and especially, of roses.

For me, I love Crabtree and Evelyn’s Nantucket Briar. And, I wish I could find a talc box with a mitt like the kind my grandmother gave me years ago. Those are hard to find today. I’ld also love a real nice old fashioned or vintage powder box. I did find a round faux shell box with a butterfly motif that I keep my sparkle powder in. There is no scent to the sparkle powder but I like to powder puff my arms and décolleté when I go out in scoop neck or sleeveless dresses on warm summer evenings.

But there is something nice about keeping myself sprinkled before bed on these very sultry nights. Talc fell out of favor because of certain health risks and there are some non-talc powders available. They just don’t have the same soft fineness of real talc. I continue to use my talcum with a conservative touch this summer as I await for blessedly cooler temperatures.

Is anyone else using talcum powder during this hot, languid summer? What kind?


  1. Oh, heavens yes! Chantilly still makes a wonderful old-fashioned talc and puff - my grandmother and mom used this scent - and so does the summer scent of Jean Nate. At night I'm partial to baby powder, however :)

    It is absolutely sweltering in the mid-Atlantic. I also use "powder papers" from France for my face - not blotting tissues but actual powder on the sheet. Crabtree used to carry them but now I have to order the online.

  2. Oh that's such a lovely memory... I have my grandmother's powder box and my sister has one of Mom's. I have a beautiful glass powder jar my daughter bought me when she was 5. I miss talc, I would love for it to come back in fashion. Powder stays on so much longer than perfume.

  3. Amy, my daughter "swears by" blotting papers! And Jean Nate is a great summer scent.

    Jomamma, I've just re-discovered the joy of powder and I'm so glad I have. It's so simple, isn't it?