Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Custom of Compacts

I watched a poignant documentary a few weeks ago on public television called Tea Time.  It followed five Chilean women who have been gathering together once a year for tea since graduating from high school over 60 years ago! They take turns hosting the teas which include a delectable number of pastries and sandwiches.  In between takes, the camera captures flowery tea leaves gently unfurling in hot water as we hear the ever-present sound of a ticking clock.  When we first meet the women, they are already quite elderly but very lively with great affection for one another.  At the end of each tea, all the women perform a charming ritual as familiar as the ticking clock:  they take from their handbags small round compacts of powder and tubes of lipstick and freshen up.  It is here that the camera hones in on each lined face for this final act of feminine primping before the women face the world at large again for another year.

Many of my favorite vintage films include scenes where the heroine carefully powders her nose in public.  Even Meg Ryan's character Kathleen Kelly in You've Got Mail, pulls out her compact to pat at her face only to violently snap it shut when she catches sight of her bête noir Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) in its mirror.  

Just before bed the other night, I was paging through an old 1972 Seventeen magazine when I saw an ad for a familiar petite tortoiseshell compact.  It was divided into two sections, containing a cream blush and a lip gloss in best-friend hues of soft pink and vibrant rose.  I realized I had once owned the same pretty compact in high school.

I remember how clever I thought the idea of having two products in one place was and this beauty aid was especially nice and small enough to carry in the palm of my hand or tuck in the pocket of my jeans.  I never had a need for pressed powder or nose-powdering but I loved the idea of an old-fashioned compact which appealed to my girly sensibility, especially with its mirror, satin smooth shell, and satisfying click upon closing.

A quick internet search did not reveal anything quite like my high school compact but I discovered lots of cream blushers in small artful compacts and I bought a beautiful polished black one with a gorgeous flush-pink rouge inside.  It is just the right size to be reminiscent of my old blush-and-lipstick combo.  I had forgotten how lovely it is to take out a nice compact to freshen up my face and check for spinach.

Soon I will gather with my own high school girlfriends at our annual summer picnic.  After lunch, I'll remember to use my glossy new compact which is deft and discreet enough not cause much attention.  But if someone should notice, they will be told that I am performing a feminine ceremonial that crisscrosses time and place.




  1. From your description of the compact and using it, I can almost smell the cosmetics. Compacts have long been a favorite of mine. And yes, checking for spinach is part of freshening up! I have my mother's monogrammed compact on my dressing table. Now I'm off to search for my own little compact with blush.

  2. I love, love, love my compacts and have used them since high school, as I've been blessed with very oily skin. Corn Silk's colorful big compact was my first; these days I use Laura Mercier. I love this post, Sis...it's a little gem! Love the description of the Chilean women who face the word after careful self-inspection. Freshening up is a lost art! Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Hi Donna, this blog speaks to me. I am never without my compact. I enjoy looking at the different ones too. Estee Lauder usually has some very pretty ones. Love the story about the Chilean women too. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Thank you friends! I'm glad I have reader that find something here that resonates with them. It means a lot.