My mom's other main hair secret was to use beer instead of conditioner. The theory is that the proteins in it impart gloss and volume, which doesn't seem that far-fetched, as Lush and Redken both make beer-based shampoos. Though my instincts told me to use the suds as a rinse, my mom swore she let her hair dry coated in beer, then wrapped her ponytail around the can-cum-roller to curl it. She also suggested bringing the beer to room temperature, mostly so it's not freezing as it gushes over your head and down your back. (I waited only five minutes, and I may have also indulged in a few sips.) But as my hair dried, it took on a parched, wheat-like texture and finished almost crunchy. Worst of all, when I went to the gym and started sweating, the slight Eau de Hops wafting from my head turned into a full-on "Who's the girl with the hangover?" stench.
I scoured the Web and consulted The Westmore Beauty Book, a 1956 guide written by the Westmore brothers, kings of hair and makeup for the Old Hollywood studio system. One thing that stuck out was that an awful lot of treatments involved raiding the pantry. Perhaps the sexiest woman of all time, Sophia Loren, once relied on two spoonfuls of olive oil in the bath for soft skin. When I tried it, I felt less pampered and more poached, like a nice piece of salmon. I couldn't get past the food associations, and because the oil collects in blobs on the water's surface, patches of my skin were extremely greasy and others dry enough to flake. When I got out of the tub, I just rubbed the oil around (no lotion required!); the next day, even my knees remained silky. Loren's tip has potential, but next time I'd try it with apricot kernel oil or something with a sensory experience that's more spa than sous vide. I also learned the hard way that you should scrub the tub meticulously, or that tiny bit of residual oil turns it into a way less fun version of a Slip 'n Slide.
The next pantry beauty technique came from Katharine Hepburn, who was said to make her own exfoliant with a few drops of water, some lemon juice, and granulated sugar. Without the exact recipe, I doctored my own formula and gently massaged it into wet skin on my face and neck. The mixture is magic. My skin felt so smooth that I started making "I'm ready for my close-up" jokes — a lens wouldn't need Vaseline coating to make my skin look flawless.
Speaking of Vaseline, screen stars were obsessed with the stuff. Greta Garbo put petroleum jelly under her eyeshadow, and Bette Davis used a layer of it under cucumber slices to de-puff her eyes. I tried both and can endorse only the cucumbers (especially chilled), an oldie but a goodie for calming inflammation. I understand that Garbo was after a wet look, but these days we have cream shadows that do the trick and dry to a creaseless finish. The tackiness of wearing Vaseline around my eyes lent that unpleasant sensation of sunscreen about to run into them. And as the day went on, it started melting with my body heat.
Luckily, makeup has come a long way. I know because I tried several more tips from The Westmore Beauty Book, attempting to pencil in more dramatic eyebrows (thin, into a pointy arch) and lips (drawn fuller, especially on top) and spackling on heavy foundation to create the perfect "canvas" on my face. In short, I resembled a slightly angry drag queen. But I braved the look for drinks with a friend, who told me that from across the bar, I looked like Bettie Page ... and up close, I looked like a person hiding under an inch of paint. I left early, self-conscious and feeling like my face was suffocating under the layers of opacity.
The screen sirens of yesteryear had some great ideas about grooming — spend the time to take care of yourself, DIY treatments can be great, don't use wire hangers, and always leave the house feeling pretty. As for the rest, I'll stick with my modern conveniences — but I'm keeping the sock bun.