MAKEUP, HAIRSTYLES AND CLOTHES CAN EITHER FORGE A BOND BETWEEN MUMS AND THEIR DAUGHTERS OR DRIVE THEM APART. ON THE EVE OF MOTHER’S DAY, JAN PATIENCE PONDERS THE DIFFERENCES AND SIMILARITIES BETWEEN GENERATIONS OF HER FAMILY PAST AND PRESENT
Jan Patience grew up with a glam mum but was never a girly girl. What lies ahead for her daughter?
WHEN my mother swept out of a room in one of her expertly orchestrated eye-catching outfits, the void was filled by a faint echo of her raucous laugh and a trace of Estee Lauder Youth Dew perfume mingled with Elnett hairspray.
Flora Patience (nee Edgar) was not someone who blended into the background and as a minister’s wife in a small Ayrshire village that sometimes worked against her. Flora was a straight-talking midwife when she met my minister father Donald doing his rounds of parishioners on his bike in 1960.
Think glamour puss Trixie in Call the Midwife rather than frumpy Barbara, who married Tom the vicar at the end of the last series. She met and married my dad within a year of that first meeting and as was the norm then, left her job and threw herself into the role of motherhood and minister’s wife.
A constant in my mother’s life was an ability to put on the style. Mum loved dresses, coats, skirts, jumpers, blouses, trousers, tights, hats, scarves, shoes, handbags, makeup, nail varnish, jewellery … the brighter and shinier the better. Canary yellow, hot pink and electric blue were particular favourites, but Flora didn’t discriminate when it came to colour.
When my older brother, Charles, and I cleared her house after she left this earthly room for good, it was with heavy hearts we opened two large built-in wardrobes which groaned with the weight of her assembled ensembles.
A van-load of clothes and more packs of
tights than one women would ever need in a lifetime was dispatched to a charity shop in Ayr. Not Kilmarnock, which was local, because I worried people might recognise certain outfits. In the last year of her life, unable to get to shops under her own steam, I’d receive phone calls from her carers, whispering that she had asked them to order £150 tartan trousers from the House of Bruar and was that all right?
My mum not only wore many metaphorical hats (minister’s wife, mother, daughter, sister, nurse, teacher, variety show producer, Women’s Guild president, Sunday School superintendent), she owned so many hats that at one point she considered setting up a hat-hire business.
My earliest memories of her revolve around clothes and appearance. Getting ready to go out was a major operation, usually preceded by several frantic all-night dressmaking sessions. The annual Tennis Club dance was the highlight of our village’s social calendar and I’d sit and watch as Mum, in blue satin housecoat, got ready to face her public.
First came the caramel-coloured foundation over face and neck, followed by eyeshadow (or shy-adow as I called it), mascara and lick of lipstick. All topped off with a squirt of Youth Dew. Nail varnish – a perfect match for any outfit – had been applied earlier.
After she swept off into the night with Dad in a newly-made long evening dress, I’d sit at her dressing table mirror and put on her lipstick, rubbing my top lip against my bottom like she did, making sure the colour was even.
Every six weeks, Mum went to the hairdresser for “blonde tips” and I’d go too, sitting at her feet with a packet of Spangles, drinking in gossip and watching women have strange-smelling lotions applied to their hair before disappearing under a large heated dome.
The only tantrum I ever had as a child was when Mum said I couldn’t go to the hairdressers with her and her sister, Una, during a family holiday on Iona. As I watched them disappear on the boat to Mull, I screamed: “But I always go to the hairdressers with Mum!”
Mum was always fussy about my hair. I had matching hair ribbons for every outfit and each morning my long hair was pushed, pulled and scraped into a perfect ponytail. Once, on a visit to Crieff Hydro when I was six, she put my hair in curlers and covered it with a plastic bag before dispatching me to the swimming pool.
Bored watching Dad try to teach my brother how to swim, I bobbed off along the rim of the pool and climbed onto the deepend steps. Losing my footing, I tumbled headlong into six feet of water and floundered for what seemed an eternity. Suddenly, from the viewing gallery, Mum spotted the plastic bag and curlers bobbing on the surface of the water. She jumped in and pulled me out. That mauve Harris Tweed trouser suit was never the same but her obsession with my hair actually saved my life!
IT wasn’t all bad. I was the only girl in Kilmaurs with a psychedelic pinafore which matched her mother’s. This Biba-comes-to-Ayrshire fashion triumph was teamed with white wet-look coat and matching knee-length boots. I loved these boots …
As I moved into my teenage years, our fashion tastes diverged, much to Flora’s irritation. The last-ever dress Mum made for me was when I was crowned Kilmaurs Gala Queen, 1976, when I was 12 years old.
It was a long flowing white lacy number adapted from a bridal dress pattern.
By then, I’d persuaded her to let me cut my hair into an easy-to-manage bob so
It wasn’t all bad. I was the only girl in Kilmaurs with a psychedelic pinafore which matched her mother’s
there were no bows in my hair, thankfully. The dress was teamed with a fusty-smelling red velvet cloak trimmed with fake ermine, a cardboard crown and chair-leg sceptre sprayed gold. I couldn’t wait to get home and put on jeans and a T-shirt. Mum basked in the reflected glory of having a daughter who was a Queen for a day.
I wasn’t exactly a rebel teenager. I went to church on a Sunday, stuck in at school and attended Guides every Thursday. But I was never a girly girl. Mum tried her best not to tut at the fashion faux-pas which followed; short punky hair, dungarees, huge collarless shirts which once belonged to my policeman uncle, old dinner jackets bought in charity shops and clumpy desert boots.
Apart from school skirts and the odd peasant skirt (flowery and lacy; fashionable in the late 1970s) I hated wearing anything which showed my legs. I tinkered with makeup but only if it gave me a Toyah Wilcox smokey-eyed look. Lipstick and nail varnish were no-nos. I didn’t wear lipstick until I was well into my twenties. I still can’t be bothered with nail varnish.
Oh, the battles we had. “Why is it you want to wear things which make you look ugly?” she once asked as I went out to a party.
Now Mum is no longer here, I miss the disapproval (from her) and the eye-rolling (from me). It was our way of connecting and her way of saying “I love you”, even if I don’t remember her actually uttering these words.
I am now mother to a daughter myself, a beautiful 13-year-old with almond-shaped hazel eyes, long hair like spun gold and a quirky sense of style. Before my very eyes, my daughter Mia has grown from a wee girl who refused to wear skirts or dresses to a young woman who loves all sorts of clothes – even dresses. She watches YouTube videos about how to “do” hair, makeup and nail varnish and is developing a clear sense of what suits her. I consciously try my hardest not to chastise or make her feel there’s something wrong with that.
But going shopping with Mia reminds me of shopping with Mum. I stand there bored while she sifts through racks and racks of clothes for ages, undecided about what to buy. I’m in and out of a clothes shop within 10 minutes. And she’s a dab hand with the nail varnish. Her granny would be proud.
Shaping a daughter is a big responsibility. You’re their first female role model and it
It doesn’t matter what age you are, you always seek your mother’s approval
Flora’s sartorial standards failed to transfer to her young daughter, who eschewed traditional feminine dress codes. As with the generation before, Jan and her daughter Mia, main picture, possess different tastes in clothes and makeup doesn’t matter what age you are, you always seek your mother’s approval. Even when they are no longer alive, you hear their voice in your head telling you, “You look a right ticket!”
MY friend and former colleague, makeup artist Terri Craig, reminds me of Mum. Always beautifully turned-out, she has a big warm personality and a noisy cackle for a laugh. When she wafts out of a room, all Jo Malone Blackberry and Bay perfume and red lipstick, she makes a big impression.
As I have witnessed many times over, celebrities and unknowns emerge from her makeup chair feeling they could take on the world. Much to my mum’s surprise, I asked Terri to do my hair and makeup at my wedding 16 years ago.
Mum was convinced I’d keep it all low-key and pitch up at the church in T-shirt and jeans so was delighted when Terri turned up to save the day. Flora even approved of the long purple velvet wedding dress I had specially made. If not the fact I decided to remove the ermine trim at the neck at the last minute (a bit too Snow Queen for my liking).
I ask Terri about the influence of her mother, Mary. “I’ve spent my working life in the beauty and fashion industry and that stems from spending hours as a child watching my mum,” Terri tells me. “She could produce and create amazing clothes, garden designs, interiors and I used to love watching her do her hair and makeup for a night out with my dad.
“I was only getting to know her as a woman when she died at 57. I was in my early twenties and it left a huge void. Both my daughters, now in their twenties, work with me at my school of makeup. That bond between mother and daughter lives on, as does the creative gene.”
As I’ve often said to Mia when we’re snuggled on the sofa watching Call the Midwife, times have changed so much since granny was a midwife in the same era. But being a mother is essentially the same deal. You worry, you fret, you try your best and you hope for the best. Flora did all that for me and my brother (always smartly turned out, as it happens) and more.
I wonder what Mia will think of me when I shuffle off this mortal coil? Will she think I was a rubbish mum for spending too much time on the laptop or not being able to French braid her hair?
Only time will tell … But I do know one thing: there’s no way my daughter is dyeing her beautiful spun gold hair and these cropped tops need to get longer. She’ll catch her death of cold.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Jan Patience compares techniques with her daughter Mia, who has learned how to do makeup, hair and nail varnish from YouTube
From top: Jan as Kilmaurs Gala Queen with her mother in 1976, wearing the last dress Flora ever made for her; Flora wearing blue, one of her three favourite colours alongside canary yellow and hot pink; and Helen George as Trixie in Call the Midwife, a character whose take on glamour evokes Flora’s in the eyes of her daughter