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Desperately seeking dressing tables

By: Jenny Grainer

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WHATEVER HAPPENED to dressing tables? They seemed to have disappeared from our bedrooms. Do women have to do everything in the bathroom these days?

I will never forget my first dressing table. My parents gave it to me on my 13th birthday and I just loved it to bits. It made me feel so grown up – here I was, finally a teenager, with real proof that my parents thought I was on the road to becoming a woman.

If I were to see it today I would probably think of it as the ugliest piece of furniture in the world.

It was made of heavy dark brown wood veneer with a kneel-hole and three drawers either side that were decorated with ornate metal handles. Fluted wing mirrors, which could tilt backwards and forwards, rose above the top and it sat in pride of place in the alcove of the bay window – I thought it was quite beautiful and would spend hours sitting at it, vainly staring at my reflection from all angles.


Initially, I had very little to put on the surface, unlike my mother who, apart from a crystal glass bowl with face powder and a fluffy puff, possessed some elegant perfume bottles with rubber bulbs covered in silken crochet with tassels at the end. You aimed – then squeezed the bulb and a mist of cologne drifted over you with its clean fresh smell. Another one had a very strong, dark brown perfume in a glass bottle with a heavy stopper.

You took the stopper out of the bottle and dabbed the squared off ends behind your ears or the inside of your wrists. I watched my mother doing it on the rare occasions that she went out to a special party, but I was not allowed to touch because it was too expensive.

My father brought these exotic scents back with him when he returned home from the far-flung lands he was sent to by the Royal Navy.

For the time being, I had to content myself with a few treasures I had collected from the beach when I was younger and we lived in Portsmouth.

London, where we now lived, was a bit short on shells and pretty pebbles, but it had a great Woolworth’s around the corner. My pocket money, scrupulously put into saving stamps at the post office, was cashed in to buy a bottle of Californian Poppy and a miniature Eiffel Tower containing the heady perfume of An Evening in Paris.

As I grew older and I started to experiment with make-up, it became a lot untidier and it was littered with coloured eye shadows and boxes of mascaras and pencils. First you drew a thick line on your eye-lid next to the lash then curled the eye lashes with a pair of special curlers, took the little tray with a black block and a space for a tiny brush, wet the block, scrubbed it with the brush then applied the resulting black mixture onto your eye lashes, often having to separate them with a pin.

Eventually, false eyelashes became the must have of the 60s, so the clutter included them in varying lengths and thickness with respective glues.


A few years later when I married, my dressing table was a much more elegant affair. In my beautiful blue and white bedroom it sat in pride of place on an angle in the corner. It was white with a glass kidney shaped top and a three-tiered white flounce skirt. The elegant winged mirrors reflected the silver handled, lace backed hand mirror, brush and comb set and a range of favourite perfumes. The clutter was kept more discreetly out of sight.

I don’t think anything was more precious to women then than their dressing table and men adored to watch their wives sitting at it preparing for a night out – so what happened? Where and when did they go?

I decided when we moved a couple of years ago to our present and hopefully finally home that, even with a shortage of space, I was somehow going to get a dressing table installed in the bedroom. However, no matter where I looked, I couldn’t seem to find one.

It is funny how mentally conditioned we are into believing what we are told. I remember looking sometimes at really pretty bras, camisoles and petticoats and thinking what a pity no one will ever see these, because of course they had been bought labelled as underwear. That is until Madonna decided to wear them on the outside … and now anything goes.

With such freedom of thought in mind I examined the world of furniture again and came up with the perfect answer to my dilemma – a computer table.

My new dressing/computer table has everything I need. I can write in my bedroom (my computer screen is flat and takes up very little room) and there is enough space to the side for a mirror. The drawer underneath takes the few pieces of equipment I need nowadays to make myself presentable to the outside world.

It isn’t as glamorous as ones I’ve had in the past, but enough for my needs and it has provided an excellent solution to the problem I had.