Do You Remember The First Time?

eighties makeup

The first cut is the deepest, says Debra Brock, who has misty water-coloured memories of her palette debut…

Margate, the 1980s. On a Saturday evening we’d go round each others’ houses, show off our latest ra-ra skirt, flouncy shirt and tucker boots ensembles, and wonder if we could achieve an Adam and the Ants style white stripe across our noses with plimsoll whitener (we could – too well. Oh for a decent balm cleanser back then). Our homemade New Romantic mix tapes would be playing on the stereo (once, thrillingly, Spandau Ballet actually came and played live at the Winter Gardens, throwing roses into the crowd at the end. I didn’t get one, despite screaming myself hoarse, but I’m over it now which is obviously why I’m still bringing it up after 30 years), roll-on lipgloss rendered our mouths so sticky we doubled as fly strips. It was all very different to what we’d been up to in the daytime, when we were to be found in the various emporia of Margate High Street, wearing brightly coloured 100% polyester dresses-cum-overalls and stacking shelves.

Over the years we’d taken up the cream of the Saturday girl positions. My friend Jo had a plum job in the M&S food hall, where at 5.30pm on Saturday evening they sold off all the food “best before” Sunday* at rock bottom prices to staff. Saturday tea at her house was always ace. Samantha had a job in the chemists, where she got to watch the lads from the boys’ school linger, getting progressively more shuffly and red-faced, before they mumblingly asked for a box of condoms, at which point she’d loudly repeat their order and ask them which size. And I’d worked my way up from the till in ‘Smiths, through books and pens, and had finally reached the dizzying heights of the record counter. Yes, I had sole command of the store hifi on a Saturday, and everyone had to listen to my choice of music. It was brilliant (for me. Less so if you didn’t like Alf).

My friends and I would try and align our lunch breaks so that we could go shopping and spend the cash that had just been handed to us in our brown envelopes. A quick nip into Chelsea Girl to look at pink-edged white ruffle tops, and then a mooch round the beauty counters. It would have been on one such trip that I bought my very first palette. I think it was by Miners and it was an assortment of greens. I chose green because I have green eyes and it seemed completely logical (look, I didn’t know – we didn’t have YouTube then, give me a break). Each of the colours went on as a solid block. Blending was an impossibility, mainly because the powder wasn’t exactly Tom Ford quality and also because the only thing I had to apply it with was the sponge applicator. I don’t think I even knew that make-up brushes existed at this stage. I’d load up the sponge with far too much powder, whack it across the eyelid and call it quits (this is why we didn’t have YouTube – the tutorial videos would’ve been really short). After two uses the sponge was filthy and so all the colours began to merge into one (this was possibly a blessing given how bright they were). But it was my palette, bought with my money, that I’d earned whilst dancing behind the record counter to Five Star. I’m not sure if a palette purchase will ever feel so good again.

*shops used to be closed on Sundays. Bonkers, eh?

Debra Brock

Debra Brock is co-founder of and a contributing writer.

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