My Peace and Quiet

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photo of the top of a dressing table with bottles of perfume and cosmetics, a vase with alstromeria flowers and a lighted makeup mirror.

My mom has a large, antique white dressing table with a three-piece mirror attached and a matching curved bench just right for women wearing many crinolines. I loved sitting at that dressing table, surrounded by pots and bottles of potions for beauty. There was a shallow long drawer in the center – here is where she placed many of her tools – powder puffs, hair clips, brushes, and sponges.

There were six smaller drawers – three on either side. She had little boxes in these drawers to separate blushes, shadows, pencils, and several Revlon lipsticks. She seemed to have every shade imaginable but was partial to Iceblue Pink. When I started wearing makeup, I, too, wore Iceblue Pink, as well as Almay's One Coat mascara, makeup remover pads, and slate eyeliner pencil.

photo of the top of a dressing table with bottles of perfume and cosmetics, a vase with alstromeria flowers and a lighted makeup mirror.

In the sorority house in college, my roommates and I made a dressing table from one of our standard-issue desks. We hung a mirror above the desk and draped scarves from it. We covered the top with our many bottles of perfume and stuffed the two drawers with our crazy collections of cosmetics.

Electric green shadow, silver false lashes, and several tubes of Revlon's Coffee Bean and Toast of New York lipsticks. The 90s were about brown lips and neutral eyes, yet when we went out, we glammed it up. I kept my makeup brushes in a coffee mug with my sorority letters on it, a gift from my Little Sister.

My bachelorette apartments after college were too small for dressing tables. Makeup was kept in a Caboodle, and later a professional-style makeup case complete with shoulder strap and locks. All my shadows, pencils, powders, and lip products were organized by a color story in their separate little compartments, brushes in the medicine cabinet or on the bureau still in that sorority coffee mug.

When I moved in with my boyfriend/now husband, our house was too small to accommodate all of our furniture, let alone a dressing table. Our bed occupied most of the room, leaving little space for two nightstands, a chest of drawers for him, and a bureau for me. The makeup case went in the bathroom under the sink, and the coffee mug of brushes was in the cabinet above the toilet.

After six years in this cramped space, I decided to get creative. The bed went against the wall, requiring only one nightstand. This opened up the long wall, giving room for a cedar chest at the foot of the bed and to bring in my husband's childhood desk. At first, we considered using the desk as an actual desk, but having a computer in the second bedroom would be a tad redundant. I took it over, bought a bench from Target (Shabby Chic collection), and brought all my bottles and pots to the desk.

Transferring to this new dressing table gave me a chance to trim down my cosmetics collection. Gone were the electric green eye shadows, the 99% empty foundation bottles from last season, the face shimmer (not the best idea on a person who already glistens in the heat), the lipsticks I bought but never loved, the shedding and cheap brushes, and all the false lashes I bought with the best intentions for a holiday gala or event but never could properly adhere to my lid.

I tossed all the perfumes that were years old and only kept the ones I actually wear (or find too beautiful of a bottle to toss). I was amazed that a jam-packed professional makeup case could be pared down to two baskets in the lone desk drawer.

I collected my favorite trinkets that had gotten lost in the home – a lacquer box my friend mailed me when she was studying in Japan, a Buddha statue I made in elementary school, a picture of my husband and I when we had just started dating, a porcelain container with a female bust on top – a gift from my sister-in-law and full of little vials of perfume samples.

And flowers, fresh flowers, were a must. My mom often had a blue vase with sprigs from the lilac bush outside the back door. My lilac bush is not as mature and fruitful as hers, so I have to settle for grocery-store alstroemeria that I change out every other week.

Sitting at my dressing table and applying my foundation this morning, I realized how much I enjoy this ritual, these few minutes every morning where I sit in silence and apply my makeup and fragrance. It's the same type of peace I get when I paint or work on stained glass. Many may find this ritual shallow or superficial, but I find it divine.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. Thank you so much! My mirror is from Conair; it was the one I found the most classic looking at Target. One side is regular, the other side is magnified. It has two levels of lighting and I believe it was about $30.

  2. Thanks for a terrific post — you inspired me to create a dressing table in our bedroom — it’s now covered with my vast collection of perfumes. My makeup is now organized in lead crystal brandy snifters that catch the sun.

    Do you have a lighted mirror that you particularly like?

  3. I think Mr. Dilly would kill me… it was his grandfather’s desk too and our bureau and chest of drawers matches it. I figure some day I may find a similar piece to my mom’s…. that is the quintessential dressing table! I’ll have to take a picture the next time I visit her.

    I love all your stories! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I love the dressing table and everything you’ve done to it! I’m looking forward to the day when I can create something like that for myself – not enough space at this point.

    If you ever wanted to refinish the table and/or paint it a fun color, would Mr. Dilly Dilly mind?

  5. You know, for a long time I’ve thought, “I wish I just didn’t have to spend the time to get ready – wish it could just be done.” But you’ve created a ritual – and given me food for thought!

  6. When I get ready for the day: make-up and hair, that is also the time that my husband and daughter know not to EVER bother me. That is my time to think and ponder as I paint and fluff myself. I enjoy my little daily ritual of ‘getting ready for the day’ – it sets the tone for the whole day. Does that make me shallow? I hope not!!
    I have been reading your blogs for about a week – keep up the great work! They are really enjoyable to read!

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