Nostalgia: A paean to the Avon lady

Ding, dong! Who remembers the itinerant dispensary of Avon products, queen of 70s suburbia? JOANNE SAVAGE reminds us she hasn’t gone away you know

Saturday, 8th May 2021, 8:00 am
The Avon Lady, cosmetic heroine of 70s suburbia

Everyone of a certain vintage will remember the ‘Avon lady’ calling, usually a kind of overdone suburban Stepford wife clone with immaculate hair, pillbox hat, and powdered visage, coming up the garden path with her glossy catalogue of lipsticks, nail varnishes, skincare products and the like, maybe an array of samples of a cheap perfume, lavender scented face lotion or miracle shampoo on offer for you to sample.

‘Ding, dong, it’s the Avon lady!” they would chirrup, these cosmetic godmothers of 1970s suburbia, sort of like a door-to-door agony aunt as well as an itinerant dispensary of magical bargain solutions to lacklustre cheeks, lips that looked unkissable, skin the colour of dirty underwear that needed the apposite Avon unguent to appear peachy, pearly and bedazzled once more.

Who remembers the haloed vision of Dianne Weist as Pegg Boggs, the Avon lady in Edward Scissorhands, with the aforementioned pillarbox hat, pale violet dress suit, and kindly demeanour, assured that one of the cosmetic line’s weird potions may even remedy humanoid Edward’s deathly pallor?

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Perhaps you became one, or your friend did, and suddenly you were to be found on doorsteps flogging very basically packaged lippies, nail enamels and face creams while also operating as a kind of amateur counsellor solving other women’s complex tales of love, heartache, betrayal, or who Mrs So-and-so at number 53 was cheating on her husband with.

The products were cheap as chips, but unglamorous as tupperware, and if you made an order and got chatting to your Avon representative suddenly you were part of a sort of underground network of women gushing over pots of cut-price rouge, lip liners in retro shades and lipsticks in soft shell pinks with a kind of iridescent sheen to them that has long since gone well out of fashion (except in the minds of elderly aunts).

Avon founder David H McConnell pioneered the idea of a women-only door-to-door sales model in the 1880s, offering complete flexibility of working hours and financial independence, long before the US government had even given women the vote.

Though she has certainly lost the prim Stepford vibe, the Avon lady is very much still with us.

Today there are 6.5m representatives world wide, with the company making an estimated annual revenue of £6.7bn.

“The mission of the company is to empower women,” says the CEO of Avon, Andrea Jung. “The business may have been started by a man, but in the 1880s it was an unpopular thing to give women the opportunity to earn outside the home. It’s about giving women earning opportunities.”

Avon spokeswoman, Hollywood actress Reese Witherspoon, is just one of the celebrities (along with Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas) who has helped combat the brand’s occasionally mumsy, bargain basement image, and fundraised for their female-focused causes – such as breast cancer and domestic violence.

Avon looks set to be calling at many more UK homes, after the cosmetics company revealed in July that the number of people signing up to be sales representatives had more than doubled under lockdown.

The company said it had seen a 114% “surge” in the number of new representatives joining its UK business since lockdown began.

So despite the qauint image of the preened Avon lady of old, it looks like the company has new cachet, an ever growing number of willing women armed with their catalogues and lipsticks, ready to take on the world.

Every woman knows that beauty is a weapon, life is a battle and the right lippie can make you feel set to make men fall at your feet en route to world domination.

The Avon lady is like a feminist warrior, bonding with women over cosmetics, generating debate and empowering women to look, feel and live better.