As a teenager in the ’80s, I was the farthest thing from the Estée Lauder lady. I bought vintage clothes in thrift shops and sewed replicas of styles I saw in British fashion and music magazines. I coloured my hair red or had it bleached platinum blond. It was often asymmetrical. You wouldn’t think I would have paid any mind to those classy women in the lovely ads. But I did.

For all my brashness and calculated ne’er-do-well chic, I secretly imagined that one day I’d be some kind of glamorous businesswoman with a designer wardrobe. I’d host black-tie dinner parties and vacation on the French Riviera. I’d wear Estée Lauder makeup. I’d be an Estée Lauder lady.

There were no makeup superstores like Sephora in the 1980s, and few boutique makeup brands. You had two choices: drug store makeup or department store makeup, and everyone knew that if you bought department store makeup brands during promotional times, you got the cute little cosmetic bag filled with miniatures and samples.

It was Estée Lauder that pioneered this now common practice, but in the 1980s it was still a novelty.

I used Clinique soap and moisturizer for my sensitive skin, so I knew all about the bonus bags. Clinique, which is owned by Estée Lauder, was a favourite among the girls I knew and we were known to frequent the brand’s counter at the local mall. Estée Lauder was there, too, right next to Clinique, but we rarely stopped. It was strangely intimidating even to consider. Estée Lauder ladies had it together, and as cool as we thought we were, we knew we did not. At least not in that classy-lady, grown-up way.

Few cosmetic brands have such a successfully crafted image that the mere mention of the name evokes true aspiration and fantasy, even in the minds of post-punk Canadian teens wearing Dead Kennedys T-shirts and torn jean jackets with vintage 1950s full skirts, high-top Converse sneakers and argyle knee socks scrunched down to the ankle.

I never quite made it to Estée Lauder lady status. I’m not a fancy businesswoman and I’ve never hosted a black-tie anything. I did occasionally stop at the Estée Lauder counter to pick up an item here and there (usually during bonus promotions, of course), and every time would think back to those teenage impressions and my secret aspirations of wealth and class and vacations in Saint-Tropez.

All Estée Lauder ads originally appeared in the following magazines:

1. Mirabella, November 1989. Photograph by Victor Skrebneski.

2. Vogue, May 1987. Photograph by Victor Skrebneski.

3. Vogue, February 1983. Photograph by Victor Skrebneski.

4. Vogue, May 1980.

5. Details, May 1989. Photograph by Victor Skrebneski.

6. Harper’s Bazaar, September 1986.

7. Glamour, September 1980. Photograph by Victor Skrebneski.

8. Vogue, May 1982. Photograph by Victor Skrebneski.

9. Vogue, December 1987. Photograph by Victor Skrebneski.

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