Distance, Time and Space, and the Avon Lady

It’s funny (well, at least to me) how a random FacePlace post will bring back memories. Someone out there published a photo of their collection and in it was a little bottle in the shape of a snail, which brought back memories. I know my Mom had one of these on her dresser; I was fascinated by it at an early age because it was just so odd. Who would make a perfume and sell it in a flacon the shape of what is best an appetizer and at worst a garden pest?

Well doing a few minutes of research on the interwebs, I found out, and after a few minutes more on that online auction site I had one on the way: it was Avon

Mind you, I have no idea if Avon still exists or has been replaced by more aggressive and less charmingly cloaked MLM schemes, but when I was a kid, pretty much everyone got something from Avon. Someone you know sold it and you were going to get roped into buying something. And, for the most part, they were (as I remember them) pretty decent quality stuff at decent prices. There was also the legend that their Skin-So-oft lotion was some magic mosquito repellent, but I don’t remember that being proven true or false.

What Avon was good for was getting product into consumers hands without the hassle of finding a retail outlet or in some cases the intimidation factor: You didn’t have to worry that your Muu-Muu and slides, which would get you serious side-eye at the Vincome Counter and Snootypants and Sons, would in any way cause the same reaction from your Avon lady. Of course, what she told her next customer, you never knew, and perhaps never cared, since you likely had seen the state of her kids and kitchen. They were kind of a homier version of Amazon, before online shopping was a thing.

Sojourner Truth Memorial
My parents’ old house in the background

Now some of you know that I did not grow up in the big city, but in the wilds of Western Massachusetts, in a small college town where my father’s family had lived since Cotton Mather blathered. When my parents were married, they bought a home in a village outside of town, which was rather laughingly referred to as a “suburb” of the town, as if said town was a big enough urb to warrant a sub. The village was founded on the backs of the silk mills on the river (cleverly named “Mill”) and the ideas of temperance and abolitionism, complete with a stop on the underground railroad. Noted abolitionist and former slave Sojourner Truth had a home on the same street I grew up on, and a statue of her was several years ago erected in a small park right in front of our old house.

What the village lacked was shopping. The downtown of our town, the Urb that we Subbed, saw a decline in the late 60’s and early 70’s, as did many small towns as their industries dried up. The opening of a mall across the river in what used to be a tobacco field didn’t help, and the opening of a second one helped even less, although it did give some sense of schadenfreude in that it killed that first mall deader than smelt.

The former department store, transformed.

The downtown did come back fairly quickly: some new people bought the hulk of the old downtown department store and came up with the brilliant idea of leasing individual spaces in the cavernous old building as individual boutiques, which is still going strong today. Other cafes and shops opened, but they were rather more geared to the college crowd: the young matrons of the town had little use for Norma Kamali dresses and Manic Panic hair dye. Yes, we could go to the mall, but when you grow up in small New England town your sense of distance is perhaps stunted: while my adult Los Angeles living self would think nothing of driving 95 miles one way to Santa Barbara for lunch, back then 5 miles to the mall was something you would need to pack a lunch for, if not sled dogs.

So the Avon Lady ding-donging her way into your life was no bad thing.

So I now have my little snail to grace my desk. The juice in it is something called “Charisma.” It’s a strong green floral, with hyacinth, neroli, peach, and musk. Guerlain it ain’t, but it’s perfectly nice to sniff. I just won’t wear it to Snootypants and Sons. I don’t need the side eye.

Did you ever get products from Avon? Amway? Did you get caught up in Herbalife? Discuss in the comments- I really want to read!

My bottle of Charisma was purchased from eBay. Pictures are from Pexels, my iPhone and the internets.

  • I have been an Avon Representative for over 10 years. Avon has been around for over 138 years. Did you know that Avon was the inventor of retinol and several other beauty regimens that have been brought to market. Avon has continued to develop and lead in the world of beauty. I’m proud to represent Avon.

  • Judy says:

    I am an avonlady , I don’t know what you pd for your perfume, but we were selling it for 1000.
    So I hope you got a deal.

  • I absolutely love your article, and yes AVON is still around. We have maintained our direct at home customer service using independent representatives but have also evolved with the changes of technology. Independent representatives like myself, have websites where customers can have the convenience to shop online 24/7, with direct at home delivery, just like if you were ordering items from AMAZON. They have also introduced many new products to reach more customers, including vegan, paraben free and CBD products. An amazing company!! the NEW AVON is more than just makeup.The legacy of AVON continues.

  • Sandra Hicks says:

    I was raised with the Avon lady selling products to my Mom. I loved the samples she would leave Mom, my sister and me. It was exciting to know when she was coming for a visit. The brochure she left with us was like so much fun. Almost better than the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Catalog. My favorite sent of perfume was called Sonnet. It came in a beautifully shaped white “Genie” style bottle. I wish that I could find one of the perfume bottles today.
    I carried on the tradition and have sold Avon now for almost 35 years. It has changed a lot over the last few years. I enjoyed reading your post.

  • Darla DeLeon says:

    I am an Avon lady. It still sell every single day and people love it. Enjoyed your article.

  • Yes. I love Avon and am an Avon Lady fir the 2nd time. This go round almost 10 years. They have really stepped their game up.

  • Lynn says:

    I sell Avon, they have changed since the early days. We even have pet products now and home cleaners that are safe for the air, environment etc. We also recently partnered with LG Electronics, offering some great deals on home electronics!
    Go visit my site now…you can even order online now and delivered to your door! We dont do door to door anymore, unless we want to of course!!

  • Robyn Sumpter says:

    Yes, Avon is still very much around, and better than ever!

  • Gill says:

    Yes, Avon is still very much around and still very popular. I have been an Avon representative in England for just over 40 years now, calling on my customers personally and taking their orders from the current brochure (issued monthly) and delivering their orders to them. Products are great and Avon have kept up with comparable retailers.
    I have made many friends over the years by being an Avon representative and can also remember many of the unique perfume bottles. Avon will be around for many more years !!!

  • Youravon.com/meka18

    If your ever in need!!

  • Jennie says:

    Avon is an amazing company and yes it still exists !! I have been an Avon lady for almost 30 years ! We have a digital brochure or a paper brochure that are delivered across the US daily!! Here is a current brochure that still carries some of the iconic fragrances from years ago!
    https://www.avon.com/brochure?rep=jgnojek Thanks for a great article ! Ive also been a Tupperware representative, Norwex, and a few other businesses along the way. Great MLM training and wonderful products!

  • AK says:

    It is unfortunate that as writer, you do not know what a Direct Selling Organization is and the difference between that and an MLM which is Multi Level Marketing… Do some research. Should we also bad mouth your business while you bad mouth others? Some food for your thoughts.

  • I sell Avon and been doing that for 25 years. Love it and we still sell Skin So Soft. People still use it for bugs and flies. Even though, we sell Bug Guard now. Look up my website: avon.com/repstore/stickle and shop to your heart’s content!

  • Billie Garlin says:

    Avon still exists. The latest interesting perfume bottle is a gold plated peacock that sells for $1,000!!! Avon still has the skin so soft line that includes soap, lotions and bug spray. These items are still reasonable priced.

  • April Krause says:

    Avon is still called Avon but it isn’t really Avon any longer. It was bought because by a Brazilian company that is trying to turn it into another Amway. The price of products has skyrocketed. The good old plain cosmetics and perfumes and bath products have fancy new names and practically doubled in price. Their wonderful clothing and shoes line has declined into “old lady” elastic waist pants and casual tee shirt and ugly “sensible” shoes and they now have cleaning products, toothpaste, vitamins etc at ridiculous prices and costly shopping charges. My mother sold Avon in the 1950s, I’ve been a representative since 1996 but I’m ready to quit. Its not Avon any more. Very sad.

    • Suzette Topik says:

      Yes, April, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. I’ve been selling first for 5 years, quit for 17, and back for going on 28 years. I’ve seen everything you’ve mentioned about the new names put to great products that were reasonably priced and now have doubled. I really don’t understand why this company had to resort to dog products and toothpaste just to name a few. It’s hard to explain to your customers who have been purchasing their favorite face and body creams for years that the old $22 face cream product has been discontinued but you can still get the cream under a changed name and pay $38 for it. All I can say is that the first Avon Lady, Mrs. Albee, would be so disappointed in the direction Avon has taken and is headed today.

  • Tami Neat says:

    Loved your article! It brought back so many warm memories. Yes, I have purchased from Amway and AVON. I am actually still an Avon Representative for over 40 years now. My mother used to purchase AVON when I was young, and I enjoyed the “Avon Lady” bringing demos to the house and displaying them on our coffee table. The products have changed drastically, but major staples are still available, like SSS Bath oil.

  • Jackie says:

    I love Avon I’ve been selling for 3 years it’s been tough but I still do it anybody’s looking for anything you can go to my website http://www.youravon.com/jeli

  • Ddph says:

    I’ve sold it Avon for more than 37 years. I have people that order from my website and I order for some people and deliver it. I also keep products at my store for those who wanna stop by and see what I have. So many people stop by to tell me they remember me coming by and letting them have lipsticks or samples when they were just a little kid.

  • Diane Longfield says:

    My mother sold Avon, I sold Avon & my daughter currently sells Avon with her husband. Avon has come a long way. My favorite clothes are Avon. I think my grandmother sold Avon as well, but I’m not sure on that. With us, Avon has been a way of life.

  • Leslie B says:

    I love Avon! From the time I was young (rockin Sweet Honesty!) till now, and I did a brief stint as an Avon lady, as well! Before they sold out to a Korean company, I used many of their products, not just their fragrance. My great aunt Josephine doused herself liberally with a different Avon fragrance whenever she would go out. Some were still there, hanging around, long after she left, too! The collectible perfume bottles are rather popular & you can almost always find them at flea markets, yard sales, & online stores. My grandmother bought a beautiful little flagon that had a red top & strawberries printed on it; it was filled with strawberry bubble bath & was mine to use when I spent the night at their house. I still have the decanter & it’s very precious to me. Lots of great Avon memories in my life – it’s so much more than just perfume & makeup!!

  • Anna says:

    Visit my online store at http://www.avon.com/repstore/annareeder. And I’m almost always available to chat with you about your order!

  • Anna says:

    Yes, Avon is still around and I am a representative in my very small, neck-of-the-woods little town in Alabama! Visit my website to see how we have changed!

  • Avon is alive and well in the USA at 137 years young. We still sell perfume and Skin So Soft, but we also have clothing, jewelry, and household cleaning products as well as LG Electronics. We Aren’t your Grandma’s Avon anymore!

  • Dana says:

    You all have a Avon Lady Me come shop online with me!

  • Cindy says:

    Guess you should have called an Avon lady… I could have possibly found one for you cheaper than EBAY. Yes Avon ladies still exist! Send me a message next time you are looking for something: https://www.avon.com/repstore/cindyfelg

  • Tina Griego says:

    I ?? Avon… I better, I am an Avon Rep! Just as Amazon, we’ve moved to the online store shopping! We still carry fabulous perfume, makeup, clothing…and now, household, pet, & decor products! Still great quality & prices!!

  • Shelli Holley says:

    I currently have a cute little piggy from Avon on my nightstand, as a young girl I enjoyed watching my mema dab perfume behind her ears from a tiny bottle in the car before the pink splash of lipstick and a certs!

  • Christina says:

    Avon lady here! We still sell perfumes in collectible bottles from time to time, and we do still have brochures and lipstick “bullets”. Avon was actually bought by LG (yes, that LG) and has expanded the product selection by a ton! If you haven’t checked out Avon lately you don’t know what you’re missing! http://www.youravon.com/cmercer or contact me for a paper brochure! [email protected] ??

  • Have you seen an Avon brochure lately? Even so, with over 6000 products to offer, not all will fit in the book. Look for offers and discounts (and belif, The Creme Shop, The Face Shop, CathyCat brands) at http://www.youravon.com/lisajohnston

  • Bonnie says:

    Avon Lady here

  • AnnJune says:

    Hi Tom, and greetings from Central MA! I recognized Thorne’s in a flash, although have not been there in some time. Avon was local to us, as well, although I never really got caught up too much in it – maybe a honeysuckle perfume in a stick form? I did have a boyfriend who went all-in for Herbalife, however, and took some of their supplements for a short time in the 80s. Nice to “see” you back here : )

  • Tracy Shaw says:

    I’m an Avon Lady! ? Avon is still and alive and doing very well! This month is my 14th Avon Anniversary and I still love what I do!

  • Elaine W says:

    I sold Avon for close ro 30 years and have been a customer since my early teens. I love all of Avon’s products, especially the skin care line ANEW.
    Although I’m much older, My plan is return. I know there are many people who want to have an Avon Lady back in their neighborhood.

  • SylviaW says:

    Lol My Avon perfume order is due Saturday! Cheap as Chips! First order in a long time! 6 perfumes, shower scrub, lip oil and free lip balms for $120! Woo hoo!!!

  • Dina C. says:

    My mom and one of my grandma’s used to get stuff from Avon. I think Mom had a mini Charisma, though not the cute snail. Also Occur! and a couple more. Used to love their doll sized lipstick samples, their bubble bath, and Sweet Honesty, a scent marketed towards teens in the 70s.

    • Tom says:

      Those doll sized samples! Those were just the end! IDK why manufacturers don’t still do that (or do they?) Such a nice, sanitary way to try out the colors. Even if they just sold them they would clean up.

  • MzChris says:

    Ah! Good memories! My blue collar, East coast family had neighbor ladies who sold Avon. We always had a number of those tiny bullet sample lipsticks in the bathroom. My grandmother, who gardened every day, was fond of the splashes-Honeysuckle, Hawaiian White Ginger and (might be the wrong name) Ode to a Rose. You got a lot of product for not a lot of money. I bought and wore the Hawaiian White Ginger for years-well into my 30s (many decades ago!). I recall a lot of the scents being average/forgettable but many folks collected the bottles. There was a men’s cologne by Avon called “Derringer” that looked like a realistic, small hand gun. That was back in the day when bottles of scent were more for looking at on a tray than actually wearing. Or else once a week you spritzed or splashed a bit on before church.

    Avon used to have a jewelry line, too.

    I never cared for the smell of Skin So Soft and found it very, very heavy and greasy-almost like super duper mineral oil with a scent. It presented a serious hazard in the bath, making the porcelain as slippery as an icy, East coast side walk in winter.

    Great trip down memory lane, Tom. Thanks!

    • Tom says:

      Thank you for reminding me of “Derringer!” I thought that bottle was the coolest thing ever. I think they had one shaped like cars too. And yes, they could have been filled with perfume or diet Pepsi and I still would have wanted one..

      • Leslie B says:

        The car shaped bottles are extremely popular – my ex was buying them like crazy at one point & if they still had cologne inside, even better. LOL

  • Jennifer S says:

    We have a woman at work who sells Avon. She leaves the pamphlets in the locker room for people to take and from what I can tell it’s still a popular endeavor. A friend who works in her yard constantly puts in her order for the Skin so Soft every spring like clockwork and I haven’t forgotten my bottle of Timeless that’s tucked away and needs revisiting!

    • Tom says:

      I actually bid on and won a bottle of SsS in the 6oz snail bottle so we will see. I also see that you can get it at the dreaded Amazon.

      I may have to get in touch with my local Avon Lady..

      • Veronica says:

        Please get in touch with your local Avon lady or one of us on here who have posted. NEVER shop from Amazon as you don’t know how the product was stored or if is expired or rancid. Also Current Avon Reps are prohibited from selling on Amazon and if they are and are caught they will lose their Avon account.

  • Maya says:

    You are so right about the sense of distance in New England and California. Maybe because most of the NE states are small relative to Cali. I remember coming back from Cali to CT. What struck me the most was distances and how everyone thought about them. I remember a friend asking for a ride from Santa Barbara to somewhere in Orange County and we thought nothing of it!
    PS The snail is cute.

    • Tom says:

      Oh, I think that’s exactly it. You could shove most of the Eastern Seaboard into California with room to spare and I think the whole of Connecticut is about the same size as Los Angeles.

      We had a Chevy Impala Super Sport my Dad bought my Mom as a present when she was pregnant with me (her ’57 Bel Air convertible being “impractical” for a growing family) that had less than 30k miles on it when we finally got rid of it after 10 years. We had to- the body had rusted so much you could see road through the floorboards..

      • Maya says:

        How I think of Connecticut just shifted! And Los Angeles too. lololol.
        I get you on the car mileage and age. It was that way for pretty much everyone.

        • Tom says:

          I remember getting into my BFF’s car (inherited from her parents), going to put on my seat belt and having the whole thing including the floor it was bolted to come up. Rust from years of road salt.

          • Maya says:

            I actually did laugh out loud at that one! Ya, road salt is a major car destroyer.

          • Tom says:

            You would see cars that had practically no mileage looking like swiss cheese.

            Scary thing is is that we would keep driving them. Just give a $20 to the guy doing the “safety” inspection and you were good to go.

          • MizChris says:

            LOL! I had a similar thing happen. I had just started dating a woman when I was in art college. She drove an old Karmann Ghia. On our first date, a rainy night, as we headed out for dinner, it felt like my feet were getting wet. ??? I thought. Well, the car was so rusty, when I looked down, I could see a patch of wet road and puddles through the hole in the deteriorating floor of the front of the car. YIKES!

          • Tom says:

            And I’ll bet she kept it too. My friend kept her parents car until it was biffed in an accident that caused it to fall apart like the cruiser at the end of “The Blues Brothers”

  • rosarita says:

    What a fun read, and snail! My mom sold a competing home line called Beauty Counselor in the 60s but they were mainly skincare and makeup, no perfumes. I remember her giving facials at the kitchen table. Her good friend sold Avon and that’s when mom started wearing Skin So Soft lotion. I worked with an Avon lady 30 years ago and I bought a fair amount of jewelry. I see tons of Avon perfumes at estate sales here and I think some of the bottles are collectible.

    • Tom says:

      I didn’t know that they did jewelry but did know that some of those bottles are highly collectible. And some are just really cool.

  • Musette says:

    I live at the Back of Beyond now (as you know) and OMG! We haz several Avon Ladies! I absolutely LOVE flipping through the PAPER catalogue – and I do order (and wear) SSS in Summer – dunno if it actually works but I rarely get skeetered so (insert shrug).
    I’m thrilled that your vintage downtown has been reimagined and reinvigorated!


    • rosarita says:

      There was – maybe still is? – a SSS body oil spray that I’ve been tempted by. Avon also had good nail polish iirc.
      Loved those paper catalogs!

      • Tom says:

        I looked at the Avon website and there are myriad SsS products. Dizzying. I am keeping myself from just ordering for the heck of it.

    • Tom says:

      I miss paper catalogues. If I ever retired to the boonies (if I had the money) I would haunt my Avon lady.

      It’s nice that good old Noho reinvented itself and came back from the dead. But it really is a kid’s town. I was there about 15 years ago and had lunch with an old friend and I think we lifted the median age in the restaurant to just the adult side of puberty.

  • Portia says:

    Tom, for four long weeks I tried being an Avon lady. I was about 15 and nobody wanted a pimply male youth selling them Avon. So I stopped.
    Now Avon has left Australia, it’s a bummer. I loved their Amari fragrance shower gel.
    Portia xx

  • alityke says:

    Yep Avon was BIG in the UK in the 60’s & 70’s. I’m pretty sure mum bought my LOTV Kiddle Kologne from Avon. Christmas brought “strawberry” bubble bath. I don’t remember her purchasing fragrance or make up though. She was (still is) a snob.
    Avon I’d still going strong, they sell direct on the interweb & on Amazon her. Though every so often we will get an A5 Avon book on the doorstep with an order form tucked inside.
    I have a Far Away & a few travel size of its flankers

    • Tom says:

      OMG_ these comments are such a trip! I remember that strawberry bubble bath- and “strawberry” it was- probably foaming cancer-causing chemicals, but I loved it..

  • AnnieA says:

    My very first perfume was…a cream? from Avon. Carnation in a tiny jar. Mother supported the Avon Lady even if not a big customer, having been one herself back in the day.

    • Tom says:

      I remember they did cream perfumes. I know my mom got makeup (there was a creme eyeshadow that had a wand applicator like todays concealer that she adored), lipsticks and nail colors. Some of the novelty cologne bottles if we begged hard enough.

  • cinnamon says:

    That was a truly great read on a grey and rainy Wednesday morning. No Avon, Amway, etc, here. I don’t think my mother even knew what Avon was. Once I left home (and suburban NY) my parents moved to a small town near the Atlantic coast of New Hampshire (yes, NH has 30 miles of coastline, with the rest landlocked). Buying anything required a car trip but Hampton was a few miles from Exeter, which had one of those weird town/gown vibes due to the fancy Phillips Exeter Academy (my mum taught at the local Exeter high school, where she was the contract negotiator — they didn’t have a union back then). Exeter had a fancy French bakery with awesome croissants, upmarket charity shops (where I got a lot of ’50s and ’60s tiny floral cotton button down shirts when I came home to visit) and a wonderful soup cafe. That bottle looks oh so cute and I guess green is perfect for spring?

    • Tom says:

      Yeah, my town had the town/gown thing going as well- there were five colleges in the area ranging in snootiness from the state university to a couple of seven sisters one. The New Hampshirite coast is very pretty as I remember it. Not as theme-park touristy as the Mass parts north of Boston but not as, well, sleazy is the only word I can think of as parts of Southern Maine.

      But I haven’t been there in 30 years, so what do I know?

  • March says:

    Oh I LOVE that bottle! I’d missed that one somehow…. my mom had a friend who was an Avon lady and bought some of their fragrances even though she wasn’t that interested in them. I definitely remember a couple of bird where their head came off for the sprayer.

    • Tom says:

      It’s cute, right? The juice isn’t bad either..

      As I remember they did a lot of cute packaging for whatever they were selling.

      Now I want to try Skin So Soft..

      • rosarita says:

        My mother, at almost 96, still wears Skin So Soft lotion, I get it on Amazon. Full circle!

      • Musette says:

        I think you’d like it – it’s not really much of anything, scentwise but it does seem to keep the Flying Squadron of Doom at bay – maybe?


        • Tom says:

          Well I did bid and win on a snail full (6 whole ounces) of it. IDK if it might have gone off, but we will see. It’s pretty cheap on Amazon so I may just get some from there to see what’s up.

  • Maggiecat says:

    Avon was part of our household when I was growing up, and I sold it as an older teen and young adult. My mom, sister, and I all wore Sweet Honesty, my dad wore the Musk scent. And Charisma was one of my staples!

    • Tom says:

      It really was Amazon before there was Amazon. I don’t remember having Tupperware in the house but I remember Avon

  • Tara C says:

    My first perfumes were the Avon compact solids my mom would buy for me. We had plenty of their products: cosmetics, perfumes, plus we had Amway too. My mom never sold it but we had friends who did so of course we ended up buying some of it. And then there was Mary Kay and the pink cadillac! Can’t forget her.

    • Tom says:

      We had some a way as well- it was great having big bulk cleaning products delivered. Never saw a Mary Kay person until I came to SoCal. I’ve seen a few pink Cadillacs over the least years..

    • Dina C. says:

      My mom sold Amway for a few years in the late 70s. I think she may even still use their products.

      • Tom says:

        Amway was great- especially if you had a house and a family. We didn’t have a Costco (not sure they existed then) so it was a great way to get the giant drum of cleaning stuff without having to load it up yourself..

  • Pam says:

    Tom, what a great post! I enjoyed visiting your sub(urb).And it brought back some memories. Yes, the Avon Lady was a big deal where I lived. My mother often bought from her, but not the perfumes. I like to visit antique stores and often see Avon perfume bottles. Or entire collections. Haven’t seen that snail. Cute!

    • Tom says:

      Thanks! I remember my mom mostly bought make-up: lipsticks, etc. I remember they used to have teensy little testers and it was very easy to choose without the pressure from the counter at the department store.

      • Maya says:

        Oh, I forgot those little testers! They were fun. My mother had no interest in perfume or makeup except for lipstick. She always and only wore reds. She bought the lipsticks.

        • Tom says:

          My mom did the lipsticks too, and always some kind of red. She thought they were better than the department store ones, and if she dropped it or lost it or left it in the car and it melted no biggie.

          Well, maybe cleaning melted lipstick off the owners manual..