Jacqueline Madrano has served plenty of roles throughout her 80-plus years: homemaker, civic volunteer, church pianist, occasional secretary, “kitchen musician.” It’s this life experience, combined with her unique historic role as military wife in the post-WWII years—accompanying her husband, Col. Joseph Madrano, throughout his career, she raised three children in U.S. Army bases around the world—that made me want to interview her.
Rather, those are the reasons I’d want to interview her if I didn’t know her in the capacity I do. But it’s her role as my grandmother—my impeccably put-together grandmother, without whose influence this blog might not exist—that, obviously, has left the deeper imprint upon me. Not only has she led by example through being a fashion plate, she’s also given me morsels of wisdom on fashion, beauty, and self-presentation as long as I can remember. If you put powder over lipstick and then put on another coat, it’ll last all day, she told me when I was playing at her vanity table at age seven—my first-ever beauty tip, tucked away for years until I’d finally start wearing lipstick for real. Your hair is pretty, but it isn’t your best feature—let’s get you some bangs to show off your eyes, she said when taking me to get my first haircut that went beyond a basic trim. Every woman should have a little mad money, just for you, she said as she paid for that haircut by plucking a $20 bill from a hidden flap in her pocketbook. It wasn’t a beauty tip per se, but it was a signal to me that spending money on your appearance was a manner of self-care, a way to do something “just for you.” My mother—a beauty minimalist and second-wave feminist who sat me down with my first Barbie to show me the ways Barbie’s body and Mommy’s body were different—taught me one way to be a woman. Mimi taught me another.
That powder-over-lipstick trick is a keeper, and so are some of the other things we discussed: comfort versus beauty, vanity versus pride, and why the U.S. government cared what she wore when going bowling. In her own words:
On Fads and Comfort
I grew up very poor. I didn’t have a lot of clothes, but what clothes I did have I tried to make not the latest styles, but something that would last. As the years went on, we could afford a little more, but I’d learned what styles look best on me years earlier. So I just stayed with that style instead of whatever came in fads. I don’t care for the fads; I keep my clothes forever. Though I did have nice legs, so when the styles were short I wore them—not as short as a lot of them, some of the styles were just embarrassing! But since I knew what colors looked best on me, when I went to get new clothes, they’d go with what I already had in my closet. That really helped me in our traveling—I can take just one suitcase but have many different outfits.
I’ve had my colors done, but you really learn what works on you mostly by comments. When people would say, Oh, you really look nice today or That’s a good color for you, you pay attention. And you pay attention to what you’re comfortable in—I knew pastel shades worked for me because I was more comfortable in them. You do not have to sacrifice comfort for beauty. You have to know what is comfortable first, but then you can always fix it so it looks pretty too. I’ve heard people that you have to choose one or the other, but I’ve found it easy to do both. But the secret is knowing your style and your colors. And then if a fad works with that, well, that’s fine.
But some fads turn out not to be fads. Have you tried mineral makeup? I love it; that’s what I wear now. So much quicker, so much cleaner. It goes on so easily and you can just brush it off if you don’t get it on right the first time. I think it makes you look more like you. After 80 years you know who you are. You want to look like who you are. I don’t like to see a mature woman with a lot of makeup on. It makes me think they don’t like this age, that they want to look younger. And it makes them look the other way around.
I took a ladies’ night out at a basketball game with our minister’s wife and my friend Carolyn. A handsome man—he wasn’t a young man but he wasn’t an old man either, tall, very handsome—came up to us and he put his arms around us and he says, “Ladies, don’t be frightened, but I just want to tell you that you are the best-looking women at the game tonight.” We weren’t dressed up, but we were neat. He said, “Most of the women here don’t even try to be neat, and to see somebody like you—I just had to tell you.” We felt honored because we were old women! Well, Carolyn’s not as old, but for him to stop and tell us that was really something. Then he just went on his way. He wasn’t trying to flirt or anything; he was just being honest.
But it’s true: People don’t care how they look anymore. It’s fine if you want to do that at home, but I think being neat when you go out shows that you’re proud, that you’re proud of living. And I think when you don’t make that effort, it means you don’t care. I’ve seen that more and more and it bothers me—people coming to church every Sunday and they’re not neat, their hair isn’t combed. It’s bothersome. I feel like it shows they’ve lost their pride. I look good, and I don’t want people to think I look good just to be looked at, or that I have to be looked at, but if it happens, it happens.
I probably have too much pride. I say that because so many women are happy without things I’m miserable without. I have to have a perm! Usually I’d go to the beauty shop once a week and get my hair fixed, and [my husband] Joe never complained about that. He complained about other things but he never complained about my going to the beauty shop. In fact, he said, Well, how are you going to work this? But when I was busy getting Joe well last year when he was ill, I hated to leave him so I couldn’t drive across town to have my hair fixed once a week. It got really bad. I didn’t let it bother me because I had to do these things, but after he got feeling better that’s the first thing I did, went out to get a perm, got myself looking a little better. It costs money, but I feel like it’s worth it, and Joe does too. It makes me behave better; I’m happier, so I’m not cross. And I don’t feel sorry for myself. But I’ve always been a little vain. Or maybe just proud—I do think of other people, maybe that’s the difference.
Jacqueline and Col. Madrano, 1973
On Being a Military Wife
I think the military has a lot to do with my pride. When we were stationed overseas the first time, in Japan, not long after the war had ended, and the first time in Germany, there was military policy about how we could dress. If we went bowling, for instance, we could drive there in short short pants—we could get out of the car and bowl and get in the car and go home. But we could not stop on the way and get out of the car—they didn’t want us to be seen like that. The military wanted us to make a good impression on the people there—we wanted to show the Japanese that we were nice people after the war. And the same in Germany. But the second time we went to Germany it wasn’t like that. We were very fortunate to be in the States when Joe went over to Vietnam, because they didn’t live on a base where people really supported the troops. People would boo the wives. They had nothing to do with it; it was their husbands, but the wives still felt a lot of pain. But because we lived here we didn’t feel that as much. I never had anyone say anything to me.