Who needs a computer when you've got the Avon Lady (not to mention Mary Kay and Tupperware)?

By Valerie Fraser Luesse
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Tupperware party
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There was a time in the not-so-distant Southern past when "shop at home" didn't mean logging onto your computer or tuning into a cable network, cell phone at the ready to place that order. No, at-home retail therapy used to be a much more personal affair.

Whether Mama was in the market for her signature spring scent or a "saltine saver" with that famous "burp-able" Tupperware seal, she could invite a sales representative into her home—maybe even break out the silver coffee service and bake a pound cake, have some friends over, and call it a party. (No purchase required, but everybody knows it's tacky to come to the party, eat Mama's cake, and sashay out of there without so much as a spatula or decorative soap on your order sheet.)

Here are the four sell-from-home companies Mama'n'em always liked best—how about you?


Ding-Dong! Avon Calling! The iconic cosmetics company promoted its Avon representatives—make that Avon Ladies—as beloved members of their communities, delivering beauty, confidence, and poise right to your door. (I still remember my aunt's Avon sales case from the sixties—seems like it was black and blue with a sort of textured pinstripe pattern. Now her granddaughter sells Avon. The South is all about legacy.)

The Avon Lady not only sold lipstick and "harmonizing rouges" but could show you the correct way to apply your fragrance—scents like Cotillion and Honeysuckle—in a manner that utilized those all-important pulse points. (Do they even make crème sachet any more? I had forgotten all about it till I watched a vintage Avon ad.) I like the continuity of knowing that we can still contact an Avon Lady to set us on the straight and narrow with an appropriate fall color palette.

World Book Encyclopedia

Just as babies came "from the hospital" (that's a direct quote from my Alabama grandmother, who had eight children), school science projects came from the World Book Encyclopedia. Every year, we all scrambled to select a remotely manageable project for the annual science fair. World Book was sold door-to-door, and many a Southern Mama bought a set to ensure that Junior and Sissy had the proper research tools to get them through high school. We didn't have a set, so Mama would drive me to my cousin Stanley's to borrow his. (As children, we were discouraged from reading the section on human reproduction. Mama can't be too careful.) You can still order those volumes on Amazon.

Mary Kay

Unlike Avon, where a trained professional assisted Mama one-on-one, Mary Kay was all about the party, gathering Mama and friends around a host's kitchen table to experiment with foundations and eye makeup, while the Mary Kay representative (in pursuit of her own pink Cadillac) instructed the ladies. I remember some watercolor-esque eye shadow from the seventies—you sort of painted it on? Does Mary Kay still sell that, I wonder? I know one thing—that stuff lasted.


Y'all, Mama had a serious thing for Tupperware—still has it. There was something about a Tupperware party that could convince Mama'n'em that they needed—not wanted but needed—a plastic, lidded, and let's not forget burp-able container for absolutely everything. A Tupperware representative could even sell you a container that was tailor-made to fit a single slice of pie. Remember the popsicle-making set? Mama still has her Tupperware cake carrier and some of those round storage containers with the starburst lid. When I was in elementary school, she would freeze me a glass of sweet tea in a sealable Tupperware tumbler so that it would be slushy by lunchtime. Besides the aforementioned saltine saver, she had the salt and pepper shakers, cereal bowls, lime-green storage bowls, a footed colander, "handholder" juice pitchers, a 5-quart sheer canister with handle . . .

I know the product names because I looked up Tupperware on ebay and realized that I had grown up with many of the items I was looking at. I recently called Mama and asked, "Is it my imagination, or did you buy a lot of Tupperware when I was a kid?" I could imagine the gleam in her eye when she answered: "Oh, I loved Tupperware. Still do. You can't wear it out. It has that special seal, you know. Keeps your food so fresh. I bought a lot of it. I mean a lot. And I'll tell you something else. I still use it."

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