>Last week, the evening before an important business meeting, I tired of thinking about doing any further prep work for a presentation that wasn’t likely to assist in maintaining my job past an upcoming merger. So, what to do, when one is in New York, doesn’t have room in luggage to carry home lots of books, and hasn’t scored tickets to Shakespeare in the Park in the virtual raffle: find a play with affordable tickets 20 minutes before the current rises. My choice: Nora & Delia Ephron’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore.
The play, really a reading of several monologues by five actors, had some funny lines but dealt with a predictable catalog of “women’s” issues surrounding careers, marriages, children, and health, divorce and death. While I enjoyed my evening, I not likely to remember much from the play in a week. But, later that evening, when I was unable to fall asleep, I decided to try to draw some examples from my own wardrobe over the years. What works as a device in the play, similarly, provoked me into thinking about various episodes in my life.
I’m not skilled at drawing, but voila! It is what it is.
As an adult, I came across a photo my father had shot one Easter morning. Alongside my 3 sisters, I sat on the porch, posed for the camera. We all were in brand new dresses and shiny patent leather shoes, with matching hats: four little ladies — almost. From left to right, Michele, Helene, & Patrice sat primly, smiling, legs crossed demurely, their hats seated jauntily atop neatly brushed curls. At the end of the row was me: knees apart, dress rumpled and grass-stained, socks fallen, mud-covered shoes, straggly hair, hat in hand, unable to hide the fact that no amount of AquaNet could keep the curls from fleeing as soon as I went outside.
I suspect I never saw this picture when a child because my mother was aghast when she saw it. Many of the pictures from my childhood were similar. I knew from an early age that I didn’t have a career in modeling ahead of me.
One of my favorite dresses when I was 6. It’s was a hand-me-down and you can find a picture of the real dress in an earlier post. I felt like a princess in this dress, the green velvet vest the most luxurious item I owned. I thought I was beautiful! I wore it for every holiday for a few years, long past a proper fit.
It was certainly different than the scratchy wool uniforms we wore to school: Red plaid, white blouse with peter pan collar, navy blue tie, navy blue socks, serious looking shoes. I think they were saddle shoes, before those became retro and cool. We drew bell bottoms & flower power signs in our notebooks — the closest we could get to dressing how we wished. Just before the start of the school year, all the moms would gather in the gym for a uniform exchange. For some girls the jumpers were too big at the start of the year. For petite me, they were too big and too long all year. There wasn’t a chance in the world that I would ever fail the nuns’ random tests to be sure that your skirt was only so many inches from the floor when you knelt. I detested the color red for years.
In Jr. High, my parents’ placed me in a public school. Nobody knows me, I thought. Here’s my chance of being cool. That lasted until my mother came home one day with my new school clothes. She also had a special surprise: she had my sister sew an outfit — a pantssuit, with bellbottoms! — for me. Nearly 40 years later, I still don’t know what she was thinking and wonder if my sister really hated me that much:
Red and mustard colored paisleys on a sea of brown. Brushed velvet. Pants and vest, worn with a bright yellow blouse. I think the idea behind the vest was to hide my blossoming bosom. My hopes for being considered cool were gone before I got on the bus. Years ago, when I taught school, I thought that the years between 12 – 15 were like walking down the school hallways naked, one’s emotions so exposed , a chronic state of being self-conscious. And then I think about the 7th Grade Pantsuit. Naked would have been better.
I still feel horrible if I wear yellow.
At the start of 8th grade, I told me mother that The Pants Suit didn’t fit me any more. It stayed in the back of the closet until it found its way into a GoodWill bag, with the aid of a younger sister who would have received it as a hand-me-down. My clothes weren’t more hip, though I did have Five Minutes of Sartorial Fame in 8th grade during a 50’s Day contest. Happy Days was the new rage, and somehow dressing up in our parents old clothes was suppose to show our school spirit. I was never much for those types of events, but I decided to wear one of my mother’s dresses. While every one else was dressing in poodle skirts or leather jackets & rolled up jeans to look like Erin, Richie or The Fonz, I wore my mother’s “Going Away” dress, the dress she wore when she & my father left for their honeymoon. I thought the deep purple, ribbed knit dress was lovely. It had sparkling rhinestone buttons and a short matching sweater. I wore my mother’s matching pumps, the highest heels I had ever worn. With an china pencil, I drew seams on the back of my hose. To complete the June Cleaver look, I wore my mother’s pearls and my Grandmother’s fox stole, complete with —shudder — feet. I think my school might have had Tim Gunn’s soulmate on the staff: I won the faculty award for best dressed and was given the title The Queen of the 50’s.
More fun than actually winning, was the taunting I received from the popular mean girl who thought that she would win with the custom-designed poodle skirt her mother had made for the day. I can still hear her saying: You really shouldn’t have won; I gave the idea for the contest to Student Council and I was supposed to win. You were suppposed to dress, like, you know, a KID from the 50’s, not somebody’s MOM from the 50’s!
I started my first post-college job in the early 80’s. Like everyone else, I wore serious looking suits, which meant that they looked like men’s suits, with big shoulder pads. And silk ties, tied in neat little bows, to look feminine. Yeah, um, no. I’m hopeful that look is never revived.
I started branching out a little in the late eighties, wearing dresses, even though we were told it was very MidWestern, and not very chic.
Eventually I moved away from the bows, and thought I was daring if I showed any cleavage, like the pink & blue dress that I was wearing when I met my first husband. He invited me to a Halloween party the next weekend, although it was actually the weekend after Halloween. I wore green pants and sweater strung with christmas lights and candy canes. This was before there were battery operated lights, so I had to plug myself into a wall socket so that people knew I was a Christmas Tree. I got lost on the way to the party and had to stop for directions. They might have been tempted to direct me back to the insane asylum. I later thought of this as the Nightmare Before Christmas Costume.
As I moved into middle age, my wardrobe became more monotone. While there was the occassional purchase of something really awesome, like the Beautiful Green Suit, made from a brocade like fabric with small gold buttons,
mostly my closet reflected only one color: Black.
My husband once asked me why I needed 7 black skirts/dresses. Just because they are the same color, they are not alike. Since I know he knows how to count, some of them must look the same to him.
And, of course, the LBD:
These days, I work in an office with a casual dress code.
It’s casual, not business casual. I could probably show up wearing exercise cloths. If I did, they would be black.