copyright 2015 by Raunig-Graham
In another time frame, I might have been known to some, not many, but to a few, probably my mother, maybe my father, or likely one of my sisters, as a clotheshorse. Not that I had a lot of stunning, fashionable outfits. But clothes, including — in Nancy Drew parlance — frocks, I did like. Seeing myself now at age 71 in some of those long ago ensembles brings a new smile.
There I am in a Navy blue velvet, the one with the big lace collar, in my kindergarten class picture. It wasn’t my favorite in those days. There were two summer dresses in voile, each with an organdy redingote, one in tomato red over a white sundress with red polka dots, the other in lavender over a flowered fabric: the little girl ensembles remain favorites 60 some years later. They were hand-me-downs, but that didn’t matter to me. And white crocheted gloves added a certain touch, worn always only until September 1.
Jump ahead two or so years, and I am walking down the aisle in the Cathedral in my new deep purple curly wool coat and feeling smug wearing my new pink beret. Humility at age nine wasn’t much of a factor.
In junior high days in the 1950s, a clotheshorse didn’t have much opportunity, but high school days provided ample choice. Those were the days of pleated plaid wools and sweaters of every color and hue. Babysitting money could be applied to lay-aways at shops only too willing to accommodate the teenaged- fashionista. I can see myself at 15 in a memorable dark green black watch plaid frock with long sleeves and a white pique bib with tiny black buttons. A patent leather belt cinched the full gathered cotton skirt. How I swooned over the smooth black leather slip-ons chosen to complete this little number. They looked vedy, vedy British, I thought at the time, and emulating the Brits, or anything European in those days, seemed sophisticated, sophistication being a state of being that any striving girl was eager to achieve. We all knew back then that England did wool, Italy did leather, and Belgium did lace; France did some of each.
This era was pre-hippy, pre-rebellion, pre-anti-establishment, pre-women’s movement, so we relished the mode presented by Paris and New York through four-color magazines like “Seventeen.” It packaged pages of glamorous photos no teenager of that day could hope to match.
A demure white linen edged with a strip of peppermint pink at the neckline, and at the hem, with a sweet, delicate embroidery of tiny flowers near the top. (It greeted an old friend at the airport.) A Navy blue corduroy suit. (Purchased in a now defunct but then trendy boutique located in an old mansion; it went with me to my first professional job.) A tomato red tea-length crepe printed with black splotches that sported a long row of large black buttons down the front. (It swished down the main staircase at a symphony concert.)
How do I reconcile those various outfits that so beguiled me with the clothes I don today: comfortable slacks and often inexpensive knit tops usually worn with ankle socks and flat shoes? Is it lack of money, laziness, or simply the inevitability of age? Perhaps, a bit of each. Nevertheless, it still feels wonderful when a occasion calls for something well-chosen, an ensemble that pleases at least me when I look in the mirror. In the last few years, I have not hesitated to stop a stranger to compliment her or his apparel. Such a person deserves applause.
Times have changed and no one wants to be a slave to clothes, or to be dictated to on what is wearable. Unfortunately, today’s styles have become casual to the point of slovenly. “Let it all hang out, ” a plea to let go of overdone strictures 40 years ago, was apparently taken literally by some and eventually became the mainstream. Yet, it’s apparent to me now that one of the reasons a lot of us tuned in to the hugely popular “Downton Abbey” is the costuming for both women and men. Those gorgeous designs the characters are so lucky to wear keep me guessing. Is it silk? Is that one wool? Maybe chambray. And the color combinations. Inspired. Plus, these sumptuous clothes are being given their due because the actresses and actors showing them carry themselves impeccably.
When I think about those old closets, now empty, I cherish the words of Helen Keller, “So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good.”