"I feel pretty...oh so pretty!"

If you love fashion, there is no better place to go than my own mother's closet. She is and has always been a clothes horse with a powerful penchant for shopping. Combine this urge to purchase with an almost psychotic inability to throw or give anything away, and you have the fashion equivalent of an archeological dig site located in all the closets in my parent's home.

Currently, I can find clothes that date back to the 1970's (many with the tags still on them). When I was a child of five or so, I could find clothes that dated back to my mother's high school days. I used to sneak into her closet and squeeze myself between the tightly compressed, plastic wrapped, hanging items into the small space at the back of her closet. From there, I could tug and pull at each of the cello dry cleaner covers, examine the contents and shove back the rejects until I located a dress or pant suit I wanted to examine more closely.

I would peel apart the plastic sheeting and slide my body up inside so I could press my face against the vast variety of fabric types. Smooth and cool satins, slippery silks, light and airy chiffons, nubby wool, poofy and itchy tulle...and no, it never occurred to me that those long plastic sacks were a suffocation hazard. They hadn't started printing those warnings on them yet.

I wasn't supposed to play in my parent's closet, but it was inevitable that one day I would be discovered. To my amazement, my mother didn't punish me. Instead, she pulled out one of the many semi-formal dresses hanging in her collection, slipped off the plastic, and asked me if I liked it. The dress was a deep flame red, sleeveless with wide straps, a sweetheart neckline, and made of a combination of satin appliquéd chiffon over a poofy crinoline underskirt. The satin appliqués were actually large poinsettia blossoms. It wasn't surprising when my mom told me the dress had been made for a Christmas semi-formal dance when she was in high school. What surprised me was the fact that her mother, my grandma, had MADE the dress.

Back when my mother was growing up, her family didn't have a lot of money. They weren't poor, but buying things like fancy party dresses was simply out of reach for their limited budget. What was a popular girl with loads of male suitors to do? Instead, my mother would comb the fashion magazines, cut out pictures, and my grandmother would sew the most amazing counterfeit versions for my mother so she could attend the vast array of dances and tea socials she was invited to. (I guess being deprived of "real" designer duds as a youth made mom a little obsessive for the real thing later in life.)

I was completely enraptured by my mother's stories. Every dress held tales of handsome boys, twirls around the dance floor, and stolen kisses on the darkened front porch of her parent's home. My mom was a "good girl" (and I was very YOUNG) so that was as spicy as things ever got. *wink* The point was...these dresses were a tangible connection to my mother's past. A colorful fabric timeline documenting the high points of her youth.

What I never expected was for her to GIVE ME one of those dresses. But she did. At first, I just got to try some of the dresses on. Eventually, I think my constant requests to raid her closet and try on more and more of her treasures wore my mother down. She finally asked me if I wanted to pick one to play dress-up in. I selected the flame red Christmas party dress as my first choice.

Naturally, I was lost inside it. The dress was way too big for my tiny child's frame. But I didn't care. Nothing a few dozen safety pins couldn't fix. I managed to coax a few more dresses away from my mother's closet and into the old toy chest in my bedroom (where I kept my dress-up treasures).

Let me tell you, I was THE most popular girl on the street when it came time to play dress-up with my little girlfriends. We had a blast putting on those dresses and pretending we were all the belle of the ball. I had the faux pearl crown and veil from my First Holy Communion, my baton from my twirling class, and some old high-heeled shoes from mom's endless collection; together with a navy blue and cream colored satin number, I was Cinderella with very little stretch of my imagination.

I wore those dresses to shreds...literally. I don't recall exactly when I stopped playing with them, but I know I was at least 10 or 11. I had started using fabric from the dresses to sew outfits for my Barbie dolls. Turned out I had some significant skills with needle, thread, and sewing machine. My grandmother actually gave me her old sewing machine (her eyesight had gotten too bad to use it any longer) when she realized that the sewing bug had skipped a generation...my mom could barely thread a needle herself.

A few months ago, I was searching the net for fabric sources. I was hoping to find just the right Asian inspired brocade to sew a seat cushion for a new bench I'd purchase for the living room. I wasn't sure if I'd tackle the job myself or have a friend do the sewing (it's been YEARS since I've sewn anything other than a lost button or split seam). What I DID find was an internet shop that sold vintage clothing. I gasped when I came across a dress that looked amazingly like one of my mother's from way back when.

That set me off on a tangent search for vintage clothing. I was swept away by my memories and cried when I came across an auction of clothes that had once belonged to Marilyn Monroe. Many of her dresses could have come out of my own mother's closet. I suppose it's silly to feel such strong pangs of sorrow over old clothing; but there have been few other times in my life where I felt that pretty.

Even on my own wedding day I didn't feel as pretty as I did back when I was five, twirling around my bedroom in vintage party dresses that were 10 sizes too big.


Chris said…
I have no sense of fashion. My wife has to pick my clothes out for me:)

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Ohhh pretty. Sarah would be soo envious.
Anonymous said…
This is a beautiful entry, and reminds me of all the fun times I played dress up with my friends :)
Those were the days, I tell you!
BosieLadie said…
What a great entry... ahh... the memories of childhood!
Celeste said…
I want the red dress!
I wanna find some large size ones and come over to your house to play dress up! Mine will be blue. Margo
Shari said…
What a sweet nolstagic entry!
Okay, this is a side of both you and your mom that's totally new to me. It explains a lot. Come to think of it, my mom's penchant for polyester and The Sari Debacle explain at lot at my end, in the other direction! Thanks for the insigt! - Karen
V said…
Becky, that`s a great story.
Unhinged said…
Yep, yep, there's nothing more magical and grown-up feeling that dropping your mom's come hither red dress over your 10-year-old body! Those were such fun days. My mom would let us wear her bras, too. We'd stuff them with wads of pantyhose, the kind that came in the silver Leggs eggs. Remember those? And then we'd stroll down the block in our finery with our chests pushed out far enough to trip oncomers.
Wonderful entry. I was more interested in my mother's make up. Odd, because she rarely wore more than lipstick, but I thought her big power puff was the neatest thing in the world. When it go old she bought a new one and gave me the old one. I thjought I was the coolest kid in the neighborhood for a while. These days, I am lucky if I get lipgloss on before I go out! Margo

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