The fun of fashion

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What to wear has occupied many happy  hours and years of my thinking life. So though some research has claimed that little girls and boys are conditioned to be male and female… pink versus blue…  I’m not convinced!

I don’t think any little boy could have felt the bliss that I did at three when I finally got to wear a sun-suit that had been too big for me. I remember the day I was allowed to wear it, I shall never forget the pattern of navy, pink, yellow and blue tiny flowers all over it. It was linen, it had tiny buttons down the front, and was the most beautiful thing I’d ever worn. I remember the glory of running to catch up the big girls next door, skipping through long fine grass that grew beneath the pine trees, and the shafts of sun-light beaming down between the rough trunks. And above all, the rapture of knowing that I was wearing such a wonderful thing.

Not quite the same rapture over my white petticoats trimmed with broderie anglaise, and the smocked pink dress and the blue dress, made of ninon – a fine muslin type fabric with soft little bobbles sprinkled all over it – but I still enjoyed them. A year older, and winter, I revelled in the Fair Isle berets and matching gloves my mother bought me and my sister.

I stood and watched with some disapproval as she preened herself in the two new coats she had just bought, one a black fluffy material with gold buttons, the other a smooth jade green wool with green and gold buttons. She had said she couldn’t resist them. I remember precociously thinking that there would be no more clothes coupons left for us.  I was five, and in war-time we had an allowance of coupons for the year, which once used, meant no new clothes until the following year.

School uniform was a treat then too, with beautiful quality velour hats with big brims and a wide ribbon round it for winter, and a Panama hat the same shape with another big ribbon round it for summer.

When my Victorian grandmother came to care for us after my mother had gone, she dressed me according to her firmly held notions. I went to school one day in an anguish of embarrassment, wearing soft leather full- length gaiters right up my legs with hundreds of tiny leather buttons. We needed a button hook to do them all up.  But I couldn’t get them off for PT (Physical Training), so she abandoned those, thank goodness. She spent hours at her treadle sewing machine making me pink satin, lace- trimmed dresses and the like, and sent me off to church in a new brown tweed coat which was agony every time I sat down. It turned out she had sewed up the scissors into the deep hem.

Worst of all were the bright purple fluffy mittens she got hold of – warm – but hideous. It lacerated my fashion- conscious soul every time I put them on. At my best friend’s seventh birthday party I left them behind at her house, hoping that that would be the end of them. But further humiliation ensued when my grandmother made me go back to get them, and so then every-one knew that these frightful objects were mine.

Bundled off to my new parents at nine and a half, they threw away all the clothes my grandmother had lovingly made me, and took us shopping in London, where we were equipped with little tweed velvet- collared coats and matching berets, pretty dresses, and best of all, check shirts and shorts, just like the girls wore in Enid Blyton’s books. Fine feathers indeed.

But they had to last… that was the last time we enjoyed such largesse. When I grew out of them, there were no replacements, and I had to manage on various hand-me-downs, and odd birthday presents. So when I started earning, the best thing about it was never again having to wear clothes that embarassed me. But though I wanted fine feathers, I had also learned the lesson we all did on reading ‘Little Women.’

The scene in which Meg, also humiliated by her worn clothes, allows her frivolous friends to turn her into a fashion plate for a party, and overhears some older women commenting, what a pity that that pretty modest girl had spoiled her appearance with frills and flounces, and crimped curls, had struck deep. Meg feels overcome with shame for not being true to herself.  So I wanted fine feathers, but not fashion overkill!

Oh, the lovely cut of winter clothes, the fabrics, the wool and tweed, the gabardine and mohair, the lambs-wool and cashmere, the knits and jersey, velvet and corduroy; the colours, rich plum reds and pine greens, the russet tones, and mustards, the navy blues and chocolate browns – breathes there a woman with soul so dead – to paraphrase Sir Walter Scott – whose heart doesn’t leap when confronted with these riches?

And for summer, we had linens and cottons and seersuckers and silk, the muslins and tulle, taffetas and brocades for evening. We’d never heard of denim then, and nylon was something for parachutes and stockings. Fashion for a teenager earning money at last, meant a circular felt skirt, a wide elastic waspie to nip in our waists, over a frilly starched cotton slip and worn with  a Marilyn Monroe sweater and flat pumps. In this get-up, we twirled and swooped, dancing to rock and roll, and skiffle, though we could still waltz and do Scottish dances at formal balls, in long romantic evening dresses accessorised with long white gloves. And then there was the mini!

But times have changed of course. I’ve just read a survey which claims that women’s waists now are seven inches bigger than they were in nineteen-fifty. The average woman’s waist then, they claimed, was twenty- seven- inches, and it’s now thirty-four. I think they’ve got it wrong – my waist was twenty-five then, and I envied the possessors of twenty-four inch waists. The research also says that women are square and waistless now, and that the old hour-glass figure has gone. I had noticed how waists are disappearing, and have wondered how anyone could wear a waspie any more, while circular skirts would not do much for expanded hips these days.

So it seems to me that women are not so much the slaves of fashion, as that fashion is the slave of women’s diet. And now that spartan war-time food, not just in England and Europe but probably in other parts of the world too, is no longer on the menu,  fast food and tampered- with food, and Too much of everything, seem to have re-shaped the female figure. And fashion in the shape of towering platforms and spiked heels seems to have hobbled women quite as successfully as bound feet in China.

So give me beautiful clothes, but not haute couture, fine feathers but not high fashion… and I will probably still be planning what to wear when I’m on my death-bed – maybe I should write a book about clothes – what to wear from the cradle to the grave. And I haven’t even mentioned hats!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

That apple cake! It was scrumptious, but so crumbly that we needed a fork to eat it with. So maybe a bit less apple and a bit more flour would hold it together. And whipped cream lifts it to another level!

Tonight, roast lamb, which rarely crosses this threshold, but it’s a special occasion. So along with all the usual trimmings, I’m making onions in white sauce. Peel and chop several onions, and boil with salt and pepper until cooked. In another saucepan melt two ounces of butter, and add enough flour to make a stiff roux. I pour in about a cup of milk, and then a cup of the onion- flavoured water, and stir briskly. Put it back on the heat and bring to the boil, stirring all the time until thick. Add nutmeg to taste, salt and pepper and the onion. You might need more milk, though I like the sauce quite thick. I usually add a dollop of cream…

Food for Thought

Beauty is a choir of singers, a chorus of dreamers, a concert of aspirations, an orchestra of goals, a symphony of ambition and a ballet of productions.

Glenda Green  Born 1945. Artist and author of ‘Love without end. Jesus Speaks’

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49 Comments

Filed under cookery/recipes, fashion, food, great days, happiness, life/style, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

49 responses to “The fun of fashion

  1. Loved this, but was looking for a number of the inches for the waist? and I see a hyphen but no number. “The average woman’s waist then, they claimed, was – inches, and it’s now -. I think they’ve got it wrong – my waist was – then, and I envied the possessors of – inch ”
    It’s the proofreader in me that I catch such things!

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  2. Thank you so much -I ‘ve been tearing my hair out with this post, notices popping up all over the place, tripping me up, changing the text to blue and underlining, insisting on spell checker, and offering ‘ was pie’ instead of waspie…guardian instead of gabardine and so on… just hope here aren’t any other horrors lurking there….than you again…

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  3. Clothing coupons were not part of my fashion story but I do remember lovely fabrics and dresses made just for me; well, they had to be because we didn’t have easy access to store bought clothing. The only time I remember wearing hand me downs was when we were on home leave in NZ. They were more borrowed than hand me down; living in Fiji we didn’t have any warm woollen clothing so friends and relatives lent us warm clothing for the short duration of our leave. Clothes were greatly valued and we weren’t always looking for the cheapest product available to satisfy a passing fashion trend. A pretty party/church dress would be your special dress till you grew out of it. Sadly our current desire for ‘cheapest possible everything’ contributes to the current horror story out of Bangladesh.

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    • Yes, I think it’s so sad that we don’t have much choice these days but to buy clothes from China where even expensive local firms get their stuff made, or cheap stuff from elsewhere as well as China. And we all know that buying cheap stuff means exploited workers….

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  4. Alice

    Perhaps that is why I love quilting so much–taking scraps of memory and forming them into a new one.

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    • Quilting is such a precious thing, both for the memories and the time and love invested… I bet your quilts are gorgeous Alice… I envy you – I can’t even get a needle threaded these days with my arhtritic hands…

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      • Alice

        I am a scrap quilter–using what I have. The quilts are interesting but would not be in a guild or such. A lot of love goes into their creation however. And I understand those hands–knotted knuckles from arthritis make everyday tasks difficult and slow, and trembling fingers from MS–are creative to say the least.

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      • I hope your mention of MS doesn’t apply to you A;ice – that is a really tough one…. and if so I have even more admiration for you and your way of seeing things….Valerie

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      • Alice

        Sigh–yes, MS. But it is an old companion, and while it has its challenges, my life is rich.

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      • I can see that you make it so, With admiration, dear Alice, from Valerie

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  5. Anonymous

    I loved this post like you i have memories of my favourite dress a seersucker shirred dress with pansies all over it when I was eleven, I wore it to church with little white gloves and thought I was so grown up. Thankyou for reviving that special memory for me.

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  6. I love this post, it brought back so many memories. My mother was a talented seamstress and loved to knit and crochet. She used to make us ‘clothes to last’ with huge hems on the skirts that could be taken down when we grew taller. Each alteration of the skirt was accompanied by a line of bias binding sewn over the previous hem stitches, so you could tell how many times the skirt had been adjusted by the number of lines of bias binding around the bottom. Then it was all taken off and turned up to its original length and my sister, who is five years younger, got the threadbare skirt. The make do and mend era 🙂

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    • Oh I can just see those skirts, Dory… bias binding hid a multitude of hem- line holes! Putting hems up, then letting them down seemed a constant occupation back then!!!! And then later as teenagers, every spring summer dresses seemed a bit a shorter, so out came the needle and thread again to keep up with fashion !!!

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  7. That lamb dish sounds great. Am passing it on to my wife!

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  8. Your writing evokes so many beautiful images; you are a painter with words!

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  9. Size does matter. I’ve gained quite a few pounds over the last year due to a new medication and now none of my clothes fit right. New clothes (in larger sizes) just don’t work. Arghhhhh! It is depressing.

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  10. Loved this post! I have loved fashion since the days of my youth. During those times I worked during the summer in several different shops. At the end of my healthcare career I opened a women’s boutique and had a ton of fun with it. I still enjoy dressing today. For those who are older – no, it is really for anyone I would like to suggest Ari Seth Cohen’s book Advanced Style. he has a blog by the same name.

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  11. Some of my most favorite memories revolve around clothes…the little white sleeveless dress when I was 4 the yellow checked long-sleeved snap-up shirt that I wore EVERYDAY (mom had to wash it out the night before and then iron it the next morning) the third year of my schooling…to be on the fair side we had a group of mean girls…think bullies…that would pick on people…me included. BUT WHEN I WORE MY YELLOW SHIRT they seemed to leave me alone, who knows why, maybe I just had more confidence in the shirt!

    Thanks for this blog post of memories!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

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    • I love your memories Linda… women’s memories do revolve around clothes, don’t they! how interesting about your yellow shirt… p’raps we should have all school uniforms in yellow… would that halt the bullying ???

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  12. This post brought back so many memories of my own favorite (and hated) childhood outfits! It’s fascinating how we can remember them in such detail.

    What a wonderful read!

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  13. Being a tomboy I never did have fashion sense, today I wear what I like and what is comfortable although I do like to wear dresses now and then, but give my comfy slacks and blouse and I am one happy lady! 😉 One of the most embarrassing hand me downs were my brothers pants – I don’t think anyone knew, but I did and I vowed never to wear hand me downs again, even for a tomboy that was too much. .

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  14. You certainly describe clothes and fabrics with the gusto and joy of a true lover of good clothes! It is true that today’s average figure is drastically different from the pre-high fructose corn syrup and pre-genetically modified wheat days! And what a difference that does make to fashion.

    And as for Meg–if I were true to myself and no other factors were at large, then I would certainly wear what I pleased, whispering critics be damned! I just loved this post; as women I think many of us really remember special occasions by what we wore and appreciate the joy of wearing something special.

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    • Great to hear from you…so glad you enjoyed it….. yes, I have a feeling that most women could describe in detail their wedding dress, and all their party dresses, and stuff they wore to every great occasion, first dates, etc, apart from all the favourite outfits…. what shall I wear, being the first thought for so many events !!!
      So what would you wear if you were only pleasing yourself?

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      • Oh, my, well I’d be way over the top! I’d be way overdressed for everthing, and definitely broke. Also too tall due to a love of platforms and heels in spite of my plentiful height already, and probably not quite dressed for my age either! No holds barred; I’d just wear everything I love.

        You made me think of my grandmother, whose memory for recent things faded in her very old age, but who could still tell you what dress she wore anywhere back in her twenties!

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      • Oh I love it! Broke and overdressed !!!! Yes, I still wear not quite killer heels, but they could be killers at my age…. You’re right about the dress memories, but mine start at three and keep on going until now.. the hats, the belts, the shoes, the jewellery… memory like an elephant my husband says, and a dear friend: ” mind like a rat-trap’ !!!

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  15. You have done it again Violettia !! Every time I visit I have to make a rapid return to the Bluefish Way Turkish baths to take a cold shower. I must be the cleanest blogger this side of the International Dateline 😉

    Another great post V. Ralph xox 😀

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  16. Isn’t it odd how clothes spin us through our own history and cause us to see ourselves in new light. I can see pictures of myself playing dress up in beautiful gossamer dresses my aunts and grandmother gave me from the attic, hats with flowers and veils and heels. Those were the very height of fashion before the great depression and were saved by them.

    Then there are pictures of me in my Sunday best, right down to little white gloves and bonnets. These I hated as they prevented my play. The older I got the more unlikely I was to be found in a skirt or dress, it was the 60’s after all. I headed the first protest in my middle school demanding equality, to wear jeans just like the boys! We won!!

    I loved this post. I loved how you drew such wonderful pictures with your words, weaving your own history to that of literary characters. Just marvelous.

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  17. Val, you are such a faithful generous reader! Thank you for the lovely things you say, I felt really thrilled at your response to it…
    I love the pictures you drew of yourself as a little girl all dressed up in your Sunday best, and as for the beautiful clothes you dressed up in – what a gorgeous epoch that was, those fabulous fabrics and fashions and hand-made details…where are they now ????

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  18. Delightful post, Valerie. What really struck me was your conclusion that women are not slaves of fashion as much as fashion is a slave to women’s diet. Very astute observation — it made me smile. Dee

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  19. Even before I knew what you were serving, I could almost smell the divine dinner you were cooking as I read your delightful post on the fun of fashion.
    Elisa

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  20. My dear Valerie, my childhood was marked by hand-me-downs. My mother was able to re-purpose these clothes with amazing creativity. But I dreaded visiting my cousin who had the latest fashions in her huge closet. New shoes, bows, ribbons, purses, hats, scarves. She was given a monthly clothes allowance that would feed our entire family.

    And then one day I realized that her beautifully appointed bedroom with lacy curtains and silken bedspreads was devoid of books. Not one!!! When I went back to my room that was decorated with my mother’s creative talents, I literally hugged my bookcase. My parents had given me the most priceless treasure of all – my love of books.

    So even now, when others go shopping for clothes, I head to the bookstores or, better yet, the local library.

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  21. What a lovely comment Rebecca, and what a rich and loving childhood it sounds.
    My problem with hand-me downs, was that in a rich cavalry regiment, my shabby ill-matching clothes stood out as a marker that no-one cared enough to care about my clothes… which included my step-grandmother’s cast-offs!
    My hand-me-downs were the outward and visible sign of not feeling loved, which I was always trying to hide, because it seemed so shameful not to be loved…ah well, those days are well behind me, but childhood memories never fade!!!!

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