Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Clothes of My Youth

We've been putting away the costumes returned from "Joseph," and I have been quite taken with the vintage early 70s things. Talk about taking me back! I started thinking about the clothes I liked then.

I never had the really long legs needed for the hip-hugger/bell-bottom look. Oh, they looked OK on me, but just OK. Better with smaller bells, as, with larger ones, I was all trousers! I remember one day, I put on a lovely embroidered cotton Mexican peasant blouse (exotic, in Vancouver), and tucked it into my very first pair of Levis. I had on a fringed sash belt, and my red/white/blue tennies. I thought I was hot stuff, until I caught a glimpse of myself in a shop window as I walked by. I was SO much too short for that look, and so were my jeans! I had to untuck the blouse and let it hang out. It was thigh length, so that helped with the illusion of height. Tucked in, it cut me in half.

I always wanted the pretty, angel-sleeved mini-dresses, too. I had one--it was a sort of Wedgwood blue, with a huge flower cut-out in the back. The cut-out was set so that it would expose a bra strap, and the dress was loose enough that, if one were to stand close to me, one could look through that flower and see exactly what I was or was not wearing under it. I remember sewing a large patch of Madras plaid fabric inside the flower.

I had no money to spend on clothes, and did my best to adapt what I had, and could get at thrift shops, into something that would express my personal style, such as it was.

In high school, I had started to make a lovely striped cotton dress, from some fabric that one of my aunts in England sent me. I made a straight shift, but, not satisfied with that, I put a flounce at the bottom. That didn't really work, either, so I took it off and added darts by the simple expedient of putting the dress on inside out and pinning all the bits I wanted to go away. I saw a similar dress in a magazine, with a hole cut out just below the neckline and above the cleavage (if I had had cleavage, which I didn't), so I did that, too. The fabric was light pink, with black and white woven stripes and an occasional silver thread. I added black seam binding around the neckline, the hole and the armholes. It was sleeveless, and I cut away the shoulder, as well. By that time, I had worked on it for three years (off and on), and it was beautiful. If fit me like a glove, and was totally flattering. I was beginning to get the hang of this designing thing. I only got to wear it once, in its finished form. A "friend" talked me into allowing her to wear it to a party. I arrived late, just in time to hear her claiming credit for making the dress, which was tight on her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw me, and raised her voice to say, "But, it's a bit small for me, so I think I'll give it to Ronni!" I was thoroughly pissed off, but worse was yet to come. Three days later, I found her, asleep in my bed, with red hair dye all over my room, the bathroom, my towels, guessed it...the dress.

I still have my first pair of blue jeans. I haven't been able to wear them for at least 20 years. They were men's jeans, size 26/28. I wore them for many years, and patched them with all sorts of lovely embroidered patches. Some of them, I still remember when and why. I can see the first one, which covers the one small hole that happened when I was hit by a car in August of 1970. There are the Rolling Stones lips, and the "Weedies--Breakfast of Head Starters," and various tigers, bees, kittens and unicorns, not to mention several yards of assorted braids and trims. Any more, I probably couldn't sew anything on them, as they are threatening to collapse into a pile of ragged thread. There are patches on the patches. I was very proud of those jeans, and wore them for years!

A girl I knew had a fringed royal blue suede jacket. I coveted that. It was unique.

I always wanted one of those sheepskin coats from Afghanistan, with embroidery all down the front and on the sleeves, but when I could afford one, a plain one was on sale. I bought that instead. I wore it for several years and gave it away to a friend when we moved down here from Chicago. Coats are not such a big deal here as they are there.

I loved the Mary Quant look, of mini (not micro, but mini) dresses cut in A-line and tent shapes. Probably because I didn't have the figure for the earlier styles, and the A-lines were comfortable. I still love the dresses that Mia Farrow wore in "Rosemary's Baby." Yes, I know that they were maternity dresses, but they really caught on, made in soft fabrics that draped well. Not since the flappers of the late 1920s and early 30s had waists been so...well...gone. Like the flappers, these dresses were very liberating from what had gone before. Also like flappers, we were empowered by the release from stiff underwear. Granted the girdles and garter belts and bullet bras of the 50s were not as restrictive as the corsets and petticoats of the 1910s, but the feeling of freedom was the same.

I was in secretarial school when we fought the good fight to be allowed to wear pants to the office. The upshot was the birth of the Pants Suit. It had to have a tunic or jacket that would cover the derrière. Apparently, the sight of a woman's tweed- or corduroy-clad buttocks was considered to be a distraction from the important work at hand.

It's hard to remember those times without the memories involving clothes. Nowadays, we wear these things as costumes, and we don't think about the reasons people wore them at the time. How exciting it was to wear them! I can only imagine how flappers felt, but the point is that I can imagine it. I try to get others to imagine it, too. I am afraid that almost any individual I dress at the shop gets a history lesson with his or her costume, free, gratis and for nothing. I can be persuaded to shut up, but not without difficulty.

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