Monday, November 19, 2012

Fashion sisters

Our family did a lot of winter reading in the years I grew up. 

The early chilly dusks were conducive for settling in with board games, paper dolls, a deck of cards or books. 

And this is just what we did. Reading was as natural and as essential as breathing in our family.

My affinity for books has been mentioned in previous blogs. Here I’ll simply tell about another winter reading enjoyment, paging through mail-order catalogs as a girl.

This was a ten-year-old’s version of playing gold miner. I panned for ideas and dreamed a bit as I pored over the items shown.

The pleasant pastime continues for me with new sets of catalogs and magazines. The recreation in this derives from the original satisfaction which is important to revisit once in awhile.

When there was a J.C. Penney’s or Sears catalog around, as often there was, I liked to study the women’s fashions. The catalog’s other sections didn’t interest but clothing had magnetic pull.

The catalogs were usually shared with my sister. Often it was as we sat by the heat register after our Saturday baths and with our hair washed and toweled.

We wished out of the catalogs as our hair dried and the warmth from the furnace felt so good as we tucked our floor-length bath robes around us.

We each took a page (left hand page for my sister, right page for me if that’s how we started out). The aim was to choose from our pages one item we liked the best.

We had to tell what we liked about the outfit we picked. Sometimes there was little to choose from. Even then we knew the clothing we didn’t like – often more than the pieces we did. It helped us practice decision making if nothing else.

As I began to check out issues of Seventeen magazine from our public library the game saw some adaptation of rules. We each  chose a model and stuck with her throughout the issue.

This was the era of teen models. Some were immensely popular. Teenage modeling was a very big thing and Seventeen was a brilliant platform for presenting these lovely beauties.

My model was dark-haired Colleen Corby. My sister’s model   was fair haired and had a name like Holly or Molly. The magazine pointed out her Cheshire cat smile as I recall. Funny what sticks with you.

We commented on the outfits our respective model wore and decided which were the prettiest.

The trendy outfits in the magazine didn’t register beyond our comments as we flipped the pages. They didn’t cause us to dress more stylishly or teach us to how to accessorize.

It was more than anything a glimpse into another world which suited us as good enough.

We didn’t have a great deal of access to fashion for one thing. We seldom shopped for clothes.

Many moms sewed and our mother was among them. She was very handy on her sewing machine. Certain of our outfits came from fabric selected at J. C. Penney and from patterns purchased in the same area of the store.

Staples (coats and jackets, shoes and boots and under items) were store purchases. They weren’t faddish but basics which could be worn forever or until you grew out of them.

Being small, and not shooting up as classmates with a few inches of height on me, I got to know my wardrobe well. It stayed with me as it continued to fit.

One held on to clothes not only because they fit. There wasn’t a reason seen for having a big selection of clothing.

As kids we lived in “play clothing” which were pieces you could get as dirty as you want but were never worn to school or church, heaven forbid!

The winds of fashion didn’t blow quite so constantly through closets. People discarded clothes less often and wore them longer. In addition, clothing was passed around and shared.

My sister and I figure we wore hand-me-downs from older girl cousins (though we don’t remember specific pieces). She in turn got clothes passed along from me.

Clothes buying wasn't the activity it is now and styles didn't change quite as readily. You wore, and wore over, and made do.  I'm sure that wasn't the case everywhere. We just didn’t know many people who did.

My sister and I undoubtedly received clothing as Christmas gifts. Any new piece would surely have been the first outfit worn   to school in January after the holiday.

In junior high I got my first poor-boy sweater. This knit sweater stayed popular as a trend for a long time. This is maybe why I finally had my chance at it. It was considered a good investment piece.

The tide of change was in motion by the time I proudly wore my ribbed navy pullover top. It was destined to fade from the scene almost from the moment I put it on.

I thought the poor boy sweater was very lovely. I wish I still had it. I’d like to wear it even now.

My mom recently said that her mother had some elegant dresses. My assumption is that it was the 1930s-40s era. I have a curiosity about the style of the dresses - fabric, cut, length and so on.

Mom said there weren't many places for Grandma to wear her fancy dresses.

Grandma was a storekeeper (she and Grandpa operated a general merchandise store). Perhaps she didn’t want to outshine the country women who were their customer base.

Still, it’s nice to picture Grandma with elegance no further away than her closet hangers.

It’s nice to have something pretty or indeed elegant on hand. Occasions come along. Until they do the elegant outfits sparkle with promise as they wait their time to wow.

Ro Giencke – November 19, 2012  








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