Father had a conference to go to. He would be inaugurated as President of his professional group and would be sitting at the head table. Everything that this man, son of an Friesian immigrant family, had striven for in his academic career was epitomized by this honour.

You could not have held back Mother from accompanying him if you had eight white horses trying to restrain her. She too was from an immigrant family, although she would never admit it. She was British! Canada was part of Britain, a Dominion of Britain, so her family didn’t count as immigrants.

She was so proud of Father, she shone! She would sit beside him at the head table when he received the gavel from the out-going president. To honour his achievement, she had to look perfect, be perfect. A new dress for the gala evening was an absolute necessity.

Mother often admonished us with the information that her father had come to this country to allow his children to have an education. Our maternal grandfather’s wish was realized when his three daughters became educators! The spectacular rise in her family’s social position with acquisition of degrees and academic honours was good reason for Mother to hold the same desire for her own children, the next generation.

As it came so often in the form of an admonishment, my reaction in my hippie days was to rigidly and stubbornly to uphold the value of those with other skills and trades that were learned by apprenticeship and empiric experience. In fact, to uphold the values and skills of my grandparents who worked the land and worked with their hands as well as their heads. I’ve softened a little since, but I still admire those who do with their hands – the electricians, plumbers, carpenters, cabinet makers, et al. I often quoted to her George Bernard Shaw’s “Those who can, do: those who can’t, teach.” And for saying that, I will get in trouble with the whole of my family, all who have been teachers. But my purpose in writing today is to think about her dresses.

She went shopping.

Now this is a common occurrence for some women. Mother had it down to her own special art, and I was delighted when I was old enough to not accompany her on her searches for clothing. Her method was to look in as many stores as were available to her and mentally note where possibilities lay for the kind of dress she might possibly wear. She went with an open mind but a closed pocket book.

After a mighty month of exploring one dress shop to another, she would return to those who had candidate dresses for her evening. Carefully she would consider what she had to match the dress – evening bag, gloves, hat, handkerchief, bracelet, earrings, pendant or choker necklace, shoes, coat. Short listed dresses were tried and put aside, then she would go home and ponder, as if each of these dresses were applying for a job, which, I guess, they were.

Once her dress was home, often without the opportunity to return it, she would stew furiously about whether she had made the right choice. Her uncertainty made her irritable. It was best to keep out of the way.

Now, I am notoriously un-put-together in my clothing. It was the bane of my mother’s life that I couldn’t match up things properly and even wore black with navy blue (horrors!) when I didn’t pay attention or neglectfully forgot to put a towel over my shoulders as I brushed my hair, leaving stray blond strands on a dark garment.

The week before departure, her room was an explosion of colourful clothing, as if every item she owned had jumped from the closet and the dresser drawers to the bed and the boudoir chairs as she stacked outfits that would travel well in a packed suitcase. There was a pile of daytime wear, casual, business dressy and nightwear. Every category had a back-up just in case some seam split or a spill of food made an ensemble no longer wearable. These went into the suitcase each night in anticipation that they could stay there, but invariably one pile or another would come out for reconsideration. Most often, she coordinated the colours of all piles so that a blouse from the business casual, might, in case of accident, be replaced by a business dressy. Her endeavours were an art. It would all fit into one suitcase plus a carry on. And, miracle, it did!

Evening gala garments had special consideration. The new dress lay upon her bedspread bedecked with all the accessories it might need, including a few alternative choices. Previously loved long gowns spread beside it with former ensembles. Her anxiety towards the great event needed to be assuaged with great amounts of consideration for the right choice.

Now I find this process incredibly frustrating, to the point where I will be leaving for a week of business travel and say, one hour before I leave for the airport, “Sorry, I can’t keep talking now, I have to go find a suitcase and pack.” Mind you, maybe I look like I’ve done that too. Mother was always, always, polished

One of her dresses is an elegant frothy pink, a flowered print on a gauzy see-through fabric lined to floor length. The Austrian crystal necklace she wore with this dress are now mine to keep.

Another dress is a dark and full length navy dress. It has red orange and gold paisley designs on it, spangled with sequins and beads. It shimmered as she walked and it glowed as she did, and when she stood proudly by Father.

She must have like paisley because there is one with a white background, more suitable for summer. It has red swirls with a sky blue in them. I know, it sounds funny, but fashion is not my forté and despite my lack of vocabulary to describe this one, it is long sleeved, elegant and light.

Of the long ones, there is only a chiffon light cerise one, almost fluorescent in its purity of colour , with studded “diamonds” on the collar. It is waisted with a self-belt, so when she stood, slim and svelt, she looked like a princess or a model out of Vogue.

She was movie star beautiful. So much so that one time when traveling in the States with her very distinguished looking husband, a motel that they stayed at would not let them pay the room rate. The owner’s wife thought she was Lauren Bacall travelling incognito and would not accept a penny. No convincing otherwise was entertained. Try as they might, they could not pay for their night’s lodging.

Then there is the pink polyester dress that she made herself. It’s knee length and we have a photo of her in this one with a same fabric pill box hat with white mesh netting over it. I don’t know where the hat is now. It’s a dead ringer, hairstyle and all, for Jacqueline Kennedy. It leaves me dreaming. I’ll be sorry to see these go.

A woman from the Historical Costume society is coming Monday to look at her beautiful, carefully stored dresses in her closet.



2 Responses to “Dresses”

  1. uedir Says:

    Good site!!!

  2. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks Uedir. It’s always difficult to know if one is reaching others and wonderful to have some positive feedback.

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