Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Pink Cape

(Jo, aged ten years old, 1967.)

Spring in my family meant new spring clothes; a dress or two, new shoes, and a spring coat. Usually the clothing was sewn by my mother, and although I’d see the pattern, and glory in tracing my fingers along the fabric, my sisters and I would only have glimpses of the garments until they were almost finished. Sometimes I’d gaze in wonder and growing anticipation at the little heap of shapes on my mother’s sewing table.

She had a small sewing room right off the kitchen at our house. My bedroom was directly above it, and often I could hear the whirring of the sewing machine at night when I drifted off to sleep. It was a lullaby that always made me feel loved.

My mother was happy when she sewed. "You’re going to love it", she would say, smiling, "As soon as I saw that material, I knew it was exactly the right shade to bring out the green in your eyes." Or, "Princess Anne has a dress just like the one I‘m making you. I saw it in my magazine." In a trifling, I’d imagine myself in my new dress, feeling beautiful as the material floated around me.

The year I was ten years old, my mother sewed me a cape for my new spring coat. It was of pink Melton cloth with a darker pink silk lining and magenta buttons. I hated it! I had expected a coat. The picture on the front of the pattern had showed three figures. My eyes had fixated on the two in coats, barely noting the one girl wearing a cape. No one in my class wore a cape. Nor did anyone else I knew.

My mother, as she measured the hem line on me, knew immediately that I didn’t like it. I also knew I would have to wear it anyway. That didn’t stop me protesting, though. My disappointment came flooding out in a litany of grievances:

"Nobody wears a cape. Nobody!"

"Everyone is going to laugh at me."

"Couldn’t I just wear my old coat?"

My face burned with dislike, and also with shame at having offended my mother.

I wore my cape to school for the first time, filled with mute despair. I tried to carry my satchel strategically front of me, and place my arms in such a way that it hid the fact that it was a cape. To no avail, of course, and my fears of being teased were realized. Being called, "Stinky Pinky Bat Girl!" really doesn’t sound all that dreadful now, but I was a very sensitive little girl, and at the time it stung to the quick.

A few weeks after the cape made its debut, my father had business in London and he took me with him for the day. This was a rare treat, and I was thrilled, despite having to wear my pink nemesis.

As I waited in a rather grand reception room as my father attended his meeting, my eyes were increasingly drawn to a beautiful young woman sitting at the big polished desk. I don’t remember what she was wearing, just that I was very impressed with her beauty and poise.

As my father and I went to leave, I was startled when this elegant being spoke to me, "Your cape is just lovely. It’s the very height of fashion. You look so chic in it!" I left the building feeling almost like I had just had a bath; clean, transformed.

My father and I went out for lunch, and then to feed the pigeons at Trafalgar Square. He snapped my picture as I stood there in my pink cape. The delight of that spring day glows in my face.

In time I grew to love that cape. In fact, I wish I still had it.

(This is a Saturday Sepia post.)


  1. That is such a lovely story Jo. And, if I may say so, a lovely cape as well. WE had so much more of a personal relationship with our clothes back then. I can still remember individual coats or pull-overs or trousers. Now they fall off a rail in Tesco's for the price of a sherbet fountain.

  2. And it's lovely to see you happy wearing it, after all!

  3. a pink cape with magenta buttons sounds just my thing!
    my mum made all our clothes but we knew what we were getting because they had to be tried on a million times!

    i have lots of memories associated with mums sewing, some of them might make a good post and these days i'm looking for inspiration...

    thanks jo

  4. Oh dear, what a shame you disliked the cape so much at first! I had a pale blue velvet cape when I was a flower girl at a wedding, also in 1967. I used to insist on wearing it at every opportunity! Jo

  5. My mother being born abroad had me wear some things that well children kind of laughed at...and I had matching hats with most every outfit, and finally, she let me stop wearing the tight white gloves when we went out...although I remember liking most of it....!

  6. Oh Nana Jo, I loved your story. I could see clearly how everything took place. Your description is so wonderful. I wish you still had your pink cape too. :)

  7. Awww, that is such a sweet story. Isn't it amazing what a few kind words can do?

  8. ahh, I can imagine your chagrin at the cape, but you came through it victoriously. We did not want to be wearing anything different no matter how chic back growing up. This is a great photo of triumph and a wonderful story to pass along.. I also like the book drunkard quote on your side bar!

  9. Jo! What a wonderful story! Mother chose the patterns and material for my clothing until I was well into my teens. I recall a few dreaded outfits as well - alas, I had no fairytale princess to appear at lunch to tell me I was wearing the height of fashion.

  10. delightful story!! and i especially like the ending. yes, you were at the height of fashion. if it wasn't popular where you lived, it was here!!! and there were hats to go with those capes here. and umbrellas were an important accesory as well. you looked gorgeous in it. glad to see you reconciled yourself with it. your mom had the eye to spot a great idea.
    luv' the idea that the sounds of the sewing machine were a lullaby for you...

  11. Your delight in that photo just radiates! Kids can be so cruel - the silly phrases that stick to us and linger...but I'm so glad you found out your were the height of fashion. When I look back, so much of childhood seems to be about not sticking out in any way...trying to blend in. And finally learning that being different is beautiful. Just a lovely story, Nana Jo.

    And I'm so sorry for the loss of your cat. We're never prepared to say goodbye to them...

  12. What a fabulous, heart-warming story. And you are just adorable in that picture. It really was lovely!

  13. What a wonderful story Nana Jo, you can tell from the smile on your face in the picture that the kind words from a stranger had erased the cruel words of your class mates.

  14. Jo, My mom made my cape and it was blue and I had a matching beret! I loved it but I just didn't feel comfortable wearing it. Too bad because I looked good. Sometimes we are just ahead of our peers, but don't know it!

  15. Chic, indeed, Jo. Your mother certainly had an eye for what was 'in'. A lovely, happy photograph, too.

  16. This post reminded me of my childhood. I really enjoyed reading it. My mother sewed for me too. One Christmas I had boxes and boxes of clothing she had made for me and every outfit had a matching pair of fishnet stockings and a garter belt!