Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Matched Set

The above photograph taken in May, 1958 outside our Wandsworth, London house, is of my mother, me, and my new baby sister, Connie. I was sixteen months old and wearing a new red and white organza dress sent to me by my Canadian grandmother. Note the tiny white gloves. Apparently by that age I was already quite capable of putting them on myself, although it took me a long time to accomplish the task. As we only lived in London for the first two years of my life, I have no memory of that house or its environment. My mother tells stories of how I loved to feed the ducks at Wandsworth Common, and would try and make sure each received its fair share, admonishing certain bolder ones "not to be greedy." The dress in that picture was to be the last I had individually for a very long time.

The second picture was taken about a year later, of Connie and I at the ages of two and half and one. The dresses were red with white lace trim and we wore red leather shoes to match. This was the beginning of a trend that would see us dressed identically all through childhood until we were about eleven and ten, when a rebellion of sorts took place.

I am the oldest of six girls and my mother generally dressed us in matched sets; Connie and I, and then the next three sisters (Amanda, Suzanne and Alice) born five, six and eight years after me. My youngest sister, Hannah, arrived much later, when the rest of us ranged between fifteen and seven, and thus she was spared the years of identikit clothing. On special celebrations, such as Christmas and Easter, we girls were often dressed five-of-a-kind. I especially loathed these occasions. Reminiscing once with my sister Alice about this, she told me, "You think you had it bad! What about me? I had all the other dresses to grow into! I wore that green velvet Christmas dress for about ten years!" I hadn’t considered it from that point of view before, and she certainly deserves sympathy.

The matched sets of clothing didn’t stop at just the dresses. It applied to coats, shoes, cardigans, and even nightgowns. We were allowed more freedom with our play clothes, but for every other activity, we left the house starched and ironed and clad alike.

The sixties were in full swing and I yearned for the psychedelic patterns and bright colours that my friends wore.

Perhaps what I yearned for the most, though, was a pair of shiny, white Gogo boots. I envied my friend Linda, proud possessor of a pair. However, my mother thought Gogo boots were ’unseemly’ or ’crude’. In fact, she once referred to them as “prostitute boots’, a term my sister Connie and I didn’t understand, even after we had looked it up in the dictionary.

My mother was decidedly old-fashioned. We girls wore smocked dresses with sashes, or pleated skirts with frilly blouses. Our footwear was leather or patent-leather buckle shoes. I didn’t own a single pair of trousers until I was thirteen. For my twelfth birthday I asked for something I had never had before … an outfit of my own choosing, modern, and exclusive to myself. My mother granted that wish. She took me to London for a shopping trip, and I have never forgotten the joy of that special day. I can close my eyes and still see the dress I chose … navy, yellow and white swirled in a psychedelic pattern with trumpet sleeves and a belt around the middle. It came with a little triangular matching head-scarf of the same fabric.

I wish I had a photo of me wearing that dress. It was styled something like this, but not as short and with a higher neckline.
Alas, I was never able to convince my mother about those Gogo boots!

Oh, the thrill I felt when wearing that dress; the first awakening consciousness of the power of my femininity. Many years later when watching my own daughter make her first foray into a style of clothing not chosen by me, I became fully aware of the bittersweet act of letting a child go. I knew then what my mother felt that day as I preened before her in the kitchen. It is a peculiar ache, the mingled emotions of love and regret. Yet, together they create a whole and balanced beauty. A matched set, as it were.

(This is a Sepia Saturday post.)


  1. I loved this post of all the fashions. I think the organza dress looks rather uncomfortable! Maybe it's beacause I can remember having a flocked nylon dress that chaffed badly under my arms.

  2. I had only one sister, and she was two years older. I know we had a few matching outfits, but my mom never overdid it. Sometimes she would make us each an outfit from the same pattern, but use different fabrics or trims. My mom was also old-fashioned and conservative, but she was also very practical. We were allowed to wear "pedal pushers" in the summer. Our footwear was mostly penny loafers. We didn't wear jeans or athletic shoes, but girls didn't wear those items back then, not in my part of the world anyway. (I graduated from high school in 1964, if you're wondering!)

  3. What a fun walk through the past in your shoes. I had to wear organza and flocked nylon when I was wee, but I complained so much about that stiff stuff that my mother let me move into cottons and A-lines quickly. I feel blessed now I've read your post, both for the clothing (which included white go-go boots when I was 12) and for the lack of sisters.

  4. I am astonished that you were dressed that way -- in matching clumps -- for so long. My mother started letting me have some say, within reason, when I was about seven. I can't imagine being dressed like sisters, but then I only had brothers.

  5. while i sympathize with what you went through, as an only child, it nonetheless took my mom a long time before letting me choose my clothes. in my teens, i started to systematically boycott some of her selections, and those would remain in the closet without ever being worn. she then started bringing me shopping, at last!! but she kept the right to veto some of my choices...

  6. What a fabulous post, I enjoyed reading it so much and love all of your photos! I can't imagine being dressed as a matched set. It's amazing how the family dynamics work isn't it. When my daughter was growing up I told her she could dress how she liked my only stipulations were that she had to be modest and clean! She now looks at photos and says "Mum how could you let me!"

  7. First photograph-- you are absolutely a cherub! Adorable. I hope that dress wasn't too uncomfortable.

    I always wondered about children dressed in the same clothes when they were several years apart in age. My sister was nearly 6 years older than me so we definitely didn't dress the same. Poor your younger sister Alice with all those hand-me-downs to wear. Great post.

  8. smiles...funny how things change a bit when it is our own children...we gain a bit of insight into why our parents said the things they did...but i understand this on the guys side as well...and i know the freedom i felt as a teen when i found my own way...

  9. I remember having a dress something like that! My Mom home sewed our clothes and my greatest desire as I grew up was to have a store bought dress! Love the pics.

  10. As a father of 2 girls whom were dressed alike until around the ages of 6 & 8, I can relate to your beautifully crafted childhood story. My wife and I thought they looked adorable, but perhaps we should have taken their feelings a little more into consideration - bless their hearts. Thank you for sharing this sweet story and blessings!