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.)