The Story of a Dress

An old friend , recently, sent  a picture of me at a luncheon in the early 90’s.  I have a big hat, a light tan and a huge grin.  I am wearing a brocade dress of my mother’s made by my grandmother.  This is a mythic dress in my family.

My grandmother sewed to support her children.  Grandma could make anything.  Well, let me amend that statement.  She could and would make anything if she liked the fabric and

approved.  In 1959,my mother had an important dinner to attend.  We were living in public housing aka “the projects” in Brooklyn, New York so I imagine there wasn’t extra cash floating around. Also, I grew up in a family with a very specific sense of style.  I am unsure if the local shops had on offer anything that appealed.  Grandma created our clothes from magazines and films.  I was too young to remember who purchased the fabric but Grandma in Jamaica was charged with making the dress.  Jamaica was Jamaica, West Indies and not Jamaica, New York.  A swatch was produced so that matching shoes could be created.  It was a big, important dinner.  My mother’s best friend’s husband was both nervous and amazed that my mother had so much confidence in my grandmother.  The dress arrived either the day before or the morning of the event.  Of course, being created by my grandmother, it fit perfectly.


She went on to wear it several times.

I became engaged and was to be married in 1992.  I was older.  I had attended numerous balls and dances in my youth.  I used to say I was “gowned out.” I had had my share of glitter.  I was also never one of those little girls who had endlessly dreamed and planned their weddings.  I had only saved photos of two dresses – a Spanish style lace dress with long sleeves  and a mantilla from the late 1960’s and a flapperesque one from Women’s Wear Daily in the 80’s.  Grandma was long gone by this time but I had the brilliant idea of wearing “the dress” as “the dress”.   This would include Grandma in my wedding and acknowledge my heritage.  I was getting married before noon so the short dress was appropriate.  I would have Grandma with me.  But.  And there always is a but.  I was way too fat to fit into the dress. I tend to be fat when I am unhappy.  The marriage didn’t last.

Fast forward a few years, I left my husband and moved back with my mother. I was poor. Living in my mother’s house was healthy.  I lost the husband.  I lost the weight. I had a luncheon to attend.  My mother suggested “the dress” which now fit. I also wore the shoes.


My friend, who had invited me, loves this picture.  She had her husband blow it up. She says I look so happy and there’s that trademark smile.   I was happy.  I was returning to a life I had before marriage, to a world I knew.

I still have the dress and I am skinnier!  Now, I just need an occasion (and to ignore the spectral leg.)  The dress is 60 years old! A testament to my grandmother’s skills and my family taste.  I can’t ignore the spectral leg or the chariot aka walker.  They don’t fit the concept of the dress in my mind’s eye.  It would be a sort of desecration.

And I am no longer in the world I love, lived  and thrived.  Part of it is the condition; part of it are the general times; and then a general malaise brought on by all the above.  I can no longer work the way I used to work but it is time for a change.  I am at that age.  I can no longer “do” NYC.  That hurts.  The luncheon was part of my volunteer life.  I was brought up to give back.  I have tried recently but have been thwarted by ability and perception.  Not being able to express myself through clothing is painful. I have to remind myself that life is about change.  Yet, certain things endure, like the dress! It’s my heritage.  It’s about faith – everything will turn out alright if the proper groundwork has been set; skill and craft – using the right materials in the right way; family – bedrock, knowing who you are, where you came from and moving forward.

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