At the time of this essay on my clothes of the past, I had taken a leave of absence from my job as a librarian in Queens Borough, NY to help my daughter Pam through chemo therapy for breast cancer.
My daughter is feeling well enough today to make some bread. It is considered a good day when the nurse at her treatment center can find a vein on the first try. She continues to self-administer Procrit and Neuprogen for blood cell regrowth.
I continue to do the heavy work such as shoveling sand, cleaning corrals for two horses, sawing wood for the fireplace, clearing weeds and brush away from the back fence and vacuuming.
I am considered the prime mover here, and it is fine indeed to be needed.
Today we have such choices for adorning our bodies, or even abusing them with tattoos and piercings that it is hard to conceive of a simpler time when clothing did not send a message, but merely protected the body from the elements.
My Mom made a lot of my school clothes, but my favorite play clothes were hand-me-downs from the wealthy family who only had boys. They had a maid to do the ironing and the boys’ white shirts were nicely starched when they got to me.
We, on the other hand, had an outside clothesline, no dryers within 30 miles and no money to operate any such thing as a commercial washer at the laundromat. We had a wringer washer, a hot water heater to heat water, a large two sectioned rinsing tub and a hose to drain the water out to the sand in the back yard.
Once, in a fit of modernization my parents purchased a used top loading washer, but the sand in the water pipes soon defeated the controls. Back to the wringer washer and the entire sloppy procedures attendant to it.
We had a choice of cotton, rayon or wool in our clothes makeup. The wool slacks had to be spot cleaned on the ironing board and the sweaters hand washed with Woolite or Ivory Flakes, and then set out on a flat surface to dry. I did not encounter polyester until my high school days, and spent many hours washing, starching, sprinkling and ironing cotton skirts and blouses.
If it were left to up to me I would have worn bib overalls all the time.
When I was about 4 my Aunt Marian came to care for us while my Mom was in the hospital for an operation. Aunt Marian liked to dress me up in frilly white dresses. I wanted to climb the pine tree, so got my overalls off the clothesline and stuffed the newly starched and ironed dress into the pants and away I went to the top of the tree!
Sorry Auntie, I was an incorrigible tomboy.
Boys had all the convenience of dressing in practical plaid flannel shirts and blue jeans, ankle boots or farmer clodhoppers and leather jackets.
By the time I got to high school my look was Plastic Punk. I had a very short Mohawk haircut, self-inflicted, pale pink lipstick and a white plastic jacket that I wore with the collar turned up.
Not having an allowance to fritter away on fads or fripperies, I adopted a tough swagger to signal my bid for teen rebellion.
Needless to say the movie Rebel Without a Cause was my favorite movie at age 14. By the time I was in junior college the all black ensemble was the “in” thing. It was totally un-original, but I thought I was cool!
My image was helped by the fact that I had a boyfriend who rode a Harley and ate his hamburgers raw, drank sloe gin neat, and was the total outlaw trying to ape Marlon Brando. He had been discharged from the Navy after tossing a fellow sailor overboard in Pearl Harbor; His mother finally reined him in and took him off to work on the Oroville Dam.
I still have a sneaking fondness for black boots and motorcycle jackets.
On another fashion topic, hairstyles, there was no argument when I was a child. The only time that I had a home permanent was a disaster. I looked like I had stuck my finger in an electrical socket. My Mom evidently did not have the patience to keep setting my hair in larger curlers, so I looked like a fuzzy frizz-head.
Since we did all our own barbering until I was old enough to cut my own hair off short, I never had a beauty parlor treatment or professional perm until 1965. Unfortunately it was in Glen Cove, NY, with its attendant high humidity. I came home with a nice look, and after the first shampoo the hair was back to the fuzzy frizzies again.
Ear piercing, which was something I never wanted to do to my-self, was not a matter for contention. We had screw type earrings, and once my Mom had made a set for herself out of brass bases and rick –rack, a trim for dressmaking.
The homemade look was straight out of Ladies Home Journal!
After I taught myself to sew I had a short opportunity to make my own clothes, but soon adopted the readymade stuff from the thrift shops.
Although my Mom’s clothes were stylish when she was single and had a job, she had a very matronly look after having three children. Her one luxury was a muskrat coat very heavy, and not suitable for California, but better for Michigan or New York. I later made it into a sleeping bag for my Dad, but it was still too heavy and hot to use.
I never yearned for a fur coat at all.
When I look at my grade school photos, I cringe at the frumpiness of it all! Brown shoes, ugly plaids, hair crinkled with hair pins, and sweater sets to be worn with a small scarf around the neck. Boys had a Farmer Jones look with heavy shoes and turned up cuffs. Some had oiled hair and the Duck’s Ass do, or later the flat top, but most even in high school looked dorky and unbelievably young.
I think it was good in a way because we were allowed to be young and look that way.
We were not allowed to adopt grownups styles and makeup until se were over 16. No children’s beauty contests and no eye shadow at 12 or younger. No platform shoes or leather skirts, no pants for girls in high school at all.
Our white suede shoes took a lot of powdering, and our socks were rolled down under our ankles. Pony tails were for females only and boys did not wear scents until they were old enough to shave.
I think I should probably be grateful that I can remember a simpler, more relaxed era when a child could get down and make mud pies and not care about clothes. When the stains could not be washed out we just threw the item away, or made tee shirts into cleaning rags.
We were allowed (mostly) to be kids and play in the dirt, climb trees, make forts, have clod fights, wooden slat sword fights, sandlot football games and foot races, all without special clothing or regulation.
Nice memories, some of all that.