Today I received in the mail a beautiful ball gown. When I tried it on I felt beautiful and in my mind I was waltzing with my skirt gently billowing out so that the tips of my new silver evening shoes that came in the same box made an elegant appearance and the rhinestones glittered in the shimmering light.
I also got a pair of new muck boots.
One of the stranger things we have done is to repopulate our closets. I always understood that we had categories of clothes. What I did not understand was how many categories there were. As I have endeavored to make sure that we have clothes that are moderately priced, well made and are well matched to the tasks asked of them I find I have gaps in the wardrobe.My spouse had two suits and 4 blazers, all the dress shirts and more than he needed. I found a number of very nice ties. I was even able to find on sale a few just like the ones he lost. He had dress shoes and shoes for business casual. He had hiking pants and winter gloves. He had fleece and a bathing suit. He had socks. He could use a few more underwear but that was no too bad. What he did not have were dress pants. I had bought him four blazers and one pair of dress pants. Somehow I missed that point. Today he got a new pair of dress pants.
And I got a ball gown. As a point of interest, one of the first things my spouse got was a tuxedo. We hardly have a need of then in our rather informal town. But one never knows for sure. So, he has a tux and I got a ball gown.
When I was a kid we had play clothes, school clothes, and church clothes. Curiously the only ones that really fit were the school clothes.The play clothes were ones deemed no longer fitting for school clothes. That could have meant that they were faded beyond repair after having been washed through three or more girls who wore the clothes in succession. It might have meant that you got lucky and someone handed down to you their used pants and casual shirts.
No tee shirts for us in the 1950s and 1960s. We had a few play sets, usually Buster Brown with silly little peter pan collars upon which perched a bow that was always crooked. My mother really liked the Buster Brown sets since there were matching tops and bottoms and you could get just a few and mix and match. Of course, what she either did not understand or pretended not to notice was that every way you mixed and matched they always looked the same. The shorts were just like a skirt with legs and the skirt was just like the shorts without legs. They made shoes too. Buster Brown Shoes. Each fall we would go to J.C. Penny and put our well socked feet into the cold foot measuring contraption and get measured for the next year. The new Buster Brown shoes became our school shoes. The previous year’s school shoes became our play shoes. Of course, our feet grew so we found many reasons to play barefooted. Sunday shoes were also Buster Brown. They were a black patent leather Mary Jane style. These we got at least one size too big so we could grow. For the first year you had to sort of curl your toes to keep the shoes on. The soles of the Sunday shoes were slick as all get-out. I suppose they were leather or some sort of composite. We were instructed to go out into the driveway and swing our feet back and forth and scuff the soles of the shoes. Of course what my mother had in mind for the task was different than what we did. Still, those shoes got scuffed on the soles and when we were skidding around the corner at Sunday School even if our toes were curled to hold our shoes on, our feet did not spin out from underneath us.
For years my entire wardrobe would have fit into a 22 inch suitcase. The turning point for me was when my mom and a group of family friends did a clothing intervention. Most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my mother so my wardrobe lacked a certain pizazz not to mention only having 4 or 5 shirts and 1 dress. As the conversation ramped up I could see then handwriting on the wall. I turned to the group in exasperation and said, “Whatever happened to clean? That counts.” A short time before my mom died she remembered that story with a laugh and then said I had done well in the intervening years. I had, in fact, cleaned up my act. Over the past 25 years I began to collect business clothes always on the lookout for that perfect suit or jacket at a price I could afford. My predilection for nice clothes grew as time passed. When the fire came I had a lot of nice clothes, not a huge amount but good clothes. While many were bought on sale I could not just go out and replace them because at full price it would be prohibitive. My spouse had nice clothes too. He loves cashmere sweaters and over the past 20 years I have kept a constant eye out for ones we could afford. Over the years I found $200 sweaters sometimes for little as $25 pr $30 if I was willing to repair them.
We had play clothes too. We had nylon bug-off hiking pants and hats and shirts. We had tee shirts and shorts. We had hang-out clothes. We had pajamas. We had those in-between play clothes and suits, formerly the school clothes–the khaki and the button down shirts of the skirts and the sweaters.
We had evening clothes. They came about in a rather odd way. My grandfather was a gallant gentleman and carried himself with style. Whether it was striding down the street in baggy pants and a fedora in the 1940s or a tux in the 1960s you could count on him being impeccably dressed. After he died my grandmother pressed into my husband’s hands a white dinner jacket with a beautiful tuxedo shirt and pants. It hung in the back of the closet for two decades. Neither of us could throw it out because it had been his.
On the spur of the moment a couple of Spring Breaks ago we took a cruise. I had always thought it a bit silly to do but we were looking to take a few days off and it was actually cheaper than about any other thing we could do but camp in March. Enter the evening clothes problem. I rummaged through a deep closet emerging with my ponytail undone and my grandfather’s jacket and pants. Behold, they fit perfectly. Off to the cleaners they went coming back looking gorgeous. I had a long silk skirt that I had bought for $4.50 in a discount store 15 years ago. It was a really nice skirt. I rummaged around in my closet and found a black top that I could put with the silk skirt by hot gluing a little bling on an old belt. I found a Sunday Clothes top on sale for about $30 that I remade dramatically. It fit OK but the fabric was so stiff I was fine unless I had to breath. I made a black skirt. I had pretty black shoes so off we went with our rummaged up formal clothes.
We had a great time on the cruise and at Christmas that year we took my sister and her daughter on a cruise with the same company. We had a wonderful time. We wore home-made clothes. I sew pretty well so it was not too embarrassing but looking across the room you could see that other people’s things looked different.
So, last week when I saw a ball gown on sale for $50 I got it. I had had enough muck and mire from the fire. I had felt confident, sturdy, strong and able but and pretty or doing sometime frivolous had not made an appearance in my life since the fire. Today I got a ball gown. Today I was a princess. Sometimes it is a good thing to be a princess, to swirl and sway and dance the night away. Sometimes it is good to put aside the muck boots of life and dream for a while.