Monday, February 22, 2010

The Mother Daughter Fashion Show I Mentioned

It wasn't, strictly speaking a mother-daughter fashion show; mothers and daughters didn't walk down the runway together. But there was a tea or something at school and the organizers thought a fashion show would be fun (and also, I realize, terribly ironic when you consider where I grew up and that "fashion" was not something that was remotely connected to our daily existence). There were some grownups involved (but not Dame Judi) and then there were some kids. And it was an all-volunteer army because I was in the fashion show and let me assure you, the only way I would have gotten into a fashion show was because I raised my little hand.

I was not an attractive child. I don't say this to be modest and self-deprecating. It's the truth. I was veryvery skinny, had scraggly hair that absolutely refused to be shaped (despite Dame Judi's efforts with annual Toni perms and weekly hair rollers) and I wore very thick and unattractive glasses. I also had all the self esteem of a lox. Whatever possessed me to think I could be in a fashion show is absolutely beyond me. Gangly and ungainly, all knees and elbows...."grace" is the last word you'd have associated with me at the time.

But volunteer I did. So I was in.

One afternoon all the models went into "town", to a dress shop that I never even knew existed. Dress shops were not a part of my culture. Our clothes were either sewn by Dame Judi, purchased from the Monkey Wards or hand-me downs from cousins. There was not time, money or interest in anything so specialized as a "dress shop".

I never thought of it before, but it's possible that little outing changed my life.

It wasn't a large shop but it sold, exclusively, clothing for women and girls. Racks and racks of pretty dresses, shelves of shoes and handbags. It had the feel of a candy store except that you got to wear the candy. We were instructed to select 2 outfits a piece, which would be loaned by the shop for the occasion. I cannot for the life of me recall my first selection but I can see the second dress in my mind as if it were hanging in front of me: a straight dress with short sleeves; lime green with some sort of pale ecru pattern on it that gave the suggestion of lace. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. I tried it on and in the mirror of the dressing room I saw, not an awkward, skinny kid but a woman transformed. You think I'm exaggerating? The only other time I have ever felt that mystified and awed by my reflection was when I tried on the dress I would choose for my wedding.

I handed the dress over to the shop lady, who affixed a little paper label to the hanger and added it to the rack of show clothes.

When the day of the show arrived we were all herded into bathrooms behind the school cafeteria. We put on our first outfit and lined up in the hall; some woman stood at the doors peering through the windows to give us our cues. I walked my first forgotten look and went back to the bathroom to change into The Frock. The same magic came over me, transforming me into the elegant swan that clearly lurked beneath my ugly duckling pin feathers. I was the last model to walk. I entered the cafeteria, shining (I knew) with the beauty that the dress had bestowed on me. I walked slowly, graciously...stopping in front of the first row of assembled chairs to twirl while the MC read a description of the dress, then walking slowly down the aisle so everyone could get a gander at this miracle of fabric and thread. Then I loped back to the front for another twirl before elegantly exiting the room.

Later Dame Judi told me I had lingered too long. The MC was done with her description and I should have been long gone before she thanked everyone for coming. I couldn't tell her then how important it was for everyone to be able to really see the most gorgeous dress ever made, how the applause I heard had taken me, at least for a minute, into another world, a place I didn't even know existed, where being pretty and graceful had some merits.

I had never felt like that in all my young life. (What was I, 12?) I wasn't going to feel that way again for sometime. But while I was in that magic bubble I had to enjoy it, even if it meant throwing off the timing of the show.

I ended up buying the dress. I don't remember the exact circumstances. Maybe Dame Judi put it on layaway. (It was terribly expensive....something like $20 dollars). Maybe I saved up my berry money and bought it in the summer. But I did eventually own that dress. And every time I wore it I felt beautiful and invincible.

Don't ever underestimate the power of a pretty dress.

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Blogger Anne opined...

That's a great story.

February 22, 2010 7:52 AM  
Blogger Anne opined...

It's interesting what we remember from our youth. I remember excelling in home-ec, but was way too shy to model any of my pieces.

February 22, 2010 8:05 AM  
Blogger Buck opined...

God, I loved this story. Have you any photographs of you in The Dress?

I felt the same way about a pair of maroon platform shoes my mom let me purchase when I was 14.

February 22, 2010 10:44 AM  
Blogger rosemary opined...

Way to make me cry Lorraine.....I was there....before you by a number of years.... unattractive kid but with frizzy hair and crooked teeth.....and eventually the glasses. I wish I had a memory like this. I do remember not having to wear home made clothes when i was a junior in high school. I had a baby sitting job and discovered lay away. Thanks for sharing....great post.

February 22, 2010 11:11 AM  
Blogger Dena opined...

That could have been my experience with a similar green dress and my first pair of high heels,white with a small bow (one inch heels)lol My hair was straight,stringy and fine. Toni's made it frizzy & curly courtesy of my Mom also which was finished off by the little matching bow just above my bangs(aweful) but the dress and the shoes made me feel beautiful and grown up. Even if I was NOT EVEN close I think I was 12 Thanks for the story Lorranie ( I do have a picture which I will not share LOL)

February 22, 2010 11:31 AM  
Blogger Mom opined...

What a sweet memory.
I had a silky beige dress covered in little pink flowers, sleeveless with a wide belt. I was a princess when I wore that dress.

February 22, 2010 5:14 PM  
Blogger Sling opined...

That was a great story,and wonderfully told!
Who knew that gangly little girl would someday grow up to own a world class collection of tiaras.

February 22, 2010 6:25 PM  
Blogger Caitlin opined...

Love the story!

February 23, 2010 11:23 AM  
Blogger Miss Healthypants opined...

I love this story!--and I could relate to it quite a lot--except I didn't feel pretty like that until I was probably in my 20's. But better late than never, huh?? :)

February 23, 2010 6:32 PM  
Blogger Dame Judi opined...

First, let me say "shame on Dame Judi" for such an ungracious comment.

Second,there is not an inkling of memory regarding this lovely event of your young life.

Thirdly, the beautiful swan years arrived, did they not? Yes to be sure. And Dame Judi swears to this day there were not ugly-duckling-pin-feather days anyway.

February 24, 2010 6:11 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

DJ: Now that I'm a mother I know exactly what was going on in your weren't being ungracious, you were just trying to make sure that your loin fruit wasn't behaving in a manner that was inappropriate or was do to, I'm quite sure, with not wanting me to embarrass myself or something like that.

As for the other bit, while I appreciate the sentiment, I believe you have only to look at a photo album or two to confirm the veracity of my ugly duckling statements.

February 24, 2010 7:17 PM  

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