Monday, 3 September 2012

Scarlet and black

As a granny fashionista, I feel that it is my duty to dispense the occasional handy hint regarding matters sartorial, and this weekend I felt that I learned a lesson worth sharing.

And my advice is, please don't listen to those grande dames of decluttering, and ladies of high fashion who insist that if an item of clothing has not been worn for a couple of years, then the only thing to do is to toss it smartly into a bin bag and consign it to history.

No, the granny fashionista knows better - and in fact, I have come to the conclusion with matters of fashion and style, then the older the better, and even better if it is so old that you have forgotten that it belongs to you.

Many moons ago

Last Friday I found myself in the unusual situation of deciding what to wear to a party more than one hour in advance (mainly because those dastardly admirals were keeping me waiting, and I had time on my hands) and I stood in front of the mirror gazing sadly as this year's party frock purchase, and finding it sadly wanting.

I made the mistake of buying a new dress in the spring, thinking that three rather exciting parties in the offing justified such impulsive extravagance and would of course reduce the CPW to a mere nothing (fashionista-speak for cost per wear, a concept about as useful as that of investment dressing which somehow implies that spending large amounts on clothes is akin to putting the money into the bank or a pension. Take it from me, the more you spend on fashion, the more you spend and the less you have in the bank, whatever the CPW).

And as for my little piece of investment dressing, it has not stepped up to the mark for any party as yet. 'It is a very pretty dress,' said Princess Bunchy kindly. 'I think I might be cold,' I replied as I tried leggings and a variety of cardis, and every single pair of shoes to my name, and felt the sinking feeling that this fatal frock was not really up to a Hollywood theme in a rather lovely venue in the Great Wen, or anywhere else for that matter. In fact, this dress came under the category of Big Mistake, and contrary to the effusive affirmations of the shop assistants, it was not a dress for me but a dress for somebody else. I am not sure quite whom, but definitely not for me.

So Princess Bunchy went exploring in the back of the wardrobe and emerged with three party frocks from many moons ago, including the one I wore to my twenty-first birthday dance. 'It's rather revealing,' she said in a shocked voice, and I tried to explain about the 1980s and strapless ballgowns with boned bodices, not that my frock was strapless or boned, or revealing as I explained as I shifted the waistband up six inches to the 1980s, and pulled the laces tight, so this was only marginally relevant. 'Whalebone,' she said knowledgeably, and then I had to explain that actually I am not that old and plastic had been invented by the time I first donned a ballgown.

As you might gather, we were not getting very far: shocking pink and purple chiffon in layers, no, too strappy for granny arms. Pale grey and cream silk with pearl buttons from Singapore - dropped waist and boxy shape far too girlish. The princess dug down into another layer - only twenty years this time - heavy black velvet with a wonderful drape on the skirt. Beautiful - a dress of dreams and probably only worn once, and I still don't regret the purchase because I would wear it again if someone would invite me to a winter party (but I don't get out much, especially in winter). But a touch warm for London in August, even one as chilly as this.

Time was

And then, hiding behind everything, covered by dry cleaner's plastic, the princess pulled out a dress only a year older than she is. Scarlet and black, chiffon and burnt velvet, a whole raft of memories came spilling out with it. A mere fourteen years old, from a time when the Commander-in-Chief occupied a position which required his daughter to have one or two rather smart party frocks. And a sad time for other reasons, and I remembered the other velvet frock in ash grey and dark blue, rather roomy in its cut, which I had discarded because of the sad memories attached to it.

And this one in scarlet and black - bought after the grey one, for a summer party which I can't quite remember, but I remember feeling not quite at ease in the dress, and trying to forget things and be cheerful and graceful in a dress that was a little too tight and a little too bright for my feelings.

Scarlet and black, hidden away for all these years, and from memory, and now not too tight and bold at all, quite perfect for wearing on a red carpet and having its picture taken.

Very old

So this frock did go to the ball after all, and the story had a happy ending.
And the moral is, never throw away a party frock, because they come festooned with memories of all kinds, and far better to wear a really old one, where the cost is historic (and that is a genuine economic concept) and thus more thrifty than buying a new one.

Or you can buy a really old one, older than you are, which has been emptied out of someone else's bin bag, and thus become a genuine granny fashionista. Just like I did last week.


Indigo Blue said...

Oh this post is so well written!! The bit about the whalebone had be laughing out loud that Sophie came to see what I was doing! I feel the same way about some dresses and fashion about not throwing it all out. Many find that idea odd seeing as I have a fashion degree it seems that this piece of paper has bought me an unwanted membership to the wasteful club where it is thrown out to make way for each new season. I have a ball dress that is 12 years old and I am hanging on to it...but it may fit my daughter and by that time she will have her own vintage dress with only one previous owner!

Vintage Sheet Addict said...

Gosh, where do you keep everything? I only have a small wardrobe! Lovely story though! I would love to see my daughters faces if they saw some of the things I wore! Ada :)

Floss said...

A lovely history, Pomona. I'm rather sad about a few of my favourite clothes, which are now too big - it's delightful to loose weight, but I do miss the way I filled out those dresses! I also wonder nostalgically if I would once again fit the '80s numbers that I gave away to charity shops in the '90s! So you're right - hang on to the dresses! I love both of yours in the photos.

liniecat said...

Brilliant lol memories revisited and new ones made with this dress!

Madelief said...

I enjoyed reading your story Pomona. You are right to keep those dresses. They are often too beautiful to do away with!! I would keep them for the memories only :-)!

Hope the party was fun?!

Madelief x

Susan Standen said...

Chance would be a fine thing if I fit into the pre-children clothes. One particular part of me decided to stay bigger even if the other bits have gone up and down in size.

Angela said...

You are so right about this - one of my favourite garments is a man's waistcoat - the remaining part of the 3 piece suit my OH wore to his bro's wedding in 1972 [before I even MET him!] Just because it is old doesn't mean it's out of date. And the memories attached make things so special too.
Daughters are often quite useful when choosing outfits [and other times they can make it even harder!]

Phoebe said...

Please post a picture of you in the dress!

Gigibird said...

You have a lovely figure so I am sure you look great in most things - I used to keep hold of all my clothes but moving to a very small house and having hardly any hanging space I have learnt to be ruthless.

marigold jam said...

Gosh imagine still having clothes you wore so long ago! I am afraid I am one of those who tosses out things I don't wear and so would never be able to find anything remotely interesting at the back of my cupboards let a lone a party frock! I am glad that your idea of keeping things proved to be a good one whereas I in the same situation would probably have to decline the invitation like poor Cinders because I would have thrown out anything I might once have had that could be suitable even supposing it might still fit me! Hope you enjoyed the party?

greenrabbitdesigns said...

I'm afraid I'm one of those people who throws it out if it hasn't been used in a year!!!
The only thing you would find in the back of my wardrobe is more yarn but shhh don't tell anyone!!
Vivienne x

Frances said...

Pomona, let me second that motion that you might show us a photo of you in that dress.

Meanwhile, over the decades, I have always donated lots of clothes to charity thrift shops, but also kept back the items that I really still loved or (as in the 1960's/early 70's clothes) just seemed to be fine examples of that era.

Now I am more ruthless. I no longer sew my own styles, and owe much of my wardrobe to my employer. I keep the items that I know I will want to wear year after year, if not day after day.

I am still so interested in all the directions that fashion takes.


Lulu said...

sounds good...Its nice to revisit a piece of clothing from days gone by..Why not wear it again, if you can..
hope you had a lovely weekend..

Sarah Jane said...

Lovely story Pomona! <3
Hope you had a good time!
Sarah xx

Nicky said...

Hope the dress and you had a great outing! Are you passing the Big Mistake onto someone who can wear it or keeping it in the closet for a future occasion!

Glad you are back!

Catherine said...

Actually, delightful most of all, to share the sifting & rummaging with your daughter. It really is rather the truth for most of us that we don't need special dresses very often at all from year to year so hanging on to a few is most prudent. Besides, it really is quite difficult to come across a "good" dress these days thrifted or otherwise. And what of the shoes..I gather you found just the pair tucked back in the cupboard too? Much love Catherine x0x0x

Katy Cameron said...

Lol, I particularly liked the whalebone suggestion ;o) Still, the dress fabric looks lovely :o)

Shocking Hocking said...

beautiful - very impressed you keep your frocks - i get an itch sometimes that sees me tossing out anything i haven't worn for a while (usually stuff that is 3 or 4 sizes smaller)- but, have to say i have kept a couple of things that are just too beautiful - can't fit into them but i really do love looking at them - isn't that the credo? if a thing is either useful or beautiful it's ok to keep?

Mrs. Micawber said...

Yes, please do post a photo. "Scarlet and black" sound so very siren-like. I am glad that the dress can now hold some happier memories for you.

You've just the right build for that drapey number in the bottom photo - it looks lovely.

Of all fashion eras, I think the 80s is the one I'd be least likely to revisit. :)

Gillian said...

Loved your thoughts on "investment" fashion - that always cracks me up - like you're going to get a return on the dress/coat/shoes... A really nice story. x

Down by the sea said...

So glad you found something to wear that you felt comfortable in. Fashion does come around and around. My sister still has lots of her old clothes from years gone by. Her daughter pulls them out and borrows them and gets so many compliments.
Sarah x

saffa said...

What a lovely dress Pomona :) I love the red velvet flowers! Isn't it wonderful when you find a piece of clothing forgotten, but still loved and appreciate it all over again :) hope you had a wonderful time, safxxx

gillyflower said...

How lovely to have kept all those dresses and still be able to get some pleasure and wear from them! Hope you had a great time.
Lovely post!

Gill xx

Annie @ knitsofacto said...

I remember having some lovely fifties dresses my Gran had worn when I was in my teens, long since thrown out. I've always envied folk who have the nous to keep stuff. Especially when it's a red and black number as gorgeous as this! I bet you looked stunning :D

Little Blue Mouse said...

Oh no, I was hoping there would be a photo of you wearing the dress!

I've still got some maxi skirts that I made in the 70s and a dress I made in the 80s, but they don't fit me now.

Barbara said...

Sounds like it was fun reminiscing. I would never get into a dress from a decade ago let alone all those years ago.

Forgot to say that I love your new header.


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