I got caught the other day.
I went home on a Tuesday for a Moxie Festival Committee meeting and stayed at my parents’ house overnight. After dinner, I pulled out my mother’s high school yearbook and started looking at the old pictures. When my mother saw me, she said “What are you looking for in that yearbook?” She gave me the weary “I hope you’re not writing about this on your blog” look and I said “I was wondering what you wore to your senior prom.”
I always liked studying my mother’s high school yearbook when I was young; the 1956 St. Dominic’s “Echo” was a high quality product, professionally bound with an elegant black cover. Some sections of the yearbook were written in French, as were some of the inscriptions from my mother’s high school friends. I don’t recall the actual moment when it struck me that my parents had been young once, but it was enlightening to see them as something other than monolithic authority figures, especially my mother. Maybe it was when I read the comment:
“To Helen: A tall girl with a heart of gold and a warm friendly personality.”
Some of the time, though, I just wanted to look at the clothing. There were bobby socks and saddle shoes and A-line skirts. I especially liked the corduroy full-skirted jumpers. St. Dom’s had a “Winter Carnival Weekend” and the Fair Isle-style sweater was popular with a pair of side-zipped slacks. Then there were the pictures from the spring prom; all the young women were floating around in New Look-style gowns and dresses over lots of petticoats. When I was twelve, I imagined my own high school prom might look like that and I could practically imagine the future day when a young man in a white sport coat and a pink carnation would knock on the door to escort me to the dance.
It didn’t turn out that way.
It didn’t turn out all bad, either, and we’re living in interesting fashion times influenced by Tee Vee shows like Mad Men and the systematic reinvention of everything Jackie Kennedy Onassis every three or four years. Actual vintage clothing is almost as popular as vintage recreations; Charlotte Dymock is a London personality who both dresses and blogs with a past-glancing eye. She’s out and about town in her chic ensembles, making it look so simple to be an anachronism. I don’t know how she does it.
This past fall, I found a vintage black satin circle skirt in a local consignment shop. It was embossed with black velvet stripes and had an attached black tulle petticoat underneath. It swooshed and whispered Doris Day ditties when I wore it and it had worked as my Christmas Day ensemble in Lisbon Falls. It would have been a hit at a St. Dom’s high school dance in 1956.
The skirt having met approval in Lisbon Falls, I decided to up the ante and see if it would work at a charity ball in Boston. I found a faux leopard print jacket and a pair of retro-looking black pumps. I had my stand-by suede evening bag my Tante Anna had given me and the whole ensemble made sense in my mind. I got a manicure and turned up the volume on the whispering petticoat. “Que sera, sera” is what it seemed to be saying as I carried it onto the Amtrak for my trip to the city.
I was masquerading as my mother.
I’m not really sure what happened; maybe I was tired or maybe I was just feeling old and tall, but the outfit seemed to fall flat in the large ballroom filled with the new, the young, and the modern. Formal Saturday night affairs require tremendous amounts of energy and preparation and while Helen would have brought her heart of gold and her warm and friendly personality, I just didn’t have any gas left in the tank to bring much of anything. I disappointed myself and my friends. In the big scheme of life, this was just a blip on the social radar and I’m not going to blame anyone but myself. I’m definitely not going to blame the skirt.
The skirt still has a lot to say.