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Posts Tagged ‘Mom’s Closet’

No one loves you like your mom. Pictured: My mother with me and my brothers – Jimmy in the front and Marshall in the back.

Cindy Marshall died on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.

My mother lived, as she would say, a multifaceted life. She was a woman of style, good manners, and a quirky sense of humor. An only child, she was born in a small town in Pennsylvania, but grew up in many places, including China, where her father was an officer in the Navy. After her parents divorced when Mom was ten years old, she and her mother moved to San Francisco. I think she was lonely in those early days; she told me she spent that first cold and foggy summer in SF by herself inside their apartment listening to Flash Gordon on the radio and making paper dolls from images in fashion magazines.

Classical music and opera were important to my mother. She learned about both from her father and when she was in high school she studied voice hoping one day to sing opera. She had a lovely voice, good for operettas, but she thought not strong enough for opera so she gave it up (it was the big stuff or nothing). Still, she’d sing to herself up until the very end of her life. (In fact she was singing along with a Michael Feinstein CD while I sat with her just days before she passed.)

A bit of a loner, Mom followed her own sense of style. In the 1950s, Marin County housewives were wearing shirtwaist dresses with full skirts and shoes with heels, but not my mother. She sported slacks and desert boots, and for a diaper bag she used a bowling ball bag. “It was more interesting,” she told me. That was the era of luncheons, cocktail parties, and evenings out for dinner and dancing. Mom loved all that and had the appropriate attire for every occasion, usually purchased from her favorite department store, I. Magnin. Sometimes she made her clothing, although, she said she didn’t like working with sewing machines and preferred to sew by hand. She was also an avid knitter and once knitted an entire dress.

Mom had three children – Marshall, Jimmy, and me. One of the tragedies in Mom’s life was the loss of her two boys, both of whom left us way too young. It weighed her down with sadness, but she had an admirable inner strength and I know that she also took comfort in our small surviving family.

When I started school, Mom went to work, out of necessity as a divorced single mother but I think also to get back into the wider world. She managed a dentist’s office for many years and then switched to jewelry sales, which was her forte. She worked at Shreve & Co. and then Zales, and eventually she started her own antique jewelry business. Around that time she also reclaimed her maiden name, grew her hair long, went blonde, and shifted from structured handbags to the more fashionable shoulder bags.

There is much to say about my mother. (And I say it in a mother/daughter memoir that I am working on – and one day may even finish.) She was an elegant, complex woman who spent much of her life searching for answers to the big questions. Sometimes when she pondered life, she’d say “What’s this all about?” We weren’t always on the same page, but we were close and we spent a lot of time together. I miss that already. She has always been there, always on my side, always backing me up. Life is a little lonelier now.

My father died just before Father’s Day in 1984 and I still have the card I had planned to give to him. Now, my mother has left just before Mother’s Day 2022. Life is strange.

While I sort through this loss, it’s hard for me to focus. Even fashion, my usual place of joy, feels empty to me. For that reason, I am going to take a break from ODFL. I hope that readers will bear with me and still be there when I return. In the meantime there’s ten plus years of archives to revisit. Also, take a peek at Mom’s Closet (tab at the top), which has posts all about my mother, who inspired this blog.

Rest in peace, Mom. We love you!

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My mother once told me that her best friend from her younger days went through a phase of using paper shopping bags as handbags. Not just any old paper bag! No, one from I. Magnin or Saks Fifth Avenue. How intriguing. She could afford to shop at high end department stores, but she couldn’t afford a purse?

I love the irony and I wonder if that was her intention.

Mom thought that perhaps her BF couldn’t afford the expensive purse she wanted. But having good taste, she wasn’t going to settle for less, so, to be quirky or humorous she used the paper bags she got for buying a lipstick or stockings at the the best department stores in Downtown, San Francisco.

Fast forward to now and paper shopping bags are all the rage for reuse. I see it frequently – sturdy bags used for the gym, carting around kids stuff, used as totes to take to work or on a day out. I use some of my bag collection to carry packages to the post office and they’re perfect for packing a lunch.

These days in California and elsewhere (but not NY) customers have to pay for a bag and that’s a good thing for the environment and a good opportunity to reuse some of the shopping bags we already have. Maybe even carry a really nice one as your handbag. Why not?

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Clare Spera and RBG, circa 2010.

Now that my grandmother is gone, I am humbled and comforted when I wear her clothes. These items carry more than just a legacy of sartorial elegance; they are a tangible reminder of the woman underneath the judicial robe and of everything she taught me, from lessons in style to how best to continue to strive toward a “more perfect union.” Her thoughtful wardrobe choices – never an accessory out of place, a story behind every piece of clothing she wore – were but one aspect of her incredible mind and attention to detail.

Clara Spera, reproductive rights litigator at the American Civil Liberties Union.

This quote is taken from the essay, My Bubbie Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Ms. Spera in Harper’s Bazaar, Jan/Feb 2021. In her essay, Ms. Spera talks about the bond she had with her grandmother over clothing and fighting gender inequality.

I have long been fascinated with the idea that more is woven into our clothing than just fiber. There is memory, association, reflection, time, and place. It interests me that an article of clothing can, over time and wear, absorb so much of who we are. I have pieces of clothing that belonged to my mother in various stages of her fashion life. Entwined in each sweater, skirt, dress, coat, are scraps of her life and my childhood – her days as an urban mom at home, her fling with Hippie Style, and those challenging years she was a working mom. I even have clothing that hung in her closet before I was born, which has allowed for imaginings of an even younger woman who attended cocktail parties and wore a suit to shop downtown.

Like Ms. Spera, I take comfort in every piece of my mother’s clothing that I have. They are like time portals for me.

Today, March 15, would have been Ruth Bader Ginsburg 88th birthday.

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Recently I was going through papers looking for something that I didn’t find but I did unearth something else – a letter from me to my mother when I was in college.

Mom has kept pretty much every letter, card, and postcard I ever sent to her from college (I was in another state) and traveling. I wrote to her a lot and she to me. It was something we just did, regularly. We spoke on the phone as well but that was expensive so we kept calls to once a week or so.

Since my mother moved, all of this correspondence is now with me. Luckily, I am old enough to appreciate their value as a window through which to view the many stages of my own life. A few years earlier, into the recycle bin they would have gone.

This letter was written right before Thanksgiving back when a stamp cost 22 cents. In it I thanked her for a card she sent to me and ten dollars (it seemed I was always cash poor when I was in college, even though I had a part-time job). I told her about a paper I was working on for my British history class and the following:

I put together the most fabulous outfit. I wore the gold and black circle skirt I made (you remember) with the 40s satin jacket you gave me and sheer light green stockings and my brown 40s shoes I bought with you. My jewelry was perfect, a copper leaf pattern necklace that lays flat on my collar bone and these funky 40s (or 50s) drop earrings that are oranges. The whole outfit was just great. I got a lot of attention. You wouldn’t believe how perfectly that jacket goes with the skirt.

I mentioned that I put together this outfit for a reception at a furniture store that I attended with my then boyfriend. I don’t recall that night or the outfit and I don’t have a photo, but I do remember each element of the outfit.

I still have the satin jacket, which has a Don Loper label. I Love Lucy fans might recognize that name; Mr. Loper (1906-1972) was the Hollywood fashion and costume designer who played himself in a 1955 episode of Lucy titled The Fashion Show. I suspect my jacket originally had a matching skirt. (Wouldn’t that have been quite jazzy!)

The skirt I paired with the jacket was a cotton circle skirt that I made. It had a large abstract black stick figure pattern and patch pockets. It was somewhat ethnic looking and an odd match with the dressy jacket but that’s what made the outfit so interesting. I also still have the shoes – brown suede with a slight platform and a three inch heel. I often wear these shoes to period costume events.

The copper necklace (purchased at Emporium, the only vintage store in my college town) I have since passed along as well as the earrings, which were little oranges made of plastic. I like how I played with color and wasn’t afraid to do a mix up. I wish I had mentioned what handbag I chose.

Even though I don’t have a photo, I can still picture that outfit as if I had worn it yesterday and I’m so pleased to have stumbled upon the forgotten evening thanks to a simple letter to my mom.

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The classic 2.55 handbag by Chanel.

I inherited my Chanel 2.55 bag from my mother, who herself had been gifted it. Whenever I wear it I’m wearing her history. I know it sounds like an inflated idea, but our attachments to objects and the paths they’ve all taken are real.

Lucy Chadwick, Gallery Director of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in New York.

The iconic Chanel 2.55 handbag was named after the date of its creation – February 1955. At the time it had unique features including quilted leather and a chain shoulder strap. Since the original hit the shelves, there have been many interpretations and spins on the original design but like a true classic, it has never gone out of style.

I have a little tan leather clutch bag with a kiss closure that belonged to my mother. I remember it was always kept in her dresser drawer and it didn’t come out to be carried but instead held important little things like her old driver’s licenses. She just recently gave it to me and I have considered using it but, I don’t want to disturb the contents. Now it sits in my dresser drawer.

So, I agree with Ms. Chadwick that objects carry the history of their owners.

Coming up later this week it’s all about handbags on OverDressedforLife. Stay tuned.

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IMG_20200319_143040154When I was growing up, my mother had hanging in her closet a cashmere coat, and sitting on the floor underneath the coat was a pair of black apres ski boots in suede. She would tell me that this was her “emergency outfit.” In case of a fire or an earthquake or some other dramatic event that required a quick exit from home (in the middle of the night), she knew what to grab. The heavy coat was for warmth and protection and the boots were sturdy and waterproof. Both were comforting. It made sense to me.

I thought of mom’s armor outfit last week when I was getting ready to leave the house on essential errands. (California has been under a shelter-in-place command since March 17th.)

What’s my emergency outfit?

Like my mother I go for warmth, protection, and comfort. I chose my back hoodie by Champion. Simple and cozy, I like the hood nestled around my neck and although warm, it’s not heavy or bulky. I also slipped on a pair of black leggings. I don’t wear leggings very often but these are kind of silky, comfortable and easy to move in. For color I added a silk flower brooch and a light blue beret, which, by the way, has antique buttons sewed on along the edge. Simple flat ankle boots in black for easy walking.

Finally, I swiped on red lipstick and put on a pair of snappy sunglasses. I was ready!

It’s interesting to note that if it was just normal day (before COVID-19), I would not have chosen this outfit. Most likely I would have worn a skirt and blazer or perhaps my cape. An ensemble that would have required some effort to wear.

I believe clothing provides more than just covering. It boosts confidence and offers both physical and emotional comfort.

Remember, Keep Calm and Keep Your Distance. 

 

 

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Spooky ladies who lunch. AKA Witchy Mom and Flapper Ghost. c. 2000

When I was nine or ten my mother really got into the spooky spirit and answered the door on Halloween ready to hand out candy dressed as a witch in a caftan and pointy black flats. At the time she was the only mom to dress in costume and all the kids loved it. (This was way back when Halloween still belonged to kids.)

Many years later we started a new tradition of a quiet mother/daughter celebration. We dressed in costume and went out to lunch or dinner. We were the only ones who did this and I added to the festivities by handing out candy to anyone who crossed our path.

My mother says Halloween is her favorite holiday so we continue the lunch tradition sans full costume but we might wear a spooky accessory, like skeleton earrings in silver or a black cat stole. I still hand out candy.

 

HAPPY HALLOWEEN from us to you!

 

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It’s been quite awhile since we visited Mom’s Closet. Let’s step inside for a little Halloween story. Click on the Mom’s Closet tab above and scroll down for “Spooky Halloween Wishes from Mom’s Closet.”

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woa-gabriela-perezetti-main-smallMy whole family used to use this seamstress, Tota, … growing up in Uruguay there were no fancy stores around – the nicest thing you could do was get European fabrics and have things made … We wouldn’t buy a lot but for each important stage of life or big event we’d have something made. There’s a suit from my mother, this olive wool skirtsuit with a blazer that has, like, a military seal and her initials embroidered on the pocket … I always loved the whole outfit, so much so that when we launched the first collection, I had that suit in it. It’s always been a reference to quality materials made to last …

Gabriela Hearst, women’s fashion designer. Quote from Elle magazine, October 2017.

I am a big fan of custom made clothing. I have an expanding wardrobe of fashions made just for me from dresses, to blouses, to a beautiful 1920s inspired coat.

It’s pure pleasure to don perfectly fitted clothing for which you have chosen the design and fabrics. Each piece is unique, well made, and it feels extra good to have supported local seamstresses/designers.

Also, I can relate to Ms. Hearst’s fondness for her mother’s wardrobe. What is it about our mother’s clothing from our childhoods? I too have memories of what my mother wore – specific images that I like to revisit. I even have some of the vintage pieces right out of her closet. Many of them special occasion outfits, but it’s the everyday pieces that I’m drawn to. The ones I saw all the time – the tweed skirts and Oxford shirts; slacks and desert boots. The outfits that identified a mom as my Mom.

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My mom has (jokingly) started calling me “Mom” …  since she now needs a little more attention. So, I say let’s celebrate moms of all kinds.

Happy Mother’s Day from us to you!

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