Monday, July 19, 2010

Memories of a Summer Dress by Von

Sketch of My Summer Dress by Von 2010

When I was about the age of seven, my mother made me a dress with her first electric sewing machine, a Pfaff. Until then, she had used a treadle Singer and made everything that she and I wore except for underwear and socks.

Much to my chagrin, I never wore a stitch of bought clothing until I was old enough to buy my own and I often longed for a cheap cotton dress that looked like the ones everyone else wore. If the truth be known,  I was mortified by some of the outfits I had to wear, but could never speak out or express my distaste; children didn’t in those days. There were other visible signs of difference between me and the other girls, but the clothes were the most obvious difference or seemed so to me at the time.

The new summer dress seemed in some way to even things out. It was a light cotton, with a pattern of pink and green flowers and leaves on a white background. The style and fabric made it comfortable and it looked fresh and clean. The bodice was cut in four sections with  ruffles running  from the front  waist over the shoulder down the back to the waist. It was cut so that a small cap sleeve was formed on the top of the shoulder. The skirt was cut in panels, so that it fell neatly from the waist, but flared slightly at the hem. It felt very gown up. Looking back, I always felt good in that dress and was my first dress that had this effect.

When the cold weather came on, the dress was hung in the wardrobe. I must have been going through a growth spurt, because when the next summer arrived, it no longer fit. I was very sad knowing that  I would never wear it again and I longed to have a replica made in a larger size and the same again the next year and the next. I felt I could go on wearing this dress forever.

That summer there was a serious bushfire in our area and many families lost their homes and everything they possessed. Mothers culled the wardrobes of any clothes that could be spared, anything that no longer fit. When school started again at the end of summer, there was a strong sense of comfort in being back in a safe environment, especially for those who had suffered the loss of their homes and those who had narrowly escaped. For me there was the odd dislocation of seeing someone a year younger wearing my favourite, special dress on a normal school day, which, given the events of the summer, was far from normal.

My feelings too were complicated by the fact that I was adopted. Adoptees start life with one identity, which is changed by adoption, so that at times I have grappled with having two sides to my life and two identities. When I was a child, I had no choice about clothing and this created feelings of loss. Over time, I've been able to think through how I want to present myself. It used to be an area of vulnerability, but is something that I worked through years ago. In my life today, I am comfortable in work clothes mucking out but I also enjoy the classics, good quality and design. I have it all!

Von is the author of the blogs The Good Life (Life in the Slow Lane) and also Once There was Von.

What is hanging in the back of your closet? Do you have memories of a special dress? This Memories of a Dress Project is an extension my documentation of the dresses my mother wore. I encourage all of you who have a dress or special outfit hanging at the back of your closet to share your memories with me. Please email me at to participate.