Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Red Silk Dress


The bride’s dress featured a very large crème-with-a-touch-of-tea satin bow and long-to-the-floor sashes. It reminded me of one of my high school ball gowns. I leaned close to my mother to speak over the pounding music.

“Her dress reminds me of the one with the huge lavender bow you made me. Do you remember it?”

“Yes. Do you remember we got the idea from a picture in a Kotex ad?”

“Not at all,” I laughed. “Did that bother you?”

“Not much. The one that bothered me was the red silk. Do you remember that dress?”

“Of course. Vividly. I’ve written something about that dress.”

“I thought you looked so cute. Then one of your boyfriends said you looked pregnant in it. I felt awful.”

I watched her face for several distinct seconds and then I knew. “You don’t remember the rest of the story, do you, Mom?”

“Was there a ‘rest of the story’?”

“You took care of that.”

“I’m so glad to hear I did something right. What did I do?”

The noise was way too loud to continue what was going to be a long-ish story.

“Too noisy. I’ll write it for you.”

Here’s the story.

Back story first? Ok. Dresses and outfits, designs, sewing, tailoring. Around such matters my Mom and I bonded without reservation. Most garments started with an occasion – lead in a junior high play, balls and proms, drama and speech contests.

It had to be spring, 1962. Me, 15, turning 16. The dress was more justified than initiated. I always needed an Easter outfit, but that was not the central thrust. It was a bolt of silk that set the thing in motion. Small bouquets of blue and yellow daises on a ground of fire engine red. Maybe a touch intense for a spring Sunday dress, but irresistible.

Yard for yard, the price was high – but she agreed to it.

Then we looked at dress patterns. That year something high waisted was in fashion. Not the Empire line that creates a sleek front panel, but a dirndl-like skirt gathered just below the bust.

Between checking the fit and taking the length for the hem, I didn’t see the finished dress again until Easter morning. Mom brought it to my room and we checked it with the shoes. Standing in front of the mirror, I winced. “Mom, do you think the dress makes me look … fat?”

I didn’t really mean ‘fat’ but I couldn’t say what was on my mind.

“Oh, no. You look adorable!”

Although I left the mirror uneasy, when I couldn’t see the design of the dress, the shimmer and slip of the fabric reassured me. Completely.

Coming out of church a few hours later, David DeTar walked me to my parents’ car. David was more of a friend boy than a boyfriend, but I think that morning we were entertaining the idea of a date. When the conversation flagged, I grabbed the next thought that popped into my head.

“So, how do you like my new dress?”

“It’s cute, nice color,” he offered. Then the zinger. “Makes you look like you’re going to have a baby.”

I swiveled around to see if Mom could hear. Sliding in the car, I asked, “Did you hear what David said? He said I look pregnant in this dress.”

“Mom, can we alter it?” I asked even though I already knew at 15, going on 16, how unforgiving silk is.

“I doubt it,” my mother looked perturbed. I figured she was thinking about how much money we’d spent on this dress I was not going to want to wear. So, in the five block drive from the church to our home, I worked on getting my mind around the situation.

By the time we were home, I could calmly say, “Oh, well, I’m not pregnant and everyone will know that when I don’t get any bigger.”

I hung the dress up and went on with the day and then the week. But late that week, Mom said she wanted to check the fit on something she was sewing. Out came a dress – red silk, shirtwaist bodice, slim skirt, distinct waistline with a self-belt.

I couldn’t see how this dress could have been made from the earlier one, but just to check, I asked, “So, what did you do with the other dress?”

“Oh, I gave it to a young married friend of mine who’s pregnant. She was delighted.”


Cindy Fey said...

I love this story. I can see it all. Brings back memories of my own homemade dresses. Still have the red dress with the daisies?

Anonymous said...


A great story and well-told. If you'd like me to put that red silk dress on a
small fire, I can do 'er fer ya. (I have a good deal of experience burning red
clothing of yours.)

Your loving brother.