The first article of clothing I remember is a small-sized sunsuit that my mother made for me. It was made of a multi-colored striped cotton fabric with brown bias-tape around the bib.
The stripes were brown, tan, green, and white. I remember how amazed I was that my mother was so clever she could get bias tape around that material just right.
She accomplished this marvelous feat on a treadle Singer sewing machine which was powered by the back and forth motion of her own feet as she sewed. The old Singer occupied a space in front of one of the 2 windows that were in the small room off the front bedroom which we always called "the little room." The room is 6í x 8í and over the years has been a sewing room, a play room and Uncle Philipís bedroom, when for a brief time while still a bachelor, he lived with us. Later, when it became popular for people to own more clothes than they actually "needed," the two windows were removed, the openings boarded up and papered over, and the "little room" became a walk-in closet.
I loved that little room, not only because my mother accomplished such marvels of creation there, but also because it was so bright and cheery. If the sun was out at all, its rays permeated that small space, because one window faced the northeast and the other southwest.
After Uncle Philip married Helen Flowers and moved away, my daddy put a 6í lead gas pipe across one end of our little room for hanging our dresses. You see recycling is really not a new concept -- my father always fashioned "no longer used" things into other functional items. Since electric lights had sometime earlier replaced gas lights, there were several feet of lead pipe stored in the basement. I was always delighted to pull up a chair to stand on and hang my precious articles of adornment so they would be nice for another day.
Among the favorites I hung on that pipe was a dress with a short full skirt. It had large purple and lavender flowers splattered all over its white background. The skirt was so full I could pull it out on both sides with my arms held waist high and it made a semi-circle. I loved putting it on so I could pirouette around the room in the glorious sunshine and fancy myself an elegant dancer or some fairy princess.
In 1937, when I was 9 years old, my Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie went to France on the Queen Mary. It was an exciting time for all of us as we watched them prepare for the trip. The most exciting of all, however, was when they returned with gifts for everyone. They brought me a bright blue smock -- "all the little French girls wear them." I really felt special in that smock because all the little French girls wore them. It had long sleeves, buttons down the front, and large square pockets on each side.
Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie also brought me earrings -- my first pair. Since my ears were not pierced, my new gift required a visit to Dr. Pageís office for the procedure. I can still see the thick bloody catgut protruding from the hole in each ear. It remained there until it was painfully removed some days later. I could hardly wait until I could put my beautiful new earrings into those painful earlobes. To this day, I think of Dr. Page as the doctor who couldnít aim straight, since he placed the hole in one ear lower than the hole in the other and my earrings still do not hang straight.
Because my father was an avid hunter and I liked to go hunting with him, it was decided that I should have appropriate garb for going out into the woods. Since I had become a movie buff by then and I liked the way leading ladies looked in jodhpurs and riding boots, I decided that would be an ideal hunting outfit for me, sans the horse, of course. My mother and I found the perfect pair at Parsons-Souders Department Store -- a light brown twill with a dark brown suede patch on the inside of each knee and a long row of buttons down each leg to the ankle. To complete the outfit, I got a pair of dark brown, lace-up riding boots. When I dressed in this elegant outfit, I felt just like I could have been the leading lady to John Wayne, John Payne, or Ronald Reagan, who many years later became president of the United States.
Unfortunately, my hunting career was cut short due to lagging interest on my part and my parentís conviction that hunting wasnít a very lady-like pursuit for a young teen-age female anyway. Still those jodhpurs remained a very important part of my wardrobe, even after I had outgrown them. I guess I always hoped that some day Iíd ride off into the sunset with my own handsome leading man.
Dollar-day sales in downtown Clarksburg always made an appreciable contribution to my wardrobe. Iíll never forget how excited my cousin, Mary Kathryn, and I got on dollar days. Aunt Mary, Mary Kathrynís mother, and my mother always went to the sales and we could hardly wait to get home from school on those days to be see what we had gotten. Sometimes we even reached home before the 3:30 street-car bearing our mothers and our treasures rolled into North View. I was especially fond of a shirred elasticized waist which one of the sales yielded. It had green and white stripes, short sleeves, and snaps up the front. I remember how much I enjoyed wearing it early in the school year and then how much distress I felt later the same years when I couldnít find a way to keep my budding little nipples from bulging through the elastic.
Since the 9th grade was also in the North View Junior High building, I graduated from the 9th grade and then progressed to a 3 year high school, Victory. Because it was a cause for celebration and we had a real ceremony, I had to have a new dress for graduation. One of the most exclusive dress shops in town at the time was Ora Bachelorí at the end of Court Street beside Wilbur Marrís Jewelry Store. It was there that I found the most beautiful dress I had ever seen. It was a navy-blue, crepe, princess-line with an edging of white lace all around the neck which crisscrossed under the bust line to the waist on both sides. I remember nothing of the graduation ceremony, but I remember well finding that dress at the store, trying it on, and convincing my mother that it was the dress for me.
I got my first pair of high heels when I was a sophomore at Victory. They were dark brown sling-back pumps with small cut-out circles running across the in-step to the back of the sling strap. I remember how they looked and how smooth the surface felt in my hands. I can still sense the smell of that new leather that I always noticed when I took them out of the box where they had been carefully stored after the last wearing. I also remember the first time I wore them to a dance at Victory. How terrified I was as I descended the long, steep stairs from the balcony to the gymnasium floor. To this day I donít know how I remained upright that evening -- but at that time I guess I would have done anything to be fashionable.
Buying my clothes for college was as exciting to me as a new bride buying her trousseau. Because Seton Hill was a convent school for girls and we were required to wear hat, gloves, and hose any time we went "down the hill to town" (off campus,) I had to buy hats and gloves to coordinate with the rest of my wardrobe. These were accessories I had not worn full time before.
One of my favorite suits of this era was a forest green corduroy. It had a straight skirt and a short jacket which buttoned to the waist. On the back of the jacket hung a short ruffled peplum. I even had green shoes to match, this time, with sensible mid-heels. I have a vivid memory of wearing that suit while getting into a car in front of the Administration Building with a high school sweetheart, who had come to Seton Hill for a visit. That suit was probably one of the most utilitarian I ever purchased. I remember wearing it many times for several years.
During my years at Seton Hill, we were required to wear academic caps and gowns every time we went to the chapel. These gowns were made of sturdy black broadcloth with wide pleats in front. They hung from mid-calf to the ankle depending on your height. I recall that I often jumped out of bed late and ran to morning mass with my pajamas rolled up to the knees under that robe. As I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw a prim, proper, and holy ĎSeton Hill Girlí. But oh, what was under that robe!
I guess a girlís wedding dress should be the most memorable one she ever buys. Although I remember the dress well, I donít recall the actual purchase. 1950 was the year I took my sister, Marie, to Pittsburgh every Saturday for several weeks in succession to see her dermatologist. She had psoriasis and Dr. Hollander in the Jenkinís Arcade in downtown Pittsburgh gave her weekly ultra-violet ray treatments. Although the trip was tiring (it took almost 5 hours to drive to Pittsburgh in those days,) it was also great fun for me because every Saturday I shopped for items for my trousseau. Mildred Moine was to be the maid of honor at my wedding, so she accompanied us on quite a few trips, as did my sister-in-law, Freda Hardman. One of the highlights of those Saturdays in Pittsburgh was lunch in the Tea Room on the 11th floor of Kaufmannsís Department Store. We especially liked the pecan-covered ice cream balls with caramel, chocolate, or butterscotch sauce.
On one of those Saturdays, we found a salmon-colored silk and satin gown for Mildred and a princess-line lace wedding gown for me. And so we were finally ready for the December 27 wedding at St. James Church. The reception was held afterward at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel across 3rd. Street from the Harrison County Court House. The thing I remember most about that wedding dress is that I lost so much weight between the day I bought it and the wedding day, it was really too big on the grand occasion -- something Iíve never had a problem with since.
I recall one garment I wore almost non-stop for 4 years. It was a cotton, long-sleeved smock that I wore as a maternity top. It had a small yellow, black and white pattern on a red back-ground. Since I was pregnant for most of 1952, 1953-54, and 1954-55, I had ample opportunity to wear that smock. As I recall now, it had belonged to my sister, Marie, and she graciously shared it with me when my "belly" began to bulge. After 3 years of hard wear -- fried egg spatters and lots of formula -- she assured me she did not want me to return it. As a matter of fact, someone suggested we make a bon fire and put that smock in the center of the blaze since the whole family was tired of looking at it.
About 10 years later, I had the chance to repay my generous sister. In February, 1964, she died, after a lengthy battle with bone cancer. My mother and I were having a hard time finding an appropriate dress for her burial -- one with long sleeves that would cover the psoriatic scars on her arms. Then I thought of one of my own dresses -- one I had worn only once. It was a shirt-waist made of pale-blue percale with cotton lace inserts both in the yoke and the 3/4 length sleeves. It was perfect. Blue was Marieís best color since her eyes were a lovely shade of blue-green with the corresponding skin tone that wears pastels so well. She was beautiful in the release of her suffering battle of almost 2 years. She would have been so flattered to know that my school principal, Gene Lowther, asked at the funeral home which one of us was the elder. Since she was 7 years my senior, that was indeed a compliment and a tribute to how nice she looked in my beautiful blue dress. I was grateful for the one last gift I had to give her.
For the last 10 years of my live, (age 60-70,) Iíve worn 1 garment for more hours of most days than any other. It is a long-sleeved, full length, aquamarine, wrap-around Vanity Fair bathrobe, gift of my sister-in-law, Freda. It is made of the most durable fabric Iíve ever encountered. Even assuming it has been washed only once a month from October to May of each year, that means it has been through the washer and dryer at least 80 times over its life with me. It simply will not wear out. It doesnít even look frayed anywhere, although I have put the hem back in a few times. I am, of course, delighted at its reluctance to give up the ghost, since I have never found a garment Iíve enjoyed more. Most of all Iíve appreciated its ample coverage through thick and thin, mostly thick. Iíve surely gained and lost 100 pounds over the last 10 years. That bathrobe has seen me through 4 major surgeries for total hip replacement -- 1 on my right hip in 1986, 1 on my left hip in July, 1990, and then a recision on the left hip again in December, 1990. Then after a dislocation in 1997, another recision. Iím certain that the mail-man, the UPS man, and the paper-boy think I own no other garment. Although I have purchased at least 5 other robes in the last decade, it is still by all odds my favorite.
One of the most elegant dresses I ever bought hangs right now on that lead pipe in the "little room." I bought it to wear to Louis Maldonadoís wedding in Wilmington, Delaware. It is a cream-colored, sheer silk organdy with a pleated skirt and a square-neck bodice. The over-jacket is fitted and made of pale pink and cream brocade. Both the bodice and the jacket have overlays of cream cotton lace.
I was thrilled for the invitation to play the organ at Louis and Kateís wedding, which turned out to be 2 weddings -- a Roman Catholic ceremony in the church at 3:00 in the afternoon and a Jewish service at 6:00 that evening in the Du Pont Hotel. It was an elegant affair which demanded elegant garb, but Iím really not comfortable to be that dressed up. Mary Anne, Louisís mother, assured me, however, that it was the perfect dress for the wedding. She was in Clarksburg prior to the wedding and helped me select the dress at Stone & Thomas Department Store. Iíve worn it only 2 other times -- once for a dinner party at Sera and Frank Merandiís given for Betty Hendrickson and her "significant other," Gus Hackman, and last year at my annual piano recital. I received such a rash of compliments on both occasions, Iíve decided maybe I should get "that dressed up" more often.
Even though I may never wear it again, it conjures up such happy memories, Iím sure I shall always keep it. It is my best dress and it makes me think of my cousin, Mary Anne, and her family. Iíve always loved Mary Anne. While we were young and growing up together, I felt motherly toward her. But now that all 4 of our parents are gone and we are both grandmothers, I think of her as a sister.
Perhaps my "best dress" will be my shroud.
(Since it is Ďgood goods,í I know it will last another 35 years, at least.)
Lest you think I say this with morbid dread of my mortality, let me assure
you that my faith is strong. I firmly believe that "eye has not seen nor
ear heard the things that have been prepared for me," for I have loved
the Lord and tried my level best to do all the daily assignments of my
© 1998 Olga S. Hardman