During a recent warm spell, I checked out our living room window to see what folks were wearing, a reasonably reliable weather gage. Nearly all were without jackets and hats and some were in shorts and sandals. One adult stood right out and skewed my calculations. He wore a summer T-shirt, shorts, flip-flops and a woolen winter cap pulled down over his ears and forehead. I allowed myself a few private moments of sanctimoniousness, wondering why on earth anyone would want to look so foolish in public.
In the middle of my feelings of superiority, a parade of images from my past floated across my sight line. Back combed, lacquered hairdos and greasy ducktails, platform shoes, disco roller skates (the strap-on kind with ball bearings in the wheels), bell bottom pants, ponchos and, heaven help us, that poor creature known as Twiggy who was all head and stick limbs but who looked “great” in mod clothes.
Then it became personal as I slid back into the fifties. My mother was always elegantly clothed, done-up and coiffed. She put on her make-up to take out the garbage. Seriously. My friends from Jubilee Avenue were in awe of her, telling me a few too many times that she looked like a movie star. I believe she despaired of me ever becoming a lady and she pretty much nailed it. In my pre-adolescent naivety, I longed for a felt skirt, saddle shoes with fluorescent shoe laces and bobby socks.
I must explain the felt skirt, also known as a poodle skirt, named for the giant appliquéd poodle images around the hemline. These skirts were cut out in a circle so that they flared impressively when the wearer danced, particularly during an energetic jive session. No matter that I despised dancing. I have always had two left feet that behave like they belong to someone else and that I am only borrowing them.
My poor mother tried to talk me out of my longing but finally gave in. I wore my felt skirt several times but began to notice a weird phenomenon. The bias parts began to stretch and the poodles staggered drunkenly around the uneven waves of the hemline. My bemused mother would trim the stretched bits for me but soon the poodles were in mortal danger of leg amputation as some sunk slowly into the waves of bias. I can’t say what happened to the skirt but I do know I wore the shoes until winter came and that is when the next wardrobe folly emerged.
In the fifties in Winnipeg, there were bizarre regulations involving clothing for school children. We were to wear uniforms three days a week. The other two days were our own choice. Having moved the year before from the Wild West of Calgary where anything went, I found the idea very cool before it was cool to be “cool”! The girls’ uniforms consisted of a long sleeved white cotton shirt worn with cufflinks, a black tunic and sash and black tights. We were also not allowed to wear pants of any kind. This meant that when the temperature was -30f. we had to pull on ski pants over our uniforms for the walk to school. They would then be removed once we were inside. You can see the hassle of all this. The fashion statement of felt-lined leather moccasins, ski pants and jacket over a smart black and white uniform didn’t wash with many of us so we usually chose to nearly freeze to death without the ski pants etc., on our daily walk.
Oh, and I forgot to add that hats were definitely not cool in those days. By now you may imagine I’m blushing over my hasty condemnation of the fellow in the summer clothes and winter hat pulled down over his ears and you’d be right. It is a harmless quirk compared to the chances we took with serious frostbite and hypothermia. It’s a wee bit comforting to know that folks are folks no matter what the times.
Now if I can just remember whatever happened to my James Dean jacket…