Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Clothes Horse: A Brief History


I love clothes, for the way they costume, disguise, transmogrify, inspire, keep me warm...I love clothes, and the little bits of things, earrings, lace scarves, shoes, that come with...

I've had some memorable bits of sartorial flotsam and jetsam in my past...

My earliest truly adored outfit was a lavender wool suit my mother bought me especially to wear to her Doctoral graduation day.  It had a special blouse to go with, lace and silk and pearl buttons.  I remember mom in her doctoral robes and hood and funny puffy hat, I beaming at her side, a vision in lavender and pride.

In the the '80s, when I was in high school, I had a favorite outfit, my party uniform.  It was a perfect black cocktail dress that had been my Aunt Abby's in the early '60s.  I liked my dresses short, so modified it a bit with an ad hoc hem.  It zippered up the side and was of some sort of rayon.  I do shudder to think how I paired that dress with neon green fishnet stockings, purchased in a rash moment at Canal Jeans (a NYC icon of bygone days), and sometimes turquoise satin sharp-toed, spike-heeled pumps.  Dear God.  Yet, I still think fondly of it.

Also from that era, a brown suede coat, which I liked to think of as Blonde-on-Blonde Bob Dylan.  Especially meaningful because one night a boy I crushed on, Jonathan was his name, he had a wild mane of curly golden-brown and was quite unintelligent really, except maybe in the maths...anyway, one night at an outdoor after-party under the Brooklyn Bridge, he borrowed it and wore it.  I still have a clear picture of him, perched up on the guardrail over the East River, wind ruffling his curls; the jacket that was snug across my breasts hung loose on his skinny frame... when he gave it back, it was as if it had alchemized, that's how much, in the privacy of my room, I stared at it and sniffed it and caressed it in lieu of sniffing and caressing the boy himself...

My wardrobe from that era was a mixture of vintage dresses from stores in the Village (there were so many vintage dresses to be had then, a plague of vintage dresses),  wonderful clothes from my mom's college years (two suede jackets come to mind, one russet red, the other olive green, both brass-buttoned), things plundered from closets in our attic (a veritable silk-and-wool history of the women in my family) and then secreted away in the depths of my enormous Victorian mahogany wardrobe...

In college, some of these things persisted, but my freshman favorite outfit was much less fanciful: a pair of jeans, motorcycle boots, a snug t-shirt, and an enormous black cardigan, sterling silver hoop earrings, and a sizable silver skull ring a la Keith Richards.  When I moved into an apartment off-campus with two girlfriends (we called it "The Cathouse" if that gives any indication of the flavor of the place), we were all roughly the same size and shape and pooled our clothes.  I mean that literally--our clothes were kept in a sort of communal heap in the livingroom.  My favorite Cathouse dress belonged to my roommate, and it was so short and wispy that I can't believe now that I wore it in public.  This I paired with borrowed six-hole Doc Martens (at the time I imagined I was being insouciant--it was the '90s after all).  And is it really any wonder that I didn't get to my papers and readings till the last minute...I was too busy tugging at my short skirts, adjusting my stockings, staring into mirrors, and reapplying lipstick...

Over these last years, the vintage dresses have receded into the background, the hems frayed past the point of no return, the buttons hanging by threads, most retired and some given a hero's farewell...they still turn up now and again when we're clearing out a closet, and I feel a fond little feeling and smile a fond little smile as they slip through my fingers...

More recently, I think lovingly of my wedding outfit. I spent 108 dollars on the dress, a creamy gold lace shirtwaisty formitted-bodice thing that I purchased on a whim in a little boutique in Soho. My mother was chagrined that she wasn't in on the decision--but as we were married by a judge at the courthouse, the dress was never fated to be anything more elaborate, expensive, or thrilling to choose. I walked in, tried it on, and bought it. I think it was charming. The shoes were cream colored satin kitten-heeled mary-janes, with little satin-covered buttons at the sides. Perfect for a courthouse wedding, and the dress is now stored all crumpled up in a shoebox, that's just the sort of dress it is.

I also dearly loved one very peculiar accessory: a snood (yes, snood) that I bought when I lived in Jerusalem, inspired by the pretty Modern Orthodox ladies I saw everywhere. It was a perfect blue, and I thought I looked quite fetching in it. When I arrived back in the States, wearing it right off the plane, Sarge took one look at me and laughed. Laughed! "A snood," he shook his head at me. "A snood!" And laughed again as he gently pulled it right off my hair. That was the last word on that.

And now I must ask, if you're willing to share, what is your favorite piece of clothing, past or present? I really really do want to know.

29 comments:

The Idle Devil said...

My favourite is a cream raw silk blouse with the frailest chikan embroidery on it. I cant fit into it anymore and I've lost track of where it is right now... :-(

I wore this on a plum-colored pleated skirt to a New Years party where I had the best French champagne for the first time. That outfit alone made me feel like a million bucks.

Megan said...

You have a great flair for description.

I have a lovely black velvet coat that I wear to the ballet and the symphony and things. Almost more of a cape than a coat. It's fun and swirly.

MJ said...

MITM.

MJ said...

And no, that is NOT my fave piece of clothing.

It's just something that had to be said.

Skeeter said...

Hi Leah!

Hey, that is one heck of a question! If it is alright with you, I will write a post to answer your question. what a great suggestion!

Thanks & best wishes,

Skeeter

Jimmy Bastard said...

We are waxing lyrical again missy. I felt as though I was being whisked once again through time. One moment amidst a misty Charlotte Bronte novel, then next, a young and fresh 80's Madonna video.
The raw elements of delicate silk became quite fragrant and mixed delightfully with visions of Doc Marten boots, laced to perfection and adorning slender ankles.

Maybe another several paragraphs on just how short your dresses really was, would be beneficial to your other male readers?

My most sentimental item of clothing? That would have to be the roughly hewn piece of cloth carried till her death by the English lord before the sacking of York. No wait.. that was Mrs William Wallace. The other Braveheart.

Mine would have to be my fathers old cloth cap, which he wore when he worked on the construction of the ill fated ship, the Titanic. Not one photie of him from that era has him without that cap on his heid.

Leah said...

Idle Devil-- now that's what I'm talking about! Thanks for sharing--the clothes, and the memory!

Megan--that's fantastic--swirly black velvet and special occasions. I love it.

MJ--What's MITM?

Skeeter--I can't wait to read your post!!!

Jimmy the Rogue Glesga Man--they were very short, suffice it to say...you old maverick you!

savannah said...

and here i am at your place, sugar! ;) btw, the coldplay vid is up just for you! xox

MJ said...

Oh great.

Now you've lured Savannah into your cesspit.

Brandy Rose said...

Sweaters, in general are my favorite clothing items. Long, warm comfy sweaters. I have too many and adore them all.

MJ said...

Clothes horse?

Surely that is a misprint and should read "Clothes Whore".

MJ said...

Those neon green fishnet stockings might have looked good on Old Knudsen.

Suzanne said...

I just wrote a comment and was about to publish, but accidently deleted it. I'll be back when I have more time. Good Lord!!! Great post!

Cinnamon said...

I can't get over how prolific you are- I drop in after 3 days and there are 2 posts to read! And you are still using those big words like 'transmogrify'!

I really enjoyed reading this post:)

I do not have a favourite item of clothing- but I do have a favourite blanket which was a wedding present from a friend- it is Irish Donegal tweed and it is the lightest, softest, warmest blanket you could ever have. it lives permanently on the back of the sofa and we (and this includes my sons' friends too) fight over it every night when we sit down to watch TV. No other blanket will do-it is the quality of the material- which, I guess, is also what makes certain clothes so special.

hnter1018 said...

favorite piece of clothing was an old ragged hat that I had for years. The visor was destroyed and everyone hated it. One day there were three of us sitting around drinking when I was the victim of a pre-planned attack. As one drunken friend pounced on me the other grabbed my hat and took a lighter to it then tossed my burning hat out a third floor wwindow. It;s been 21 years and I still miss my hat.

Leah said...

MJ--the lavender suit as well! With some...modifications...

Leah said...

Hi Savannah dear! Glad to hear you enjoyed the Rickman post...(well, the one-of-many Rickman posts...)

Leah said...

Brandy Rose--I love sweaters too, especially cardigans. I also have a great, great many of them...

Leah said...

MJ--wait, cesspit? Really? Should I be flattered?

Leah said...

Cinnamon--that blanket sounds like heaven, and yes, I include blankets in favorite items of clothing.

Leah said...

Rob--that story broke my heart!!!!

mago said...

I'll never ever understand how women can remember the clothes they wore years ago.

Skeeter said...

Hi Leah,

Just posted it. Thanks for the idea.

Best wishes,

Skeeter

Mr. Shife said...

You really, really want to know? Well sad to say my comment about my favorite piece of clothing will pale in comparison to your beautifully detailed post but I would have to say it is a Pat Tillman jersey. I have never worn it but he was my favorite football player who died in Iraq and having it reminds me of all the great things in life even if they are only here for a short time.

Effortlessly Average said...

"My earliest truly adored outfit was a lavender wool suit..."

You wanted to be a pimp? That seems odd...

Queen Goob said...

Wow, my favorite outfit isn't to be worn in public.....NOOOO, it's a pair of Nick and Nora pajamas with flamingos and trailers all over them.

I'm a jeans and t-shirt kinda gal but I do love my shoes. Last count was only 153 pairs.

Leah said...

Mago--it's just a girl thing, in our blood!

Mr. Shife--what are you talkin'? I love that story. It's awesome.

Effortlessly Average--what can I say, I'm a renaissance woman!

QG--adorable pjs? what could ever be better. Maybe you can find a way to work them into your everyday wardrobe...do you really have 153 pairs of shoes? seriously? If so, kudos, my lady!

Walker said...

Clothes set your mood and personality when you wear them i think.

muralimanohar said...

Gah...read this days ago, have it open in my browser while I think, and have come to the conclusion I am a freak. I love clothes, but I can't really remember anything that stands out as beloved, except the most amazing French designer vintage cutaway coat I found in a Salvation Army in Hawaii of all places...and I never got to wear it, cause it was about 4 sizes too small, and all the diets in the world wouldn't have gotten me down to that size. But it was a heavenly coat.

The only other thing that sticks out? My beloved, oversized, ripped, bright tomato red t-shirt that had "Join the Army. Travel to exotic, distant places, meet exciting, unusual people, and Kill them." God I loved that shirt. God did my mom hate it. :p