Jackie Kennedy’s short time in the White House had a large influence on American fashion. The tasteful simplicity of her clothes sent women scurrying to find shifts, simple skimmers, pillbox hats, and Chanel-look suits. Even after her departure from Washington women longed to copy the Jackie style, and I was no different.
I was an impressionable teenager, and as my senior prom approached all I could envision was the beautiful full length gown Mrs. Kennedy had worn on her visit to Paris. It was completely simple, sleeveless with a fitted waist adorned with a bow, and a slightly belled skirt. Try as I might I could not find such a gown in the local stores, so I turned to a skilled seamstress to recreate my dream. In addition to the prom, I also had a semi-formal dance to attend the week after, so I used the same style for both. For the prom, I copied the full-length dress without the bow in a blue satin, and for the semi-formal dress I used the same silhouette but as a knee length in pink brocade with the bow added back in. On the evening of my prom I felt regal in my understated blue satin with matching pumps.
Prom dresses don’t often get a second chance to shine, but several months later I was a contestant in a Miss So-and-So pageant and found the classic simplicity of the gown to be perfect. I didn’t win, but I’m sure it wasn’t the dress’ fault!
Many little girls used to have miniature tea sets. Not the plastic or toy kind, but little sets made from porcelain or china. I had a beautiful set with scalloped cups made of white porcelain with pink rosebuds and gold trim. It was sized for real albeit small people, so that a visiting adult could actually hold one of the delicate little cups. Normally the sets included only four cups, but due to some movers losing my sugar bowl, my parents had bought me a whole new almost-matching set to fill in the missing piece, therefore leaving me with eight little cups.
For a young girl, there were several choices for tea party guests. The first of course was an adult or two, but adults had a funny way of wanting to leave before the whole event was over, so they weren’t usually the first choice. Friends made good guests, but one couldn’t always count on a friend being in a tea-party mood at the same time as you. Trying to have a little ladies’ get-together when your best friend was in the mood for kickball could be problematic and even dangerous to the well-being of the delicate porcelain pieces.
The best way to guarantee amenable guests was to invite your favorite dolls to the private little party. Granted they didn’t usually finish their plate of treats or ask for seconds on tea, but they were always on their best behavior and never spilled anything.
There was one more option, and that was to cajole your father to come to tea. This was not an everyday affair, and most fathers somewhat dreaded the invitation but yet were surprisingly pleased at the same time. What father could resist an invitation from his little girl to enter the world of young ladies, to sit on a hopelessly small and uncomfortable chair and sip tea from a cup that was definitely not designed for his male fingers? Even a five year old can bring out the best in a man!
Unfortunately today’s world has moved into all-fast-all-the-time mode, and taking time to sip a small bit of tea from a rosebud cup is becoming a thing of the past, but those of us who were lucky enough to grow up in a slower era have treasured memories of the procession of guests with whom we shared our little ladies’ get-togethers.
My family was living in Virginia the year the state celebrated the 350th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, and many schools, including my own, were invited to travel to Jamestown to participate in some of the festivities. My fifth grade class was going to perform an historical dance, so we were given instructions to carry home to our parents on how to put together a reasonably realistic costume of the era. For the girls, that meant a long dress and bonnet. My mother set to work making me a dress in a cotton with a tiny rosebud pattern. It had a scooped neckline, big full above-the-elbow sleeves, and a full-length gathered skirt that would move nicely as I twirled.
Finding a good pattern for a matching bonnet was much more difficult, so she spent many hours figuring out how to create an era-perfect hat. In the end she succeeded well, and on the day of our performance I had a beautiful matching print bonnet on my head, full crown, big brim, and a huge bow tied under my chin. Most of my classmates sported much simpler head gear made of a large doily with a chin ribbon laced through. My mother was dumbstruck and latter asked me why the other girls had worn such simple hats. With the non-chalance so typical of children I said, “Oh, the teacher said if we didn’t know how to make a bonnet, we could just make a hat with a doily.”
I don’t think I intentionally withheld this information from her, and she was her usual good sport about having spent hours figuring out the intricacies of 17th-century headwear while other mothers were evidently buying paper doilies, but however it happened, it was a red-letter day for me as my gorgeous bonnet was the envy of all.
Visit to London
Junior-high girls want desperately to appear “cool” and worldly, a goal that can be challenging for a 12- or 13 year old. I was 13 when my mother and I went to London for a week, a cultural girls’ outing, if you will. While I managed to make it through much of the time with my pride intact, I still managed to find myself blushing hotly on several occasions. Our visit to Madame Tussaud’s famous wax museum was the first hurdle. I was fascinated by all the life-like “people” to be found waiting in lines or even in the restrooms. I had already been fooled by several of these characters, so when I spotted a very properly dressed English gentleman sitting quietly on a bench reading a paper, I suspected it was one more of the lifelike creations. I watched him for several minutes and never saw him move, so, pleased with my detective abilities, I went over, sat down immediately next to him, and rubbed the back of his hand. With movie-worthy English reserve he turned slowly to look at me and inquired, “May I help you, miss?” Believe me, there is no help for a 13-year-old girl caught in such an embarrassing position, so I hastily fled the scene, my face bright red.
A few days later my mother took me to Simpson’s in the Strand, a well-known traditionally proper restaurant with an impeccable reputation. I was carrying my first shoulder bag to complete my “ensemble”, so when we sat down, I set it on the floor next to my chair and promptly forgot about it. Not having a lot of practice with how best to stow a purse in a restaurant, I didn’t pay sufficient attention to keeping the long strap tucked away. Midway through our meal I was vaguely aware that a waiter had stumbled on something nearby but had caught himself in time. Almost immediately, though, the overly-starched maitre d approached our table holding my shoulder bag gingerly in front of him. With barely disguised disdain, he extended it towards me, saying icely, “Your purse, madame.” Blushing furiously and sure that everyone in the room was watching, I snatched it out of his hands. If there was a saving grace from a 13-year-old’s point of view, at least my humiliation had happened in a distant restaurant and not the school cafeteria!
Very early in life little girls become interested in their hair, and most have strong preferences about it — long or short, curly or straight, down or up. My whole life I’ve had to deal with very fine hair, meaning that it’s very hard to work with. When I was very young, I often wore it in “shaving brushes” (two ponytails) or braids, but as I got older I moved towards a single ponytail when it wasn’t down. Since my hair had a tendency to slip through rubberbands, it was sometimes hard to get my ponytail to stay in place as high as I wanted it, but when I was in junior high I stumbled on the perfect solution for getting my ponytail exactly where I wanted it. I would lie on my back across my bed with my head hanging off one side and then gather my hair into a perfect ponytail. For whatever reason, it seemed to hold better when formed that way. By the time I was in high school, though, ponytails weren’t really in style, so I did what every teenage girl in the country did and used brush rollers to style my hair.
Teen girls are willing to undergo any amount of discomfort to reach a beauty goal, and in that era brush rollers were the torture du jour. Every night I would cover my entire head with wire curlers filled with prickly brushes and held in place with long plastic picks and then slide into bed to somehow sleep. Thank goodness by the time I was a bit older blow dryers and curling irons became the tools of choice and I could once again lie on a pillow in comfort.
French Fashion for Beginners
When I was eleven my family moved to Ankara,Turkey, for my father’s job. Modern housing was in short supply back then, but luckily we found a half-villa on top of the city’s tallest hill. Our neighbors who lived in the other half of the villa and shared the large yard with us were a French family attached to the French Embassy there. He was fairly high in the pecking order, and they were old school traditional diplomats, meaning they had a very active social life. I soon learned that there were side benefits to having them as neighbors, for I spent the year we lived there watching an incredible procession of Parisian styles coming and going through my front yard.
Madame was always impeccably dressed as were the ladies who visited her on a regular basis. Better still, at least once a month the chic day dresses turned into a parade of evening gowns as our neighbors hosted yet another soirée. For a sixth grader, having a ringside seat at such a fashion parade was heady fare. It also turned educational one day when my father, who happened to be home during one of our neighbors’ events, pointed out to me that the beautiful dresses we were watching were understated by American standards. The beauty was in the silhouette and the fabric, not in a lot of ornamentation or flashy designs. It was my first lesson in Less is More, a concept I still practice to this day.
Circle of Scents
Little girls start early watching Mommy dab on lovely scents and wanting to do the same. My first bottle of perfume was Channel No. 5, a rather inappropriate choice for a five year old, but my father was traveling in France at the time and couldn’t resist. Alas, that beautiful bottle survived only one day as I managed to spill it, thus leaving the house for weeks with a rather overpowering scent. After that lofty but short-lived beginning, I fell in love with Evening in Paris, a much lower-end perfume popular at the time. The bottle was an alluring dark blue which I thought was very glamorous. Then in junior high I traveled to Germany and immediately switched my allegience to the well-known German scent 4711. I was loyal to this choice through much of high school although I also occasionally used Emeraude when I felt particularly grown up. My first year of college a young boy I was tutoring gave me a set of Kiku products, but I never quite fell in love with the scent. When Charlie was introduced, though, I was a goner and became a true “Charlie girl”. Although I later flirted a bit with L’Air du Temps, I found the classic appeal of Channel No. 5 calling to me, and somewhere in my eary thirties I settled on that scent as my “one and only”. Are some things simply ordained? Can a five year old be a Channel women in waiting, or was it mearly a coincidence? I’ve always found it curious that in the end I returned to the very scent with which I began. If one is going to be loyal, though, doing it with Channel No. 5 is definitely doing it right!
Being a girl means going to slumber parties. Today they’re called sleepovers, but when I was growing up they were always called slumber parties. Usually it was just a handful of girls, but it could include any number, ranging from two or three to twenty or more. No matter the number, though, one thing never changed, and that was the joy of being a girl. We celebrated our young womanhood. For younger girls, it meant whispering secrets, playing with clothes or makeup better suited to our older sisters, and giggling. Always giggling. As we got older, the same activities became more sophisticated, with the secrets being about boyfriends or our changing bodies and the grooming and makeup trials being for real. Every slumber party included giving each other new hair styles, and no detail of our lives was too small to share. The bonding was intense and went on all night until the girls one by one dropped off to sleep, exhaused but with smiles on their faces. In today’s terms we were most definitely BFFs!
White Gloves and Manners
It used to be common for little girls and boys of late-elementary- and junior-high age to go to cotillion class. Since this weekly event was designed to teach social dancing and etiquette, the girls normally were much more positive about attending cotillion than were the boys. There was a strict dress code that required dresses and little white gloves for the girls and coats and ties for the boys. Little girls were instructed how to wait demurely to be asked to dance, and how it was never all right to turn down a boy and then accept another’s invitation. Essentially we were taught how to wait for the boy to take the lead – coming to invite us to dance and then taking our hands as he led us to the dance floor, guided us through the music, and then carefully returned us to our original place after the dance number had ended. We were taught to always look like a young lady while waiting to be asked, sitting with our legs gracefully together and our hands calmly folded or in some other equally ladylike position.
Cotillion still exists in some circles, but it isn’t nearly as common as it once was. Times move on, and the idea of girls waiting demurely on the sidelines isn’t widely embraced any more, but those of us who are a bit “old school” can still remember with fondness our cotillion days. There is something alluringly feminine about wearing a pretty little dress and wrist-length white gloves while waiting for a nervous little boy to come and court our attention.
My junior high years were the very tail end of the crinoline era, and even then the style was definitely fading in popularity. Nevertheless, being a newbie to the teenage fashion scene, I slavishly followed the crinoline rules for a year or two. This was before the permanently stiff products of today, so we were responsible ourselves for keeping them properly puffy. I had several pastel-colored ones which I would periodically wash and starch, following a ritual all girls of the era understood. After hand washing our “babies”, we would soak them in an overdose of starch and then hang them upside down to dry, using enough parallel clothes lines that the hems could be pinned in a circle. When dry, successfully starched crinolines would stand up on their own and even made a crackling sound the first few times we sat down. The downside of such intense starching was that they could be itchy and even leave marks on our tender skin, but as young girls we barely noticed such minor inconveniences, protected as we were by the magic glow of knowing our crinolines were perfect. With wearing, though, the crinolines would slowly lose their crispness until they were sad and limp, meaning that it was time for the Saturday starch routine to start all over again.
When I was growing up little girls still mostly wore dresses, so choosing an Easter outfit meant coming home with a beautiful new “dressy” dress. All through elementary school I faithfully chose pink, and the outing when I was ten was no different. After much searching and trying on, I chose a pale pink organdy dress with a rose velvet sash. The dress had a large squared collar in front with embroidered rosebuds on it. I even found a hairband of pink rosebuds to go with the dress. My new gloves had a bit of sheer ruffle around the wrist, and I had a clear plastic box purse in which I carried a white and pink handkerchief. Like all little girls back then, my special event shoes were shiny patent leather Mary Janes, and my white socks had a touch of lace around the ankle. On Easter morning there was a huge Easter basket stuffed with all the goodies of children’s dreams, but I was super cautious not to let any chocolate near my wonderful pink organdy.
Practice Makes Perfect
When I was about 15 I started collecting hats. Even as a little girl I’d always liked hats, but now as a teenager it became a serious thing. One day I saw some wonderful raw silk berets for sale, so I bought both a yellow one and a turquoise one. Since I had nothing that went with the yellow one, I set out to put together something appropriate. Now “appropriate” can be interpreted in many ways when you’re 15, and what I finally chose was heavily styled on a flapper look – brown above-the-knee shift dress with matching brown pumps, accessorized with a long string of yellow beads and matching yellow mid-arm gloves. With a brown envelope bag and the yellow beret perched jauntily on my head, I thought I was a true fashion plate. The silhouette was good, but looking back I have to smile at the in-your-face intensity of the relentless brown and yellow, especially with the gloves. Girls go through a lot of experimenting before they find a comfortable style for themselves, so maybe the kindest thing I can say is that it was a fun learning experience. I felt great when I wore the outfit, so maybe in the end that was all that counted.
Wedding Dress Blues
I was chosen to play the Queen of Hearts in my 5th grade play, so I needed a queenly dress to wear. My mother suggested that temporarily taking in her wedding dress could provide me an appropriately royal gown. Now most 10-year-old girls think on a grand scale, and I was no exception, so I immediately envisioned a hushed audience watching me as I swept across the school stage in a dress right out of Gone with the Wind. I was devastated as only a young girl can be to discover that my mother had worn a very classic and simple gown whose skirt fell gracefully to the floor from an empire waist. The luxurious fabric and semi-puffed lace sleeves were no comfort in the face of my crushed hoop-of-the-century vision. In the end I finally consented to wear the dress, but only when promised a to-die-for crown and royal sash. Only much later in life did I recognize the beauty of that simple gown. For a ten year old girl, less is rarely more.
When I was growing up nails were not the involved process they are today. Manicure referred to basic care and a single color, not the Sistine Chapel painted on alternating nails. Little girls start early wanting some polish on their small nails, but back then it was usually allowed only for special occasions, and then only in the palest colors, either a clear or pinkish clear. Bright red nails on a 6 year old was considered not quite respectable, although occasionally a bit more color was allowed on the toes, but again only for special occasions. The importance of the event could be judged by whether it involved having your nails painted. The best part was if no one remembered to remove the polish again afterwards. One of the rites of growing up was learning to paint one’s own nails, a process that involved plenty of smudges and painted cuticles. Somewhere along the line, though, most girls mastered the art of doing their own and their friends’ nails, a skill which is probably being lost again as today’s nail trends require a B.A. in contemporary art.
The Perfect Cake
For my fifth birthday I asked for a cake made like a beautiful princess, so on the appointed day a magnificent pink confection appeared at our door. There it was, a blond doll with a long bell skirt made of cake and iced with row upon row of small curlicues, flowers, and ribbons. It was absolutely perfect in my five-year-old eyes, and I didn’t want anyone to touch it. One doesn’t eat beauty, one looks at it! Only after much coaxing from my mother did I allow that gorgeous skirt to be cut, but only on the back side where it wasn’t too obvious. My poor guests had very tiny pieces of cake that day, but I was a happy little girl with my pink princess doll cake.
I was thirteen when I received my first “serious” flowers. I had of course received the usual handfuls of dandelions from elementary school beaux, but this was different. My family was living in Europe at the time, so giving flowers was a normal part of everyday life, and these were real flowers from a real flower shop. When our doorbell rang and I answered it, I found myself face to face with a 15-year-old neighborhood boy, his arms full of fresh gladiolas. I stood and stared, too dazzled to remember to invite him in. First flowers are a red letter day in a girl’s life, a sign both of her feminity and that the opposite sex is noticing. It’s our introduction to the age-old ritual of receiving flowers from an admirer. The name of the giver may fade into history, remembered only on some dusty diary page, but the flowers themselves remain forever etched in our brains.
When I was five my older sister and I had lovely matching dresses that we had worn to the wedding of an aunt. They were a delicate pale blue, organdy with several rows of ruffles. It was absolutely beautiful in my little girl eyes, and I begged to wear it to every conceivable occasion. As it got smaller and smaller on me, I was desolate, but then one day I received a glorious gift – my sister’s dress. She too had outgrown hers, so her loss was my gain. If there’s anything better than one beautiful dress, it’s two! I was eight before I had to say a sad farewell to the second dress.
I got my first vanity table when I was 12. Life is more hectic now, and it seems that much of the romance of being a girl has been lost, but back then a vanity was a treasured symbol of femininity. Maybe we were influenced by Hollywood movies, but sitting in front of our vanities we imagined the promise of unlimited glamor as we peered into the mirror across the cluttered vanity top. Being young, though, we had to put our own stamp of individuality on our mirrors, so we usually wrote on them – in lipstick, of course—and taped important pictures and other mementos around the edges. How we ever saw into them is a miracle, but see we did, and for hours on end. We tried different hair styles and then studied the effects of the latest lipstick on our young faces. Being social creatures, we willingly hugged the end of our vanity bench so that a friend could share the seat with us. My first vanity table had a glass top, but unfortunately it ended up cracked after I hit it hard with my hairbrush one day when my hair refused to obey my 12-year-old wishes.
As an adult I’ve moved frequently, but wherever I lived, my bedroom or dressing area was never complete until it included a vanity. A bathroom can be beautifully designed, but no bathroom mirror can compare to sitting at a vanity where I can spend time with my own thoughts and feel connected to my feminine self.
(Tasi’s Note: a vanity is special for many ladies, especially mine If you want that special feeling too and have the opportunity for one in your home, here is some helpful information).
When I was eight I had a best friend whose mother had been a professional model before getting married. She was tall and beautiful, as would be expected, and she still had lots of exotic clothing and accessories from her runway days stored in a huge trunk at the end of an oversized upstairs sunroom. My friend and I had carte blanche to rummage and wear (for play) whatever caught our fancy. For some reason, maybe because the room was long like a royal audience chamber in the movies, we always seemed to veer towards scenes with royalty, and we were particularly fond of Cleopatra, where we could wrap ourselves in yards of chiffon and huge baubles. We didn’t realize at the time how lucky we were to have this bottomless trunk as the jumping off point for our hours of little girl pleasures
I had my first encounter with an eyelash curler when I was just eleven. This is a bit young, and until that time I’d had no idea such things even existed. My best girlfriend had an older sister who was beautiful in a very classic way, so much so that she went on to win some regional beauty contests. One day I was at my friend’s house and her sister, who was getting ready to go out, was curling her eyelashes. We were both fascinated by this strange little contraption, so she tried it out on each of us. Using an eyelash curler on someone else is very difficult unless you’re a trained makeup artist, which Gigi wasn’t. (Her real name, I swear. It was short for Giselle) She kept catching tiny pieces of tender skin in the curler, causing intense pain, so I came away from the experience firmly convinced that eyelash curlers weren’t for me. Not surprisingly, by the middle of high school my view had changed radically, and I considered the curler as essential as water. I wouldn’t have dreamed of being seen in public without my eyes fully “done”.
When I was seven or eight I had a wonderful dress made of fine lavender cotton. The skirt was two deep rows of ruffles, the sleeves were nice and puffy, and the sash was wide enough to make a wonderful bow in back. I looked forward to events where I could wear my beautiful dress with its nicely starched ruffles and a matching lavender ribbon in my hair. With Mary Janes and a small heart bracelet on my wrist, I felt every bit as sophisticated as any starlet on a red carpet!
When I was about 15 I had been invited by my boyfriend to go to something called the Rose Ball. While the name implied great glamour, in reality it was only a semi-formal affair for which I had bought a street-length dress of white eyelet with some pale lavender trim. It had a fitted waist, full skirt, and spaghetti straps, and I decided that a beautiful tan was required to properly show off both the white color and the tiny straps. Unfortunately for the plan, I’m rather fair skinned and tend to burn before I tan, but this didn’t in the slightest dampen my 15-year-old enthusiasm. The day before the event I stretched out in the sun wearing my favorite swim suit complete with its fairly wide straps. Not surprisingly, I turned pinkish beige, but at least it would provide contrast. What didn’t work so well was that there was an obvious outline of my swimsuit that included strap marks many times wider than the delicate spaghetti straps of my dress. Still not deterred, I found some makeup base that fairly well blended with my skin color and used it the night of the dance to fill in the paler strap marks. I was the picture of perfection when I left the house in my beautiful eyelet dress and with a narrow lavender ribbon woven through my hair for accent. Unfortunately the perfect picture came with an expiration date, for, after dancing in an overheated ballroom for a few hours, the camouflage makeup had mostly jumped ship and become horrible smears all over my boyfriend’s suit coat!
And “Daddy” Makes Three
Part of being a little girl is having dolls to care for, and I had the full assortment, including ones that could walk or talk or have their hair dyed. My very favorite when I was about four was a big baby doll in a red checked dress. I carried it around, patted it, and crooned “Aw-w” like any good little Mommy would when she thought a bit of extra TLC was needed. (Of course I also used it as a pillow for the occasional quick nap on the floor.) One day I convinced a little neighborhood boy to play Daddy and hold the doll’s other hand so we could have our “family” picture taken for posterity. Luckily for him, that was long before Facebook removed any possibility of privacy!
Elementary school girls go through a stage of giggling. Anything and everything is funny in a secret sort of way, and once the giggles start they don’t easily end. Having an adult ask you to stop or simply inquire what’s so funny is guaranteed only to produce more giggles. Little girls from my era were all familiar with the term “giggle box”, which some weary parent or teacher would invariably remark had been “turned upside down”. And the giggles would continue. School, church, family outings, scout meetings . . . no place is safe from the giggling of little girls. It’s simply a rite of passage, and sometimes maybe even an early form of best-friend talk.
A Five Year Old lady
Around the time I started school my mother began taking me to downtown Chicago so we could visit the tea room in Marshall Field’s. I’d put on my very best finery, bring a little purse to emphasize the importance of the occasion, and we’d set off on our ladies’ outing. Sitting in the elegant walnut-paneled room with its crystal flowers and starched white cloths, I tried to not swing my legs as I perched on the oversize chair. We savored the sumptuous atmosphere as we nibbled on our dainty sandwiches and sipped from delicate cups. What a wonderful introduction to the fun of being a lady, even if only a five-year-old one!
Valentine’s Day Ring
When I was five I received a little ring with a heart-shaped red stone in it for Valentine’s Day. It was my first “serious” piece of jewelry, and I moved my small hand every which way as I admired the sparkly stone on my finger. Is it possible that these hand movements are hard-wired into females, because it seems that those were the same gestures I used some years later to study (and show off) my newly-acquired diamond. Some things never change.
What little girl hasn’t taken ballet lessons, at least for a while? The vision of tutus and pink toe shoes is just too enticing, so we cajole our mothers to sign us up. Of course what we discover is that, like most things in life, the glamor comes only after a lot of unglamorous hard work — endless sessions on the five positions wearing tights and black practice slippers, and the knowledge that “going up” on our toes is years away. I took ballet for one year when I was eight, and what I mainly remember is that my ballet slippers, like most of my fellow students’, were held on with matching elastic straps across the instep, while one of the little girls had slippers with satin ribbons to tie behind her ankles. Such small differences are huge in the eyes of a child, and we were all quite jealous.
As did so many young girls of my generation, on several occasions I did amateur modeling for an event or group. When I was fourteen I was asked to be one of several girls who would add a bit of atmosphere to a ladies’ Polynesian-themed luncheon. There were six of us that day, each wearing a brightly-colored knee-length dress with a huge flower tucked behind one ear and bright bangles on our arm. I felt like a tropical princess as I walked barefoot amongst the tables, smiling at the ladies in my best South Pacific manner
Before I even started school I had decided that dotted Swiss, with its texture and delicate lightness, was my very favorite fabric. I’m sure I loved it because one of my best dresses was a navy and white dotted Swiss with a few crocheted red cherries on the bodice. It had a wide sash that made a wonderful bow in the back which my poor mother had to tie “just so”. A red ribbon in my hair and patent leather Mary Janes and I was my own fashion parade. Little girls understand early that when they’re dressed to kill they can take the world by storm, and that was definitely storm wear!
Glamorous Role Model
When I was barely twelve my family moved to a new neighborhood where I quickly noticed that the lady next door was glamorous in a way that appeals to young girls. Once she realized that I was an admirer, she took me under her wings and spent hours showing me how to do my nails or look at my face for “needed improvements.” She was my introduction to the glorious color palette of Revlon lipsticks and polishes. Her long, beautifully shaped- and always newly polished nails were the very essence of sophistication in my twelve-year-old mind. I started using my allowance to build my own small collection of polish colors, and I thought I was oh-so-glamorous when I painted my nails a bright red. Looking back, I suspect that a few of those shades would have been better on a neon-lit boulevard than in a seventh-grade classroom.
Little Girls’ Purses.
They’re so tiny and so “extra”, but every little girl feels quite grown-up when she carries one. Of course she has nothing to put inside, so she will beg her mother to give her a few things to carry – a lacy handkerchief, maybe a tiny mirror, or just a few coins. I used to have a tube of candy-flavored “lipstick” that I could put in mine. I remember being with my mother on a subway one day when I was carrying my little purse, and with a straight face she warned me that I should be careful that someone didn’t lean in the window during a stop and grab it. I took the warning very seriously and guarded my precious purse as ferociously as any grown woman ever did.
When I was ten there was a little boy in my class who had a mad crush on me. One day Albert showed me the scrapbook he had compiled about me, complete with the smoothed out pieces of paper retrieved from the trash. I promptly turned his infatuation into a game, leaving a deliberate trail of treasures around the classroom for him to “find”, but my cooperation came to an abrupt end the day he decided to collect several hairs from my head – hairs that were still quite firmly attached to my barrette when he tried to snatch them!
I grew up in an era when most dresses for little girls had puffed sleeves and sashes. One of my earliest recollections is of a Christmas dress – red velvet with a white lace collar and sleeves that were just a bit puffier than the everyday ones. If a four-year-old can feel glamorous, I definitely did in that dress which I wore with white socks trimmed with lace and black suede Mary Janes. I even had a little purse to carry, although it probably contained nothing more serious than a few Christmas sweets. I was ready to convince Santa that I was pure sugar and spice.