Thursday, December 4, 2014

Throwback Thursday .... Grandmas and Granny Dresses

























My English grandma and I, the summer my dad flew her out to visit us, 1966, something like nine years since we'd seen her, four or five, I think, since she'd been widowed. My Dad loved her dearly and always laughed that, as the baby (of ten!) he'd been "the apple of my mother's eye." But there hadn't been money for that kind of travel while he and my mother were growing their very large family. In the photo above, I'm the eldest of ten (two foster sisters) and there'd be two more born after this.

I'm resorting to a photo today because I'm having a very tough time finding time, energy, or will to manage much blogging (and I've been tempted by the Throwback Thursday meme for some time). So it wouldn't make sense for me to write the essay that begins to shape itself as I sit at this keyboard, looking at this photo on the screen. No time. No time! (Marking essays that have to be returned to students, no room for delay, and my weekend is jam-packed with family activities.)

But.

Isn't she cute, my little grandma from Yorkshire? I absolutely loved her, although (or perhaps because) I had only three visits with her that I can remember, two others beyond those curtains that block early memories away. On this visit, I remember, I admired a nightie she wore and so she left it for me. I kept it in a drawer for years and years, wearing it only when I wanted a special comfort, worrying that I'd worn her smell right out of it. . .

But honestly, it wasn't a desire to dress like her that inspired me here. In 1966, the craze for the flowered calico of simpler days was a side-effect of the whole "Back to the Garden" movement. I was obviously far from aspiring to Hippiedom, at 13, but believe it or not, that "granny dress" was a much-coveted fashion item at the time. (after my visit to England the following year, when I got a full blast of the Carnaby Street effect via a cooler older cousin, my hems rose by perhaps half a foot!)

Don't you love the knee socks with the dress and those dark shoes? And the bag absolutely slays me! Where did I get that? Why was I carrying it? Did I buy it with baby-sitting money? And if so, did I buy it new or at one of the rummage sales my mom was so expert at shopping? Was I at all aware of how close my pose, with this shape of bag, is to my 80-something Grandma's? And if so, could I possibly have been pleased?

An essay lurks; it's trying to insinuate itself onto this very screen, so many possibilities for talking about what this photo reveals and for what it doesn't. At the very least, I'd want to write about how fondly I still remember her almost 50 years after the photo was taken, more than 40 years after she died. What a big influence she had on me despite us only spending such a small time together. And what a responsibility I feel to convey some sense of her to the great-great-grandchildren she might once have imagined.

However, those student essays aren't going to mark themselves, so my essay will just have to wait. . . . Someday, I'd love to tell you more. For now, do you remember granny dresses? Or was I just fooling myself, naive little 13-year-old that I was, thinking I'd wheedled my parents into buying me a bit of Style (didn't happen often, I tell you, my mother having a strong preference for the Classic and an even stronger one for us being Leaders, not Followers)?  And perhaps you have a fond memory or two of some time with your grandmother. Or a fond or not-so-fond sartorial memory of your early style choices. Comments, as you know, are always very welcome.

23 comments:

  1. That is the most awesome photo ever. I remember granny dresses - in Northern California they were even more pioneeresque - long to the ground. You had a real je ne sais quoi, even then. And I suspect your grandma would be proud and happy were she to meet you now.

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    1. The maxi didn't hit until a few years later where we were, at least not in my memory (the rain might have had something to do with that, although that whole movement wasn't too much about practicality. . .

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  2. Best wishes on the marking, Mater. May it soon be finished.

    I find my own, and others', reactions to photographed fashions from the past so interesting. When the photo was taken, you thought yourself in the height of style, yet now, looking back, you wonder (as I do when I look at my old photos) "what was I thinking?" Do we react this way to fads and trends such as granny dresses and not to classic styles such as a Chanel jacket, or is the fashion world such that we are always reinventing our external image? Why is it that we always think, or like to think, that we are in the very pink of fashion yet look back to shake our heads and groan?

    Your granny is darling in her blue suit. I was about to say that the suit would be appropriate even now for a woman of her age, but I stopped cold when I thought about how old she might have been in this photo. A few years older than grandmotherly me? I probably wouldn't wear the suit, although in some circumstances it would be appropriate. My mother, at 78, might wear something similar for a formal occasion. So in that regard, your grandmother's outfit is "classic."

    All that said, I see, in this photo, a young girl on the brink of discovering her style and willing to try something different. Very sweet.

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    1. It is fascinating, isn't it, to think about fashion changes and enduring styles when looking at old photos. . . .the ephemera revealed. . .
      Grandma was 83, I think, in this photo. I never thought of her as being concerned with fashion or style, but I suspect she paid it some attention, within reason.
      I was so very young in many ways, in this photo, yet also surprisingly mature in others that don't show (my responsibility for my younger sibs, especially). That dress and a particular orange military-style coat are perhaps the first memories I have of really trying to determine a style of my own.

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  3. I remember the granny print dress. Mine was blue and my grandma sewed it for me. Monsieur, who is not always kind, sniggers at my "dweebishness" but our earnest desire to be fashionable at a time of limited resources and no parental encouragement
    is charming. I had the same haircut and glasses. The "pointed toe" shoes were special to the 13 year-old. Barbara Kingsolver has an essay on this topic in "High Tide in Tucson." I hope that you have a few thoughtful well-written essays in your pile.

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    1. Yes, I find that desire charming as well, and a bit poignant. I did notice a similarity between our haircuts and glasses in pictures you posted earlier.
      I'll have to check out that Kingsolver essay -- I think it's a fascinating topic.

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    2. Read "Life without Go-Go Boots" and "How Mr. Dewey Decimal Saved My Life".

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  4. Oh mater...1974, Christmas, huge Christmas dinner for schoolmates cooked at the house of a schoolfriend. Laura Ashley long brown dress, short sleeved, flowered, long hair...innocence and yearning. How I loved that style then and, secretly, now. But too old to be girlish. And my grandmother, Cheshire woman born in 1893, real influence on my early life. My other grandmother I regret not knowing better. I would love to meet up with them again and chat, woman to woman. I hope they would forgive my youthful arrogance. Mater, you strike the right note again. And the bag...you crazy kid!

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    1. Sometime around '75, I think, I lucked into a Laura Ashley dress, long, violet-white floral, at a rummage sale (held by a reasonably upscale church). Cherished it for years! And then bought one for two of my daughters in '84 on a trip to England. Like you, I'd say I still harbour a secret love for that chintzy style, but wouldn't wear it any more.
      I'd love to meet my grandmothers again, get more of a sense of them as real women. (yes, it's quite a bag indeed! ;-)

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  5. What DO you have in that purse? Love the glasses and the granny dress. My very first fashionable outfit was in grade 5, 1968, a pink and black, tweed mini-skirt, black tights and a black turtleneck (tough to get on and off no doubt!) How my mum (a single parent with four kids) could afford that outfit I'll never know. But I was in a show at school and needed a seriously groovy outfit and Mum came through for me. I remember her hemming the skirt the night before the big show. Hope the essays are great and the marking swift.

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    1. Your mom not only scrimped to buy you that outfit, but she also let you wear a mini-skirt in 1968?! I have such a clear memory of being called back home (in '67 or '68) because Mom spotted the rolled-up skirt. . . Took her at least another year to give in on that one and move to another battle! But in retrospect, I know she would have wished to do what your mother did (and she managed to, in other little ways, over the years).

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  6. I remember granny print dresses -- I even had a long one that I loved. If I remember correctly, my father hated it. It is reassuring to know that other people looked oddly put together at 13. I found a Christmas picture of myself at that age and wonder what I was trying to say. At 13 who knows? Your Gran looks darling and she must have had a sense of humor with that smile. Of course, if one is the mother of ten you would need a sense of humor. I must get back to the grading too -- at this point in the semester it's tough!
    Lynn

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    1. Funny, isn't it? They deplored the brevity of our mini-skirts, but the maxi-dresses were equally distressing. Such an overthrowing of rules, and now it seems hard to imagine it mattering so much.
      My grandma was very sweet and she did have a sense of humour to go with a resilient strength. I'm looking for lashings of both those last two to get me through this marking. OMG, it's SO tough!

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  7. I don't remember granny dresses really gaining steam where we lived until probably 1969 or so, at least not among non-hippies. I do remember calico prints being popular about the same time (1966) and that a couple of my favorite school dresses were in calico prints. I would definitely have coveted yours! What a special woman your gran must have been to have made such an impression on you. That picture is just so many kinds of awesome.

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    1. I think my Grandma was quite special -- I really didn't get to know her, but I remember being so impressed, when we visited England in '84, long after her passing, and heard my relatives still speaking of her so warmly.

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  8. You look like you have been captured at the exact moment when young people stopped wanting to look older and older people started wanting to look young.

    I spent several years dressed as a granny/peasant/pioneer and in my mind there seems to be some connection to the Canadian centennial in '67 and then our provincial one in 1970. Getting in touch with our roots maybe (by dressing in calico!)...

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    1. A neat way to see this photo, Georgia. In fact, I know I wished to look older from 11 or so on (I was always the smallest in my class, and the youngest by a year). But I was always aware that going about that through clothes and makeup was never going to be convincing until puberty was more fully achieved, and then some!
      For me '67 swirled around Confederation and The Summer of Love and my solo trip to England as a 14-year-old. . .exciting times! (so you're from Manitoba, are you?)

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  9. Oh I love-love this! Your bag was actually really cool then, remember how nearly all bags were dinky? You were adorable. As I have said before, such intelligence in your face, along with the questing nature- qualities that endure.

    Reminds me of a friend's Mum who visited from England in the early '90s, when she was 70-something. Little English lady got off the plane in short white gloves, suit and nylons- in hot, humid summer- with hair teased and sprayed into a helmet. Little English lady got back on the plane a month later in capri pants, relaxed tunic sweater, new Roots sandals, and (gasp) updated hair with no spray. We teased her that she had 'gone native'.

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    1. What a great anecdote! Nothing like a new environment to change up one's style, and good to know that can still happen at 70+!

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  10. I was sixteen the year your photo was taken, and I was instantly reminded of the granny dresses my best friend and I made from the same pattern (different colours). We were the height of fashion - in our minds! Our hems would have been 4 inches above the knee, the shortest length allowed by our high school rules.

    Your grandmother looks adorable, I too have fond memories of my grandmothers. I was lucky that they were nearby and could be visited often.

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    1. Wow! 4 inches above your knees! That would never have pussed muster with Sister Superior (we had the kneel-on-the-floor test!).
      I had one nearby grandma and one faraway . . . we were lucky to have ones worth remembering well, weren't we!

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  11. I don't remember anything like what you call "grannie dresses", perhaps that fashion did not strike this part of the world. As a teen, I made several attempts at wearing Laura Ashley prints, though, as well as long swinging dresses and skirts. In practice, it never worked for me, the skirt always got in the way, and I did not have the shiny long locks to go with this kind of style. My mother strongly discouraged all my leanings in that direction, and, looking back, I must say she was probably right. But there was this longing to look like a princess once in a while...
    I remember one outfit that did work well, probably because it was rather more sober: Mini skirt in shape of a kilt (white, green, blue and red) with white long stockings and white turtle neck sweater (the only problem being the suspenders under that short skirt).
    The fashion model in my grandparents' generation was my grandaunt Anna. I remeber her silk blouses, classic suits and wonderful hats. And she was a genius at packing. Even when she was using a walking stick, she wouldm't travel with more stuff than she could carry herself, i.e. a tiny suitcase and a handbag. And still, she always looked impeccable.

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    1. The granny dress here was, obviously, a passing fad. I'd probably read about it in Seventeen magazine, which I could peruse, for free, at our local library.
      I do remember that emphasis on shiny long hair (I'm thinking of Peggy Lipton in The Mod Squad!) -- impossible for me, as well, with the curls. . . .
      I love the sound of the outfit you describe -- very sharp, a plaid mini-kilt against that white (oh yes! suspenders/garter belts and short skirts! luckily pantyhose emerged almost along with the miniskirt).
      Your grandaunt sounds marvellous! Imagine being able to manage one's own case AND a walking stick, at that age AND look good. If only . . . .

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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