I believe that our clothes tell the story of our lives: that we can remember an event, a moment, a mood or a feeling, by the clothing we were wearing. I remember being five years old and wanting, more than anything, to be a bride for Halloween. I lived in an apartment building with many steps, and I was traumatized to discover that by the end of the evening my beautiful bride’s dress had been torn to shreds from trick-or-treating and continuously stepping on the hem. Years later, I remember being a bride in my grown-up wedding dress and how I felt like a princess for the day. I remember my brownie outfit and the sash that held my badges and how I wore it with pride, like a true soldier. I remember being in eighth grade, putting on a pair of bell-bottoms, wedge shoes and a Huckapoo shirt, and feeling confident and cool; the first time I really felt that way as a young teen (after months of feeling awkward and gangly). My clothes are my memories and I remember it all.
This holiday, I was moved when my friend gave me the charming book, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, written and illustrated by Ilene Beckerman. It is the story of a woman’s life and memories, told through the clothes that she wore.
Here are a few glimpses of Ilene’s life in her own words, taken from her book, through the decades of changing fashion. Perhaps these will spur your fashion memories, too. And by the way, I knew that Loehmann’s in Florham Park, New Jersey!
The 1940s … My mother was a large, handsome woman who didn’t wear fancy clothes, maybe because we couldn’t afford them. Once my grandmother surprised her with a silver fox stole (for her birthday or Mother’s Day, I can’t remember which). My mother tried it on but never wore it after that day. She usually wore a dark print dress and brown shoes with a buckle.
The 1950s … Light-blue ensemble – coat, cashmere sweater, and matching skirt I wore to the Harvard/Dartmouth football game. George and I had broken up and I was going to the game with a blind date. I borrowed this outfit from a friend in my dorm. I selected the outfit very carefully because I thought wearing all light blue would make me stand out (most of the girls wore very bright colors, especially red) and George would see me.
The 1960s … I was influenced by Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy when I bought this white empire dress at Loehmann’s in Florham Park, New Jersey. I hadn’t bought a dress in a long time … I shouldn’t have bought the dress because by then my body was nothing like Audrey Hepburn’s or Jackie’s.
The 1970s … I loved this print jersey Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress. It was easy to put on and very comfortable. I wore it the day I had my hair cut and permed at Sassoon’s in New York.
The 1980s … I bought this three-quarter-length long-haired raccoon jacket from Bonwit Teller’s fur department in the Short Hills Mall. I had opened a charge account in my own name after I got a job and it took me a year to pay for the jacket.
The 1990s … When my first granddaughter, Allie, was born, I found some of my daughter’s baby things in one of the boxes I had saved and gave them to the new baby. Now that Allie’s four, she loves to play dress-up when she comes over … But what Allie really loves are my boxes of old clothes, high-heels, and hats. I watch her face as she looks in the mirror and sees how beautiful she looks in my old dresses. I wonder if she’ll remember some of them when she gets older. ~ Ilene Beckerman (excerpts from her book, Love, Loss and What I Wore)