The long lost film of my beautiful, stylish mother

My mother and me

My mother and me, captured on film: 1960

I was watching an old 8mm film made over a period of time by my mother’s family friend. The year was 1960. Images of my younger grandmother filled the screen followed by images of my Aunt Lila. My heart skipped a beat – they have both been gone for several years. Next, a few week’s old baby in a carriage popped on the screen and it took me a moment to place the baby – which I soon realized was me. Moments later, she was there; as her image panned up I first saw the dark sunglasses – followed by a white sleeveless sheath dress. And then her sweet, happy face I knew so well. It was my mother. The footage soon changed and shifted, next showing my mother holding me outside what must have been her apartment building. This time she was wearing a polka dot short-sleeved dress – very 1950’s/early 60’s. I didn’t pay attention to the baby at all; I saw only my beautiful mother.

Moving images preserved in time and space – all coming together to give me a long-lost hug from the formidable women I have loved so dearly. And the one mesmerizing me most was my mother, squeezing and hugging and holding me tightly, reminding me what true style is. The outfits, the accessories are all important. But above all else, true style … is love.

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Dressing Like Matilde

Myriam, inspired by her mother, Matilde

Myriam, inspired by her mother, Matilde

When I was a little girl, my mother represented the perfect vision of style and elegance. Her blonde hair, her manicured hands, her impeccable way of dressing. I watched her, fascinated, as she dressed for work every day, put her makeup on and left the house -looking glamorous. Through my little girl’s eye, she was more beautiful than Grace Kelly. As I became a teen, my sense of style changed and I was more influenced by my peers than my mother. Suddenly her way of dressing was “old fashioned” and boring. My new idols were Madonna and Janet Jackson and my mother did not dress like them! But time has an ironic way of putting things back where they should be. Now a wife and mother myself, I laugh when my children call their 20 year-old teacher “old”. I recently celebrated my 45th birthday and went out with my girlfriends for lunch. As I was going through my closet, I picked a special dress I bought years ago. It was a dress very much like the one my mother used to wear when I was a little girl. The second I saw it my choice was clear. I needed my mom to be with be in spirit, and she was – through the dress. The simplicity of it, the way it accentuates my waist and its full, airy skirt which could cause a “Marilyn” moment at any time, made me feel connected to the woman who has been the most important influence in my life. She lives a continent away from me in Argentina, and yet she was more present than ever. Wearing this simple yet beautiful dress reminded me of our unbreakable bond and of the unconditional love that we share. ~ Myriam Alvarez

Photo: Sebastian Scicolone 

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Listen to Your Mother!

Claire

My mother, Claire

Your mother’s words are powerful. No matter how old you are, you listen to your mother. You listen when she tells you that an item of clothing may not be the right color or the best fit for you. You listen when something you really want to buy is not worth the money. And you listen when she tells you how she wants to dress, too. My mother and I went shopping for a coat for her recently and as much as I tried to force my ideas on her, she reminded me that she knows what she does and doesn’t like. It was an important reminder that frankly, put me in my place. Few things give us the sense of control and power over our own lives like choosing how we want to dress and present ourselves to the world. We should never lose sight of that, no matter what. When my mother asserted herself with me she was saying, ‘I know who I am.’ Brava, mom.

Listen to your mother.

 

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A lifetime of shopping with my mother

My mother and me at my brother's wedding in Maui

My mother and I at my brother’s wedding in Maui, 20 years ago (what was I thinking with the black shoes and stockings, and why did you let that happen, Mom?)

I have had a lifetime of shopping with my stylish mother. Fifty-three years, to be exact. I like to think that I was born knowing everything about style and who, what, wear, but really, I have always been watching my mother and following her lead when it comes to dressing and feeling my best. We are good at it and have found out how to stay away from the dangers of mother-daughter muck and mire. We have listened to each other and helped each other to dissect the ins and outs of what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes my mom has been right, and sometimes I have been right. It’s a give-and-take collaboration between mother and daughter, but more like best friends. Continue reading

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Betsey Johnson at the wedding

Betsey Johnson 's magic dress

At the wedding

When I planned my outfit for this wedding, I knew in my heart there was only one dress to wear: my Betsey Johnson black velvet wrap dress. Sleek and slimming, sophisticated yet flirty, this dress is the perfect choice. I have had a long-standing love affair with designer Betsey Johnson; ever since the 1970s, when I was a teen shopping with my mom on our Saturday morning adventures. My mom introduced me to Betsey Johnson, who, at the time, was designing under the label Betsey Johnson Alley Cat. It was not long after that I began to borrow her Betsey Johnson treasures. Eventually, the much-coveted red-plaid corduroy jacket with puffed sleeves became mine. Thank you for that, Mom. I wish I had it now.

It’s so nice to know that Betsey Johnson is still sharing her designs for new generations to enjoy. Perhaps there is a mother-daughter team out there right now, shopping on a Saturday morning, and the mother is introducing her daughter to the magic that is Betsey Johnson.

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Five Days of Dressing for Success: Tamara’s dream to be free

Tamara T, speaking at The Dress for Success Transforming Lives Gala

Tamara Trotz, speaking at The Dress for Success Morris County Transforming Lives Gala

The minute I slipped that dress on, it brought the entire equation together. I thought: ‘maybe people can see my ambition now.’ I felt that people had no choice but to take me seriously. You see, I never felt that I was being taken seriously. And to know that the clothes were a gift to me, made me feel worthy in a new way. Dress for Success did that for me. ” ~ Tamara Trotz

Tamara Trotz is a remarkable young woman. She is a poet. At age 24, she is designing her life and her future with the grace and maturity of a woman much older than her years. Everything she is, everything she values and holds dear, Tamara received from her mother, whom Tamara lost last year to cancer. Her mother had just turned 50. When you meet Tamara you feel the love she has for her mother and you know that she is growing up with the same courage, strength, faith and hope that her mother had. This is Tamara’s remarkable story in her own words: how she grew up with 3 siblings and a single mother who was a victim of domestic violence, how she found her ambition at 15, graduated from high school and college, and learned to appreciate her outer self when she found Dress for Success Morris County. I only hope that I do Tamara justice …

I never really understood the difficulties my mom had endured until later in my life. Growing up was isolating and I was forced to grow up long before my years. I am the oldest of three girls (my brother is a few months older than I am) and I became the caretaker. I was six years old when I understood that my mother was being battered by my father. That was the point when I started to feel the need to protect my mother. She was an amazing, strong and capable woman and mother. She gave her children everything she had and took such good care of us; her life’s dream was to give to us. And I wanted nothing more than to protect her – always … Continue reading

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Flowers at the Farmer’s Market

Flowers at the Farmer's Market: Hazel, Barbara, Margaret and Pauline

Flowers at the Farmer’s Market: Hazel, Barbara, Margaret and Pauline

I love venturing to the local farmer’s market on Sunday mornings. Being near the fresh food, cheery atmosphere and local flavor always makes me smile. It is good for my body and soul. Today I saw these lovely women: Hazel, Hazel’s mother Margaret and Hazel’s sister-in-law Pauline who are visiting from England, and Hazel’s friend Barbara. They were very chic, like the flowers I buy for myself from the local vendors. I had to capture the moment.

Thank you, dear ladies – you made my day!

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Fair Isle Sweaters and Growing Up

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TFIO Photo: Patricia Saxton

TFIO Photo: Patricia Saxton

My second podcast recording with my mom, Claire, brings me back to the days as an insecure college freshman. My school was the ultimate in prep; a style that was unfamiliar to me. Here I was, having grown up trusting my sense of fashion, for the first time feeling unsure and looking to those around me to define my look. My first school break, I told my mom that I needed something called a Fair Isle Sweater and my darling mother treated me to not one or two, but several, and in different colors. By the end of my freshman year these lovely sweaters were gone from my wardrobe as I began to feel more comfortable in my own skin and see my style return (but still … how I wish I had at least of these sweaters with me now!!!). Most important, I was left with a feeling of love and gratitude for my mother that I will never forget for as long as I live.

Here is that conversation with Claire as we talk about Fair Isle Sweaters and growing up …

 

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Maestra Sarta (Master Seamstress)

The maestra sarta

Josephine’s mother, maestra sarta

Josephine’s mother was a maestra sarta, a master seamstress, which was and still is a highly respected and honorable profession in Italy, where she was born. This is the story of Josephine’s mother and the gift she gave two generations of women …

My mom was born in a small town in Italy in 1931. She loved school and hoped to continue her education, but when she finished the 8th grade her family needed her at home to help out. It was the early 1940s, the country was at war, supplies were scarce, and my mother was the oldest of five children. Her mom was not well. She was needed: she sewed shirts, using parts of older shirts to fix newer ones, washed clothes by hand, and ironed for hours so that her younger siblings and extended family had the proper clothing to continue attending school or work. Her family was refined and tried to maintain a normal life despite food shortages and the other casualties of war. My mom remembers that her uncle, a shoemaker, made her high-heeled shoes out of a leather bag and wood. Growing up, I was often told about those shoes; my mom received many compliments when she wore the shoes with a dress she had made.

As the war ended and her younger siblings continued their schooling, my mom had to figure out what to do. She felt that she was too old to start high school and she was still helping out at home. Her dad offered to pay for her to apprentice with a master tailor. She would learn how to design clothing and cut a pattern and sew. This was a very respected profession in those days since many people had their clothes made for them. There weren’t any malls in Italy where people could shop for mass-produced clothing. Since most women of her generation lived with their parents or their husbands and never worked, my grandfather was rather progressive. My mom continued her training in fits and starts, as she also helped at home. She made clothing for her extended family and friends but never worked for a company or opened her own business. In spite of the hardships she faced she remained faithful to her passion: she loved the latest fashions, followed fashion in magazines and imitated the styles of the time, adapting to her conservative culture when needed. Continue reading

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