03 June 2014

a life in frocks

That's me on the right with the spotty frock and the gappy smile. I would have been coming up for seven. My cousin is on the left. The name of the girl in the middle is a bit of a mystery- Linda? Barbara perhaps? It was her brother who had the camera and he took several photos on the that day, Procession Day, the day we paraded around Tower Hill, dressed in our long dresses and holding posies, the streamers of banners depicting the saints pressed between our gloved hands.  It was early summer and a big event in the social calendar. The kerbs were whitewashed in John Fisher Street and, with the exception of Thomas Moore Street which wound through the dock walls, there were temporary altars all along the route. Friends, families, neighbours, whatever their religion, would assemble to watch and afterwords there was a party atmosphere. Here we've changed into our Sunday best at the end of the day, though we still have our parade sandals on - I seem to remember being particularly jealous that my cousin had been allowed to wear kitten heels but the mum-made dress, well, that was a pearl.

Crepe paper, Mum-made, fancy dress at holiday camp as Miss Kitty (!), aged 3/4

So this is how you develop a taste for frocks. Dress- up. A frill here, petticoats there, a fabric with a bit of body so that it stands proud and facilitates a swish or a twirl. You may go through various phases - the uniformity of navy blue serge at school, turquoise paisley bell-bottoms or denim jeans, tailored mohair suits as a teenager or clipped woollen suits to prove that you can compete with the men at work. But if you want to enjoy dressing up, it really has to be a frock, or maybe a skirt, something with a bit of gentle architecture.


I hadn't really thought about any of this until I paid a visit to Stereochron Island, the imaginary state without clocks. Cathy Haynes had invited us to create our depiction of how a life might be mapped. What with the rediscovery of the photo and my recent obsession with trying to find the perfect dress pattern/ fabric combination, I realised that my life could be mapped in frocks, or as a cross section of a map with peaks and troughs. (I still remember the thrill of learning how to draw a cross section from an ordinance survey map at school, you see.) And this is the result - with limited materials - and time - available.

Navy viyella, blue spot, made by my friend Chris, my boy's christening, October 87

Just now I am in a gaudy frock phase. It was a a conscious decision when I stopped work not to wear jeans, or trousers. I would mend or modify old or second hand clothes or create new ones and severely rein in the purchase of any brand new clothes to a couple of items a year. It's amazing how easy it is to adapt, and how much you can learn along the way. And if you have kept some frocks for a very long time, like me, there is a great deal of pleasure to be taken from a revival of an old favourite.

African wax fabric, me-made, Madison bodice, self drafted full circle skirt, May 2014
Is it so very bad to remember what you were wearing on high days, holidays and the most ordinary of days when your spirit was lifted by the texture, the colour, the heft or lightness, the drape or swish of a well-loved frock? And what would your map of time look like?

8 comments:

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

My map would lead to trousers for the sake of taking photos - but I think I'd feel completely different if I were to wear a frock like the one in the twirl. Looks as if you've leapt from the fifties/early sixties. Lovely.

annjennyg said...

A good frock ( lovely word!)is a wonderful thing!
Your crepe paper dress reminded me of a dress my mum made for me from orange crepe paper when I was about 6. It was for a school play. I was chosen to be a sunbeam, mainly I think because of my bright red hair!

rachel said...

How evocative! I can remember so many dresses from childhood - scratchy ones, tartan ones, home-made ones, my mother invariably stabbing me with a pin during fittings, some that I adored, but the best ever was my brown tiny-buttoned Biba dress from her first, hand-drawn catalogue, when I was 17 or so, worn till it fell into holes.

rachel said...
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Liz said...

Oh gosh, so many memories flooding back after reading this post. Frocks with bows tied at the back and paper nylon petticoats underneath progressing to the shortest of simple shifts with cutaway shoulders or white collars and high waisted babydolls, all mostly made by that wondrous seamstress, Aunty M. My map of time? Would probably have to be about the hairstyles.

E15 kids said...

Predictable comment from me here, Colleen! Our family has quite a collection of photos from the Wapping and Tower Hill processions - especially of the temporary altar in the grounds of Stephen and Matilda House (I was born in the former). Lots of my dad parading with his Knights of Columbus medals and the like. A different world.

As someone who has always made at least some of my own clothes I have very clear memories of clothes worn on certain occasions. This is helped by the fact that while the clothes are long gone I still have many of the paper patterns - not that they're in sizes I could ever wear now!

Thanks for the memories,

Joan

colleen said...

Dear All - how good to know that I'm not the only one who can measure the passing of time in frocks
Joan _ I was particularly hoping you'd read this because I knew you would have some shared memories of Wapping and Tower Hill!

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

No , it wouldn't be dresses . Too traumatising .There was a scratchy Communion dress made by my Granny from a remnant ... she wasn't very good at sewing , so some of the scratchiness could well have been pins left inside . And a pink satin dress , with lots of bows , that went round me twice . It was handed down by a cousin ... she was a big girl with black ringlets and I was little , blonde and knock kneed .

I think it would have to be shoes ....