I’m not adverse to hand-me-downs. When I was in middle-school my mother would get clothes from her friend that her daughter out-grew. The daughter was Alice, a year ahead of me in school, tall, with easy confidence, thick black hair that was past her slender waist, a smile that dazzled in contrast to her dark brown Guamanian skin, and clothes that were the epitome of teenage cool in the early Seventies. She was the opposite of my chubby, freckled, matted blonde-haired self, and I longed to be like her. So, when I was handed a stack of her shirts, or a pair of soft, purple bell-bottoms with multi-colored braided trim on the bottom, it was like I was being given the garments from a goddess. Celestial choirs sang! And with a little creative hemming on my mother’s part, I could wear the pants! At this time we were living on a Navy base in Japan where my father was stationed, and I spent many hours devouring the JC Penney’s and Sears catalogs we would get to see what kids back in the States were wearing. The jeans I was usually forced to wear were from these catalogs, in a maroon denim material, that was rough and unfriendly, and in the humiliating size of Husky, the Plus-size equivalent for chubby pre-pubescent girls, thank you very much.
When I was in high school in Oak Harbor, Washington, I “slimmed-down” as my mother put it, and I was finally old enough to receive hand-me-downs from my sister, eight years older than I, and also someone I looked up to as a glamorous thin goddess, and sometimes-radical role model. I remember with fondness a light pink tee-shirt with an embroidered white rose placed just above my heart she gave me, that hugged all the right places and showed off my lately-bloomed breasts, and looked totally sweet with the one pair of jeans I owned that weren’t generic from the Navy Exchange, but Britannia’s – just like the enviable kids in Seattle were wearing. The pants were so tight it was hard to get my hand in the pocket for my pink-tinted cherry-flavored Chapstick, and the hem just barely skimmed the ground when I wore my fake leather and wooden clogs. I was foxy!
My sister moved out of the area when I was in college, so that clothing source was lost for a while, but my grandmother lived with my parents at that time, and she was a hoarder of the first degree, saving dresses and shoes she wore from as far back as the 1940’s. With her permission I pawed through her boxes and unearthed some lovely vintage pieces, already hemmed because we were pretty much the same height, and only needing a few simple tucks at the waist for alteration. She had also kept all of my grandfather’s ties, and I plucked out a few skinny ones to wear with my button-downs and vests for my preppy-look days. There were glorious high-heeled shoes, too, of the 40’s Starlet variety, but positively dainty at size 5½, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t cram my 6½ foot into them. They were left to languish in their original shoeboxes, never to dance again.
But back to the dress my mother brought out. It was a floor-length formal, with a layered look to it, in a royal blue shining polyester material, tags still on it, and shoulder pads. (My eyelids slowly folded up into a skeptical squint just typing “shoulder pads.”) She said she bought it back when she and my father were thinking of going on a cruise with their friends, which never happened, and I figure must have been 15 years previously, if I’m being generous, so maybe 20 years ago? You have to understand, my mother has never offered me clothing of hers because, a) she’s half-a-foot taller than I am, and b) until the last year I wasn’t….husssssssky enough. But this was in a size my mother hasn’t worn in, as I said, at least 20 years, and a size I’ve recently discovered is, if sometimes a bit loose, admittedly quite comfortable…to my jaw-clenching chagrin. So, I humor her, and my new sister-in-law who is sitting on the sofa and looks like a Hollywood housewife – a perfect doll of a woman no matter what time of day or night – and encouraging me to “just try it on” (is she smirking?) as I gracefully try to extract myself from doing just that, and go and try it on.
It fit like a dream, like I was on America’s Short Husky Top Model and it was made for me. The blue offset my red hair and fair skin like a Renoir painting, and it wasn’t even dragging on the floor, no doubt due to the height of the shoulder pads, but still! So, I took it. And it now hangs in my closet, sans shoulder pads, reminding me that I’ve checked my ticket on the Middle Age Train, and, well, I’m rolling with it. In style.