Photo shows girls dressed in styles reminiscent of dresses I wore in the 1950’s
Church clothes were special. Starch was the order of the day: crisp shirts for Daddy and Billy, frilly homemade dresses for the girls, shirtwaists for mother. While still wet from the wash, clothes were dipped in a dishpan of boiled starch and allowed to almost dry before being rolled in a tight ball and stuffed in a pillowcase in the freezer till time to iron. Should she miscalculate drying time, Mother sprinkled them with water from a stopper-topped coke bottle. I magnanimously gave her that sprinkler top for Christmas one year. It cost fifteen cents. Ironing was a huge job, so we had to hang up those fancy dresses the instant we got home. Tossing one in a heap on the bed or floor ensured real trouble. The rough armhole seams felt like razors if Mother forgot to crumple them before ironing. Even though I hated dresses, I have to admit they made an impressive show worn over full petticoats. Those lace and beribboned petticoats were a wonder to behold, way fancier than the dresses that covered them.
When I was little, before school started each year, we got five new dresses, most often homemade or rarely ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Billy got five shirts and three pair of pants. Besides that, we might get a gift of clothes at Christmas and Easter. I thought clothes made an awful gift. As kids were added to the family, the budget was stretched tighter and of course, we got less. Until I reached sixth grade, we could wear pants to school, a great boon on the playground and on cold days. The cold wind sailed under skirts, making frosty days a misery.
Dresses on the playground cut down on the fun of monkey bars, slides, and swings. I feared hearing boys sing out, “I see London. I see France. I see Linda’s underpants!” One day, I had the horrifying experience of catching my skirt tail at the top of the slide and reaching the bottom in only my slip and bodice, the red skirt left flying like a flag at the top. I was the object of hilarity as girls gathered round me to hide my shame as I skulked in for the teacher’s assistance. I expected her to send me home, but no. She pinned that skirt roughly back on and I had to finish out the day looking like a ragged sack of potatoes. A few times, I’d have a sash ripped off playing chase on the playground. Boy, was I in for it when I got home in a ruined dress! Three-cornered tears were the worst! Unlike rips, they couldn’t be mended.
I was always delighted to see someone else suffer a wardrobe humiliation. One Sunday evening, Brother Robert taught a class of young people before evening worship. Right off the bat, we noticed his open fly. I never paid such close attention to a lesson before, struggling not to look. I kept my eyes on his face, as did the rest of the class. He was a stern man. No one dared tell him. The instant class was over, he marched straight to the podium making ready for his sermon. One of the deacons did him the kindness of tipping him off. With a shocked look, he spun to zip his pants to the amusement of the choir filing in behind him. He had nowhere else to turn. It was lovely.
One Sunday morning a few years later, my sister Connie provided the entertainment for the service. She was sitting proudly near the front of the church with her new fiancé and his little niece, Amy. Connie was lovely in a beautiful yellow, spring dress. As the worshippers stood for a hymn, little Amy slid behind Connie, grasped the tail of Connie’s dress, and raised it as high as her tiny arms would reach, giving most of the congregation something truly inspiring amazing to consider, for which God made them truly grateful.