Thursday, July 2, 2015

New Clothes for School


Me and Micaela Wall, August/September, 1965.

Throwback Thursday, end of summer, 1965. Me & my best friend, Micaela, getting ready for our first day of school. We were about to become big, bad 8th graders. Of course it was hotter than Hades...and I was modeling my new wool duds.

I was so excited to have real new clothes, a rarity, that despite triple-digit heat (Indian Summer), I'd persist in wearing them the first day of school though they were winter clothes. We're talking lined heavy wool skirts and mock turtleneck sweaters more suitable for East Coast winters, than autumn in California.

I'm wearing an itchy green mohair sweater and an acetate rayon-lined pleated green and white wool hounds-tooth checked skirt, both at least two sizes too big, so I could grow into them. I never did. Nor did I ever grow into the size 8.5 white shoes—I took a few tumbles running in those floppy clown-sized shoes. I took to sliding down our hill in them like skatefboards. I was so glad when they finally wore out. Of, course, I got in trouble for wearing them out so quickly.

This particular winter outfit was from a fancy department store, I.Magnin in San Francisco. It was a big once-in-a-lifetime fairy godmother gift shopping spree from a neighbor, for being a big girl. Rites of passage.

Poor Micaela didn't have a fairy godmother. So her red velvet dress with the black velvet ribbon, was a prized possession. Truth be known, I would've traded her dress for what I was wearing. Already I'm wilting in the heat while Micaela looks relatively cool in her cotton velvet number. 

We rarely got new clothes (my grannie's annual Christmas gift was quaint white cotton underwear sets from Macy's), so my extended family sometimes bought me winter clothing, as if preparing me for life's extreme challenges. No fair weather clothing, ever. Or sailing.

My new duds were gleaned from rummage sales and church bazaars, or my grannie made them. Every so often, there'd be a cock-up where a girl would recognize her old clothes on me, and cruelty ensued. I felt so shamed when the Tomasini girl from Nicasio sliced my ego to ribbons, sullying my favorite new dress.

I'm holding a peacock feather long before Marin was associated with them. Note the white shoes. Winter 62?, or 1963.
Micaela's father refused to buy her anything. Even used. So we had to make do. I sometimes gave her my old clothes, already old to begin with, but she soon outgrew me. So, that didn't work. I could sew, I had learned at an early age to make doll clothing on my grandmother's ornate black and gold 1928 Singer sewing machine. I also sewed my fingers up a few times too. I taught Micaela to sew on the ridiculous toy sewing machine her father bought her.

Our white shoes have taken on the patina of dust, last year's long jeans, now summer cutofffs. Summer of 64?

We couldn't afford new material or patterns, so we were inventive. Micaela and I re-made most of our own clothes repurposed from other people's old clothes. Late night sewing fests with that toy sewing machine revving like a race car, was our idea of a fun sleepover.

Shopping was not like today where you can go to any mall,  anywhere in the world, and get the same name brand clothes. Terra Linda's Northgate Mall hadn't yet been built, and the flagship Corte Madera shopping center (1958) had a Monkey Wards, a JC Penny's, a tux shop, a Cala supermarket (a new concept), and not much else. One of the first post-war modern suburban malls, built in Seattle, in 1950, also a Northgate, followed by Stonestown in San Francisco, 1952, ushered in the concept of modern shopping as we know it.

I can't remember if Micaela bought this red velvet A-line dress or if it was something she made from another old dress. But it was a score. Probably a gift from her stepsisters: Tina or Sonia. The only ready money we had was from doing errands for neighbors, or babysitting at 25 cents an hour. And we were far too young to get very many jobs. I'm sure there's a story behind her dress. There were stories behind all our clothing. 

I suspect Micaela's pin was liberated from the Sausalito Trade Fair or the Village Fair. When it came to high fashion, we made do with smoke and mirrors and creative makeovers. It helped that my absentee mother was a costume designer, so there were always bags of interesting clothing scraps stashed in our basement.

We were the teenybopper queens of repurposed clothing. Perhaps the most extreme clothing makeover, was when we took a conservative 50s style, long green corduroy pencil skirt, and split it in two along the seams lengthwise, to make two mini skirts (sideways). It was Micaela's score so I got stuck with the back half of the skirt, and had to work a kick-pleat and zipper hole into my design. A strategically placed pocket came to the rescue. 

Clearly, that top photo with the wool skirt that I was so proud of, was from the pre- miniskirt phase. When we wore our new twin mini skirts to high school (in 1966-67), we both got into trouble, turned into the office by different teachers, even though we had tights on, and were covered up to our necks. Busted. With the brevity of our skirts, we'd triggered an unknown indecency rule. No matter that Mary Quandt had pioneered the look in 1964. And Twiggy was the rage.

I think we were both sent home from school that day for testing the limits on how short a mini skirt could be.


My grandmother made my 8th Grade graduation dress trimmed with Irish lace. It had a purple empire ribbon decked with real bluebells of Ireland (campanula) under my non-existent bust, ca. 1966-67.

first draft
Mo & Micaela, first day of school. Big, bad 8th graders, 1965. Of course it's hotter than hades...and I'm wearing my new wool duds.

I was so excited to have new duds, a rarity, that despite triple-digit heat (Indian Summer), I'd persist in wearing them the first day of school and they were always winter clothes. Lined wool skirts. Since I rarely got new clothes (I got underwear for Christmas from my grannie), my family bought me winter clothing, as if preparing for life's extreme challenges. No fair weather clothing, ever. They were gleaned from rummage sales, or my grannie made them. Micaela and I made most of our own clothes from other people's old clothes. Can't remember if Micaela bought this red dress or if it was something she made from another old dress. I'm sure there's a story behind the dress. There were stories behind all our clothing. It was not like today where you can go to any mall and get the same name brand clothes. Northgate Mall hadn't yet been built and Corte Madera Mall (1958) had a Monkey Wards, JC Penny's, a tux shop, and not much else. I suspect the pin was liberated from the Sausalito Trade Fair or the Village Fair. Perhaps the most extreme clothing makeover, was when we took a 50s long green corduroy pencil skirt and split it in two lengthwise, to make two mini skirts (sideways). I got stuck with the back half, and had to work a kick-pleat and zipper hole into my design. A pocket to the rescue. Clearly, this is the pre miniskirt phase. I think we were sent home for pushing the limit on how short a mini skirt could be.

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