As I was trying on outfits the other day – for God knows what reason, I have nowhere on earth to go – a sweet memory surfaced – also from God knows where.
I attended a parochial grammar school, where I wore the typical Catholic school uniform. Navy jumper, white blouse, little navy bowtie. Oh so cute, but so boring.
I was ecstatic to enter high school so I could dress in real clothes. I had what I thought was an unparalleled sense of style. I knew I didn’t want The Patty Duke Show kind of boring. Or the Beverly Hillbillies’ “keep my pants held up with a piece of twine.” And that was pretty much the limit of this unparalleled style.
I had a sparse wardrobe, except for white blouses, of course. I also had a sparse budget. I had a couple of hand-me-downs from my sisters, but I was skinny, and although they were slim, they were not as slim as my skinny. Everything hung poorly on me. I was given some beautiful things from a family friend, who was gorgeous, skinny, and rich. But they were a little too grown-up for a 14-year-old. I didn’t really need tweed double-breasted blazers.
But I managed to get through my freshman year with two skirts, three sweaters, and all those white blouses.
My parents moved across town after that first year, and I switched to the rival high school. I wasn’t sad to leave the old school behind. I desperately wanted a new start. And a better wardrobe.
I had a little money saved up from babysitting, and I begged my Mom to take me shopping before the start of the new school year. She agreed to match my savings, which was fantastic. But there was a condition attached. She would reveal her terms at the store. And I had to agree beforehand. Doubling my money was worth the risk, given that my mother was quite stylish herself.
We went to a store that carried junior sizes. The clothes were stylish but not outlandish – of course, in 1966, ‘outlandish’ was pretty tame anyway. The store carried mostly A-line skirts and matching sweaters. That’s what most of the girls wore most of the time. The stylish girls just had better matching skirts and sweaters. Add a little Carnaby Street (think Beatlemania) and you can visualize the store.
My mother then gave me her condition:
Choose an outfit from a mannequin.
The whole outfit. Skirt, shirt, sweater, jewelry, even knee socks or tights, if the mannequin wore them.
Here was her rationale: I had one year of experience putting together an outfit. But this store was a chain department store – they had professional window-dressers. Real stylists.
“You can pick any display you like – so you still get to choose,” she said. “But you will also be certain that you are getting a terrific outfit. Experts chose it. And you are not an expert. So rely on someone who knows. Eventually you will develop your own sense of style, and you’ll be able to trust yourself.”
I chose a skirt in a heathered green wool, with a matching Fair Isle cardigan (you may not know what that is today, but they had a pattern along the yoke, and a pale yellow button-down shirt. And a charm bracelet.
I wore that outfit once a week for three years.
And used that shopping method for many more years than that.
There’s a point to this story that is more than fashion sense.
You are not an expert in everything.
And you do not have to be.
You are not a sheep if you listen to experts.
It can be a pretty smart move.
It is a pretty good way of shopping if you can afford all the pieces at once and are just starting out.
I could only do that twice a year.. once for a Fall outfit, and once for a Spring outfit.
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Sweet story. Thanks for sharing it.
I guess you already know what a very smart mom you have. I could use that method now. I was very good at school and professional outfits. I am not so talented at putting together casual-all-the-time outfits. Nothing prepared me for this.
too bad those who need to know this never went shopping with your mom – or theirs
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“You are not a sheep if you listen to experts.” I think there’s more to your post then shopping. 🙂
This made me think of my mum who had zero fashion sense mixing prints that clashed often.
Cute picture of you, Nancy:) I also have some pleasant shopping memories of my mom!
Wise words. I would only add that we should listen to real experts and still have the sense to critically consider their advice. There are so many people posing as experts these days more often than not for their own political gain.
Doesn’t this just make you yearn for simpler times.
What a lovely memory! Your mom is a very smart woman!
I wish my Mom had offered such advice!
I’ve often wished I could just buy the room displays in high end furniture stores (or HGTV “after” shots) – complete with furniture, accessories, etc. (and then have someone come in and clean it all on a regular basis!) 🙂
When my daughters were teens I usually didn’t let them buy new school clothes until they had been back in school a week or two. In that time they could see what was actually being worn by their peers. Had too many times of purchasing new clothes only to have them not wear what they had purchased because it was not the prevailing “style” of the day at their school.
Oh, I love this idea! I’m going to give it a shot the next time I need to buy new clothes.
I am so not-fashionable (and not a shopper) that when my kids were teens, for back to school clothes, I gave them a wad of cash, took them to the mall, and sat in the central plaza of the mall, reading, and waited for them. They actually learned to be good shoppers because they knew if they spent $100 on a pair of jeans they would run out of money sooner than if they spent $30, and jeans are jeans. One became pretty much a thrift shopper, the other is a school teacher, so who needs style? 🙂 (P.S. I love your mom.)
Love this story and your mother’s advice. Strange to say, in a different field I gave similar advice only last week to a friend. For 30 years she had used a snake-oil balm for patches of dry skin and pre-cancer, and had railed against the medical establishment that warned against this balm. Now she was in a blind panic over what she assumed was full-on skin cancer that had recurred, despite the ointment. After much calming talk, I eventually said, “You don’t have to BE a doctor: you’ve GOT a doctor. She has spent seven years training and twenty years practising. That beats any amount of googling around. You don’t have to take her advice, but listen to it. Make an appointment tomorrow!” Finally this reasoning got through to her. I must remember this…
Good advice from your mom. I actually have done that a time or two!
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Your Mother was brilliant! That one little tip probably got you through a lifetime decisions. I always fancied myself a trend setter and liked to dress a little differently, often sewing my own clothes. I would pick fabrics that weren’t recommended for a pattern and then they would fall flat and miss the mark of what I was aiming to do. In later years I would look at displays and think “OK, I like that, but I would change just one thing to make it my own”. I envy you that guidance from your Mom.
wonderful advice, wonderful Mom! ~ MJ
Good advice 😀
I love this story!