Column: Summer Reading Suggestions

By Susan Parker
Tuesday May 23, 2006

I read in the paper a review of a new book entitled My Mother’s Wedding Dress: The Life and Afterlife of Clothes. Justine Picardie, former features editor of British Vogue, has penned a memoir on “how clothes express our personality and style, and also provide a view of how we live and what has passed.” 

Damn. I should write that book. It could be a bestseller. 

I’d start my version of Picardie’s story in 1955 with the leopard print pedal pushers my mother dressed me in when I was 3 years old. I’d move forward in time to the Gene Autry cowboy boots I insisted on wearing at 4, and the yellow fairy godmother gown I wore to kindergarten on Halloween. 

From there I’d skip ahead a few years to the blue jumper, Peter Pan-collared blouse, white socks and saddle shoes I donned for the first day of junior high school in 1964. What a mistake. After that I wore only black socks and Converse sneakers on my feet, and later sheer black stockings held up by a painfully tight pink garter belt. I employed clear nail polish to keep the runs that started at my ankles from traveling up my calves and thighs. It never worked. 

Around the time the White Album came out I was sporting mini-skirts with matching poorboy sweaters. I was particularly fond of an ensemble that included an impossibly short ultra-suede green skirt, pink and green striped top, pink stockings and green Mary Janes. I was a vision of coordinated loveliness. John, Paul, George and Ringo would not be able to resist me should they ever have had an opportunity to grace my presence. 

On to the proms: turquoise when I was a freshman, violet as a sophomore, lime green junior year, and a homemade purple, orange and red psychedelic polyester number with a matching fringed shawl for the big senior dance. I thought my date, Jackie Wiler, had puked on his powder-blue ruffled tuxedo shirt because of something he had ingested earlier in the evening, but maybe it was my dress, and the Jungle Gardenia perfume emanating from every pore of my body that made him sick to his stomach and unable to dance with me. 

In college I went organic: overalls and plaid flannel shirts, moccasins or knee-high lace-up black leather boots. The bigger I got, the baggier the clothes. For dress-up, which was rare since I didn’t get invited anywhere, I wore the same paisley print, princess-style Indian dress that substituted for pajamas on dateless nights. I accessorized my tie-dye T-shirts and patched hip hugger bellbottoms with a variety of necklaces made from beads, bones, seeds, and shark teeth. 

I was particularly fond of a pair of Asian sandals that wrapped around my big toes and produced a rash that itched like hell and refused to go away. I replaced the sandals with uncomfortable wooden Doctor Scholls or a pair of neon orange platform shoes that caused me to pitch dangerously forward whenever I strapped them onto my feet. 

I wore a two-piece purple polyester thingy to see Simon and Garfunkel, a flowered vest with matching pants to see Jimi Hendrix, and a Mexican peasant blouse and barely legal cut-offs to a Janis Joplin concert. Then I graduated from college. Everything I’ve worn since is a blur. Maybe it’s just as well. I don’t think I have enough material for a memoir based around my wardrobe history. 

As I sit here in my raggedy-ass bathrobe and fuzzy pink bedroom slippers, I decide to try another angle. Local writer Daniel Handler has just published a book in which every chapter starts with a single adverb. Perhaps I could combine the two concepts: Picardie’s clothes memoir with Handler’s parts-of-speech chapter headings. I could call it Dressed Extremely Poorly, My Life in Ugly, Badly Chosen Clothes. It would be full of descriptive language summarizing the inappropriate garments that have filled my closets. 

But I wouldn’t include those long ago well-worn leopard print pedal pushers. They were, without a doubt, timeless, and really, really cool. 


My Mother’s Wedding Dress  

By Justine Picardie, 

Bloomsbury, $22.95. 



By Daniel Handler 

Ecco/HarperCollins, $23.95.