The Southport Belle and Fashion - Ladycause
note: This post is almost twice the length of recommended posts, so do not read it unless you read fast, since they measure proper blog length by how long it takes to read it - seven minutes optimum.
"Ladycause" a Note on Fashion, then and now.
Threads of topic, the fiber of our being, the stuff of life - a bit of fabric and fashion find their way into our talk and writings - easily in my home State Connecticut since it's textile mills as far back as the 1600s are part of how America won its independence: my home state wove the fabric for the nation until after the Civil War, including that of uniforms for both sides in the conflict.
And today it is about ending abuses in the fashion industry - one of the last places on earth that still works humans sub-humanly. In America, we are pretty good, but the sweatshops still exist here; hidden in un-policed corners, the worst still happens. Most such abuses take place outside the free countries. The Bangladesh event the most recent , click here for the updates.
Actress/musician Minnie Driver has maintained Activist interest in ending the garment industry's Slavery and Sweatshops. To make the "Cheap Chic" for cut-rate fashion, slavery of workers is still happening...and the related criminal activity it takes to hide it and support it.
I hope to improve my research and post it as I succeed. Seamstresses love the fine detail, so I am not likely to let it go for long.
Mother loved it that I had the artist's hand and understanding of fabrics - she dressed well and could upholster and do up a lovely window treatment, but disliked sewing clothing of any kind - to the point of tearing a thing to shreds one day - exasperation. She was lovely and tall and young and strong - just more of a model than a seamstress. The fashion savvy among us was so good that I thought at first that I would be a fashion designer. Coffee and teatime conversation among the women always included chat and photos and sketches and 'show and tell' of our latest fashion finds.
At “Upper-midlife”, the perspective drives me to praise for the many angels it takes to make a life, courtesy of "the mommies" . The "stuff" of life cultivated in the child’s garden. And I was their flower. My training in fabric a story, so sweet in memory that it was my motive for this writing.
DuPont Coated Fabrics plant in Fairfield employed three generations in Dad’s family , from Grampa’s day - doing his part of construction and Gram home with a large family after lady work for a bit sewing shoes, in spite of her silver spoon. My Mother, Albina, married, gowned elegantly in the Chantilly Lace, as , home from Air Corps WWII, Father followed at DuPont, fashioning the gold mylar for NASA's Lunar Landing Module. Then my brother behind him, after his VietNam Red Beret service - continuing the great NASA jobs in the white collar, till the plant subsidized.
o-My part of things was easier: I thought I might be a fashion designer at one point in my always art training, and because lady fashion was daily chatted at the ladies’ coffees and teas. Civilized women talked all details of culture into correctness. Dyed=to-match, custom-made and carefully shopped things through childhood culminated in two seamstresses and shopping in Manhattan’s garment district and a bridal gown and ensemble to remember. An officer’s bride, soon I was doing neat things with target cloth and parachute silk and then knitting baby booties with a bit of a thing. Bows for Christmas trees were the sensation next and their make and sell, paid for the the happiest of Christmases, with our men home from war and on to good life at home again. Special fashion fabrics and designs and creations for things for our home and children came next and my first aptsbiz projects were custom cascade and jabot trials. Then the fine art took the lead, and not much at the machine after that.
But At nineleven, the one remaining textile processing plant in the area took my lead and in one day fashioned the 20x40 flag of weather-resistant red, white and blue that, proud and gracious, displayed all day and was lighted elegantly for night until some years later, it became too worn and had to be taken down. My proudest project!
I hope to access study and research at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the authority on Textiles in the country. If it’s fabric ask them - they will know.
But the story here is about the charming beginnings I enjoyed as a little girl, sitting in the sunshine with "Nana" and "the mommies" and one bit of "stuff" or other between us, often singsonging:
"With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes!" Or, the Laughter, crooning "Suffer for Beauty", or "Haute Couture, par Doleur" Or the rules: Always measure; Learn, teach, celebrate the skill !
The health is beauty/the beauty, health!
And always along with our Mother was ”Nana" - a neighbor, American, but from Albania. A holy gift to me, at age three, I shone in a fushia felt Dutch Girl cap and Vest, with "coat-of -many-colors" floral embroideries, tiny buttons on the vest, and the ties for the little cap grey and gold braided with the fushia felt in narrow strips, with fushia felt fringes.
Moneyed businesspeople, of grace and dignity, Cornelia and her husband's family were the stuff of Ken Burns' America, having virtually washed up on the shores, and had done very well, They owned and operated "The Southport Candy Kitchen" for fifty years. And through our childhood, provided countless happy visits for the neat treats. I thought Sesame Street was inspired by them with its counting song: "The 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-Penny Candy Man”.
When I was a girl, their home was warm with three fine sons, their pride and delight...no daughters, though!...c'est dommage! The women would lament, for her and with her. Partly because “Nana” Cornelia was specially gifted in womanly arts! Her background Manhattan-trained in dress design, some jewelry, and related crafts and some lost arts.
We lived next door, and she and I were a custom-made pair…often,after school, in me, Cornelia enjoyed a little girl to share her skills with, and I was always eager to learn a new creative thing.
There was no conflict between Nana and my Mother, just enrichment. Nana loved my Mother, too, in that beautiful profound way that us modern slickheads never share today with such purity and passion...they would celebrate the joys and lament the sorrows together...a woman's lot...my Mother was more modern, and Nana the only one to show me the ancient woman's burden...an almost spooky sound, a cry of-a-sort, in her speech at such times...and her goal was to teach me with her example, since she never gave orders. Happy conspirators in the business of being female "Just be careful! How well we women do today! And how so many women sufferred and suffer still!!! Hush, and help if you can and carefully!!!!! Carefully is part of the Beauty ..."Her doctor, when she bore her children, said that her special sound ,at childbirth, was unworldly profound, and she laughed with dignity and pride, like an opera singer being complimented on her gift.
But I knew mostly hugs and industry and laughter with her. She delighted us and if the love got any richer we would not have gotten any work done at all. In happy exasperation, and mock fury, her husband would truly "crack the whip" at his daily homecoming ..... compactly built, mildly wiry and sharp voiced when needed....he was just right, in those days! We children scrambled though , from her after-school kitchen back to ours and from him, when he came home from work, calling her name, Cornelia, in his own way: " Kuh-neeeeelyaaaa!!" snapsnapsnap. Oh! big eyes!....we were being too silly and her master was home!!!!! And off we'd go! I have a normal modern mind and worked in schools and his approach sounds positively illegal by modern measure, and yet, with them and in that house, it was happy, and he seemed to correct himself as quickly as the call left his mouth...helpless love...he adored her, supported the wonderful things she brought to our town, and celebrated her. I have no idea how he did it, but he did. When she died, he stayed his own and alone, and content to be so.
But, At seven, Cornelia taught me how to make my own dress patterns, the first an Indian maiden's dress for a Harvest party, easy, taupe with cut fringes...and for many years after, till my marriage wafted me out of her life, she shared the ways of many skills. I am trying to live to be a hundred to get the chance to share them before I must join her in Heaven.
br>The works of her hands, covered like her ears, in many rings: The felt carpets, in the colors I can see in my mind's eye this moment, forty years later. The shell-art from our hunts along the beach. Bracelets, floral arrangements, decoration for the garments, and more. Bow ties she would make for all the boys and men in the neighborhood, fastening them to the Christmas Tree for " choose one and pick it right off the tree " fun!!!!! The pretty Chanel-copy trims she made by the yard to edge her custom-done lady suits, with hats and shawls to match...fur trims for both, sometimes, and lined with the silk to match the silk blousing..."totally major New York"....Easter Parade!... the concepts of style, quality, symmetry, elegance, "custom made", richness... and worth that had nothing to do with the bank, monochrome and everything to match for "the look" of self-esteem.....passion to please our good men, and play.......womanly beauty as a universal concept, there in all women, if we would just remember to never be in argument with our bodies when it was time to adorn them.
Cornelia herself was a Helena Rubenstein clone: born very large, she was proof of the power of couture a cosmetic and the "inner lights" to overcome anything nature could dish out by way of a fashion cross. Elegantly put together at all times, she was one of the most beautiful women I have ever known! An my opinion was shared by most. She would lament that my women were smaller-built and fret about making me"whizzy" as a little girl with her bigness, and so she would make rose oil soaps for me, making a ritual of shopping for just the right rose oil. Gliding me on my see-saw, she would sing: "With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes!".... Only a Chinese princess was treated more royally than I by Nana... Cornelia.
I am good, so I scrambled to do for her, any small chore that came to hand, and paid attention to the things I did that pleased her , so I could do them more.
She would talk about New York, and sometimes the sweat shops, but in that way, with deference to a little girl, to hint, to insinuate the concept, and not to upset a little girl with too much of the seamy side of it. Enough to warn against naivete. But if you knew her, you would create a file immediately in the memory, promising not to reference it till it was time.
For many years through my girlhood, we shared love and happiness through good and bad times. And when it was time for me to marry..........ahhhhh! We can have the best fun the gown !!!!!!!!! We went through dozens of the bridal publications and photos of the fashions........and sketched and planned until the design was right!
Cornelia was aging and promoted to consultant, and another sewing friend the seamstress! Next our special trip to Manhattan. All my Childhood, I would prance to meet her like a puppy when she returned from one of her fabric-buying expeditions in New York... not just three yards for a little skirt and notions in a little bag, like me. No, no.....When Cornelia went to town, there were yards and yards for dress and gown! An event in itself....and when she returned, the packages set on the sideboard ...We would have tea, make some of the "Krem", a yogurt, or the crescent sesame cookies or baklava with the nuts and honey and talk....clear the things and beauty refresh, and then bring the many packages to the big dining table, the room was always the right kind of sunny...and she would display them all for fun with me, the wonderful fabrics and colors and buttons and needles and threads....and I a happy audience if she preferred to share a show of it...(somehow when I studied with some, I remember the needles, but with Nana, the fabrics and the colors......I do not remember her catting me off, ever, not once! ) Then it was time to put the fabric away...."you are getting so good and smart, I will show you now how carefully we keep the fabric......and where......see? high and dark on the shelf with the tissue between the layers and the door closed after it. ".....mysteries and curiosities! And she would make it entertaining in her gestures and tone of voice.........I could hardly sew, and applaud at the same time, and so my eyes got big from it from her, as did my heart.
And suddenly it was years later, and I was to be included on the magical trip to town for the fabric for my weddin gown........who me? I 'm Sandra Dee....the bride!!!!"I love and am loved... I am the principessa.......but and so, I must remain demure, and let the excitement remain a great energy within...immature behavior would not please Nana today, this was serious business. Giggling might make her sorry she granted the honor. "Someday I will work at the UN from the way I like to make discrete faces!" So I dreamed en route that day.
The Garment district was not to be confused with the Designers' Ateliers ......the Hell that made the very odd kind of Heaven for milady's pleasure.
We are walking down Canal street...it is summer...the streets are hot and dirty and we pick our way through the dirty sweaty people to match.... who make unfriendly faces if we look at them...and yet, all of it is a treat, exciting and different from home. Suddenly I am like Scarlett coming to town in Postwar Atlanta, with Mammy ! .....a little boy horrifies this Fairfield girl by going to the bathroom against the outer wall of a nearby building.......I am finding it easier to be discrete by the minute......
Then the fabric shops begin to appear...the real thing...storefronts attached to the factories or distributors... ..........I don't squint........it is getting interesting exciting.......steady on!!!!!.......
We begin to be able to view the window displays.....Cornelia informs me, finally , her first words since we arrived in the neighborhood...She guessed my impression at first sight of the storefronts....."Don't let the things in the window depress you......watch and see!....." We entered the first store.....her beautiful olive-done face and shiny coif perfectly arranged.....the alert black eyes, the full mouth and the delicate nose deciding whether or not tobother to sneer ..........she had a sneer that worked!!!!!!!!......we left.............entering again at another shop, a little further along...........again ...almost a sneer it was worth to her...........and again we left.........I don't remember , but I think she went on like this with me, till she feared I'd tire before we actually began the fabric choices....and all of it the greatest fun with Nana.....whatever her motive, we entered THE shop.............someone looking like a manager swooshed out to greet her with great and formal bows.........Mrs.S____! How MAY we help you today! So wonderful to see you..... visiting royalty!!!!! She responded with a queenly acknowledgement of appreciation for his courtesy..."This is a very special visit! My Ellen May is marrying, and must have THE gown!!!! " ..few people could use the doublename with me without my objection, but Cornelia could........"A weddddding!!!!!!" the manager beamed and began to direct us at fabric displays....those in front they dismissed as garbage immediately, and moved to the more shaded shelves further back in the store........this second set of offerings won only an "almost a sneer.".......futher yet, and more.....these we looked at, and rejected outright.............." Ahhhhhhh!!!!!! ", he smiled sincerely, now rising to the occasion, !!!!!! " You are smart and you know what to do!!!!!!!!!! ", as he signalled stealthily to us to follow...not a noise now!!!!!!!!!!!! The rooms were dark and odorless and oldddddd........but he found a light that it revealed a library of a sort....I thought it was a chapter from my Nancy Drew stories, come to life...because the layers of fabric were wrapped ....no layer of fabric rubbed against another............and the bolts rowed up on shelves from the waist high counter to ceiling all around the room........."Now, we're getting somewhere...." Cornelia remarked.........."but.....ummmmm, ...." and amazingly, he disappeared behind the shelves and into still one more and darker corner, ......of course, by this time, I AM Nancy Drew, and followed him..........barely outlines of one more small room, floor to ceiling bolts of more fabric......what an adventure! I backed out to allow him to bring what he had found to the counter in the second-to-last room!................Gasp!!!!!!!! The double-sided white brocade was good enough for the bloomin' Queen of England, who we loved by the way................I went as pale as the brocade with honor and love at the find.................."I think this might be the one.".........then more of the same for the hunt for the right veiling and enough of it, and the little combs to hold the pillbox hat and the fur trim. As he measured the trim, "an early faux expensive white mink clone"....he measured the length we requested, drawing our attention to his pinched fingers at the clipping point....then slid the fingers down several inches more........."for good luck and healthy babies, this much more for you for a gift!"............Nana and I smiled gratefully, bowed 'goodbyes", and floated out in wedding gown heavenly transport .........tired but triumphant and forever enriched with an unforgettable day.
The gown was perfect... and I will tell the rest of the story, surely worth it, but must stop here...........It was war days, and at the wedding I was encouraged to get about it with a son for my new prince, since Viet Nam might widow me without an heir to his name.....a very dizzy day at such moments.... and we were off.......with hugs for all in warrush....when I returned, though, Cornelia had her own daughters in law, and I had new babies and so understood the distance of correctness between grownup women, still young and proud to be among them.....and then off we were with important postwar work and the next time I visited, Cornelia had passed away.....I was stunned, since my duties at the time gave me little social leeway....I wished I had been able to sit with her one more time, but I guess that's how it is.......and off again and back to work with my own life in another place........twenty years later,I felt blessed, at least, to be able to share a special smile of love and hug with Jimmy, her husband, now in this nineties and soon to pass as well.....I would not have attempted the things I have done, or been able to trust my heart and soul without the million dollar gift of time and love from people like Nana...Cornelia and Jimmy...such experiences create a love for life and a wish to share and an obligation to enrich the lives of others in only the nicest ways....I am not patient with negative, and with poor souls with poorer motives, sometimes and I know I am wrong to be so, because it means I am dragging in the soul......not quite making it over the top with my obligation to share a luminous thing.....so I find one of these moments like the memory of the story above and make it a vitamin........and it still works!!!!!!! Rest, try again!!!!!!!!