“If ya got it, flaunt it.” For younger generations this saying might elicit the image of a scantily-clad Victoria’s Secret model strutting down a runway--the perfect balance of tone and jiggle--but to my mother, this phrase meant something entirely different. To her, “flaunting” wasn’t about running around half naked, nor was it about wearing the pout of a provocative porn star. It was about dressing with class and confidence.
As a teenager (and seamstress) growing up during the fifties, she knew something about fit and fashion--two terms that now carry entirely different connotations than they did back when she was learning to dress. Today’s mantra “If it zips, it fits” didn’t fly with Mom. Clothes were meant to hang nicely, complementing the silhouette of a woman’s body. Even fitted pieces weren’t meant to pucker or cling; if they did...They. Did. Not. Fit. On the opposite end of the spectrum, clothes that were too baggy and held no shape--like everything my friends and I wore in the eighties--didn’t fit either! Both fashion trends drove Mom crazy over the years and led me to believe that in her estimation, tight equaled tacky and baggy equaled ridiculous.
Regardless of body shape or size, clothes were meant to fit and cover appropriately before they could be deemed fashionable.
This, however, is where Mom’s fashion philosophy begins to breakdown in today’s politically correct society because she was a firm believer that not all body shapes and sizes were created equally. If you were skinny and never developed beyond a B cup, you could get away with wearing tighter, more form-fitting knits and spandex without rating as high on the tacky-o-meter as someone who wasn’t a direct ancestor of Twiggy. For those of us who fit into this “heftier” category (Mom’s word, not mine), forgiving fabrics such as sturdy cottons, velvets, and polyester blends are more flattering choices as they tend to smooth out any bulges that can occur when something zips, but doesn’t necessarily fit.
Fashion is definitely a word Mom wrestled with over the years. She would argue that many today equate the word fashion with the phrase in style. And let’s face it, “just because something is in style, doesn’t mean everyone should be wearing it.” In fact, there are some fashion trends that regardless of how often they come around and no matter how many body types try to wear them, “they just don’t work for most women.” The number one offender? The strapless dress. Mom often accompanied Dad on his wedding photo shoots and was always baffled by the bigger-than-B-cup- bride who chose a dress that made her look like a tube of sausage being squeezed from its casing--cleavage first. According to Mom, boobs (especially big ones) were meant to be covered completely, like all other fat on the body. I can hear her now…
“Unlike a pair of nicely toned legs or a flat, tanned tummy, boobs and cleavage, aren’t meant to be flaunted. With assets come responsibilities. Cover up for heaven’s sake, and if you are small-chested enough to pull off the strapless gown, make sure it is fitted well enough so you don’t have to be reaching underneath your armpits and hoisting it up every two minutes. The only thing tackier than a bride’s boobs greeting you in the receiving line, is a bride who has to pull her thumbs out of her armpits to shake your hand. I just don’t get girls these days. Don’t they have mirrors... or honest friends?”
Inevitably, when the topic of fashion arose in our family, another word Mom hated would emerge in the conversation: modesty. The Church offers some pretty clear-cut guidelines regarding dress standards for both men and women; however, to Mom, they were just that--guidelines. And once again, this is where Mom’s definition “didn’t exactly jive” with the cultural norms that surrounded her in life. Political correctness was also missing from her modesty philosophy because she had a different standard for the young, athletic types than she did for those who “couldn’t leave the Twinkies alone.”
If you had long lean legs like all of her granddaughters, shorts could hit mid-thigh without raising eyebrows. If you were small-chested and had flab-free arms (again, like all of her granddaughters) wearing a halter top or sleeveless shirt was fine as long as bra straps were hidden and armholes were not gaping, offering others a peek into the side panels of your bra. Being mindful of what others could and could not see when you sat, bent, or maneuvered, in addition to the way you carried yourself while wearing said clothing, was more important to Mom than any regulated length or style. That said, regardless of hemlines or necklines, a woman could easily go from being modest to immodest, simply by the way she walked, talked, bent, or sat in any piece of clothing. To Mom, modesty was every bit as much about attitude as it was about sleeve styles and skirt lengths. It was more about avoiding the tacky factor--by acting appropriately and wearing well-fitted, flattering clothes--than it was about following a list of carefully measured guidelines.
I suppose that is why Mom would give Mikele a hard time about her seasonal requests to sew cap sleeves onto her formal dance dresses when she was in high school. Like any good seamstress, Mom was concerned about the integrity of the dress’s style more so than her “good-girl” granddaughter’s moral compass. After all, she knew Mikele and figured that putting sleeves on a dress “wasn’t going to make her any more virtuous than she already was.” Nor did she feel that the lack of sleeveage (my word, not Mom’s) would result in reckless abandon of all moral principle--putting her granddaughter at risk. Mom also felt that Mikele’s already well-covered cleavage and upper thigh region was far more important than the two inches of shoulder she’d been asked to hide with a few pieces of coordinating fabric; and she wasn’t shy about letting others know how silly she thought it was that she had been asked to “ruin another beautiful dress...”
But, in spite of her convictions and opinions, an adoring grandmother repeatedly honored the requests of her second granddaughter in an effort to show her just how much she was loved. And regardless of whether or not her other granddaughters followed the same strict guidelines in their formal dance dress choices, Mom always stated with complete conviction that they were all “without a doubt, the most beautiful--and fashionable--girls at the dance.” Provided they smiled their best schoolgirl smile and walked with all the confidence of a Victoria’s Secret model--minus the fleshy boob jiggle, of course.
Sleeves By Reb...
Not “Regulation,” But Grandmother-Approved
Schoolgirl Smile vs. The Sexy Pout.
See the Difference?