I was going to write about jackets. Another possibility was makeup for older women. But instead I’m going to write about my mother.
We’ve just had Mothering Sunday – what a humungeous commercial enterprise it is with supermarkets stuffed with chocolates and bucket loads of flowers and numerous, fairly useless, pink and tastefully grey trinkets. Glad to say I didn’t get any of that – not keen that Mr Walmart &/or Sainsbury’s should have any of my kids’ hard earned cash. Instead I got cards from my two with, inside, some beautiful meaningful words written by them – lovely.
But the day got me thinking about my mother who died nearly twenty years ago.
My earliest memories of my family are of my parents, sister and myself, living in the suburbs of London, in the 50s, in a three-bed semi filled with utility furniture supplemented with Indian rugs, throws and side tables; a legacy of my father’s India days. My younger sister and me were typical 50s children, we played in the street, wore Clarks shoes with the cut out diamonds in the leather and walked two miles to school. My father travelled to the City by tube, and my mother was an archetypal 50s housewife, always at home, always cooking; a good plain cook of stews, roasts and chops.
But all was not well. My mother had depression, which was severe at times. There wasn’t much in the way of treatment in those days, but she finally found some outpatient care and it came under control, of sorts. I took up psychiatric nursing after my general nurse training, in order to come to terms with my mother’s illness, which I saw mainly as a result of being intrinsic to her personality and being a housewife trapped at home. My whole quest in life was, therefore, to never be a housewife and never, ever, be like my mother.
Yet, I am my mother’s daughter, and now, from a distance, I acknowledge how much I am like her, and, how much I owe her. What’s more through doing some family history and looking at old photographs I can see how very beautiful she was. Here is one photo of her taken in 1935. There are also, I now realise, reasons for her depression.
So where did my love of makeup and clothes come from – my mother, of course!
If I close my eyes and imagine her bending down to kiss my younger self, I can feel her skin touch mine, her breath is sweet and her mouth coloured a rich red from an ever-present Helena Rubenstein lipstick. Every morning when we are not rushing off to school she sits in front of the mirrored utility dressing table and puts on her ‘face’ and as I sit near her on the bed I watch its careful application.
Over the years the ‘face’ didn’t change and she never became familiar with techniques such as eye makeup, instead, well into her old age she retained that evocative 1930s Bette Davis look; plucked eyebrows, white face powder, red lipstick and beautiful heavy lidded poached-egg eyes hidden behind dark horn-rimmed glasses.
So, it’s imprinted in my DNA to put on makeup. But as for fashion, in her latter years, my mother loved clothes only of the Crimplene kind, that rather harsh, garish material that was so popular in the 50s and 60s. In fact, that is all my children have ever seen her in. A Crimplene dress? That is granny.
But, I can see from photographs that, before she married, my mother wore the most beautiful stylish clothes. So I am assembling an illustrated book, with photographs of my mother (and my grandmother and great grandmother), along with some family history and a few throwaway remarks on the history of photography and fashion. I’ll let you know when I complete it!
These buried memories that surface from time to time will be familiar to those of you who have lost their parents. It is a pleasure now to remember my mother, although the feeling is often tinged with a touch of sadness and regret. Inevitable, I guess, but even so, I thank her for the life she gave me and accept that my love for her has grown rather than lessened with the years. Our mothers stay with us, no matter what.
But tell me, did your mother wear Crimplene?
That’s all for now, back to clothes next post!
With love, Penny
The frugal fashion shopper