Today’s cup of decaf is with my mother. Just an aside, my mother drank caffeinated coffee, not decaf. She enjoyed it with half and half, sugar, and a cigarette. She sipped her coffee while speaking on the phone with each of her three sisters, who all lived just miles away. I imagine how much she enjoyed the alone time after my father left for work, and we went off to school. But this blog is not about her coffee drinking…
This blog is about her style. The photo you see was inspired by the yellow ginkgo trees that decorate our island during the holidays each year. The yellow is crazy vibrant against our frequent blue skies, and the leaves drop in perfect circles around the sidewalks and curbs. I put together an outfit that would match the ginkgos in all their glory, and then my daughter and I had a hilarious photo shoot in front of strangers’ homes. I tossed up leaves, with my cup of decaf, and pretended I was in a musical starring me and, of course, Gene Kelly.
While I love my jungle jumpsuit, my favorite part of the outfit is the short waist suede jacket that belonged to my mother. I am guessing she wore it in the late 1040’s or early 1950’s. She worked from a very young age, until she married my father, and used to put special clothes on lay-away and pay them off with her weekly paycheck. Some of that money went to help her mother, since she and her sisters lived together with my grandmother until they married. I imagine some of her money went to clothes, and that this jacket was one of her favorite purchases.
I wish I had a photo of her in it, as she was a stunning woman, known for her vogue style. Five foot seven, “legs for days” as we used to say, and 90 lbs when she married my father. I remember wearing the jacket in college and in my 20’s when I lived in New York. I sometimes look at my closet and realize that most of what I own is black, white, or beige, just like Phyllis. Of course, there is the occasional pop of color, as in the yellow jungle jump suit!
The suede jacket stays in my closet, in the dry cleaner bag, and never comes out. It is a bit thinned and frayed in some spots and I treat it like a hidden treasure. Bringing it out for this photo made me so happy because any time I wear something that my mother wore, it makes me feel like I am wrapping her around me.
I can’t find many of the things she used to wear, like the suede mini skirt she bought in the 1960’s. Phyllis made a floor length chocolate brown velvet cape (that, I DO still have!) to wear with a turtleneck sleeveless top, the light brown suede mini skirt, and knee high boots. Completely fabulous! There was also a satin evening gown in powder blue that she sewed, a la Audrey Hepburn. There were coats and hats and gloves inspired by Jackie Kennedy. If only I had her camel hair wrap coat now! There were shoes and shoes and purses and shoes. I used to go into their closet and sit on the floor with my father’s clothes hanging on the left side, and my mother’s on the right, and watch her get dressed for an evening out. I remember her putting on the papier- mache, gold spray painted pin I made for mother’s day. I have often wondered if she kept it pinned on that black cocktail dress all night.
There is the “fall” made of real hair, because she hated how thin her hair was. It was literally down to her back and styled in an “up do” with that blue evening gown. She later had it cut to shoulder length for more practical use! Picture Mary Tyler Moore with a headband on her bob. Phyllis spent a lot of time curling her actual hair. She styled and sprayed it for every outing. She went to the supermarket in curlers with a scarf over her head to be ready for an evening’s event. The curlers lived in the bottom drawer of the bathroom cabinet. There were pink plastic ones and metal ones with little brush hairs. I often awoke early, in the dark, turned on the bathroom light, and sat on the rug and played with the army of curlers and bobby pins until everyone woke up. Phyllis curled her hair in the upstairs bathroom, but put on her makeup downstairs. Every day, before my father came home from work, I would hang on to the door knob of the downstairs bathroom. I would swing back and forth while my mother put on her lipstick at about 5:45, in anticipation of Howard walking in the door at 6:00. Of course, dinner was ready and waiting, and we all sat down together.
Her Legacy Lives On
Phyllis carries a legacy of many talents. I think mostly we talk about her cooking, her sewing, and her painting. Her sense of style, however is also legendary. It was far too sophisticated for her budget, her lifestyle, her friends, and the city in which we lived. Daytime Mommy was barefoot, in sweats and t-shirts, but social and public Mommy was Lauren Bacall. Funny, how I have found myself also limited in budget to dress like a movie star, but somehow, my attraction to her same classic look, blacks and beiges, is a way I keep her in my day to day. Here’s to bringing out the little suede jacket more often!