Clothes important in a woman's life

The writer in her wedding dress, with mother Lillian Schwartz Abrams. "What I felt was . . . awkward."
The writer in her wedding dress, with mother Lillian Schwartz Abrams. "What I felt was . . . awkward."
Posted: July 03, 2013

How I loved my lavender maternity dress.

I bought it when I was 22 years old, newly pregnant, and breathless to let the world know.

The fabric was nubby, and the cut was what the fashion mavens called "trapeze."

I couldn't wait to wear it.

Why did I keep that lavender maternity dress long after there would be no more babies in my life?

Because of an emotional pull that's easier felt than explained.

Because certain clothes in a woman's life reach way beyond reason, all the way to love.

A writer named Ilene Beckerman recognized that when she wrote and illustrated a lovely little book called Love, Loss, And What I Wore, which has been reinterpreted as a play by the late Nora Ephron and her sister Delia. It's now on stage at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre.

I rushed to see it. Clothes have defined whole swaths of my life.

I understand now why certain garments return to me in dreams, and carry me back to joyous times, awful times, times I'll never forget even though I sometimes wish I could.

I spent one miserable New Year's Eve in a black velvet skirt and jacket that cost me all of my babysitting money. I was positive that my inky-black velvet suit would make the boy I adored at 17 adore me back.

He did not. At midnight, I was not being kissed. I was in the ladies room sobbing while he flirted with my best friend.

I can describe my powder-blue prom dress down to the metallic threads in it. I have a sense memory of walking down the front steps of our house as it floated around me.

I was wearing a yellow turtleneck sweater on a blind date the night I met a young lawyer named Victor, who would become my husband.

I loved yellow. He later told me he hated yellow, but liked me.

Just a year later, I was walking down the aisle on my father's arm toward Victor. I'd love to say my wedding dress made me feel beautiful. But what I felt was . . . awkward.

The gown was lovely - but I was not meant for its icy formality. Besides, the pinching Merry Widow brasselette I wore under that gown left marks on my skin.

Years later, many women friends have confided that they, too, were not feeling their most beautiful on what was the single most-photographed day of their lives.

The rust plaid dress I wore the first time I faced a class of eighth graders as a trembling new English teacher . . . itched.

But how I rejoiced in the crazy vest made of silver disks that I seized like pirate's booty on London's Carnaby Street on a first trip to Europe.

I wore that vest with a black miniskirt, and briefly felt trendy. But by the time I was past my 40th birthday, it just lurked in the back of my closet. I finally sold it at a yard sale for two dollars.

I remember with affection a red A-line coat from the Jackie Kennedy era, and a daring royal blue jumpsuit that was probably just trashy, but made me feel glamorous.

The dress I wore to my father's funeral was that jumpsuit's polar opposite - a high-necked black linen that made me feel suddenly very old. I gave that mourning dove of a dress away as soon as my conscience allowed it.

Decades later, I wore pink to my mother's graveside service. It was her favorite color. That felt right to me.

My own wardrobe now is more sensible than sensuous. Our youngest granddaughter observes that I have no "cool" things.

At 8, Carly already has clothes she loves, and already she associates them with experiences. "I'll always keep my birthday dress," Carly says of a delectable pink organdy with a sash that she wore at her 5-year-old party. It doesn't fit her anymore, but Carly has still insisted that it must remain in her closet. "I wore it on the bestest day of my life!"

"Love, Loss, and What I Wore" runs through Sunday at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Lombard Streets.

Sally Friedman can be reached at

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