One Month (and 18 years) Too Late

“1912 Middy Blouse”

Yesterday I had the great urge to clean out my closet and to inventory my sartorial needs for the coming of fall.  I made a good start on filling the Goodwill bag with clothing that has been (literally) gathering dust for uncounted years.  You know – the blue jeans that were perfect when you were a few inches slimmer around the middle.  Or the bolero jacket that doesn’t quite go with anything but, surely, just the right skirt or blouse will come along soon.

I was ruthless. And, I felt “very much accomplished” as my Aunt Medora used to say.  But the bottom line is that I left myself exceedingly limited in clothing choices beyond my usual at-home-uniform – jeans and a sweatshirt.  I had the sudden urge to go “back-to-school shopping.”  Never mind that it is seventeen years since I stopped teaching and, even then, any additions to my wardrobe were usually acquired at the last minute – probably in August before the school year got under way.

As I thought about the situation, I remembered something my grandmother had written to Medora (the one and same, just mentioned) regarding her wardrobe.  The letter, which hints at my grandmother’s struggle with the transition from homemade to store-bought clothing, was dated September 4, 1912:

Elizabeth Ayer, Marie Strock, Medora Espy – 1912

The express has come at last and I am greatly pleased with the things.  All of the dresses were substitutes, as what we ordered were out but anyway the choice is fine.  There is one bad thing tho, your dress is too long and I do not see how it can be shortened.  I would not wear it if I were you unless there is some very special occasion.  Then when I come up we can take it to a dressmaker and see how it can be shortened.  It may not look too long with low shoes in the evening but with high shoes will reach the tops…

The white skirt to your middy was too short and I sent it back for a longer one…  Go into Harris and see if you can get a separate white skirt to wear with your middy – something plain and suitable for school…  I should not think it would or should cost more than two dollars for your whole middy suit only cost $2.25…At the same time get yourself three union suits part wool – you know the ribbed kind.  Do not pay more than $1.75 or $2.00 a suit.

I decided to use my own judgement about your coat and dress so as to save time, so ordered them delivered direct to you and I surely hope you will be pleased.  The coat was the best shown – cost $14.00 – a black silk plush lined with tan satin.  The hat a black beaver turned up in front.  Then a brown corduroy soft hat to go with your storm coat.  Your dress is a good quality brown corduroy trimmed with brown messaline and a large, lace collar. Do these sound all right?  I sent for best of everything in your clothes.

Bon-Ton Catalog, June 1913

The girls’ dresses look very nicely on them.  Sue’s is much coarser than Mona’s but very effective and at a distance does not show the difference in quality.  Mrs. Parant has Sue’s dress to work on.  I have ordered satine for new bloomers for you and goods to match the girls’ school dresses for bloomers.

Well, at least I don’t need to worry about putting union suits or bloomers on my shopping list.  But I do think that shopping by catalog (or, in today’s world, online) is the way to go from Oysterville.  Some things don’t change.

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