Sunday, 2 April 2017

She wore yellow velvet

It is the first weekend in April, Week 1 of Camp NaNoWriMo and I'm wandering through old memories.  Something about writing while my virtual cabin is on fire - how I choose to picture my camp - has incendiary thought bombs going off in the heat.

If I hadn’t set my heart, finally, on writing, I would have been a fashion designer. I feel the frustration at a career denied most acutely when I see badly dressed women on tv.
God, in that off-the-shapeless-shoulder monstrosity, she looks like a boiled spud in a serviette.
Aren’t we all judgmental of clothing, ours and everyone else?  Isn’t it part of the deal of people wearing their personality as their sleeves, around their hem lines, shouted or whispered in their colour choice and expressed in the drape of fabrics worn somewhere from head to toe? 

Growing up, my clothes were second hand or mum made them. My finery was all made by mum, with the exception of a 50s suit I found at a second hand shop. It consisted of a matching short jacket and a tight skirt in hound’s-tooth tweed with medium sized dull green buttons. It was too hot to wear most of the time. The lining stuck to my skin on even a cool day, so I only occasionally squeezed into it to stroll up and down the quiet street I lived on, on the edge of town. I wore it once, three doors down, and the mother looked surprised at how dressed up I was to babysit her four year old.

Fabric was hard to come by and I will never know how long mum had the piece of soft yellow velvet fabric, dotted with tiny rusty brown sprigs of flowers and stalks.  It bore two outfits.

The first outfit made it’s appearance at a tennis camp I travelled to down south. I had never been away from home before and it was the first time I had a bag packed with only my things. I had my tennis whites, pyjamas, two sets of tshirts and shorts, and because they had said on the brochure, a swimming pool was on site, a set of bathers and the most extravagant piece of clothing that I have ever owned: a poncho, made of yellow velvet with yellow fringing, to wear over my bathers.

I am certain no one had ever seen the likes of it before. I paraded around the pool in my poncho. I had one of the most powerful serves for a boy or a girl at the camp, so my poncho was apt under the circumstances.

A few years later I was at the all-girls boarding school where flashyness was frowned upon.  There was a uniform for most waking hours, at school, for sport, in the pool, and especially while off the school grounds. There was a summer and a winter uniform. The only time I was destined to be out of uniform at the academy of dead dreams was at the end of year dance where boys from the all-boys school down the road were being bussed in for two hours.

We practiced dancing amongst ourselves for months while I fretted about what I would wear.  My outfit came together in a rush and I was delighted when the parcel arrived from home with the most stamps I have ever seen used in one place. 

Mum had saved enough of the yellow velvet to make one skirt, lined in pale pearl silk, with a zip at the back and a waistband fastened by a small mother of pearl button.  I had a long sleeve champagne hued silk blouse which I tucked in and I braided my hair, one long rope beside each ear and coiled them around my head. Included in the parcel from home was a pair of white sandals with big silver buckles.  But I had other ideas.  Months before while scouring a second hand shop for books and fashionable wear, I came across a pair of high heel shoes that sang to me.  They had an inflexible wooden base, thin red straps and added two inches providing I walked carefully.  I had smuggled them into my school suitcase and the night before the big event, my friends and I brought out our contraband accessories.  

When it came time for me to slope down the hall, disaster was broadcast in the sound of one of the straps snapping on my shoe. Oh no, I cried inside.  I tried tucking the frayed edge under my foot, but it escaped and hung grotesquely with every step.  I tried sticky tape and glue overnight, but clag was never going to repair my shoe.  My best friend offered encouragement in the last hours before our debut, as I perfected a new gait that cleverly concealed my broken shoe.

No one asked me to dance. It never occurred to me then and I'm still not convinced, but surely it wasn't my brown skin?  My hand made skirt? Or the dragging of my left foot in shoes that made me taller than most boys?

I blame the shoes. The rest of me was fabulous.