I recently was listening to a The Moth Podcast and one of the storytellers was talking about her yellow dress. It sparked a memory of my yellow dresses so thought I would tell you my story.
When I was in my late twenties, after I had my oldest son, after my mother died, I took a trip to Cincinnati with my sister to go to a Saks Fifth Avenue clearance sale. They would rent out a basement showroom downtown and move all of their clearance products into this space and discount the hell out of them. I came to realize that was the only way I could afford anything from Saks.
I had been to their department store in downtown Cincinnati with my mother once and she bought me this great bed jacket off of the clearance rack. It was white chenille and I wore it as a casual jacket, not a bed jacket. I didn’t even know what a bed jacket was. I still have it, 40 years later. Another time, I was in New Orleans and ended up staying at a conference longer than I planned so my mom let me buy an outfit on her Saks charge card. The last time I bought something at Saks was a reusable shopping bag for $20. I could have gotten 3 of them at Cracker Barrel for $5.
But, let me get back to my story. I went with my sister, who loves to shop. I love to buy. She will go into every rack and analyze every item and then try everything on. I peruse the space, spot something that catches my eye, scope out the price and buy it. I hate trying things on and I absolutely hate taking anything back. Stores love me.
On this day, my sister was in charge. She planned the whole trip. We left early on a Saturday morning. We drove the 90 miles to Cincinnati. She knew where we would eat lunch and she knew exactly when we would be back in Louisville. I was excited to go, more for the trip than anything else.
I don’t remember a lot about the details of the trip but I do remember a lot about the sale. There were racks upon racks upon racks of everything. Most everything was designer. I didn’t know a lot about designers then, I don’t know a lot about designers now. But I do know the kinds of clothes that I like and what I bought was not anything I would have ordinarily liked.
I’m a blue jeans and t-shirt kind of person. I don’t always look good in dress clothes. I do love dresses and skirts but I think I look a lot better in those in my mind than I actually do. The same is probably true about jeans and t-shirts. Anyway, I stuck with my sister, and she stuck with dresses.
If I’m going to buy something nice, it’s going to be red. I look good in red. People tell me that. But on this day I was looking at yellow dresses. For some reason, the yellow was calling my name. And I was listening. There was this cotton dress that looked like it came right out of the 1950’s. It buttoned all the way down the front and had an elastic cinched waist. I fell in love with it. And it was a canary yellow. This was the 1980’s, mind you, and the collar could have been popped up perfectly since that was the style. I never wore it that way because that wasn’t my style. I can’t remember if I tried it on but I’m sure I did because my sister would have made me. The dress wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t Saks Fifth Avenue expensive either. I do remember being a little sad though because I knew that my mother would have wanted to buy that dress for me.
“It’ll be a pup to iron”, would have been her only comment. And she would have been right. It was a pup to iron. I can remember Mom ironing our laundry, almost all of it. If she couldn’t get it done today then she would have “sprinkled” the pieces and put them in the refrigerator so that she could get to them first thing in the morning. Mom didn’t use spray starch a lot unless it was on Daddy’s shirts or the pillowcases. She preferred to sprinkle the clothes. She had a sprinkle head on a coke bottle. She would always count down her pieces. She would say she had nine pieces to iron and then count down each piece. When she was finished she counted all of her pieces before she hung them in the closest. She would do most of the ironing in the kitchen or the den. I can still see her at the ironing board, lining the pieces up exactly to get the crease just right. She had her sprinkle bottle or the spray starch to the right of the iron; her cigarettes, ash tray and cup of coffee were nearby. The ironing board was positioned close to the phone so she could iron while she talked to her sister or her girlfriends.
Every time I wore that dress I complained that I would have to wash it and iron it again. And, in my mind, I would always say it was a pup to iron.
The was the time of my life that I was at my thinnest. Before puberty I weighed about 70 pounds. Puberty hit, and the weight just kept coming. It didn’t bother me but Mom hated it. I think it was because her mother struggled with her weight and Mom didn’t want it to be an issue for me. After Mom died I lost a lot of weight and I was really starting to look good. I think that was another reason I liked that dress.
Let me tell you about the other dress that I bought that day. This one was a sleeveless black dress with yellow thread running through it. It had a “belt” around the waist that was a different color of the same fabric with a black thread running through it. The dress was tiny little and it fit me to a tee. The way the belt lay made me look like I had an hour glass figure. I wore that dress until the seams were so worn they split.
I could have laundered that dress myself but I didn’t trust myself. I took this one to the dry cleaners. I could usually wear it a couple of times before I had to have it cleaned.
My favorite place to wear it was this new restaurant in Crescent Hill named Dietrich’s. It had been an old movie theater. In it’s heyday it was a very popular neighborhood theater. Right before it closed though, it was a blue movie theater which means that it showed only XXX-rated movies. No one went there. And if they did you questioned their morals. But it had been converted to an art deco restaurant. It was pretty expensive but I loved to go there and get a slip of champagne and some pate. I thought I was so rich. But that was all that I could afford. I would get there early and get a seat near the bar so that I could watch all that was going on behind me in their huge mirror behind the bar. A couple of times guys would try to pick me up, but I really wasn’t interested in that. I was in my own little world.
Growing up we never had a lot. But I don’t remember ever being deprived. One thing that Mom and Dad taught us was to have class. I truly believe you don’t have to have a dime to have class. And I am so privileged to have been raised that way. Something else I believe, is that sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone. You never know what you will find there. Maybe sometimes, you’ll find your little yellow dress.