“Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.” Charles Eames, industrial designer
In its first life, the dress went to a summer dance on the shores of Lake Michigan in 1963. Not long after, it traveled with the teen girl who delighted in it to Appalachia — to a small city hugged by low, green hills on one side and a mighty river on the other.
When the girl grew up and moved to a home on the Mediterranean Sea, the dress remained here, sealed in a wrapper and tucked away. Until this summer, when the final shutting down of an American residence forced everything back into the light of day.
On a July afternoon so blistering hot that it is hard to imagine in the gray of December, my daughters and the woman who was once the girl in the dress dug through hats, coats and vintage clothing ranging from the 1940s to the 1970s.
I tried to ignore the sweat dripping down my back as they staked out a space in front of the sole air conditioning vent in the room to try on outfit after outfit. The result of a chance reading of a newspaper ad, it was the closest my daughters will ever come to visiting a somewhat mysterious aunt with an attic and a trunk full of adventure.
So, it was no surprise that we left with the dress from the dance and a maid of honor gown from the 1940s and a leopard-print hat and a one-off, hand-tailored suede jacket made during a day-trip to Turkey. The clothes fit, bizarrely well. And, as I reflected while inviting the ex-pat to dinner, it was really more about dreams of both the past and the future, not actual clothes.
I thought this because no matter how dreamy and delicious “vintage” sounds, when it comes to clothes, the fabric is often just plain “old.”
That reality fully sunk in this weekend, when I finally took the time to sit on the couch with my mending kit and the dresses puddled around me. It wasn’t easy. There were seam fixes, some fabric re-weaving, a restoration of a painted flower. But, it worked. The dresses are returned to a wearable state.
Because I respected them.
This was particularly necessary for the dress from the dance, which will look great under a jean jacket for a teen of today. Made of whisper-thin organza that has turned a beautiful ivory-yellow with age, the shoulder straps were decorative from the start. The bodice was designed to be supported by “stays.”
Without the stays, the straps could not then and certainly cannot now secure the dress. Yet, the stays were in trouble, broken in places and their hand-stitched connection to the bodice largely undone. I had to carefully examine how the maker put the dress together in order to restore them. It was tricky. But, it was a necessity for the dress to “stay” put.
As regular JOY Journal readers might guess, the dress carried a spiritual lesson straight to my heart.
As a Christian — one of many millions all over the world celebrating the Advent season (a mix of remembering Jesus’s first coming as a baby and looking toward His second coming as King of Kings) — I had to look at myself. Really, really look.
Am I respecting the original design of the faith? Or, am I attempting to hold my life together with flimsy whisps of positive thinking, good vibes or hope placed in something other than Whom our Maker intended?
May the season find me, find us all staying put.