Monday, April 8, 2013

R.I.P. Mother-Daughter Dresses

My mother once told me that "bad news comes in threes." 

This is certainly not her invention, but rather a common superstition. I don't know why the number three figures so prominently. (The three kings? The father, son and the holy ghost? Goldilocks and the three bears? Or is three just a random number, representing the random universe, over which we have — let's face it — very little control.) Regardless, the law of three remains a folkish given, as common on newscasts as it is at the water cooler.

So, when there are two high-profile celebrity deaths, we all wait for the third. Then, we can relax. Until the next round of three, I suppose.

So, here are three seemingly unrelated but recent demises that are resonating with me today.

Roger Ebert, extraordinary author and cultural commentator, philosopher, lifelong learner, liberal and lover. Always a favorite of mine and an inspiration to me as a writer myself. Rest in peace, Roger.

Margaret Thatcher, a feminist before her time. Thatcher, interestingly enough, was such a conservative that many liberals, for whom she was breaking enormous ground by serving in Parliament first and then as Prime Minister, abhorred her. Interesting contradiction. Incredible trailblazer. Rest in peace, Margaret.

And, now, last, possibly least, but hopefully rounding out our threesome for a little while, Lilly Pulitzer.

I do not now and never have owned a Lilly Pulitzer frock. But, in my adopted seacoast town, they are all the rage, all around me, all the time. At the risk of sounding bourgeois, we are members of a yacht club (and no, we do not have a yacht). At Sunday brunches in the summer, the dining room is full of happy, invariably blond, families. Mothers in cheerful Pulitzer prints and little girls in identical cheerful Pulitzer prints. 

A New Yorker at heart, despite my current address, I tend to wear black, black, and ... well ... black. No pastel florals for me, merci mille fois. The first time we took another couple to our club after my daughter was born, I turned to my friend (an art director and probably the most stylish woman I know, who, BTW, was also in black) and whispered, "The day you see us in those matching dresses is the day you shoot me." She solemnly agreed.

My daughter and I did, for a brief period, have matching pajamas. They were "Nick and Nora," a label made famous in an early episode of Ally McBeal. (Remember that show? "Bygones." The "unisex." The dancing baby.) They were flannel and covered with illustrations of sock monkeys; I have a couple of pictures of us together in them from a weekend in Vermont.

We also had matching embroidered Chinese jackets at one point. We wore them at a big family Christmas party. I paired mine with black silk trousers. My daughter wore velvet leggings over her diaper. And if that doesn't date it, nothing will.

Since then, we have gone our own ways. My style is pretty consistent; I've had the same short haircut for decades and still gravitate toward Asian tops and loads of funky jewelry. My now teenage daughter on the other hand goes in and out of fashion phases at a head-spinning rate. Her major influences are Urban Outfitters, her high school peers, and the gospel according to Seventeen. These days, when she isn't in riding breeches and boots, she tends to be poured into skinny jeans with a loose colorful top and a scarf.

This is precisely what I agreed to her wearing yesterday for a family trip into Boston and a show. I still believe in dressing up for the theatre, but suggesting a skirt would be a big waste of my limited time. I settled for stylish casual, which my trim fifteen year old can certainly pull off. She came downstairs in a crisp blue collared blouse with a contrasting blue pashmina (the ones you get for $10 at a cart in the mall, not $200 at a counter at Saks). "You look great!" my husband and I both told her.

"I don't like the blue with the other blue," she moaned at us.

"But, you look great," we repeated. "Really."

"Arrrrgh!" she exclaimed and raced back upstairs, stripping off the freshly-ironed shirt on her way. I followed, stopping in my closet to grab a couple of options. We were already late.

She ended up with the same top but one of my scarves, a funky woven one that I had bought in a shop across from the Tuileries garden when we went to Paris last summer. I was doubly happy. We were leaving and she looked terrific. Maybe I was triply happy. You see, in choosing one of my accessories, she had unwittingly bestowed a rare teen seal of approval. 

This made me reconsider my earlier aversion.

Lilly Pulitzer was not only the mother of mother-daughter dresses, she was the mother of invention. The socialite began her famous preppy line when she asked her seamstress to create some outfits she could wear while selling produce from her husband's citrus groves. The floral fabric effectively hid the juice stains. And as we all know, the dresses soon took on a very colorful life of their own. “I designed collections around whatever struck my fancy ... fruits, vegetables, politics or peacocks ... but it made people happy.” I guess as far as corporate missions are concerned, that's a pretty good one.

So, rest in peace, Lilly. I mean it. 

Because, despite my sniping about those ubiquitous sundresses, there is something really happy about the phrase, "Like mother, like daughter." 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Alex! As usual, I get a warm "snirky" feeling when I lead your posts... they just hit me so right on!

    As an art director I haven't always worn black, and I remember the Christmas when my toddler daughter and I marched out in what I thought were the cutest matching Laura Ashley jumpers. That was one of the few times I felt so in tune with her and one of the last times that I've had any control in her "presentation"!

    As for a little fashion validation from my now fourteen-year-old, I'm loathe toh ope for it. I think I get what she's going for when she dresses, but God help me if I dare make a suggestion! Remember the ads "Please Mother, I'd rather do it myself!"?... yet funny, she does open up a little to discussion when I open up my wallet.