Dresses – Still Ours

By Susan Sundwall

A few days ago I got a catalog in the mail chock full of dresses for little girls. They were beautiful, full of bright colors, girl friendly patterns, ruffles, lace overlays and flounces – you name it. I thumbed through the pages smiling at how little some things change. Girls and women love dresses. And doesn’t just the mention of them bring memories of our favorites?

Okay, here’s a confession. I save dresses. In one of the spare closets throughout the house tucked away in the back, under plastic, sits a black velvet dropped waist dress with a huge lace trimmed white collar. I bought it for an office party many years ago and can’t seem to find a reason to give it away or – horror of horrors – toss it in the garbage. In my bedroom closet I have dresses from weddings, “better dress” shops and even a square dance dress I made myself. It’s pink and white gingham trimmed in white lace and black satin ribbon. In my dancing days I wore it with a 50 yard crinoline. Yes, fifty yards. I twirled and dipped in that dress and felt at the pinnacle of my femininity as I do-si-doed around the floor. When I sat down to rest the crinoline poofed up in front of me like too many suds in the dishpan.

But, the crux of the matter is, nothing makes a girl feel more girly than a pretty dress no matter how old she is. Dresses trump cosmetics, perfume, hair styles, shoes – everything. Whatever present day accommodations we’ve made to gender neutrality, the dress is still ours. Think of all the wonders the dress has inspired.

Whole industries have grown up around women’s love of the dress, and that’s a good thing. What woman hasn’t watched the Oscars only in part to see the winning productions, but more importantly to see what is worn by the glamour girls on the red carpet? And think about that moment in Gone With the Wind when Scarlett O’Hara pulls down her mother’s green velvet drapes to make a dress so she can visit Rhett Butler in jail. Her every hope was pinned on that dress. She needed to look prosperous so she could wheedle money from him to save Tara, after all. I have a niece who loves the television show, Say Yes to the Dress, all about wedding dresses. She’s only 13, but she can’t wait for her own big day and the dress. Some of you may remember the Loretta Young Show (1953-1961 on NBC) and remember how important the first few minutes of the program were. Each week Ms. Young swept in through her living room door wearing yet another breathtaking au courant dress. It was a do-not-miss moment for women viewers everywhere, and snippets can still be viewed on You Tube. A few decades later, the long running shows Dynasty and Dallas had a similar effect featuring designer dresses we all scrambled to buy in the knock off lines.

There can be more to a dress than meets the eye. A nice dress can let the world know you are cared for. Consider Little Dresses for Africa, a program I learned about through our church women’s group. Founded by Rachel Alexander O’Neill in 2007, the organization provides patterns and inspiration to groups who make simple dresses from pillow cases. Willing hands cut, stitch and embellish them in a few hours, and they make a huge difference to little girls who might otherwise feel unworthy or suffer abuse. Their website has lots of information and photos.

Closer to home you know that the right prom dress can make a memory for a young woman like nothing else can. Dresses and prom memories just seem to go hand in hand. And sometimes the love of a dress can turn a four-year-old into a princess. One of the dresses I saved from a wedding was a crimson colored, floor length gown with puffy sleeves and a sweetheart neckline. Custom made for the bridesmaids at my sister’s wedding, of the six of us, I think I was the only one who saved the dress – for eighteen years. It was subsequently given up to a seamstress who transformed it into a fairy princess gown for a beautiful little girl, Anna, on her birthday. I’m her Grandma. The seamstress is her other Grandma. We were so proud!

I don’t have as many dresses as I used to. Working from home doesn’t lend itself to wearing them as often as when I had an office job. The days are gone when a woman wore a dress every day. That was the province of those born before WWII. Look at any black and white photo of women before that period and most, if not all, are in dresses. My grandmother milked cows, canned, gardened and cleaned house in a simple cotton housedress. I’m glad those days are gone because I like my comfy knits, sweatshirts and tees. But every now and then, especially in the summer, I’ll put on a dress. Something that swishes around my calves when I walk. Something that someone has taken care to design, with pockets, tucking, a tiny belt or a touch of lace. And you know, it makes me feel – well – like a woman.

About this writer

  • Susan Sundwall Susan Sundwall is a freelance writer and children’s playwright. She is currently working on her second cozy mystery and hopes that her first will be published soon.

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6 Responses to “Dresses – Still Ours”

  1. Sharon Wible says:

    What a lovely and enjoyable piece! I’m going out to buy a dress!

  2. Kari Wible-Hall says:

    Love the article Aunt Sue it spoke to me !

  3. Mimi Johnson says:

    How true your words are! There is something special about a dress, and has anyone noticed that our First Lady has brought back the full skirted and belted dress. It so reminds me of the pretty dresses my Mom used to wear. Sue, thank you for the walk down memory lane!

  4. Kate says:

    I love this story. I wear scrubs most days and it is nice once in awhile to shed those scrubs and become a lady for awhile.

  5. Pamela says:

    Great article!!! I LOVE dresses….I love the swish, love the fun!

  6. Pam K. says:

    What a great article! I love wearing dresses and seldom do. This article brings back fond memories. Mom would take us girls out before Easter and we’d get dresses, shiny shoes and a matching purse and hat and, yes I’m dating myself, a pair of little white gloves. Sigh….those were the days.

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