Monday, July 26, 2010

Fancy that

When does dress become costume, and costume dress? I supect it's not always a black-and-white-distinction but a gradation. What got me thinking so was that, at M's house the other day, we explored the contents of a hamper containing nearly two decades-worth of the fancy dress outfits she had made  her children.

This one is Snow White. The gold braid on the bodice, the detachable peplum, the ribbons on the sleeve, the little cloak - all lovingly sewn into a small girl's dream. And clearly a costume. To the grown ups anyway.

But for the child wearing it? She isn't merely dressed like Snow White - she is Snow White. Just as those little girls who go to the supermarket and the cafe as fairies - complete with tiaras, wands and wings - are fairies. You can see it in their faces, the way they carry themselves.

It would never have occured to me as a child that it might be possible to leave the house in dress-ups. It certainly wouldn't have occured to my mother to allow it. My public appearances were always as her daughter. Which, from my point of view, was also a costume, albeit one I was sentenced to wear for the foreseeable future.

But back to the dress-up hamper. Inside were firemen, dinosaurs, miniature showgirls, crusaders, princesses and various creatures, all waiting to be animated by a small body and a big imagination. We also spotted a couple of church-fair bargains in the shape of Margaret Thatcher jackets (which I wish I'd never seen), and two ball gowns of M's, both made by her own mother.  

This was her first. As you can probably tell, it's a Mother's Daughter outfit. The soft white un-structured cotton screams virginal ingenue, while its young wearer pined for sophistication. 

That came later - in the form of this one. A far more grown-up affair, now that M was a married woman.

I loved M's hamper. I don't want to come over all maudlin, but how wonderful that she (and her mother) not only made these outfits, but that M kept them. They are a colourful, crumpled testament to love and imagination.

And the ball gown she's making K? Another costume, really (as is my tango look). One in which C will be able to conjure up a self more glamourous than her quotidian one. A gown in which to spend an evening being what she wears.

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