An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

A posted photo of an invitation to a recent Provo area stake fireside for women caught my eye. The cover art of busty, leggy women in provocative poses was a curious choice for a program titled “LDS Image Integrity”— with the stated purpose of showing sisters the effect their clothing choices have on achieving “earthly and eternal goals.” But if I still lived in the Provo area, I think I would have attended. I’m not sure my poor sense of fashion will affect my eternal life, but it’s certainly impacted this life.

I learned not to trust my own taste in clothes the first day of seventh grade. My mother had died the year before, and I was left to outfit myself for junior high alone. My dad, totally unknowledgeable about shopping and prices, provided $20 for the occasion. I ventured downtown alone and returned with serviceable brown loafers, a bright Kelly green jersey sweater with angora trim on the collar and a blue silk pleated neck scarf complete with fake fox head slide to cinch around my neck. Aunt Betsy Ross made me a bright purple corduroy skirt for the first day of school. Unfortunately, Aunt Betsy didn’t know that skirts for junior high girls had to be long and full enough for multiple layers of petticoats to poof them out. I didn’t know about the length and breadth requirements for junior high skirts either and thought I looked like Debbie Reynolds as I set off to conquer Dixon Junior High, waving to my cousin Buffy on her way to Provo High.

Buffy swooped down on me with fifteen-year-old vengeance when she returned from school. What was the grand idea of my disgracing the family by wearing a purple skirt, green sweater, blue scarf, yellow sox (the top ones in my drawer) and brown shoes to school? I wilted under Buffy’s attack, but it did prepare me for the fact that the adolescent world I was so eager to enter promised more pain than pleasure.

In the fifties in Utah, homemade clothes were much more fashionable than off-the-rack clothing—not to mention less expensive. My aunts and grandmother all breathed a sigh of relief when I began the required sewing class the second semester of seventh grade. At last my wardrobe dilemma would be resolved. I would learn to sew my own clothes and save my dad money. Unfortunately, I had no aptitude for sewing. No one understood why I had such a difficult time. My aunts tried to help me, but finally decided my problem was stubbornness. Not until Howard Gardner came up with his list of multiple intelligences did I understand my difficulty. My lack of spatial intelligence prevents me from comprehending how a flat piece of fabric can be cut and stitched into a three-dimensional garment.

Nowadays students in beginning sewing make simple things like wind socks and drawstring bags. Not so in the fifties. Our first project was a gathered skirt. I pulled and broke strings until I finally gave up and put a waist band on to fit the skirt, not my waist. Aunt Charity took pity on me and made the buttonhole so I could turn in a completed project. The next project was a blouse to go with the skirt. Making a blouse to go with a skirt eight inches too big around defeated me from day one. Putting the sleeves in was a nightmare. My home ec teacher finally gave up having me make a wearable garment and gave me a C for conscientious effort.

All eighth grade girls were required to take a second year of home ec in the era before ERA. Second year students were expected to make a dress combining the skills we learned in seventh grade. No alternative was offered to girls who hadn’t learned any skills in seventh grade. I knew I couldn’t put sleeves in, so I picked a halter-top pattern. Trying on the completed dress revealed my bra straps. Going without a bra was not an option in the fifties, even for a skinny thirteen-year-old, so I bought a strapless bra which refused to stay up. Modeling our dresses in the spring fashion show was a class requirement. I still have occasional nightmares about walking out on a lunch-table runway wearing a halter-top dress with a padded strapless bra around my midriff.

On second thought, I would not attend the Image Integrity Fireside even if I lived in that stake. I have enough self-image problems without learning that the effects of my mismatched wardrobe may reach beyond this life.

Comments on: "I Never Learned to Dress Myself" (2)

  1. I think you were ahead of your time…now days nothing is supose to match. I hope that Aunt Charity was my Mother, she really cared about you and others. She was always doing something to make life good for someone. I am afraid I didn’t apreciate her efforts in my behalf enough. When she was in her 80’s I did tell her that I forgave her for anything she might have done to make me miserable. Like the yellow strapless formal we bought for a dance.` I wanted pink but yellow was on sale, probably the first boughten dress I had. I still have that formal and the strapless(cupless) bra, I had the same problem as you keeping it up. Thanks to Mother I didn’t have to sew many of my clothes which is a good thing.

    If cousin Buffy happens to be me I am SORRY…I don’t know how it could be since I was so busy thinking about MYSELF and what Naomi,Chloe Ann, Lee Ann and all the rest of the girls were wearing to have time for a YOUNG COUSIN. I now find out that all the girls my age were suffering from the same poor self image. Now I am just happy to find clothes that fit. I give myself 10 points for being clean, makes me a #10 woman.

    You didn’t mention Jantzen sweaters, maybe that phaze had passed by the time you reached High School. I said to Mother one time “I always worked in the store and had money why didn’t I buy more Jantzen’s”… you can guess her reply “because I (mother) probably said that you had one why did you need two”. I did win a sweater at a PeP Raly and I still have it. We come from frugal roots for which I am grateful.

    • Don’t be sorry. Cousin Buffy did me a great favor! Aunt Charity is a composite aunt. Your mother and Aunt Wid spent many frustrating hours trying to teach me to sew. I wish I’d told them how much I appreciated their efforts. And I too am grateful for our frugal roots. Good thing we can laugh now at events that were so painful during adolescence!

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