While I was growing up, the most fashionable day of the year was Easter Sunday where we showed off our new frocks and hats in church. No one wanted to wear a dress that had been worn before. If they did, it had to be ‘made-over.’ Hats followed the same principle; you could always get artificial flowers or a bit of new ribbon at the 5&10. One item had to be new–your pristine white gloves. Since these were worn for every dressy occasion throughout the summer, they became too dingy for the following year.
Two weeks before Easter, Mama and I rode with Daddy to Little Rock when he went there on business. He let us out in front of the Sterling Store because it was on the corner of Main. From there, Mama and I began to visit all the department stores and Ladies’ shops on Little Rock’s two main streets.
We tried on dress after dress at each store, making note of those we liked “pretty well” to come back and re-try in the afternoon.
At noon, we had lunch at the Woolworth’s lunch counter. They had blue plate specials named for the plate they were served on. It was a thick ivory plate with a ring of navy blue circling the rim. We would have pie or cake for dessert that we chose from the tall glass carousel on the counter. Sweet iced tea with lemon, of course.
After lunch, shopping took on a more feverish pitch. Time was running out before we had to meet Daddy.
First, Mama found a light grey suit she liked. Then, in the millinery next door, she found her hat to match. She said she could wear last year’s black patent heels.
We were beginning to get nervous about me. Then, lo and behold, we saw the dress in Pfeifer’s window! It was a one piece though it appeared to be a skirt and blouse. We went inside for me to try it on. The skirt was navy taffeta and the bodice was white nylon with rhinestone buttons and long puffed sleeves.
Mama gasped at the price, but she saw I was in love with it and agreed to the purchase. The clerk said I needed a beautiful lacy slip to wear under the nylon blouse and this was added to the sale. We bought navy flats with rhinestone clasps at Kempner’s. I was so happy, I was almost jumping up and down. Suzanne had told me that Morgan (my secret crush) would be singing the special music at our church on Easter. I dreamed of him stopping dead in his tracks when he saw me in this beautiful dress.
We headed back to the millinery for my little navy hat with a trim of white baby’s breath. It was almost time to meet Daddy so we hurried back to Sterling’s. They’d have Mama’s stockings. We’d ride the elevator with the lattice doors to the second floor Ladies Room to powder our noses first. I loved to shop there simply because of the way they handled purchases. The sales clerk placed your ticket and money inside a tube much like you see in today’s drive-in banks. I’d watch the tube as it traveled along a thin black cable up to the second floor. Whrrrrr, went the sound. Minutes later, it came whirrring back down with your change inside.
As always, Daddy asked, “Did you find what you wanted? How much did you have to spend?”
As always, Mama answered, “Yes,” to his first question and “Not too much” to his second.
Easter week arrived. Now, Mammy and Mama always warned of a cool “Easter spell.” But this year was different. It was worse. A blue norther blew in on Friday night and lingered through the weekend.
This put a crimp in the style of all the ladies in town. They loved to don their new Easter outfits and walk slowly down sidewalks on their way to church for the benefit of anyone watching from porches or cars. Not so, this year.
On Easter morning, I put on the outfit I’d tried on at least twenty times over the past week. Daddy said I looked very nice before leaving for his church. Mama, however, burst my beautiful bubble!
“Brenda, it’s too cold for you to wear that. You’ll just have to save it for a warmer day.”
After I threw a fit, bursting into tears and threatening to stay home, she said I could wear it under one condition: I had to wear an undershirt under the nylon blouse! An undershirt?? Like some little kid when I was almost 12 years old!!?? Crocodile tears began to flow, but Mama won out in the end.
I wore the beautiful dress with the undershirt beneath. It was one of the most humiliating days of my life. I tried wrapping my coat around me but I was still teased in Sunday School with the undershirt showing for all to see. After church we were walking down the steps when Morgan came up beside me. Ever the charmer, he said, “That’s a real pretty dress, Brenda; you must be in the Easter Parade.”
For the rest of the day, I vacillated between tears and laughter as only a love-sick 11-year-old can do.
Brenda Miles is an award winning columnist and author residing in Hot Springs Village. She welcomes your comments at [email protected]