Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Dresses I Have Loved

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I am a feminist and I love dresses. I also enjoy wearing trousers, but I don’t seek them out with same passion as I find myself trawling clothes-rails actual and virtal in search of the dream dress. Germany’s Top Husband, who recently shrunk a dress of mine in the wash and saw his ratings tumble, can attest that my cupboard is full of dresses, some gorgeous, some everyday, some that don’t live up to their online imagery, but all worn. I believe that the search for the dream dress will never end, even if I find the nearly perfect dress (which I did last week, but more of that later). It is an ongoing search, much like the hunt for the perfect book, or the hunt for the supermarket in Germany that keeps a permanent supply of coriander – a neverending search that provides entertainment in and of itself, a meta-search.

I plan a couple of posts on some of my favourite current dresses, but before I do, it is essential that I first mourn the dresses that have past. You know. For closure. For without attaining closure on the past, how can we move forward to more and better dresses?

So I give you, not so much a meme as a memorial, to Dresses I Have Loved:

1. The nude lace vintage dress

I did vintage long before it had a cool moniker. This little beauty I found in a secondhand stall in Greenmarket Square in Cape Town in February 1987 on a hot Saturday morning. It was a nude lace sheath, beautifully lined with nude satin. It had a v-neck and back, sleeves to the elbow and just covered my knees (my nickname was once Knee Puffs – knee coverage is a good thing). The lace was slightly torn near the waist, a fact that I ignored because I loved it so. I wore the dress to my first university ball, with a black choker, long nude satin gloves and a long thin black cigarette holder. I wore some vintage flat winkle-pickers purchased in my home town before heading to university that pinched and made my feet bleed. This fact I ignored because they were the perfect match to the dress. During the ball, the lace ripped. I kept the dress for another five years, but never had the money to have it repaired. At some point, during one of my many moves, I must have thrown or given it away. This is the dress that I mourn the most, the ur-dress. All dresses are held up to its glorious lacy beauty and are found wanting.

2. The lime green belted dress

Originally my mother’s dress, the lime green belted dress was a standard favourite for weddings and parties in my third year of university. It had a v-neck, short cap sleeves and a matching belt. It came to just below the knees (theme alert!) and skimmed the body. I loved it. I have it no more. I mourn its passing. It kicked off my lifelong passion for lime green.

3. Dani’s black designer dress

Dani’s father bought her this dress in one of the first achingly cool hipster boutiques in Cape Town. Little did he know that this garment – black viscose, square neck, elbow length sleeves, slighty high waist and flowing to the mid-calf – would become beloved not only of Dani but of all her friends. On big nights out, the first negotiation would be who would wear the dress. Once we discovered how gorgeous it looked with a denim jacket, negotiations grew more heated. It was a floaty dream of a dress that suited everyone who wore it and I miss it now, more than 20 years later.

4. Black Bo-Peep dress 

This was another of my vintage finds, but I can’t remember which of my secondhand haunts provided this little lovely. It could have been Cape Town, but it could just as easily have been Johannesburg or PMB. It was black cotton with a tiny white spring, small cap sleeves that were loosely elasticised and a tiny white Peter Pan collar. I lived in this dress for about a year. I usually wore it with white pantaloons (cotton leggings with three layers of broderie anglaise at the ends – hence the Bo-Peep) that I sewed myself, but I also wore it without them. It was loose and flowing, and very very easy to wear. Our school uniform was a sprig with a Peter Pan collar, so I should have hated the dress, but I think wearing it was a kind of up-yours to the school establishment. I still love a sprig and a Peter Pan collar to this day.

5. Purple maxi-dress

I wore this dress with purple and white sneakers, Lily Allen-style but a long time before the young lady herself even dreamed of doing so, and a big smile every weekend in 1994 – the year that Germany’s Top Husband and I got engaged. The love affair was deep and meaningful, while the dress was Empire-line with spaghetti straps and a tiny white polka dot. It was cool and flowing, the perfect summer dress. I wore it the day we collected my engagement ring and wore a diamond for the first time. There’s a photo of me somewhere looking purple and very happy.

Do you have dresses whose loss you mourn?

(Image courtesy of Lainey’s Repertoire, Flickr Creative Commons)

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Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

14 thoughts on “Dresses I Have Loved

  1. Now I’m just wishing that you had photos of all these dresses – you brought them to life so well, I can almost see them!

    I don’t think I ever felt this passionate about dresses, but I did have a lasting affair with hats throughout my twenties and I still wonder what happened to them all. Only a very few have survived the move to SA.

  2. Love this!

    I’m not much of a dress person but one I loved was a sheer/net black diamond-patterned affair worn over a black slip. Several years, a good few children and one house move after buying it, I took it to my local charity shop knowing I’d never wear it again. A few months later my sister came to visit me in my new home. We went to the shops – she was on the look out for something to wear to a ‘gothic chic’ wedding she’d been invited to – and seeing my dress in the charity shop she scooped it up for a tenner. So the dress lives on – not on me, but on my flesh and blood.

  3. Can’t say there were any dresses I mourn for – though there are some I remember with affection. Like the mini dress I sewed myself, aged about 18, which probably showed my pants and definitely gave my father apoplexy! (It was in 1968!)

  4. This reminded me so much of Justine Picardie’s My Mother’s Wedding Dress: the life and afterlife of clothes. If you haven’t read it, Charlotte, you are in for a treat!

  5. In spite of the fact that I wear shorts and t-shirts in the summer and slacks and tshirts in the winter almost exclusively, I LOVE dresses and have several. The one I miss the most was one my mother made for me when I was in high school. It was white eyelet cotton witn beautiful vines embroidered around and between the eyelets. It had a boat neck, fitted todice to a dropped waist and a nicely gathered/ flaired skirt. I wore it with an ice blue slip underneath because of the eyelets. And I looked fantastic in it. I grew out of it, I’m afraid, as it was made just around puberty setting in and I was able to mash my ample bosom into it for about three years…

    Another dress I miss terribly was one I found on the clearance rack in 1978 at Nordstroms in Fairbanks Alaska. It became my concert formal and I wore it until it basically fell apart — about 3 years ago. It was so simple. A bodice that was made of three layers of chiffon cut basically in a modified circle — had a simple scoop neck, a peplum at the hip. The skirt was lined with satin and had yards and yards and yards of floaty black chiffon; a simple circle skirt made terribly elegant by the quantity of fabric. short cap sleeves. It was the perfect dress for a violist as it did not restrict motion in any direction. I loved that dress all the years I wore it.

  6. What a great post! I converted to dresses not so long ago (I love UK Boden and US Shabby Apple), but I do remember two pinafore dresses my mother made for me in the mid 1990s, that I wore for quite a long time. I suspect she thought sheath dresses were too figure hugging.

  7. Oh, how I relate. For me, it is a two piece navy blue outfit, 3/4 sleeves edged in 2-1/2 inch tatted lace with a matching lace collar. The skirt was fitted with a high waist and then gently eased out to a sort of bell shape. The top hung loosely just below the midriff. It was crepe covered taffeta. I was a senior in high school, it was 1966, and the boy of my dreams had asked me to a dance at his academy. He kept saying how beautiful I looked. Oh yes…great little dress…I am not sure I ever felt prettier in my life – and I can’t remember ever wearing it again. I hope I did. But it was that first wearing of it that I will always remember.

  8. Yes! Lovely post. I will counter-blog on the theme of dresses mourned.

  9. Thoroughly enjoyed this post, Charlotte. I can see these dresses so vividly and understand just why you still mourn the loss of them. I miss jeans and shoes more than dresses, though I do remember and miss a number of dresses from childhood; I’ve obstinately held on to just about all my adult dresses. I’m not sure why, but I can’t let them go.

  10. Oh, I love dresses, too, but it’s so hard to find really good ones. Just tried to do so yesterday, but came away with nothing (well, in the way of dresses, that is. I found quite a few cute tops on the way to the dress racks that managed to make it home with me). I mourn the first Laura Ashely jumper I ever owned. It was a blue floral and something I so couldn’t afford to buy when I bought it, but I bought it anyway. I wore it for years and years, until I finally had to admit that the bust had gotten too tight.

  11. You may not believe me when I say I am NOT a hoarder – but I have to confess that any dresses I really loved I still have. I’ve never been much of a shopper/collector or clothes, which is why this miracle is possible. But yeah. You’ll find twenty year old stuff in my wardrobe without looking too far. Pity only some of it still fits. 😛

    I love the dress style on the pic you’ve posted above. Anything Audrey Hepburn would have worn and I’m sold.

  12. I’ve never had a dress that I loved to bits. I always more skirts more…my favourite was a Ralph Lauren green wool skirt, long and flared to mid-calf, that I loved. My mother made it for me when I was 18. I’ve often thought of that skirt, I gave it away after I gained weight from my first child. Just a few weeks ago I found another skirt made by – Ralph Lauren! – that just goes to the tops of my knees, that I love already, a denim tan skirt.

    Great post, Charlotte, I could almost see the dresses you loved, and I loved the memories you associated with each, too! Another book along these lines is Vintage Affair, by Isabel Wolff, which was lots of fun to read. The main character loves vintage clothes, and some of your descriptions reminded me of the descriptions (love and memories) that this book has.

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