I have loved hearing your fashion memory stories for this summer Fashion Fridays series. I love reading how almost every biggest fashion memory is linked to a person. Mine are the same way! Today we welcome my friend Jennifer with her beautiful, transport you there, memory of her first professional fashion and her grandmother (she just couldn’t find an old picture so use your imagination!). Welcome Jennifer today:
When reading your fashion memories, this one came hurtling back to me. I can literally smell the clothes pre- and post- dry cleaning as I think back to my first job out of college. I can see myself vividly unwrapping my first professional garb in my grandmother’s nursing home room to show her and my mom my new threads. She had recently fallen and broken her hip, and she was suffering from dementia. Unfortunately she was also experiencing the onset of Alzheimer’s which would keep her chained to that nursing home for the rest of her life. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that strongly about threads before or since! But I do know it’s one of those rare moments in a career woman’s life you can never duplicate. Kind of like meeting your true love! Here’s my story.
I was 22 and nearing graduation. I was looking forward to hanging up my beer-soaked waitressing uniform after four years of slinging bangers and mash at an English pub. I had big plans. I was taking one week off to get my wisdom teeth pulled, and then I was officially becoming a Professional.
The thought of my first day of work – real at-a-desk-with-a-dedicated-phone-line work – made my shoulders stand tall and my mouth smile from ear to ear. I was pumped. I had never worked in an office before! Internships were for the business majors back then (or at least I was led to believe). I happily waitressed and bartended my summers away. When senior year came around, I started asking the regulars around the bar what kind of work I should pursue. What kind of company would hire a psychology major? What is the going rate for a college graduate these days? I clearly had no clue. How innocent and exposed I felt! How shiny and new the world seemed. Turned out the restaurant owner’s wife was the founder and president of a prominent marketing communications and graphic design firm in the new building next door, and they were in need of a receptionist. Of course, I’d love to apply!
Somehow I got hired. Upon reflection, they should have never hired me. I failed every basic interview principle besides being polite and showing up on time. I feel like I wore overalls to the meeting (or might as well have). That’s how stupid I felt walking out of the building after my first interview. Ever. Hopefully I wore a skirt and at least a sweater or jacket.
So it’s the Friday afternoon before the new job, and it’s time to get serious. I’m on cloud nine and nervous as all get out. I am in the zone, and I am heading to where all the ladies shop for professional garb – Foley’s. Or so I assume since it is pretty much the only department store where I remember my mom spending her time.
I drove to the downtown Foley’s, and it felt very appropriate amongst the skyscrapers. The sales floor was dead, so I basked in my private shopping paradise. I opened my first Foley’s card, and I got a discount on my first day’s purchases. I purchased two suits, Jones of New York, both exactly the same. One in black and one in khaki. I liked the sheen of the fabric, and the fit of the jackets. The fit was a little big in one color, but I knew I could make it work. This was about a decade or so before I discovered that tailors are God’s gift to professional women.
I kept going, feeling confident as the clothes pile up. I added a skirt to match the pant suits. And a sweater set – how smart! I bought a light pink and blue pin striped Ralph Lauren shirt. It had new iron-free technology and was fitted to my frame. I purchased a traditional Ralph Lauren striped shirt as well and forever regretted it. Though it was marked extra small, it felt like it was built for a man – always too billowy around the waist and ridiculously long. After the third wear, I became concerned that Mr. Lauren actually expected 5 foot 4 inch women to wear these shirts and like them! I spent hours looking at shoes and belts and purchased something brown or black – classic but completely boring. Luckily, working with creatives in the dead of summer quickly gave way to colorful heeled sandals and slides so my toes didn’t suffer too long.
The day after my score at Foley’s, I was excited to share my new wears with my mom and grandmother. We met at my grandmother’s room in her new nursing home digs, and the fashion show began. I recall the light through the window created a golden cast across the room. It must have been the afternoon and the sun was shifting. So many things shifting. My grandmother was very happy to see me and enjoyed my company as I pranced around the room as if I was six again playing dress up in her closet. I remember an old afghan was folded on the edge of her bed, and I remember thinking how yellow and golden everything was. It was the last time I would recall seeing my grandmother lucid, and honestly I’m not sure if she truly was that day, but I remember that she was. I felt her quiet smile.
I went through each piece and described my choices in great detail. The bargains I found, the discounts I applied. The endless options I had by mixing and matching the pieces I chose. Such pride I felt driving home that afternoon. Such pride I saw in my mother’s and grandmother’s eyes. One of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Thank you Gindi for helping me to remember.