Your mother's clothes

Photo: New York Times

Have you seen the wonderful photo essay, "Mom Genes", published last year in the New York Times? Sheila Heti asked various women to show and describe clothes or accessories once owned by their mothers, and now worn by them.

Detail, Mom's suit blouse
Such rich resonance for me! Given my age, my stash of Mom's clothes have worn out or been lost: a sheared-beaver stroller, a leather and knit shooting jacket, a hooded evening coat in dark-green velvet that shimmered, nearly black. 

I have posted here on her silk blouse, which she wore with a suit at her 1931 wedding, and which hangs in my closet.

What endures most is the memory of the quality: a heathered tweed jacket with leather-piped buttonholes and bellows pockets, a bias-cut charmeuse nightgown.

Do you remember when Anne Klein made good clothes? When decent jackets came with extra buttons, and hems were finished with bias tape? Covered snaps, anyone? No wonder the younger generation wanted these hand-me-downs.

Where do you find the things your daughters or young friends may someday beg from you? 


One of the joys of belonging to a sewing group, although I don't sew, is that I see these women create heirlooms. The work that they do is so perfect, labor intensive and meticulously executed, that it's an honor to be a member of their club!
Madame Là-bas said…
I had a Jaeger suit and a camel coat that were my Mum's. I always offer my own daughter items before I donate them but there is not the same quality.
Duchesse said…
Janice: You have led me to reflect on why I stopped sewing, thanks. It seems if you want those lost techniques you would be wise to do it yourself, as the alternative is so dizzyingly costly.

Mme: I have lately passed up any number of just-okay items, giving my inner cost-conscious self notice of incipient upgrades. But at the same time own far less, so I think it will work out to be about the same level of spending.
Susan B said…
My mother didn't tend to hang onto, clothes, friends. The only thing of any quality that she kept through the years was an early-to-mid 20th century turquoise squashblossom necklace. I have it now and never wear it.

But yes, the quality these days (even on pricey garments) just isn't anything close to what I remember from my mother's and grandmother's wardrobes some 40-50 years ago. I still have and wear a sheer silk Liberty print scarf of my grandmother's that I'm guessing is at least 60 years old, and it's still beautiful.
Anonymous said…
While growing up I wore a lot of both my Mom's and Dad's clothes. Dad's clothes were mostly sweaters - made in the 70s, early 80s, in Italy or Scotland - the most beautiful wools, wonderful Merinos and Shetlands. I would wear them year after year, some of them daily to school as part of my uniform. I do not remember any single pill. It is in the 90s that I discovered that sweaters pill and look horrible after a seasons near-daily wear, even if they come from a decent place. I am still sorry that I gave away those clothes. They were still in wonderful condition after years of wear. The quality - both materials and workmanship - was simply unparalleled. There is simply nothing out there like it today. At no price range. I have an original Bottega Veneta sweater bought at TJMaxx for a mere $40 down from the $250 TJMaxx sticker and $750 BV sticker. Initially the wool felt like silk, but after a season's wear the charm is gone!
So sad and depressing.
LPC said…
My mom's still with us. Her closet is very full. I don't expect I'll ever wear any of her clothes, she is a very little woman:). But the idea of this is lovely.
frugalscholar said…
I have many many sweaters--both sweaters knit by my grandmother and great-aunt (born 1895 and 1901), sweaters knit by my mother in college, and sweaters knit by DH's grandmother (born late 19th century). They still look good! I also have and wear cashmere sweaters and a Burberry trench bought in London by my parents in the early 80s--when the dollar and pound were par. The sweaters are made in Scotland and still in great shape.

When I was in college I wore a lovely dolman sleeved handknit sweater my mother bought on her Canada honeymoon in 1953. I wore it so much that it completely disintegrated.- about 10 yrs later.

I have an Austrian dirndl that belonged to my grandmother from before the war. This is for family history only.
Tiffany said…
My mother is still live (although completely incapacitated) but I won't get anything from her - she never cared very much about clothes and certainly never bought anything particularly stylish or well-made. But I do have some beautiful things from my MIL (also still alive and much more stylish than my mother) and even from HER MIL. I'm not sure what my daughter would want but I'll be hanging onto a couple of those things for her. I agree wholeheartedly about quality - we're going into autumn here and all the coats I pick up to look at aren't even lined! Shabby. Even brands that you'd expect better from have lowered their standards. I wish I didn't hate sewing :)
Duchesse said…
unefemme: Gasp! Why not wearing, old turquoise would look so beautiful with your blonde hair!

Anon@10:21: Amen, sister. I have a Scottish cashmere bolero my mother wore in 1960, still in fantastic shape. (It went with a cocktail dress she rarely wore and is too small for me.)

LPC: My mother was far smaller and shorter than I am but she let me have the flowy or less structured items and of course accessories. Your comment reminds me that I accepted such gifts while she was still alive; once gone I found it too sad and gave her remaining effects to other family members.

frugal: Those woolens are about bulletproof if you can keep moths or accidents like cigarette burns away. Unfortunately not everything looks sharp a half century on but it's surprising how some things could be made this year.

Tiffany: You are right, some family members have better stuff to hand down than others! But I also have a few of my Dad's Irish linen handkerchiefs-ones he had never used. hardly glamorous but sentimental.

Jill Ann said…
I am drooling over the green velvet evening coat. Unfortunately my mother & grandmother did not have much in the way of super quality clothing. My brother was just visiting this week, and we talked about being annoyed about things our parents gave away without asking if we wanted them (although we both dearly loved our parents). His complaint was over some war memorabilia of our dad's, and mine was over my mom's cape-back mink jacket, which she GAVE TO GOODWILL!!!!!!! Sigh.

I am, however, at this moment wearing her white leather moccasins, and I cherish a collection of sparkly costume jewelry she & my granny amassed. I also have a box of antique hankies, some from my great-grandmother, and I actually keep one in my purse at all times, rather than tissues.

I hope my daughters will also cherish these of them has already mentioned a few things of mine that she covets! Ha!
SewingLibrarian said…
Your mother's blouse is exquisite. My mother and I were never the same size, but she did give me a beautiful cashmere sweater that she had outgrown when I was a young woman. My dad purchased it for her at VL&A, a Chicago subsidiary of Abercrombie and Fitch, back in the days when A&F was an upscale sporting goods store. The sweater was very good quality but, unfortunately, beige - a color that makes me look ill. Nevertheless, I wore it until the moths got to it. Side note: sometime in the 1990's Dad wandered into an A&F store and was shocked to see what it had become. In a way, A&F's descent into teeny-bopper clothing illustrates your point.
SewingLibrarian said…
I came back to say that I also have some fabric that Mother never used and gave to me when she stopped sewing. She used to buy at the JP Stevens mill in Vermont while on vacation. The quality of the wools seems much better than it is today. I've made up a few of the pieces, and I intend to sew up the rest of them. And from my MIL, an inveterate shopper, I have a fisherman's knit cardigan that I wear, many pairs of beautiful leather gloves, and a dozen Irish linen dinner napkins, never taken out of the store bag until I got my hands on them. I think of her whenever I use them.
I don't think I have any of my mother's clothing, though she was an excellent seamstress; made her own suits and reupholstered furniture. I have a splendid photo of her as a young war work in Ottawa; she has a severe black dress (fine wool, probably) with a white collar. Her hair was jet black but she already had a white "skunk" stripe.

I do have an old woollen blanket (not Hudson's Bay, a competitor with a ram on the label, made in England as well) that was a wedding present to my parents. I do have some Hudson's Bay blankets including a bright pink one; I bought those at a bazaar run by nuns (VERY clean merch) when they weren't so fashionable as they've become again.

I was thinking how pretty a squash necklace would look with some of the slightly flowier clothing Pseu is wearing these days. And isn't there a certain young woman you know who might love the bolero?
Tish Jett said…
My mother had gorgeous clothes. Her father owned a menswear store in Niagara Falls, NY, and she loved wearing clothes from his store. She wore trousers and white shirts, then added a ribbon as a belt. She had his tailor shape jackets to her slender frame.

She and my father belonged to a supper club in Ontario, Canada, and whenever she dressed for a black-tie evening it was breathtaking to see her. She had a taffeta evening skirt in emerald green that she wore with, again, a men's pleated tuxedo shirt and at her waist she tied it all together with a braided gold belt studded with primary color "gems."

Her clothes have been lost in our many moves, but I always had her jewelry, until everything was stolen including the "men's" rings her father had made for her. Very sad, but as I've said on my blog our dog Charlotte wasn't hurt in the robbery and I know that that is all that would have mattered to her.

Wonderful post, Duchesse.
Duchesse said…
JillAnn: The hankies are survivors as few women wore them out. I too have a small collection and cherish their charm. It's suc fun to see your things on the next generation- that is, if you are not still wearing them.

SewingLibrarian: Ohhh, the fabric! This way you can make what you like and still have that quality. Lucky!

lagatta: These other items, such as blankets or housewares, are also resonant and are often hardier than clothing.

Tish: She sounds like a woman few would forget. Losing her jewelry is a blow (and I recall you had already given Andrea a few things, so there is that, but still).

Eleanorjane said…
I've been working my way through some of my mother's clothing. I have managed to bring myself to get rid of a few things, but it's hard not to feel that I'm getting rid of the memories and associations. I've got a couple of jumpers of hers which I haven't worn this winter but don't want to get rid off.

I do wear the few bits of her jewelry I inherited regularly.
Susan B said…
Duchesse, it's a gorgeous piece, but humongous and very heavy, not something for every day wear. Maybe I'll style an outfit around it and post some nice photos.
Duchesse said…
Pseu: You have to be in the right mood to put up with a heavy necklace!

I have seen some squash blossoms reworked to make two necklaces, or using just the big center medallion and (hollow) silver beads. But that alters a piece, and some do not want that.

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