In my draft novel Next of Kin, my protagonist Taylor Madrid is haunted by dreams of two girls playing in their mother’s clothes. She sees herself, tiny hands clutching folds of a long skirt lifted above her knees, feet stumbling in high heels. The other girl’s face is partially obscured by a long, swirling scarf draped over her head, flowing to the floor. Taylor awakes before she learns the other girl’s identity.
My twin and I never (repeat, never) played dress-up in our mother’s clothes. Her few dresses were hung in a small closet we wouldn’t dare open because it also contained our father’s meager clothing. Mother’s daily wardrobe was a limited choice of shirtdresses. Her church clothes were somber colored, matronly styles, always two-steps behind modern fashions. Black, brown, gray, and an occasional dark green were no comparison to the pastels, deep magentas, turquoise, and bright yellows worn by paper dolls.
My paper dolls were movie stars with curvy figures wearing shorts, tennis dresses, strapless evening gowns, and two-piece swimsuits that Papa would not allow in our home in real life. A few cutouts had boas or mink hats and furs long before it was polite to say no animals were harmed in creating the accessories. I like to think I wielded scissors with the deftness of an artist, but truth invades memories of my tiny hands often slicing through fold-over tabs that held the costumes to the paper doll’s body. Sitting on the linoleum floor in my homemade clothes, I dressed my Betty Grable and Jane Russell paper dolls and dreamed of the day I would wear high-fashion clothes.
Our (I switch to plural here because Mother insisted her twins dress alike) first full shopping venture introduced fashion into our home. From the shiny taffeta material to the cap sleeves on the dresses to trendy spectator pumps and matching clutch purses, we blossomed into fashion stars. Our father’s disapproved of bare arms, our foray into modern style. Mother rescued us with her sturdy treadle sewing machine. Crisp white organdy jackets with pointed turn-back collars kept us as fashionable as our paper dolls; our arms covered but visible through the sheer material.
In my father’s presence, and for church, I was a respectable girl. Out of sight, I slipped off the jacket and relished my own paper-doll moment.
Fiction + Facts + Faded Memories + Fashion = Memoir