Fancy Dress Finds Plain Girl

Marian_Orchestra Letter E_Rev7x8_170

It’s spring concert time and I’m making my fingers fly fast over the strings of my violin pizzicato style, trying to keep up with the syncopated rhythms of The Typewriter Song.

 

Noah Klauss, the director of our Elizabethtown High School Orchestra, is a fan of Leroy Anderson pieces. Last year we played The Syncopated Clock, the sound of a swinging pendulum tick-tocking in our heads as we played the melody.

I am learning the music all right, but in the back of my mind I worry, “What am I going to wear to the concert?” The outfits I have are mostly home-made. A collar or buttons is the most exciting accessory on my blouses or dresses – no lace or plunging necklines for this Mennonite girl, the only plain girl in the orchestra. Obviously, unlike my friends, I don’t have a fancy gown hanging in my closet.

To the rescue: Aunt Ruthie, who out of the blue, gives me a call. Down over the hill I go to our second home, where she and Grandma Longenecker live. As I walk toward the dining room table, Ruthie pulls out part of a bolt of shimmery fabric flocked with swirling designs. I blink at the elegance. Woah!

Flocked fabric similar to actual material
Flocked fabric similar to actual material

She’s already cut out the pattern and I’m to help her stitch the pieces together. Call me Cinderella! I’m going to the ball with a tea-length gown, a fluffy confection beyond my wildest dreams. Even the pin-pricks at my fitting can’t puncture the feelings of fantasy enveloping me now. Thank God, I won’t stick out like a plain Jane after all.

Take away the buttons and lengthen the skirt, and you have my Spring Concert dress.
Snip off the buttons and lengthen the skirt – Voila! my Spring Concert dress.

Do my class-mates in the orchestra comment about my transformation? I don’t remember what anyone else said, if anything. But I do remember the crinkly sound of my gathered skirt as I sit down, violin in lap. And the brand new, starchy-sweet scent of my luscious frock as I pull the bow over the strings.

I'm the plain girl between two fluffy skirts on the left.
I’m the girl with glasses between two fluffy skirts on the left.

Is there an outfit that recalls special memories for you?

 

Tell your story here!

 

 

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42 thoughts on “Fancy Dress Finds Plain Girl

  1. What a dear dear aunt. And of course it brings to mind a story, when after our family moved to north Florida and I was the new girl in school, I got voted into being on the homecoming court that fall. I wasn’t quite as plain as you, but still, a trip to a mall at Panama City or Tallahassee wasn’t going to yield any dresses that were homecoming court worthy, and still modest. Mother, bless her heart, took some red velvet that had been destined for someone’s wedding that was cancelled, and fashioned me a fitting dress, and also we decided I could wear another dress that I used at my sister’s wedding, as a bridesmaid. Thanks for the memory but mostly I’m so impressed by your beloved aunt. Great picture — yearbook?

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    1. I checked my EHS yearbook just to look up the correct spelling for our conductor’s name, Noah Klauss. In the process, the page you see announcing the spring concert was pressed between the pages. One of those serendipitous finds.

      Between my aunt, my mother, and later me, I was as well-clothed as a plain Mennonite girl could be, increasingly pushing the limits of “plainness” as defined by our Lancaster Mennonite Conference rules.

      Your mother is a resourceful soul too. And your getting voted into the homecoming court–wow! I guess you weren’t as conservative-looking as I then. I would never have made the cut. Thanks, Melodie, for getting our conversation started this morning.

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  2. As a child I had a gown with tiers of ruffles in the skirt – perfect for twirling! I wore that dress until mom finally had to lower the hammer and take it away. I still remember the feeling I had when I wore that dress as an 8 year old!

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    1. With you long flowing hair and beautiful features, I can’t imagine you in anything less than fanciful and fluffy. Quoting Julie Andrews: “I think every young girl at some point in her early life wonders what it’s like to be a princess. They like the idea of dressing up and the fun of it.”

      I love your mother’s expression “had to lower the hammer . . . .” Never heard that one before–very graphic! I assume you are in the closing days of school at Valwood. How I remember the exhilaration of end of term, job well done. Your comments are always at delight, Traci.

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  3. I enjoy your stories from E-town. There were times I felt out of place also when it came to how I dressed for some school activities. Keep the stories coming.

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    1. We share similar feelings growing up in Lancaster County and even attending the same high school. Yes, I plan more stories. On Saturday I’ll tell you all about my mother’s secret “second” family of girls.

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  4. What a lovely story! And what a wonderful aunt you have!

    I also played violin in the junior high orchestra, but I don’t remember dressing up. I do remember buying dressed for our daughters’ various choral and band concerts–and proms, of course. And yesterday afternoon, my younger daughter and I went shopping for my dress to her sister’s wedding. A successful outing!
    Your story also reminded me of Anne of Green Gables–are you a fan?

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    1. How exciting to have a wedding to look forward to. Since we had only one daughter, I had to pour all the delights of planning into that one special day.

      I am of course a fan of Anne of Green Gables–nostalgia to the 10th power for sure. Because Mennonites did not have TVs I didn’t see the shows as a girl, but caught up with them in re-runs years later. Now my grand-daughter Jenna see the episodes via live-streaming video.

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      1. Do you mean the Canadian shows with Megan Follows (I think that’s right)? I saw them on TV when our girls were little. Great casting. But I loved the books when I was preteen and teen.

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        1. Yes, those are the ones: Anne Shirley and her adventures with a family in rural Prince Edward Island. Your question prompted me to look up the history: First books published in 1908 and first TV movie in 1956. Talk about enduring tales.

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          1. Yes, I knew the books were from around 1900. I didn’t read all of them, but I did read several–and Anne of Green Gables, the first one I read many, many times. The Canadian TV show I meant was from 1985.

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  5. Dear Aunt Ruthie. She knew what was important. It was important you feel good, feel special and yes, feel feminine. This is such a special memory. It definitely should go in the family book of stories.
    I love this post! You had me with the image of the vinyl of “The Typewriter Song” and just a mention of “The Syncopated Clock” had me humming “There was a man like you and me, as simple as a man could ever be…”♪♪ the sound of the music and fabric-the feel of the fabric not to mention how it made you feel – the sight of those pretty dresses – the smell of newness – and the taste? – well, that was one delicious fabric.

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  6. I didn’t know the lyrics to “The Syncopated Clock.” Thank you for supplying the opening lines. The sound of music and the fragrance of the fabric made this such a rich sensory experience. Maybe that’s why it was so easy to recall it. Yes, this a story for the family book.

    As a writer, I can tell from your blog categories “family life” and “stories of Texas” that you are into memoir as well. Obviously, you respond to music too. Thanks for posting, Georgette!

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  7. Thank you for the wonderful story and link to the piece of music you played. I’m enjoying new (to me) meanings for the word “flocked,” and how that fabric satisfied you. Do you still make dresses?

    I used to make dresses, and I keep one, a green print,hanging in my closet, to remember those days.

    My current handwork involves turning wool (from a sheep named Midnight that once lived in Wisconsin with my brother and sister in law) into felt balls.

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  8. No, Dolores, I don’t sew anymore though I have my old sewing machine for mending (but only in extreme cases.) I gave a lined, pin-striped vest I made for our son Joel to Sarah for their boys to wear, but I don’t know if they have it any more. Well, we have photos.

    Your last comment: ” . . . turning wool (from a sheep named Midnight that once lived in Wisconsin with my brother and sister in law) into a felt ball.” has piqued my interest. Have you written about it, put photos on Facebook? Inquiring minds need to know! Thanks for adding your homespun comment today.

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  9. That’s a fascinating story. And a dear sweet aunt who helped you play the role of young lady musician in proper style. I remember that song. I think it opened a movie once. Can’t recall the title. Like Flight of the Bumblebee, a really fast one to learn though, huh?

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  10. I’m glad you enjoyed another walk down memory lane. I know you are an artist (oils?) so it wouldn’t surprise me that you are a musician as well. If you ever think of the movie title featuring the Bumblebee song, let us know. Thanks, Susan.

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  11. A delightful story, Marian. What also struck me was that my music teacher in grade school was Mrs. Klauss. Her husband, she told us, was a producer of some sort in NYC. (we were in northern NJ). Wouldn’t it be a hoot if they were related? I played the cello in elementary school; carried it back and forth each day for five years. That’s about all I can remember of it, unfortunately. Tried to find Middle C on one in a story once and had no idea. Sad. Do you still play?

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  12. Mr. and Mrs. Klauss in different states–what a concept. They could be related – who knows.

    I took my violin to college where it stood in the corner of my dorm room unused except on the occasional weekend probably during my freshman or sophomore year. Sadly, now my violin is merely an ornament on my piano, with three strings left, not four. Only grand-daughter Jenna, now 8, is musically inclined with an instrument. Her recital is on my Facebook page this week.

    I enjoyed your post today. It’s hard for any traveler to come back from a trip and catch up. Writers, especially bloggers, have an additional hurdle, I think. We have such high expectations and goals to match.

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  13. Well, Marian, your Aunt Ruthie was a second mother for sure! I can see why you hinted at your own expansion of the mother concept when you commented today on my blog. And I’m eager to read about your mother and her other girls.

    This post with its combo of sewing and music reminds me of my friend Phyllis. I think I’ll send it to her.

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    1. We send our thoughts into the ether, never knowing who or how it will touch others. I’m happy this post has inspired you to contact Phyllis. I suspect you will have more to talk about than just sewing and music, especially if she is a longtime friend. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Shirley.

      I enjoyed your piece on Catherine Mumaw, and I saw it resonated with many others on Facebook and your blog. She seemed so serene when I talked to her last October; I had no idea she is facing serious physical challenges. Truly, “our lives are in His hands.”

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  14. Great story. My clothes were all hand made as well. When I was 16, Mom went into labour with little brother #3 before she had a chance to sew the Jackie Kennedy style, deep red corduroy suit she had cut out for me to wear to the Valentines Day dance. So while she was in the hospital, I sewed it myself. I danced every dance that night and everyone wanted to know where I bought the suit! I sewed my own clothes from then on.

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    1. What a gutsy girl–and a gutsy story. The cliche is true: Necessity is the mother of invention. The outfit must have turned about beautifully if everyone wanted to know where you bought the suit. Do you have pictures? I see another blog post idea for you, Darlene. Thank you for adding this colorful story.

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      1. I don’t think I have a picture of that suit. I have included this story in a short story about the arrival of my little brother. I should create a blog about it. Thanks for the idea.

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  15. Marian – I absolutely love the word picture you painted:

    “I’m going to the ball with a tea-length gown, A FLUFFY CONFECTION beyond my wildest dreams.”

    It’s clear that the “fluffy confection” made your heart soar — precisely what your Aunt Ruthie had in mind.

    My favorite outfit? A tomboy through and through, I had a pair of TURQUOISE wide wale corduroy pants with a fire-engine red patch on each knee. I adores those pants!

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    1. I guess we’d make quite a pair – a study in contrasts. Actually, now I like more classic lines, not fluffy and overly fussy. Back then, I guess I wanted to look like a storybook princess. I’d love to see photos of tomboy Laurie. Maybe another blog post theme?

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  16. I went shopping for my Gr. 12 grad dress with my Mom in the city. We found a beautiful deep red brocade dress, off the shoulder, sweetheart neck line, full walt-length skirt. It was a lot of money but my Mom insisted I try it on anyway. Then she offered to buy it for me as my grad present because I had worked so hard to finish with my class and I worked so hard at being a good Mom! Then my aunt took me shopping for jewelry to go with it. I still have that dress (it still fits)! I pull it out from time to time just to admire it. It had touille in the skirt so I can relate to your crinkly skirt too!:-)

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    1. I marvel at the description of your dream dress and even more at your ability to fit into it now in mid-life, if your blog title is any indication. Do you think sweetheart necklines will make a comeback?

      Or maybe they’ve gone the way of flared pants!

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  17. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll buy some trousers with a lovely flocked pattern. Maybe then I’ll be the talk of the party!

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  18. Three cheers for Aunt Ruthie!!! What a lovely story, Marian.
    When I was in high school, the one dress equalizer was playing in the orchestra. The males wore black slacks, which shirts and ties, and the females all wore black dresses and block heels. There was only a slight opportunity for personality–the style and actual height of the heels, and whether or not the girls wore earrings–no other changes. All the girls used the same dress patterns and fabric. They did a lot of complaining, as I remember, but now I see the redeeming logic of the decision. Regardless of your position in society or your teen popularity, you were part of an orchestra combining to make beautiful music, not to stand out because of your clothing! Pretty smart, actually.

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    1. School athletes had uniforms of course, but as I recall the only stipulation at spring concert time was that our dresses be pastel in color. I knew the dresses were required to be tea length or longer, but I was certain nothing in my closet would fit the bill. Hence the story. Your own story sounds sensible. Black can go anywhere! Thanks, Marylin.

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  19. I recall a solo visit to visit my Nana and Pop-Pop when I was 15 1/2. I wore a white dress with a black print – flowers as I recall. I loved it. Probably not an appropriate outfit for a bus ride from Syracuse, New York to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania … but, there you go. I believe mine also was crinkly.

    Your outfit sounded lovely. How wonderful that your Aunt Ruthie was so creative and talented. She saved the day – er, the night – of the concert. 😉

    I also remember that “Typewriter Song.” Cool!

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    1. Similar outfit, similar part of the country – and probably similar era. I’ll bet you remember Anderson’s “Syncopated Clock” too. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Judy.

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  20. I love corduroy when i was at school age mommy use to buy me and my sister that, it was in the 80s so the most of the pants was in wide wale corduroy .

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