The Walk-In Closet by
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Mom, elegantly dressed, Jan, 1952; before pregnant with me

My mother had great style and a certain elegance, but no self-confidence. In fact, she actively disliked her looks. She used to say she had the map of Jerusalem on her face. As a grown-up, I tried to disabuse her of this notion, but to no avail. She was a self-hating Jew. Nevertheless, she always had big walk-in closets, full of great clothing and accessories. I was a dreamy “girlie-girl” who loved to play dress-up with play clothes and whatever adult clothes I could get my hands on.

I spent long periods in my mother’s closet. She had a pair of clear, plastic dressy shoes to die for. I was sure these were Cinderella’s glass slippers. They were open-toed, sling-backed, with a great crystal bauble on each and I wore them all the time. Because they were sling-back, they sort of fit me and I pranced around the house in my overalls and the glass slippers. My mother did a lot of charity work and had occasions to go to fancy balls, so had wonderful ball gowns, which I loved to look at (I never tried them on). She also had a beautiful alligator purse (this was in the mid-50’s…we didn’t know any better). I loved the clasp on it and played with it often. I recently saw someone with a similar one. It is back in fashion.

I have a miniature version of my mother’s figure in every way. She was two inches taller than I am, she had bigger breasts, larger everywhere, so I really never fit into her clothing, except the slinky, bias-cut satin gown she wore on her wedding night. That I wore twice: once when I played the glamourous actress Irene Livingston in Moss Hart’s “Light Up the Sky” at camp in 1969. And to the New Year’s Eve party at the Playboy Mansion in 1981. That party is always a pajama party because Hef always wears pajamas and he likes his women in lingerie. I don’t own fancy lingerie, so I wore my mother’s beautiful nightgown. Here it is: it used to be pale blue, but since she wore it in 1946, it has faded. It remains gorgeous; something Jean Harlow would wear.

Mother’s wedding nightgown, 1946

As she aged, she cared less and less about the way she dressed. When I moved her from her independent living apartment to the skilled nursing unit, where she spent the last two and half years of her life, I went through her large closet for the last time. She had become so paranoid and demented that she didn’t let the offered cleaning service come in once a year. The moths had eaten many of her lovely wool skirts to shreds. I saved some of her best suits, in wonderful jewel tones. Perhaps I thought a costume shop would like them, or maybe they’d fit me? They weren’t my style and just this past winter, more than six years after her death, I finally gave them all away. But I discovered beautiful purses and more gloves than any woman could ever wear. Those I kept and love to carry her still elegant purses, which I tell people are truly vintage. They are so well-made, they will never go out of fashion. Her timeless elegance stays with me. I try to forget the rest.

 

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Tags: elegance, self-hating, "Cinderella's slippers", bias cut satin gown, purses, gloves
Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    I bet you looked amazing in that beautiful nightgown, Betsy. And what fun to go to a party at the Playboy Mansion! Glad you still have the purses and gloves to remind you of your mother’s elegance.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Suzy. They shortened the straps for me at camp so it fit. The party at the Mansion was quite a scene. Christie told us to show up right around midnight. We went to LA with two close friends from work, pooling frequent flier miles to afford the trip, so we were staying in downtown LA and got lost in the barrio on our way, all dressed in pajamas! We drew straws to see who would get out to ask for directions! At the party I saw Wilt Chamberlain with twins, lots of recognizable faces. It was interesting. We went back to hang with Christie the next day. That was more fun.

  2. John Zussman says:

    How wise you are to compartmentalize these happy memories from those that are less happy. That sense of elegance has stayed with you.

    What prompt, I wonder, would evoke the full story of Hef’s party? We want all the gory details!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, John…I am the master of compartmentalizing. And striving for elegance.

      As for a prompt, perhaps Memorable New Years Eve’s. I could write a story related to this one, but too much coming up in the next few weeks. Long day ahead; fly home from Venice and try to stay awake to attend my choir concert. Won’t get home in time to sing in it.

  3. I just read this old story of yours and enjoyed more examples of your wonderful recall Betsy, and as always you have the photos to go with the memories.

    You’ve shared some less happy ones so was glad to read these memories of playing in your mother’s closet. What a fun place for a little girl to browse and day-dream in, and it’s wonderful that you still have her elegant – and now vintage – purses.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Dana. Yes, my mother had real style and I love her old purses. I have no use for the gloves (as I wrote about recently), but can’t quite give them up. It’s really sad that she couldn’t appreciate how wonderful she looked in these fine outfits.

  4. Betsy, I have a pair of white cotton gloves with scalloped edges like the ones in your photo – they were mine, not my mother’s , yes we wore them too once upon a time!

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