I was born during “The Depression.” Those words shaped my childhood – one knew there were people much poorer than my family, but one learned not to ask for too much – not to be seen to be greedy, not to waste, and to use everything to the very last drop. I was the youngest of four girls and I always wore my sisters’ hand-me-downs. So did all my friends who were younger sisters, so it was not discussed.
The big rage in my youth was Shirley Temple. She was a huge star and I adored her in “The Good Ship Lollypop” – the first movie I ever saw. I was “Shirley” for weeks after that. I think I memorized the whole movie and I yearned for a Shirley Temple doll. My wish came true; that Christmas I received a Shirley Temple doll. She had on a blue and white checked dress and a white Peter Pan collar edged with the blue and white check. Shirley was carried everywhere and I tucked her into bed beside me every night.
My next Christmas, I received a Shirley Temple dress – the same as my doll wore! It was my first own dress – brand new – not a hand-me-down and I matched my doll! Such glee, such happiness, such pure joy. I am smiling as I write this! That dress was the most loved. I wanted to wear it every day and I never tired of it.
My best dress? Of course, and the one most appreciated.
Carol MacNichol, Toronto, Ontario
I bought my favourite dress in a small, exclusive boutique in a village in England. It had a lightly boned bodice of black crêpe, shot through with gold thread. The neckline was made of pleated black satin worn off the shoulders with a large, black satin flower in the centre. It had a two-tiered satin flounced skirt which fell to just below my knees.
At the time, 1990, it was extremely fashionable and worn with a pair of high-heeled black suede shoes with diamante bows and a chiffon stole. I felt very elegant.
The reason this dress is so special to me is because it marked a profound turning point in my life. On my return from England I was greeted at the Toronto airport by John. At this time, our relationship was in its tentative early stages and we were spending two days together to get to know one another better.
As a surprise, John had bought tickets to see “Phantom of the Opera” at the Pantages Theatre. That evening we both dressed to the nines and rode down the elevator to the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel. As we proceeded through the lobby a sudden hush descended and all eyes to turned to us as the crowds fell back, rather like the parting of the Red Sea.
Now, I already knew how distinguished John looked when formally attired, so I assumed the admiring glances were aimed at him. Apparently though, John said he had fallen a pace behind and all eyes were upon me in my stunning dress.
From there, we took a cab to Centro. Unknown to us, this restaurant was frequented by actors, movie stars and the like, and the staff were accustomed to all sorts of glamorous personalities dining there.
As we entered the restaurant, the maître d’ came to greet us. Her reaction was quite spontaneous. “Oh my,” she exclaimed, “don’t you look beautiful this evening!” We were treated like VIPs the whole time and you could see the waiters trying to work out who we were. From the restaurant we went to the theatre where we received the same reaction as people made way for us wherever we went.
That evening was the most exciting, magical and glamorous that I have ever spent. I truly felt like a princess, something I had never before experienced.
From then on, that dress has held a special place in my heart as my “Cinderella dress,” the one I wore when I found my prince!
Elizabeth Illingworth, Thunder Bay, Ontario
It took some time for me to decide on ‘my favourite dress’ – there were many!
But the one that meant the most to me was the one that I found at Creeds for my daughter’s wedding. It was a two-piece self-patterned knee-length light silk dress in a champagne colour.
The wedding and the reception were held in our garden on a very hot and humid day in June 1983. I felt so elegant and was so comfortable that I wore that dress on many special occasions thereafter.
Mary Mingie, Toronto, Ontario
Mid-holiday in St. Tropez, France, when I was 22, I bought a petal-like layered chiffon evening dress at a tiny little boutique. Each large petal had its own colour which ranged from a muted but lovely yellow through a soft peach to a watermelon pink. The dress was neither long nor short because of the uneven petal shapes. It floated when I walked and danced because of its light weight. And it felt as if I had nothing on!
The bodice was simple and curved up towards the shoulders. It had a bias seam binding in one of the contrasting colours which split in two at the shoulders and became two ropes of chiffon which crisscrossed over my back and tied in two little bows at the sides.
I unearthed this dreamy dress for a party a few years ago and felt so wonderful in it again. It was every bit as much in fashion as it had been so long ago. It reminded me once again of that gorgeous holiday I had with a great friend from Montreal visiting a French family with a lovely house high up in the hills overlooking St. Tropez. Oh, to be 22 again!
Cathy Fauquier, Toronto, Ontario
My favourite dress isn’t a dress, but it is very much a favourite. I bought it before I met Graham while on assignment in New York. It cost me US$100, a great deal by my standards, but I loved it then and I love it still.
The assignment I covered was an exhibition by Canadian rainwear designers in the Big Apple. They were hoping to crack the U.S. market and some branch or other of the Canadian government helped finance the show. It was, of course in the garment district, a story all by itself, but I digress.
The item I bought is technically rainwear, but it is much more than that. It is a black velvet, hooded cloak. It’s perfect over evening wear, it was perfectly elegant when I was pregnant, and it still is perfect. I wear it as my dress coat, anytime I need a dress coat, still. My kids have both borrowed it, and the hem has gone (temporarily) up or down to suit their needs. It has been to press gallery dinners, to Government House, to weddings, to royal occasions, and, from time to time, to Halloween outings. It is indestructible, elegant, and I love how it looks and feels. The best US$100 that I have ever spent.
Gail Scott, Toronto, Ontario
As I contemplated my favourite dress, I was taken back to Barsuda Drive where we both lived in the late 60s. You were making a green velvet gown which was amazingly beautiful. I learned a lot about sewing with velvet during those weeks and have never forgotten “the nap lesson” – all in the same direction! I made green velvet dresses for my two granddaughters two years ago and I thought of you.
The two dresses I remember as favourites are also from the 60s, before I met my husband Howie, for two student nurse formals at Casa Loma. The first was red taffeta, strapless with sparkles across the bodice, and long, as was the style. The skirt was full but not overdone. I felt wonderful.
The second one was short, white, and sleeveless, with a beaded top and a filmy, swishy skirt of organza. My Mom bought it for me at Liptons because she knew I liked it. It was probably more than she wanted to spend but she also realized how very important it was to me. It is still around, now in the girls’ dress-up box. Julianna claims it belonged to a princess! I guess that’s what it was all about!
Karen Goodfellow, Cobourg, Ontario
When I first thought about it, my response was that I never had a favourite dress. Then, for some reason, a date with Hutch popped into my memory. Before we were married, we went to a dance at Cedarbrae Golf and Country Club with a group of friends, a common occurrence for us in those days. We would have been about eighteen.
I had spotted a dress in the window of a shop at Queen Street East and Wheeler Avenue. So Mum and I made the trek from our home in Scarborough to investigate further. The dress was winter white, with a bodice made of lacy wool. The mid-length skirt was very full, with a fitted waist made of taffeta organza.
It fit perfectly. Mum said if I really wanted it she would buy it for me. So she did. I was to buy the accessories. I spotted a pair of off-white shoes with the same lacy pattern. They complemented the dress to a tee. The outfit was topped off with a rhinestone tiara, which was very fashionable at the time.
When I looked in the mirror, I felt like a princess. And I saw a princess looking back. At the dance on Saturday evening I was fortunate enough to be crowned Queen. So, looking back all these years later, it turned out that it was a very memorable dress indeed!
Elaine Hutchison, Toronto, Ontario
Maggie Reeves made my favourite dress for me and it was the first dress that Frank gave me! It was a total surprise but in 1966 as a young banker he had just been made the manager of the CIBC branch in the Colonnade on Bloor Street at Avenue Road.
Maggie was a struggling young artist/designer – I think her store was at the east end of Cumberland Street – and he managed to help her. She was ever so grateful that someone had confidence in her that she insisted on making a dress for me, his wife!
I actually kept it as it was until we came back from Washington in 1993 when I, regretfully, had it made into a two-piece but I will never forget how I good I felt in it. I felt like a queen.
Mary Jean Potter, Toronto, Ont.
I’ve always loved my wedding dress – cream lace designed in 1970 by Rudolphe in Yorkville. When I finally went to pick up the finished creation, the veil was missing. The girls in the shop said, “Veil? What veil? You didn’t order a veil.”
I was so upset. Rudolphe came out of his office and said a bride shouldn’t be crying so soon before her wedding. He proceeded to design the most beautiful veil for me on the spot – using cut-outs of the same lace material sewn with seed pearls for my hair.
My wedding dress – symbol of love, hope, promise, tradition and family – evokes cherished memories of such an exciting time in my life. It was a dream of a day, surrounded by all of our loving family and friends, so supportive and full of good wishes holding the promise of a bright, family future.
The love has come full circle now. A piece of my dress was sewn to a piece of my mother-in-law’s dress (something old), embroidered in “something blue” with family names we’ve shared, was fastened inside my daughter Deena’s dress on her wedding day, carrying forward all the love our hearts could hold.
I never bought a dress in a shop until I was twenty-one years old. My Aunt Decima had a dress-making business in our small village on a mountainside in Wales, and she made all my family’s clothes.
My earliest memories are of “clothes coupons” since everything during and for quite a while after World War II was rationed in the U.K. When we had enough money and coupons we would go to the shops – the drapers of cloth, the haberdashers for buttons, buckles, etc., but Deci often covered her own buckles and buttons. We never bought patterns; Deci made her own,
As a child in Wales, the week was traditionally tasked – Sunday was for Chapel, Monday was for laundry, Tuesday and Wednesday for mending and ironing, Thursday and Friday for house cleaning and Saturday was for baking.
My mother, an indifferent housekeeper but a wonderful cook, happily spent her Saturdays baking Victoria Sponges, pies, fruit cakes and my favourite, Maid of Honour Cakes. I was happy to be exiled to my grandparents’ big house up the street. My grandfather was in his wonderful garden where apples, berries, vegetables and flowers abounded. My grandmother was in her kitchens supervising (bossing) my Aunts Gwyneth and Hannah about her own household baking.
I was sent to the Dressmaking Rooms where my Aunt Decima and her apprentices worked on Saturday mornings. I was seated at an old treadle sewing machine, without a needle (mother was a worrier), and I treadled away happily on an old piece of cloth. I learned to sew and also heard a lot of gossip I probably shouldn’t have.
My Aunt Decima has, over the years, made me the most superb clothes. From this cornucopia of fashion comes to mind:
• when I was six years old, a royal blue velvet dress with white silk smocking;
• when I was in school, school uniforms of brown wool gabardine pinafores and cream silk blouses that just met the school dress code but were so much more flattering than those bought in stores;
• when I went to university, long dresses of burgundy velvet and skirts and blouses of black and gold silk to “wow” them at the requisite formal functions of those “long ago” university days.
But the dress I remember as my most favourite was when I was nineteen. It was of emerald green wool, boat-necked, long-sleeved, with a flared skirt. I wore a gold pin at the neckline. I’ll never forget telling Deci what I wanted done with this piece of wondrous green wool – how I wanted it to flow and how I wanted my newly discovered figure to show, but subtly.
She read the dreams in my eyes, she lived them with me, and she made me a dress fit for a princess.
My Aunt Decima never traveled much beyond the Welsh village where she was born, but she is a true fashonista. She is now 89 years old, almost blind and very deaf. She is one of my best friends. We talk about fashion, what’s in, what’s out, and have lots of laughs. What’s fashion – if it’s not fun?
Menna Weese, Toronto, Ont.