I was brought up, by my grandma as an only child, my brother being seven years older and living with my single parent/working mother. I guess that I got spoiled by being the only one and first granddaughter in the family.
Of course I never thought of it as being spoiled as grandma was very frugal and didn’t have the means to lavish gifts, or anything else on me. However, I never remember having any clothing handed down, as being the eldest girl there were no hand me downs to be passed on. My younger cousins got all my clothing but I was always lucky enough to wear new stuff.
Ninety percent of my clothing was hand made by grandma, she was a whiz with knitting needles and sewing machine, so the only store bought items were shoes and a winter coat Getting a new coat was a rare event as they were purchased three sizes too big and worn until they could no longer be buttoned. The huge, heavy hems were always turned up at least twice and let down each year as I grew. By the time they actually fit nicely, they were already at least two years old and had a permanent line etched where the hem had been let down.
As a young child my photographs always show me wearing a knitted, pleated skirt, with an attached bib and knitted straps that crossed over the back. Underneath would be a knitted sweater or home sewed blouse, depending on the season.
In those days yarn was always pure wool as synthetics had not arrived on the scene. While being a wonderful thing to look at, wool was itchy and was temperamental to wash. It had to be dried flat or the garment would stretch to alarming lengths. On the other hand, if washed in water that was too hot, it would shrink up to something that wouldn’t fit a two year old.
I have a photo showing me in a red sun-suit that gran made when I was about four. It was cute, made in the same bib style as my skirts, but made into shorts. Unfortunately, one of my aunties took me paddling in a local stream and I got wet, the second photo shows me standing naked wearing only the straps of my sun-suit, the bib and shorts were draped round my knees as the weight of water dragged the yarn down south. My aunt never heard the end of her faux-pas.
New clothes were usually made for Easter, the beginning of spring and, also my April birthday, so this was always an occasion of newly produced knitwear and cotton dresses. My mom could smock, which was a beautiful way of embroidering the front of kids dresses. Mom made the lovely coloured design on the (usually) white fabric and gave it to gran who turned it into a dress. The smocking made the fabric into a very full dress and I loved the effect of twirling around and making the skirt billow out. I would probably have been wearing smocked dresses and hand knits until I was old enough to work and buy my own clothing, it I had not turned eleven and moved up to the senior school.
Secondary school meant uniforms which were store bought and exciting, until I realized that I would be wearing the same outfit every day for the next five years. Winter uniforms were navy gym slips with white shirts and a navy, red and white tie. This was topped with a navy beret and a navy blazer, both these items sported the school badge. The beret would be a difficult item to wear as the badge was sewn on the front which caused the hat to stand up on your head in a most unflattering way. Navy socks and black shoes completed the sexless look.
At Easter we stopped wearing the navy skirt and went into a light blue dress, with Peter Pan collar. Still the navy blazer and matching beret though and it was a punishable offence if seen outside of school without the headgear. Many times I received a detention because I travelled on the bus without hat and would be seen by an eagle eyed teacher.
When we entered our third year in school we were allowed to trade our gym slips for a skirt, which was equally unflattering as it had to be either pleated or gored, so as not so show any hint of developing female shape.
Boys going into their third year were allowed to trade in their traditional short pants for long trousers. As many boys had reached their full height by twelve or thirteen, they looked ridiculous in short gabardine pants with long hairy legs sticking underneath, they also had the silly looking tiny cap that they wore for their five years at school. It usually looked like a little skull cap by the time they reached sixteen. I guess the uniforms were designed to not instil passion during our coed classes.
I guess we were a very innocent bunch in the late fifties as there were no school romances. Maybe this was due to the uniforms or maybe just that we didn’t have much idea of sex between school friends. Movies and magazines of my teen years didn’t provoke thoughts of romance and very rarely did you see anyone getting hot and heavy in public.
Travel anywhere in a car with a few young girls these days, and the conversation is hair curling. I don’t really think I missed out on anything growing up in that innocent age. When I did discover love and passion I was of a more mature age but even so I was still in my teens. Do kids really need to be so aware of what goes on between adults in what I feel should be a private environment? I really don’t think so, but then again, I am a dinosaur.