The clothes of my youth were bought to last.
If you were lucky enough to be the eldest child in the family, you quite often were the only one to ever wear new clothes, when you grew out of them, they were handed down to the rest of your siblings. However, before you grew out of them, you were truly sick and tired of appearing in the same old outfit.
My grandma usually made my dresses, knitted cardigans and sweaters and even hats, scarves and gloves, however, some items were outside my gran’s line of expertise and these she had to buy.
A new coat was a huge expenditure so it was bought to last. It would be at least two or even three sizes too big which meant the hem was turned up twice, so it was the right length but weighed a ton because of the amount of fabric hanging on the bottom. Sleeves were also turned up several times, making them quite stiff and uncomfortable. The lapels would hang too low so a pin would be needed to keep the gap closed and the pockets would be half way to your knees.
The following year all hems would be dropped one turn, making the coat fit better but creating a dark line that showed where it had previously been turned up, the next year the hems would come down yet again, so you now had a coat that was getting rather shabby, but at least fit properly. It now had two distinct lines showing previous lengths.
By the time I had grown out of the coat completely, it was short enough to show a couple of inches of the underlying dress but, never fear, I would soon be getting a new coat and the process of turning up hems would start all over again. My old coat would go to the next cousin in line who would then go through the whole procedure of wearing the same coat for several years.
Almost everything I wore was handed down to the next girl in line, thank goodness I was the oldest girl and got new stuff every time, how blessed was I?
English children had to wear a liberty bodice until the girls developed and these instruments of torture would no longer fit her figure. A liberty bodice was a sort of undershirt made of extremely strong cotton, with additional strips of satin stitched on to give it a ribbed effect. This made the garment extremely strong. It fastened at the front, like a vest, with fifteen or sixteen tiny rubber buttons. These little buttons were terrible to fasten and had to be forced through the button holes, they were made of rubber so they could go through the clothes wringer and not crack or break off.
In those days we only had a bath once a week so the liberty bodice would be worn night and day, for the entire week. I had childhood asthma and was permanently wheezy so I had grandma’s potion for easier breathing as a permanent companion. This was a camphor bag that would be pinned inside the liberty bodice, so I inhaled the foul odour all day and night. I must have smelled delightful but, in those days, most kids had some sort of home made remedy attached to their clothing to ward off one thing or another. The classrooms of the fifties must have been rank with the combined scents of various cures.
My grandma should have been burned as a witch as she always had some foul potion or other bubbling away on the back of the stove. Her recipe for coughs was one of the best, it was a concoction of linseed, liquorish and lemon, which was simmered until it was thick and then doled out three or four times a day. I also got cod liver oil and malt every morning, which was supposed to be some sort of tonic. The nice taste of the malt couldn’t really mask the horrible fishy taste of the cod liver oil, but there was no arguing with my gran, she held out the spoon and you licked it clean.
Sore throats were treated with another of gran’s remedys, this was a piece of very fatty bacon, wrapped inside an old lisle stocking, wrapped round my neck and held in place with a safety pin. As I used to have lots of sore throats as a child, the bacon and the camphor bag were constant companions, so I must have travelled in my own fog of stinky vapors! If all else failed, there was goose grease that could be smeared on my chest. Burns were treated with a smear of butter and cuts got a smear of Vaseline to keep out infection. I bet the weekly bath water clogged the drain with all the nasty stuff that was washed off my skin.
I guess gran’s potions and cures for all my various ailments were designed to make my body last as long as my clothes. I could do with some of gran’s handiwork at the moment, my wrinkles are getting to the point where they need the hem turning up, so my skin fits better.