Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Fabulous Fifties?

I was born in the 50's. It seems a long time ago now, particularly when you encounter a wave of Fifties nostalgia now and then that seems to lump that glamorous decade in with the wartime 30's and 40's. I encountered it at the weekend while up in Scotland.

I love to go and see the National Museum of Costume not far from Dumfries. I have had an interest in fashion since a child, stitched my own clothes for many years and like many women, can't seem to stop myself buying fashion items. The Costume museum has a special exhibition each year. This year it focusses on the fabrics and dresses made by Horrockses in the 40's and 50's. Horrockses Fashions turned out the most lovely off the peg fashions for women during that period. They were pretty, using easy to care for fabrics like cotton and tended to copy the sort of styles of the Dior New Look era; trim waisted with fuller skirts, often held out by paper nylon petticoats. The Fabrics were fantastic feminine florals or stylized leaf patterns.

Old cine reels of me as a young child show my mother wearing dresses like that and children's early memories tend to linger. Is that why I am so fond of Vivien of Holloway Dresses? Possibly, both myself and my best friend Julie at the time must have tried on at least a few, as well as shuffling about in our mother's high heeled shoes. It's a nice innocent memory and one I treasure. I do remember having been scolded for doing it though. Was it because we might ruin the clothes and shoes or was it because I was a boy? I'm not sure. I was probably too young to remember.

Going to school at the beginning of the 60's, boys were very clearly boys or made to look like one as I was. Boys wore short trousers right up to leaving for High School. They often got away with being grubby. I wore grey shorts and grey socks even in Winter as well as a grey vee necked sweater. I hated it. A belted navy blue gabardine raincoat didn't keep me that warm either though Wellington boots must have kept my feet dry walking to school. Julie on the other hand had to look neat and tidy, pretty in a dress with white socks and a bow in her hair, the contrast couldn't have been more marked! It was difficult for a transgendered child to deal with. The outward differences between boys and girls and the parental expectations of them were so different. Maybe it's still the case even though it doesn't seem so to me.

By the 70's I had persuaded my mother to teach me how to knit and I secretly taught myself how to sew. That was the beginning of buying fabrics or altering clothes to make them fit me. I became furtive and adept at retrieving Mum's cast off, often well worn garments like dresses and skirts and altering them. I never wore that outside the house, only secretly, indoors when I could be sure nobody else was around. It was nice to make myself how I wanted to be but it was awfully sad because I couldn't be like that naturally or publicly. As a transgendered teen I was intensely focussed on looks and appearances. Feeling like a girl inside I wanted to dress like one. What made me so sad was that I wanted to be acknowledged as female too, that however would have meant behaving like like a girl and living as one. Much as though that would have been a dream come true for me, there was no way my parents would let me do that. The sadness came because it was just a game of dress up, no more. It wasn't doing anything for me.

Thankfully these days I am a woman. I'm free of that awful 'man in a dress' thing. Nobody questions me about my gender anymore and I can simply get on with my life. That also means going out shopping and buying my own clothes. I'm in the public eye at work, I'm expected to wear smart casual; I can't turn up to work in jeans, a tee and sneakers. Going out to buy nice things to wear is a life necessity, not a forbidden activity. This is a long way from how my life used to be. Fashions have changed. That's fashion after all, constant change. The clothes I normally wear to work everyday, though feminine are a far cry from the fashions of the 50's when dresses were an everyday necessity and ladies wore white gloves when going out visiting! Dresses still feature highly in my wardrobe though. They are so practical and feminine, no stress with matching up tops and bottoms, all you have to worry about is accessories, well that's my take on it anyway. I've spent half a lifetime in trousers, nobody is going to make me wear them now!

I have to admit it though, I still love 50's style dresses. The current retro revival means that they're readily available (try I love to wear them for parties, going out and even every now and then for work. Yes, for work. Honestly, life is too short NOT to look stylish and nice, my dresses cost too much to keep just for 'that special occasion', people compliment you and notice you, it's fun and at the end of the day it just makes me feel good and glamorous :)

Robyn-Jane xx



  1. Brought back some bad memories! How did we survive the fifties?

  2. How did we? Not quite sure how we managed even now. The attitudes stank but the fashions were gorgeous!