Tales of Mom

In honor of this day, five Sun writers tell stories of their mothers

Her sense of style never quits

May 14, 2006|By ANN LOLORDO | ANN LOLORDO,SUN REPORTER

The gloves.

Summer white, snug from the tips of her fingers to her slender wrist. My mother wore them, now and then, during the summer of 1952, when she and a girlfriend traveled alone through Italy, two single women en route to adventure.

The gloves say it all about my mother's aesthetic: smart, simple, elegant. I spotted them immediately while watching a grainy, home movie of her first trip abroad. The camera followed my mother and a friend from the deck of an ocean liner to one city after another, from the piazzas in Florence to the canals of Venice to the boulevards of Rome.

Someone else might have missed them. The gloves I mean. But I zeroed in on them, pausing the movie to study her slight figure in a single frame. The ensemble was a white sleeveless pique shell, tiny brooch at the neck, gray pencil-thin skirt, high-heeled pumps, clutch to match, and the final flourish, the gloves.

Maybe other American girls on a Roman holiday would have worn them that summer. It doesn't matter really. They confirmed what my sisters and I knew about our mom. She had style -- and in spades, despite the unassuming, self-effacing way she carried herself.

At 80, she's still got that sense of fashion, though she prefers more casual attire and certainly, more sensible shoes.

Mom worked in the fashion district in New York before she married our dentist dad. She designed and created the bridal dresses for her wedding, including the confection of embroidered silk organza that she wore down the aisle. It wasn't unusual for her to sketch an outfit she admired and make it for a sister or herself.

After she married, Mom was off to Long Island, raising four kids in a four-bedroom colonial. Then, there were few occasions for splendor that I recall, a wedding, perhaps, or family function. After a frustrating round of the local department stores, my mother, no longer a 24-inch waist, would often decide to just make her outfit. We could hear her sewing machine running late into the night.

The found footage of her trip to Europe reinforced what others had told us about her. Chic and petite, she made all her clothes for the trip, and in the film, she never seemed to wear the same outfit twice.

Flounced skirts. A revealing neckline. Cinched waists. A demure hat. The look was vintage Vogue. Or Mainbocher. Or Chanel.

And in every other frame, Mom or her girlfriend were walking arm and arm with a dashing man in an Italian suit. Shy, soft-spoken Mom.

She had flair, but was refined. She could surprise, but excelled at sublime. If my father endowed us with ambition, a strong work ethic, an interest in travel and music, Mom influenced our sense of style, taste in clothes and food, an appreciation for art and design.

I desired my mother's good eye for fabric and fashion sense; my sister Francesca had the figure for great clothes and my sister Maria, the salary to afford them. But our sense of style -- and of ourselves as women -- evolved.

Beautiful Maria of the Botticelli hips preferred painter's pants for much of her youth, despite my mother's gentle prodding to go for a tailored look. "When I go back and look at those pictures now, I say, 'What was I thinking?' The way she told me to dress my whole life is more the way I dress now," says my sister, who doesn't leave home without a Navy blue cashmere blazer, dress black trousers and crisp white shirt.

My sister Fran inherited my mother's aesthetic eye, and you can see it in the flowers she chooses for her garden, the prints she buys at antique shops and the dining room table she sets. As a newlywed attending her first formal dinner, she chose to borrow a black and gold brocade suit my mother created and wore a decade before at a black-tie wedding. She looked stunning.

As for me, I came closest to my mother's knack for knowing what best suits the figure in 1986. On my wedding day, I chose an off-the-shoulder white satin sheath, slit up the side, and a collarless, fitted jacket with a single jeweled button. I wore a simple strand of pearls.

But even on my best day, I didn't look as ravishing as that ingenue in the summer of 1952 who wore a pair of snug white gloves as she strolled through an Italian piazza.

ann.lolordo@baltsun.com

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