Dress Memory22

Apricot Funny Face

I’d been threatening to move to Sydney for years, so in late 2008 I arrived on a reconnaissance mission to decide whether or not I actually should.

I found the place magical. The sky was blue; the harbour exquisite. I sailed down rocky steps, imagining I might find a secret door carved into the stone, some sort of an opening. A portal to another time, like Playing Beatie Bow.

One day my friend Noe and I were walking in Surry Hills and this dress, the colour of a sunset, jumped out at me from a secondhand shop. It was too big and had stains all over it, and even though such things had never stopped me from buying a dress before I’d recently reached a new stage in my life: I didn’t want to keep repeating old patterns. No, I decided firmly. I don’t need any more ill-fitting, stained clothing in my wardrobe.

I put it back on the rack, but Noe convinced me that all it needed was some taking in and a good dry-clean and then it would be perfect. Besides, it was only $25!

She was right—I love this dress. It’s the sort of thing you want to wear upon arrival in a grand, new city, so you can fly down staircases with chiffon wings flowing behind you. Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face.

I took it back home to Mum who gradually fixed it up over the next couple of years. Our frantic fittings happened in bursts: any time I came home to visit we’d get a bit further along.

I hated the pinching and tucking and pinning of the darts. The worst part was under the arms as she folded the fabric in on itself—the tickle was excruciating. Don’t move! Mum ordered, teeth clenched, fang-like pins sticking out of one corner of her mouth as she concentrated.

But it’s boring and annoying to be told not to move. And even if you do do exactly what you’re told, you still sometimes get pricked anyway, even though you know she’s not trying to hurt you on purpose.

The fiery words that pass between women who are related, the tongues that whip and hurt and scorn and blame. Chin up. The wings that take you away and bring you back again.

In the end, I didn’t move to Sydney because I couldn’t find my way in to it; I couldn’t find an opening. Mum, of course, would tell me that in this dress I could make an entrance anywhere.

There are arms that will always wrap around you like a harbour. Then the orange glow of sunset.

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Image by Lee Sandwith © 2011