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An Excuse To ‘Dress Up’

A Story by Beryl Bowden

When I was young …in the 1930’s and 40’s…fund-raisers on the social calendar for several committees included Annual Balls, which were eagerly anticipated by young and old alike.

Dancing was a favourite past time and these occasions also provided an excuse to ‘dress up’. Sixteen was the magical age when a girl was eligible to go to a ball. I spent years sitting on the front steps enviously watching my four older sisters going off in their finery. When my turn finally came I realized just how much effort went into ‘getting ready’ for a ball.

My first evening dress was made of white organdie with eight godets of frills round the bottom of the skirt. The dress and petticoat needed to be washed, starched and ironed each time they were worn. The half-slips worn underneath were more difficult to iron because they were raw-starched, that is, starch made using cold water. This made them very, very stiff. If they happened to fall off the clothesline, they stood up by themselves!

Debutante

Beryl – The Belle of the Ball

On the night of the ball Mum must have had the patience of a saint to put up with five daughters all wanting to do the same things at the same time. The use of wellers and bobby pins was hotly disputed; who was to have the first bath; first to use the iron and the hot tongs; and there was a big demand for mirrors and make-up. Mum always produced a cake of Cashmere Bouquet soap for our bath, instead of the usual Lifebuoy. I remember a white concoction, very much like Calamine Lotion, that I used to smear on my shoulders and arms to make them white and more appealing?

The garden was raided for flowers for our hair. I had the additional task of making little posies to sew on the peak of each of the godets on my dress. Attired in our evening frocks, with our gold or silver dancing shoes on, we were finally ready for the ball. A splash of Lily of the Valley or Evening in Paris perfume behind the ears completed our toilette.

Our escorts wore dark suits, white shirts and black ties.

Dad, along with most men of his era, wore correct evening dress complete with ‘dickey’ shirts. These were made of very fine white linen with masses of tiny tucks down the front. After being raw-starched the shirts were a real pain to iron. Another fashion favoured by Dad’s generation was the wearing of white gloves to protect the ladies’ dresses from their partners’ work-soiled hands. I thought it not only a delightful courtesy to the ladies but was complimentary to the men’s’ own attire. I was disappointed when the practice was later discontinued. A folded man’s hankie then replaced the glove.

The dance programme included both ‘Old Time’ and ‘Modern’.
The Pride of Erin, Canadian Three Step, Waltz, Mazurka and Schottise were ‘Old Time’.
Referred to as ‘Modern’ were the Quick Step, Fox Trot and Jazz Waltz.

Josie Daunt, who lived with her grandfather and was dependent on him for money, was really desperate to go to a ball. She begged to be allowed the price of a ticket to one being held the next night.
He told her she could go if she painted the house.
She did it in one day…with a whitewash brush!

(An excerpt from Beryl’s published work Growing Up In Stroud.)

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4 Comments on “An Excuse To ‘Dress Up’”

  1. Pauline Ibbetson March 28, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    Godets. Now there is a word I haven’t heard for a while Beryl. Last time I used it, everyone looked at me as if I was making it up. I had a favourite dress with godets in the 60’s. It swirled beautifully when I was doing the Twist.

  2. Beryl Bowden March 24, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    I thought ‘dressing up’ would appeal more to the girls, but? Who knows? Thanks fellas.

  3. Mick Collins March 24, 2014 at 8:22 am #

    Beryl, very enjoyable as usual. look forward eagerly for the next episode.
    Mick

  4. Wal Towells March 24, 2014 at 7:48 am #

    Another great story Beryl. Thank you. Wal

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