Mother’s Kind of ‘What I Wore’

The column that I wrote last month, “What Cindy Leive Wore,” served up outfits that were perfectly suited to the editor of a style mag, but utterly impractical for someone who sits at a computer all day at home with occasional forays to libraries and the odd lunch or dinner at restaurants where the most dressed-up attire is business casual.

So I was heartened to see the June 5 edition featured a 79-year-old costume designer whose clothing resembled the sorts of things my mother would put together. In fact if one darkened the skin a bit and omitted the blue toenail polish, that could have been Ann Petry standing in front of the workbench for “Something for Every Role.”

Ann Roth’s clothing was much more difficult to price because many pieces had been in her wardrobe for years (ditto Mother’s wardrobe), and with few exceptions she omitted brand names. Thus I didn’t try to put a dollar value on her shirts and pants and shoes. Her intended wardrobe on Thursday was a black silk smocked dress purchased (she doesn’t say when) at a “street shop” in Paris with black jersey pants made of “snail spit.” My mother loved jersey as well but she never called it any kind of spit. Ms. Roth never went to the party and so donned a pair of Old Navy shorts (Mother would have worn pants) and a white Brooks Brothers short-sleeved cotton shirt, just the sort of thing Ann Petry would pick up for $0.25 at a church fair.

The next day it was Adidas pants and a white Lacoste polo shirt accompanied by “ancient” orange Minnetonka shoes. I tried to locate the shoes but they are out of stock and no price is available.

Ms. Roth started Saturday with black pants and a blue T-shirt sans Lycra for yoga, followed by black and blue linen pants from Paris (Mother would have made her own) with a white linen shirt (Mother would have worn cotton). And here’s where I learned something. One is not supposed to wear black in one’s own home. She doesn’t mention why, so I hope it doesn’t put a curse on the house or something.

A pig roast on Sunday featured a red and white shirt purchased on  London’s Brick Lane at a time she doesn’t specify, blue linen shorts and sneakers with “lift.” Mother would have worn a more subdued shirt, cotton pants, and one of her several pairs of Earth shoes. Come to think of it, she wouldn’t have attended a pig roast.

            Monday’s attire, shorts with a patch, a T-shirt, and bare feet would have become pants with a patch, a loose fitting shirt, and sandals for Mother who never ever went barefoot after she came down with a plantar wart as a youngster and then watched various folk get stung on the feet by bees and whatnot.

What Ms. Roth had planned for Thursday’s cocktail party she wore the following Tuesday at the Tony awards.

The last day was the only one on which Ms. Roth and my mother would have parted ways completely. Guests were expected for lunch, and the hostess wore a pink cotton dress, a “pretty eyelet with a small blue print.” Mother would have worn a dressier version of her usual pants and loose top with some very fancy jewelry if it was warm, a silk scarf if cool.

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