“Look Aunt Winn, I just want to prepare you,” I heard my mother hollar into the phone. “I don’t wear pantyhose anymore. I wear jeans. And I wear Nikes. They’re cool Nikes, like really cool, but they’re Nikes… Yes. That’s right. Those are sneakers. I wear sneakers. Everywhere.”
My mother and I were loading up the car, getting it ready to take us to Canada, when she stopped packing to place the call. It was an unplanned midweek trip to attend my Great Uncle Bob’s funeral. The day before, Aunt Winn, his wife, had asked Mum to “say a few words,” because my mother is, apparently, the funny one in the family.
I could feel the panic radiating across the room.
“I just had to call her and warn her,” Mum said as I gave her the stink eye.
She was folding my favorite brightly-hued Club Monaco blouse into the suitcase. “I’m the New York Niece. They’re expecting Madison Avenue. Since I stopped working, I’m more Gap… on my fancy days. I just don’t want her to get a shock when I show up to Uncle Bob’s funeral in running shoes.”
(My mother doesn’t believe in black at funerals, which was why, apparently, I was to wear royal blue pants while she asked to borrow my “big bird” yellow silk blouse.)
“What do you plan to wear at my wedding?”
“White Nikes… actually, I hate white sneakers. They’re such old ladies shoes. Maybe green ones? I don’t know. Let’s see what your colour scheme is — I’m sure I can ID something.”
When my mother retired from “The Bank,” she retired a certain corporate executive dress code. I remember coming home from school and seeing a pile of pantyhose in a Bloomingdale’s Big Brown Bag. There were one or 2 unopened pairs, and these were passed on to me. The rest — burned, or might as well have been. Her St. John’s suits were moved into the guest room closet. The year I graduated college, she had her first hip replacement. This shelved her Ferragamo high-heel collection. Her second hip replacement after my grad school graduation sealed it — the pumps were toast. I was free to salvage any that fit, but the majority went to Dress for Success.
She lost 50 pounds, and then eventually, she turned 70.
And so, with Retirement, 2 hip replacements, and being “over 70,” as her Get Out of Jail Free Cards, it was: Good-bye, formal! Hello, comfortable!
She has become the Imelda Marcos of sneakers while her collections of designer handbags and jewelry remain her main source of pizzazz.
Most “occasions” result in an “I have nothing to wear!” crisis. This includes evenings when Mum and I decide to have a mother-daughter girl date. Eventually, she gives up.
“It doesn’t matter what I wear,” is usually her final remark before she settles on jeans, Nikes, and an embellished t-shirt. “If I decide I want a good table, I’ll just shove you in first. You’ve got great clothes. People think you’re cool, so you’ll just look good for both of us. Don’t forget your pink lipstick. I’m not going anywhere with you if you don’t wear your pink lipstick.”
I guess that just because she’s given up skirts and suits in favor of a wardrobe of leisure doesn’t mean she’s given up taste… there’s no velour in this retiree’s future. Meanwhile, I’m grateful for the cast-offs. One can never have too many Ferragamos.