Growing up, part of the excitement of the Christmas season was choosing a Christmas dress, I miss that. Today we all are so casual, no one ever gets gussied up and I think that's kind of sad. Back in the day, formal wear was an essential part of our wardrobe, there were formal dances and Christmas pageants and many excuses to wear something velvet. Sigh! We even got dressed up just to eat Christmas eve dinner and go to the midnight service. Men wore suits and overcoats. And they looked so handsome in their fedoras. There were even racks that ran all along the wall of the vestibule in church for hanging them. The women had their hair "done" at the beauty parlor and wore hats. I'm sure those dear ladies would never dream of wearing leggings and cleavage baring tops, like many of the gals do now days. Elderly ladies were dignified back then. They didn't try to look like youngsters.
Preparations for our Christmas dresses began in the Summer. Back then, there were no thrift stores, but our church held a rummage sale once a year and it was a humdinger. My mother always hunted for dresses donated by the "big shots", the captain's, doctor's and merchants' wives, that came from fancy New York department stores. She would use the fabric, buttons and trims to make our dresses. She would also look for clothing made of good quality velvet and pretty lace to make collars and belts. No matter how hard the times were, we always had a Christmas dress.
When the Dime Store received their first shipment of Winter fabric, mother would be the first there to get the best selection. Fabric came in "cuts" pre-cut pieces of various yardages. We had to sort through large stacks to find matching cuts to obtain enough fabric. Still to this day I remember a teal velvet dress with a pretty lace collar and one year a peppermint pink jumper with a striped blouse. Very Betsey McCall! The only compliment I ever received from my grandmother was about a Christmas dress. She had a stern Victorian upbringing and believed children should be seen and not heard, so it came as quite a shock to me when she declared that I looked darling in my Christmas dress. Until then, I didn't even think she noticed me except to tell me to take my elbows off the table. Ha!
And the midnight service will be forevermore entangled with the sound of rustling petticoats and the smell of freshly pressed wool. For Christmas eve was a flurry of activity with pressing father's suit, brushing his hat. polishing our shoes and starching petticoats into their scratchy stiffness. Actually preparations would begin the day before when my long hair was twisted into rag curls. Anyone remember those? You'd tie a rag at the top of your head, then coil the hair along the long strip of cotton, usually torn from an old sheet,then you'd wrap the rag back up the hair and tie it on the top. They looked like large white cocoons hanging from our heads.
All this to say, I miss the formality of olden days. I miss when people thought getting dressed up was something to look forward to, rather than something to dread. I miss the dignity people used to have then, even the poorest of poor would make an effort to look nice, even if it meant just starching their shirt extra stiff or polishing their shoes. It was a matter of self-respect and respect for others. Recently I was listening to some podcasts about modesty and the ladies were saying that being concerned about how you dress is not modest. I suppose that is true, but still I miss Christmas dresses. Did you have Christmas dresses growing up?