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A hat completes a Lady.

Parade, 7 x 13, acrylic framed

My husband and I grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same parish school, St Stephen Protomartyr in south St Louis. We were two grades apart. Considering all of the daily masses and other seasonal services requiring mandatory attendance, we spent a considerable bit of our young lives in church. It required all of our talent and skill to devise ways to occupy ourselves through that many sermons. As a master craftsman at paper doll making from Sears, JC Penny and Montgomery Ward catalogs, I considered myself quite knowledgeable about seasonal style.   I must say, my fashion observations satisfactorily filled me with enough daydreams to pass right through any sermon.

 I was in fourth grade when I first spotted my mother-in-law, Jane, in church. First of all, she was a strikingly beautiful woman, pretty much looking like a catalog model to me.  Second, she was dressed impeccably. I really mean that because I knew what accessories were. There were pages of them in my catalogs. She wore bright linen shifts that were tapered and embroidered. Her hats and shoes, and sometimes even her handbags were often covered in bright paisley or other printed fabrics. Sometimes her outfits were embellished with chiffon scarves loosely arranged around the collar of her dress and secured with a broach.  She wore soft turbans and pill box hats with draped fabrics and net. Summer time included straw hats with bright silk flowers and ribbon bands. I was confidant she possessed a hat, a pair of shoes and a handbag for every outfit.

 Imagine my surprise when, at age 19, John introduced me to his mother? She was that church lady! Before I met my mother-in-law, I was completely enthralled with her sophisticated look. By the time I actually met Jane I was attending art school and it was 1975. I pretty much wore jeans and a turtle neck, my hair was cut very short requiring very little style, and I rarely put on a dress for any occasion other than Easter. Needless to say, the fashions of my impressionable years were not particularly interesting to me anymore. 

 As Jane and I became closer over the years I learned a lot about what creative women do to achieve style. All of those beautiful ensembles were completely designed and crafted by Jane. She was a remarkable technician with sewing and millinery skills. She shopped all over St Louis for beautiful fabrics and supplies. Her tailoring skills were professional. She bought shoes, purses and hats that she covered with fabrics. She owned head forms on which she styled her new hat creations, steaming shape and size into them for a perfect fit. It was a labor of love and she was exceptional at it. I think all that talent became the most impressive thing about her. Quite frankly, if Jane had been afforded the opportunity she could have succeeded as a fashion designer. Her technical skill and intuitive understanding of color and design were remarkable.

 As a legacy, we have photo albums of Jane modeling her designs. As you look through the candid poses caught on camera you see the pride she had in her work.  In each photo Jane is wearing a beautifully tailored suit or dress that she made.  Making a fashion statement was paramount to Jane. She really wanted people to notice her and took great effort to ensure anyone who did notice saw a lady. And in the photos of Jane modeling her hats, there is a tilt to her head that indicates Jane knows the hat completes the lady.


Jane, me (in the middle), and my sister-in-law posing on Easter Sunday. Ah - they were very good at striking a pose and  smiling for the camera.

Reader Comments (1)

Susan, I love this story about your admiration for your future mother-in-law and her sense of style. What a great confirmation of your "taste" to be introduced to her as John's mother. This is a wonderful series. Reminds me of my Aunt Eloise who was one of the most stylish women I knew, as well as my grandmothers, aunts and great-aunts. Truly heartwarming!!

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterValli Thayer McDougle

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