Garments of years past bring back memories

January will mark 35 years that I have lived in my three-bedroom Dallas condo. My husband and I made a major downsizing move then, when the last child went to college. But that involved big things, mainly furniture that we’d no longer need, which was easy. Now, I’m about the business of going through smaller things – the collections of years, stashed in drawers or closets and never touched. This is much harder.
There was a ritual for middle-class Jewish brides in the time (1955) and place (Pittsburgh) of my marriage – and other females of my age cohort say this was true in many other Jewish enclaves: Mother took daughter shopping for her “trousseau” – a French word meaning “to bundle,” which is what brides-to-be did on that outing.
Every city of any size had a street filled with Jewish merchants who dealt in bedding, table coverings and lingerie, and mother helped daughter choose her sheets, blankets, towels, tablecloths, lingerie and nightwear. Some girls had looked ahead and already stocked their “hope chests” with some things they’d sewed or crocheted or needle-pointed themselves. But there was still a bundle of stuff left for that premarital shopping spree.
I recalled mine clearly very recently, as I went through a large drawer in a bedroom chest, finding slips, nightgowns and peignoirs (if you don’t know that word, please look it up), unworn and untouched for several decades.
What startled me most, after first finding this trove of forgotten treasures, was their pristine condition. Yes, all had been worn and washed and worn again, a long, long time ago. But all of them could pass for new. And the reason, I think, is that they are all made of nylon – a kind of nylon I haven’t seen in ages. I would call it the fabric equivalent of iron.
As I gathered up many, many slips in many colors (how many girls or women wear slips today? How many even know what a slip is?) and nightgowns in bridal white with matching peignoirs, I couldn’t get over how beautiful they still are. I called a much younger cousin who I know has never worn a slip in her life and told her about my discovery. She said a vintage clothing place would salivate over everything. But I just bundled (“trousseau-ed,” perhaps?) the stuff up for the Goodwill. I hesitated for only a moment, thinking I might keep one slip with beautiful lace flowers enhancing the nylon, but quickly added it to the pile. The memory, without the item, will be enough.
All of which has me thinking about another “iron” garment – a white sweater that had belonged to my mother, who passed away in 1984 and which she had worn for years before that. I’ve had it ever since: a simple knit cardigan, soft and light. I can’t be sure of the fabric because the content label is long gone, but I would guess it’s acrylic, or Orlon, but most likely with some of that nylon mixed in – because I’ve been wearing and washing and wearing it again all these 35 years, the same as the number of years I’ve been in this condo.
And the sweater lives on and will continue to do so, because it’s my favorite: feather-weight but warm, it stays on the front seat of my car throughout the hot-weather season, to go with me into all those buildings where air conditioning keeps the atmosphere too cold for outdoor summer clothing. As our weather has finally been showing signs of fall, I’ll be giving it a last washing for this year, then fold it and stow it on a shelf, where it will be ready for action in 2019.
(A final note: Some brides of my era have saved their wedding gowns. I gave mine to a community theater for its costume collection. As far as I know, it’s still going strong – another iron garment of a bygone time.)
Harriet Gross can be reached at

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