Bonnie Shell's Life Stories

What did you wear when younger that mortifies you now?

When I was in grade school, girls always wore dresses. Wearing pants was not an option. Chicago winters were very cold, so to stay warm, girls wore either white or beige long stockings. I hated those stockings. When I had to, I preferred the beige and wore socks over them, so it looked like just socks (or so I thought).

When I got older (teenage and older), hats were in style. We always wore hats to church and when we went downtown. My mother took a hat-making class, so we always wore a hat that matched our clothes. At that time, there were a lot of fabric departments in the big stores like Marshall Fields and the Fair store. There were also large independent fabric stores in downtown Chicago. After my mom took her class, we found where the millinery supply stores were and spent Saturdays shopping downtown.

My mother was very talented in sewing, and when my Aunt Sophie got tired of some of her very nice clothes, my mom would take the dresses apart and make a dress for me. I was always tall and thin, so store-bought clothes were too short. I was always proud that my mom could make such nice clothes for me.

When I was about seventeen, I wanted to learn to sew. My mom was not a good teacher because she would not let me use the sewing machine. She was afraid that I would sew my fingers. I saw an ad in the newspaper about sewing lessons at the Fair Store downtown, so I signed up. I was already working, so I took the El-train from work to my sewing lessons one night a week. I loved it and have been sewing ever since.

In those days, fabrics were not too expensive, and it was cost-saving to make your clothes. I also liked the idea that I never had the same dress that a co-worker had. I worked with two girls who also sewed, and we realized that we had all used the same pattern to make dresses for ourselves. We all used different fabrics, so we decided to wear the same dresses on the same day. No one noticed. We had a good laugh.

I don't sew as much anymore. For one, fabrics and patterns have become very expensive, and the selection is not as good as it once was.