When I was growing up, we had a closet under the basement stairs that was lined in cedar. It was filled with my mom’s marvelous clothing from her days before marriage, before us. Glamorous pieces, some made by her, from the 1950s and 60s. She was a fashion plate, even in the small town where she lived before heading to the big city of St. Louis. And with the lovely dresses and coats, there were purses, shoes, and hats. The gloves and lingerie were in her dresser upstairs, next to her dressing table—another zone of magical transformation, with her lipsticks and Jolie Madame perfume, some others, too.
There was a cedar chest, as well, also in the basement. It was filled mostly with cashmere sweaters, but also some other things, heirloom-type things… her mother’s 1922 wedding dress and shoes, her 1930s Girl Scout badges…
I still find cedar balls and pegs in my wool coats. Cedar protects things, you know, and there is so much to protect in the fantasy of dressing up. Though my mother has been gone now for several years, I still have nearly every piece of that treasured clothing. One dress–a Balenciaga black lace dress–I gave to my best friend, with my mom’s permission. It fit her perfectly, and it was type of dress that has to fit perfectly. I wore the green slipper satin tulip-skirted gown to the inaugural ball for John Ashcroft–a governor, who was hardly the type to be celebrating with champagne and dancing. It was not a celebration, exactly. My boyfriend was covering the story, and I never missed an opportunity to see history in the making. I think the sort of history that John Ashcroft created is not a future that I could have imagined at the time.
To drink champagne and wear beautiful clothing was only part of a fantasy, and one I still love to create. Not only do I still have the clothing, I have the cedar chest–filled with treasures as it always has been, the same cashmere sweaters (and I have worn them many times), but also my own things. A lingerie collection that rivals my mother’s, adapted for the modern age, and for my own particular tastes.