It is a luxury to be able to feel fully yourself in your clothing. To feel that what you wear somehow reflects who you are, be it the sweater you knit yourself or the couture garment you managed to purchase. Nearly ten years ago I found myself enamored of a hat made of recycled sweaters and that love affair, in so many ways, reflects my relationship to clothing today. I find myself drawn to lovingly made garments, clothing made with attention to details from how the fibers that make up the fabric were produced to what the labor conditions of the workers who produced said garments were. The numbers of small companies using organic wool, cotton and hemp to make clothing are slowly growing and the locally made, homemade and fair trade movements are producing increasingly lovely well-made things to wear. So, if I save my pennies every now and then it is exciting to fall in love with a dress and be able to bring it home with me. It is funny, but true that this usually happens to me with dresses. I love the dresses Christopher Totman used to make, those of Rebe at Specks and Keepings, the wonders Natalie Chanin conjures and my new found favorite, the magic of Archerie.
So, last week when I was introduced to Archerie, I loved hearing the history behind the company. Archery was the first sport that women competed in publicly. At that time wearing pants was not commonly accepted for women. Hence, they wore dresses, but useful ones. Ones that did not inhibit their work. Ones that allowed them to be who they were, to flex their muscles, release their bows. The dresses produced by Archerie today come with the suggestion that they should be worn with a slip. On the one hand slips are not in my clothing vernacular, but on the other hand it intrigues me this sense of wearing a garment that is useful and connects me to history. It has been more than a century since a certain class of women were released from corsets and petticoats. Of course there are individuals who choose to wear Spanx and other compression garments today, but generally comfort and convenience is our priority when it comes to getting dressed. Clothing that might stick is lined or clothing that is unintentionally see through is recalled. So it seems the burden is no longer on the wearer to think about the layering necessary to get dressed, but perhaps a little extra thought isn’t the worst thing. Although I haven’t owned a slip or considered owning one since I was about ten, I am intrigued by the potential to change the drape of my clothing to better suit my comfort.
My grandmother wore slips and when she passed away I gathered many of her slips into a box and brought them home to live with me. They have been hidden in my attic for the past few years, but when a dear friend recently mentioned that she was on the look out for cotton and silk slips, I thought of my granny’s slips. I unpacked the box and started sifting through. What I found was a history of carefully preserved cotton and silk slips, nearly threadbare, with straps reattached and holes lovingly darned, and then a number of floral ones of an undetermined synthetic blend. All of them smelled like her. All of them once wrapped her body, stood sentinel between her dresses and her skin. And now they will do the same for me. Each time I slip one over my head there is no doubt I will be thinking about her, wondering what she might have worn on such a day that she did the same. The straps on many of the slips are no longer fully adjustable, if they ever were, and so it is with a certain bit of irreverence to dressing properly that I happily let the tattered lace peak out from beneath my skirt. I am sure my granny would let me know that it’s snowing down south, a phrase circa 1932, to let a woman know that her slip is showing. For me, I let it show happily, it is my homage to her. And in this dress, slip and all, I feel as if I am a full expression of myself both because the dress is dreamy, but also for it’s thoughtful fabric sourcing and construction, and for allowing me the chance to connect to the generations of women who came before me.