Antique Childhood, Wivian

The Paisley Dress

I love paisley and I always have. I think paisley adds a touch of class to nearly anything.

Once, when I was a young girl, I was looking through our family photographs when my eye was drawn to one of the few color photographs in the box. I pulled the picture from the box and studied it closely for a long time.

It is a picture of my mother. She is a young woman. She is wearing a paisley dress, cyan blue, the color of a shallow tropical sea. She is seated deep in a chair with her long athletic legs crossed. She is wearing high heels. Her thick wavy auburn hair contrasts with the vibrant blue green dress in the most resplendent way, in a way that makes you want to look from the dress to her hair and back to the dress again. She is looking confidently into the camera with a sultry “I dare you” expression.

The sexy young woman in the picture is clearly my mother. But not. It seemed implausible to me that this paisley wearing woman was the same woman who nightly rescued me from the dark, pulling me into the safety of her bed, curling me into the soft warm curve of her tummy. My mother never wore high heels or fancy clothes, let alone paisley, and she certainly never sat around looking sultry!

At that moment, I realized that my mother had a life before me and beyond me. It was an odd and uncomfortable thought, almost inconceivable, but at the same time… thrilling. And I think it was then, in that moment, that I fell in love with paisley.

My mother is a smart lady. She could have been anything she wanted to be, she could have worn paisley every day. But she chose to have children instead and through us correct the hurts and injustices of her own childhood.

I don’t actually remember seeing my mother wear that paisley dress, but I remember seeing it hang in the back of her closet year after year.

If she had any regrets about the choices she made for her life, she kept them stashed away in the back of her closet along with the paisley dress. And we never knew it.

Christmas 1961.

21 thoughts on “The Paisley Dress

  1. Well Gooood Morning! I am first, see? The early bird gets the worm? I don’t regret putting “my life on hold” while my boys were little, but more and more now I look forward to a paisley dress again…

  2. There’s one of my mom that has always struck me like that (though, since she was at some camp or other, she wasn’t wearing anything so classy as a paisley dress).
    I’m lucky enough to have a framed copy hanging in my hallway now, so I can see it whenever I want!

  3. I remember looking through some old photographs and seeing one of my mother as a senior in high school–in the homecoming court. It amazed me how pretty she was, because to me she was just my mother. And then I saw one of my dad, with brooding dark brown eyes and curly hair (he went bald early) and again, it was a jolt to think they had had a life before us kids.

  4. De-lurking to say ‘What a great post!’ My mom was married at 18; I showed up when she was 19…she had very little life before kids. She didn’t have paisley…but she had square dancing dresses. Which became, ultimately, dress up clothes. I remember watching, along with my younger sister, my folks square dancing a time or two, but after my younger brothers came along the square dancing went away.

    But I’ve got some photos of my kids playing dress up with Grandma’s square dancing dresses.

  5. Great post! We’re in the process of organizing 20+ years of photos. My girls are loving it, and I think I’ve seen that realization in their eyes that mom and dad had a life before them!

  6. I remember long ago a paisley blouse that I loved dearly! Also, if you like paisley, you would love the book “The Persian Pickle Club”…by…uh…Sandra Dallas? I think that’s right. Anyway…it’s a keeper. And it has to do with paisley.

  7. Paisley patterns are appealing because they have so many layers. That small spot of eggplant, teal or yellow lurking in the design that give it character. So much like human beings, with our many layers and that little dash of orange that makes us interesting.

  8. This was a beautiful post for me to read. I know the exact feeling you have when you look at that picture of your mom; there’s a picture of my mom that elicits the same reaction from me. And the dress was always in her closet.
    Also, the photo: I promise you, there’s one of my mom doing the “mom-on-the-floor” sit, right in front of our Christmas tree, with me in her lap and my brothers creating chaos around us.
    Thanks for a lovely start to the day!

  9. Oh, beautiful!
    Recently I came into the room all dressed up to go to a wedding, and my son gasped out “Mom! YOU’RE A WOMAN!”
    Well, yes.

  10. My girlfriend wanted to name her daughter Paisley. When her first child threatened to come at 25 weeks 3 days, her husband told her that if it was a girl she could name her Paisley. She quipped, “you know, this baby could live!” He took it back. 🙂 Turns out it was a boy anyway, born at 25 weeks 6 days. Hes a nutty 4 1/2 year old rumping around in the next room right now with two of my three boys.

  11. I do know what you mean.

    I have a picture of my mother in 1945, not long before she & my dad married (they were engaged at the time). She had portraits taken to mail to him overseas; it was during WWII, and he was on a mine sweep off the coast of Nagasaki.

    Anyway, I look at that picture–where she looks so dreamy–and I just imagine how in love she must’ve been, anticipating all the years that lay ahead.

  12. I apologize for not getting to all the comments, and maybe someone already asked, but I’m wondering if your mom was antique? Mine was really young, and I am antique….wonder what, if any, impact that will have on kids? Hmmm. Thanx for the story and the thought trigger 🙂

  13. OK: can I quote “The Waltons”? Mary Ellen found some drawings Ma had made as a teenager stashed away in a trunk. The mother had been offered a scholarship to an arts college. “But, Ma,” Mary Ellen said,”You were so good! Why didn’t you continue your art?” “Because,” Ma said, “I met your Dad and had you children. And I made the right choice.” And she put the pictures back in the trunk, and closed the lid with a genuine smile.
    Sigh. 30 years later I still remember those words.

  14. My mom was a literal beauty queen, so I have quite a few pictures of her looking amazingly glamorous, both pre and post kids! It’s always fun to peruse them and hear the stories behind them; she could have been so much “more than JUST a mom” but she chose to pour herself into us and I don’t think she has ever regretted it. Obviously I haven’t!

  15. At my great-aunt’s birthday party last week, I found a picture of my mother and me in which she is about 5 years older than I am now. Thinking of that picture, I’m going to start saying “thank you!” every time someone tells me I look just like her. I’m still guilty of forgetting my parents are anything other than my parents.

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