Sunday, March 15, 2009

Girlie Girl Things

I don't think of myself as a girlie-girl and yet I have a whole array of girlie-girl baubles. (That word, "bauble," is itself a girlie girl word. Stern librarians and macho generals do not have "baubles.")

My two antique perfume decanters belonged to my great-grandmothers, and although I didn't know either woman, I like to think they reflect their personalities. The one that belonged to my father's grandmother is sleek and cool, made of leaded glass sliced at angles like ice slivered apart by a pick. It belonged to The Party Grandma's mother, whose husband built her a large home in a then-posh part of town. I can imagine my grandmother playing with it when she was a little girl, lifting the heavy lid to dab perfume behind her ears, pretending to be the sophisticated flapper she would one day become.

The other decanter is gaudy and overdone, a brass filigree design of flowers and glass amethysts. This belonged to the farm woman who peers out of old photographs with a care-worn face that reminds me of Dorothy's Auntie Em. This was my mother's grandmother, and I imagine it was one of the nicer things she owned.

Nestled among the decanters is a small pile of brooches and necklaces, in various shades of monochromatic sparkle. These, too, belonged to my grandmothers and great-grandmothers. I rarely wear them, but I enjoy looking at their cobalt blue, hot pink, and diamond dazzle.
My mostly staid and ordinary closet probably is also embellished with a flourish of beaded and mesh handbags. Only one came from family – a leather, beaded bag. I found most of them, in shabby disarray, at various yard sales and flea markets. The only one that ever gets to go out for an evening is a black quilted bag with a nickel handle decorated with swans, but it's a cheap date: It cost all of a dime at a church rummage sale 30 years ago. I don’t know what the appeal is in these tiny, all-but-useless bags that hold little more than a lipstick and mad money. Maybe they remind me of a more elegant time of kid gloves, long gowns, and penciled names in dance cards hung with ribbons. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to live in those days when women wore corsets and couldn’t vote, but there is something charming about them nonetheless. One day I'll give them to my nieces. In the meantime, I keep the purses on a wall in my closet, along with another girlie-girl item, a cross-stitched picture of two Southern belles in ballgowns.

I made the picture back in the 80s, for my great aunt Mary. Now that was a girlie girl! She wore gigantic diamond cocktail rings and high-heeled fluffy slippers like she had stepped right out of a Vargas drawing. Her entire house was decorated in shades of pink and powder blue, including her Christmas tree, which was covered with butterflies and rosebuds. Although she lived alone, Aunt Mary always set her table with fine china and silver. She even ate Snickers bars elegantly, cutting them into pieces with a knife and eating them like fine chocolate.

I’ve always had a hard time meshing the somewhat mincing Aunt Mary I knew in her old age with the woman in yellowed photographs, who wore dungarees and waders, fishing in Colorado’s streams or camping out in a canvas tent. I got to know her in her later years, when she had settled into a genteel femininity, enhanced by increasing age and the first real financial security she had known in her life (thanks to a good retirement plan and careful investment by my father.) So, when I was going through a cross-stitching phase and found this pattern with its Southern belles, I immediately thought of her. It took months to make, but she was pleased and surprised by the gift. She hung it in her bedroom and even showed it off to her friends.

It’s too frou-frou for my own d├ęcor, but I keep it on the wall in my closet with all of my other girlie-girl things. Like Aunt Mary’s waders and jeans, which she kept in the basement just in case she ever got the urge to go fishing, they allow me to keep a side of myself nearby, just in case.


  1. Great post! I have a Victorian (of sorts) room in my house. Beautiful work on the Southern Belles.

  2. Girlie girl things--foreign land to me.