Saturday 9 April 2011

Mrs. Press & Maureen

I stumbled upon this story when writing about Mrs. Press in my previous post,

and it was so moving I wanted to share it with you all.

Clare Press with one of Maureen Ryan's vintage dresses. Photo: Damien Pleming

    Every dress has a story

    Sometimes a frock is more than just a piece of clothing.

    Fashion retailer Clare Press recalls a touching case in point.

    … Maureen was looking for something fabulous, flattering and 1950s-inspired to wear to her son’s wedding on Scotland Island….

    “I have just the dress,” I said, knowing that I really, truly did. I had recently bought some exquisite pieces from a vintage fashion collector who had assembled her treasures over a 30-year period before finally admitting defeat – her house was overflowing.

    Among the pieces I’d selected was a scoop-necked, full-skirted number cut from fine cream silk and covered all over with turquoise polka dots. Those dots could have made a lesser dress ditsy, but this one had such good breeding that the decoration only rendered it oh-so-fashionably festive. I showed it to Maureen and her eyes lit up. When she tried it on, it fitted as if it had been made for her. “I’ve never bought a vintage dress,” she said. “But I like the idea.

    I wonder who owned it and where they wore it?” “I don’t know,” I said. “But I feel sure that they danced in it.”

    “I bet they did! Danced the night away,” she said.

    “So there’s no point in showing you this other one,” I said, “but I will just in case you prefer it.” The second dress was silk, too, and also from the 1950s.

    Printed with a gorgeous blurry floral of teal blues and greys on a black background, it was slightly less dressy – pencil skirted, but beautifully shaped to emphasise the waist. And it fitted a treat, too.

    “Get the polka dots,” I said. “They are perfect for a wedding.”

    “I’m getting them both,” said Maureen. “I love them. This is so much fun!” She’d found the fashion Holy Grail – shopping on a mission and having fun …

    A month later Maureen emailed me some gorgeous photos of herself smiling in the sunlight in the polka-dot dress, a handsome man beside her, and blue water glinting in the background. She and the dress had obviously become great friends: they looked beautiful together.

    I didn’t expect to see Maureen’s dresses again.

    They had been passed on to the right person and were clearly having a ball. But last week I came downstairs into my new store and my eyes fell immediately on a familiar blur of blue and black.

    I asked Fay, who works for me, how the dress came back. Her face crumpled. Maureen’s husband, Mike, had driven from Canberra to return it to us.

    Maureen Ryan passed away from a brain disease on August 16. Her son’s new baby was yet to be born. It was cruelly, shockingly quick. Her illness hit her like a freight train, and four days after she collapsed she was gone. “She was my sweetheart of 41 years,” Mike told me over the phone. “I loved her so much. There wasn’t enough time …” He trailed off.

    “It’s not fair!” was all I could think to say. But Mike was focused on the reason for our conversation. They buried Maureen in the polka-dot dress; the dress she’d danced so happily in less than a year before. The floral dress was left behind.

    “It didn’t feel right to throw it away. I remember her smiling in it. She liked the idea of the vintage dress having a history, belonging to someone who had enjoyed it. I believe she would have liked me to pass it on.”

    I didn’t know Maureen, not really, but I knew her dress. And that dress loved her. Looking at it now it seems forlorn, as if it feels her loss. But dresses, like people, can be amazingly resilient. I know that eventually it will be ready to dance another day. It has to – because I promised Mike it would.

    Clare Press, Sunday Life, September 28, 2010

    {Story & image by Clare Press via here}


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