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Friday, 22 April 2011

Fashion Plate

By Nancy Leitz

Shortly after World War II, about 1946, Roy's brother, Ernie, bought a nice new suit. It was gray with a fine pin stripe and it was nicely tailored and he looked splendid in it. The jacket was single breasted with wide lapels and the pants had one inch cuffs.

Ernie wasn't a dress-up kind of guy but liked to look nice when he took a lady out to dinner or he went to the race track with his friends. He never married so he had no one to answer to as far as his clothing choices were concerned.

In 1950, his brother Roy and I were married and had a lovely formal wedding at St. Mark's Church on Locust Street in Philadelphia. Ernie wore the gray pin striped suit, white shirt and a gray and navy tie. We all thought that he looked very well dressed and fitted right in with our wedding guests and family.

About 1955 the style changed to very narrow lapels worn with a button down shirt collar and an extra thin tie. That mattered little to Ernie and he kept going out sporting his wide lapels and cuffed trousers and wearing his double wide tie with the pointy collared shirts.

Then came the 60s and the hippie look was in. Jeans with holes in them, plaid shirts and red hobo scarves tied around the head. Everybody except Ernie wanted to look like Willie Nelson.

He wanted to look like The Man in the Gray FlannelSuit so he continued to wear the outfit that suited him year in and year out.

That's how it went on all those years. One year he was so far out of style it was embarrassing and then, voila!, a new designer would come along, bring back wide lapels and cuffed pants and make Ernie the picture of sartorial splendor, a veritable fashion leader in our little town.

Then, sadly, in the 1970s his Mother passed away and we were all gathered at the funeral home for the viewing. The whole family was there, including Ernie (all dressed up) and so were most of the neighbors and friends.

Our Jerry was a young teenager and was put in charge of taking the guests' coats and hanging them in the coat room in the back of the home.

A friend of brother Arthur came in wearing a beautiful full length mink coat which she handed to Jerry without giving it a thought. Jerry took it in the back and hung it up. Earlier Ernie had not allowed Jerry to take his 25-year-old overcoat because he said that somebody would take it. Like the kids would say today, "AS IF."

Then the best thing happened. An old lady about 92 years old came in, gave Jerry her coat and looked around. Then she spotted Ernie and approached him. "Are you Ernest?" she asked.

"Yes, I am," he answered.

She took his hand and said," I am Miss Clark. I was your first grade teacher."

Ernie was delighted to see her and they had a nice conversation.

On the way home in the car, Roy was driving and I was in the front seat. Jerry was alone in the back. I turned to Roy and said, "Wasn't that extraordinary that Miss Clark knew Ernie? I wonder how she knew him?"

From the back came a small voice saying, "She recognized his suit."

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


How funny!! I needed that morning chuckle, Nancy! My dad was a bit like Ernie, but my mom and I saw to it that he was more up-to-date than he cared to be.

Great story as usual Nancy. It made me think of my own husband who could have possibly been like Ernie had he not been married. He saves the outdated clothing for a time when he’s certain they will be back. My question, however, is will we?

These days, we just say that Ernie has his own Personal Style. Either that, or he is Vintage. You go, Ernie! By dressing retro, you are, ironically, Ahead Of The Times.

Loved it..wonder if this generation will ever get over the must be new, must be new..During the 60s & 70s, I was a Mom and Housewife & lived in Levis & sweatshirts, short sleeved in summer, long rest of the year..I went to college as adult, pretty casual, didn't change much except blazers..at a dinner one holiday, my 3 kids had the greatest chuckle over "Mommy's famous blue dress." Made no never-mind to me at that moment...Been clearing out closets & came across the famous blue dress...navy, nifty little A line style, long sleeve, no collar..I love it again..of course, it doesn't fit..but it now hangs behind a closet door waiting for another one of those reunions with all 3, now far flung forty something year old kids..We all remember those things we thought we looked nifty in...Just loved your piece...


Your Dad was lucky to have two ladies who made sure that he looked "Up to date".

Ernie got his suit through a "Suit Club" where you paid Fifty Cents a week and when you had the full $35.00 paid you got your suit. But, wait there's more.

The club was sort of a Ponzi scheme for suits. Every week there was a drawing and if your name was drawn out of the hat you WON your suit. If you never won it then you had to wait till it was all paid for to get it.

Welcome Back, Claire Jean! I am delighted to see you here.

Your husband is sort of on the right track with saving his outdated clothing in the hope it will be back in style someday.

I also have a closet full of clothing that I hope I can wear someday. Like when I lose about 50 pounds!

You are right, Nance. As I mentioned in the story,there were times through the decades when Ernie wore the suit that he looked like he had just stepped out of Joseph A. Banks window.

And there were other times when the guy at the Salvation Army Thrift Shop was counting the days until Ernie would bring it in to him.

It all depended on what style was in that year.

Hello Mary,

My kids are far flung ,too, so I know what you mean about getting them all together so you can spring "Mommy's famous blue dress" on them.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you really could put that dress on that you know you look nifty in and meet them at "21" for dinner. You could be fashionably late and make a grand entrance in the blue dress. What a scene that would be....

Don't laugh, but I have a 25 year old Perry Ellis coat I have been wearing for 25 year as styles come and go. It's long so covers both short and lengthened skirts plus it's double-breasted with military gold buttons. In China they think it is a navy coat, and here it just keeps me warm. Forget style, what goes around, comes around.

I'm grateful for style changes, because I shop only in thrift shops, and get wonderful, high-end garments for almost nothing because they are "out of style," but so am I!
ps--I get constant compliments on my clothes. People say "Now you didn't get THAT at a thrift shop, did you? and I smile.

I guess I still like the style that was fashionable when I was a young woman. You know, the twin set (worn with a pearl necklace), pleated skirt, A-line basic black, etc. And I wonder why my daughter hates my taste in clothes.

I no longer wear a pleated skirt, though, because I seldom wear a skirt.

Ernie is my type of guy, but his gray suit sounds dreadful. Thanks for the chuckle.

Hi Johna,

I can believe you have enjoyed wearing that Perry Ellis coat for 25 years. Just imagine it going back and forth from America to Asia every year..

You probably don't even have to show your Passport anymore.

They recognize your COAT!


I admire you for being able to buy nice clothes at the Thrift Shops. Good for you. They never have anything in my size.

Anything over a size 10 doesn't seem to find it's way to the high end Thrift Shops.

The size 14's are taken to the Goodwill in a plain brown paper bag.

Hello Darlene,

I used to dress like June Cleaver,too.Twin sweater sets and pearls..Pleated skirts..
Little black dress.

Remember when we were going out for an evening we had to call up everyone in our group to find out what they were wearing.Heaven forbid you were dressed any differently than the other Stepford wives.

It's all changed now;and for the better,I think. I went to a wedding a few weeks ago and there were no two outfits alike and I enjoyed the variety.

I couldn't help but wonder how Ernie stayed so fit all those years or...did he have the suit altered, letting it out and taking it in? I am afraid that I got rid of some clothes like that from my Ron's closet when we married. There is no telling how many years he owned some of his "favorites". Yikes!

Neat story. I wonder what kinds of fashion legacies I will leave...perhaps my tie died apparel. For Mom it was her Pendleton 40's Jacket that never goes out of style it seems. I got one for myself after she died. I think of her every time I wear it.

Hi Annie,

Ernie did keep his weight fairly consistent over the years. I suppose being able to wear his favorite suit was his motivation for not gaining too much weight.

He was a tall good looking guy who knew how good he looked in that suit....for 40 years!

Hello Cile,

You mentioned two things that I have always liked. Tie dyed shirts and Pendleton Jackets.

I think the tie dyed stuff is long gone, fashion wise,but that Pendleton Jacket will be around as long as Ernie's suit was,for sure!

I tried to comment the other day but it wouldn't go through. Trying again....

The story of the suit reminds me of 'The Dress/Tux suit' we had at home. It originally belonged to daddy. I had four brothers and all of them wore it at different times. Some of their friends borrowed it on occasion. It really served well over the years and saved the bother of hiring an outfit for the evening.

Hi GM,

I know what you mean. We had a pair of black shoes that a friend named Elmer gave us and they were worn to every prom and wedding in our family for years.

We always called them the Elmer Shoes and thought they were miraculous because they fit everyone who put them on.

They disappeared a few years ago after a wedding loan and they have been sorely missed by my sons and their friends who have to scrounge elsewhere for black shoes to wear with their tuxedo.

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