My Polka-Dot Christmas of 1972

Young girl in polka dot skirt and blouse.
Christmas polka-dot outfit on December 25, 1972

It’s hard not to be noticed when you wear polka dots. Being shy, I didn’t want anyone’s eyes fixed on me or what I wore. The uninhibited joyfulness of those dots made me uncomfortable. They wanted to be a star.

My mother made a lot of my outfits when I was younger, including this skirt and blouse. She tried to dress me well, especially on holidays, when we would see the extended family and go to church services.

I didn’t think much about what I wore during my younger years. Whatever my mother bought or made for me I just put on. But these dots taught me that I did care. My clothing should help me fade into the background – not be waving to strangers to say, “Hey, you there, look at me.”

Sewing the Polka Dots

Even though I saw how much time my mother spent making my clothes, I didn’t fully appreciate how hard she had to work. Trips to the store to find a pattern and buy material, taking my measurements and getting out the heavy sewing machine to put on the dining room table. Then, unfolding and studying the paper pattern, and getting out the treasured, good fabric scissors to carefully cut the material in straight lines. Threading the sewing machine to begin the detailed handiwork at last. She concentrated at her machine without distraction until she was done. Fittings and adjustments were the final step.  

Feelings on Polka Dots

After all my mother’s efforts, I put on the finished skirt and blouse. She scrutinized the stitches, touching the fabric in places. She stood back to get a better view. Then, she carried her full-length mirror into the living room, our most well-lit area, for me to have a look.

“Do you like it?” she asked.

“That’s a lot of dots,” is all I remember thinking as I looked in the mirror,   

“It’s in fashion now,” my mother would say, watching my face. “Don’t you like it?”

Reminders of the current fashion trends– how could I argue with that? As a child, I didn’t follow fashion.

“I spent a lot of time on this,” was her follow-up statement, I imagine. A sure way for me to feel guilty and ungrateful and to say I liked it. I couldn’t explain what made me uneasy about it. I did think it was pretty. It just wasn’t me. But at 5 years old, I didn’t know how to say that. I only knew what I saw reflected back at me – white dots dancing on a red skirt and red dots dancing on a white blouse. And me, looking back into my own eyes – Outshined by dots.

Appreciating the Polka Dot

Looking back, I can see how joyful the red and white dots are. The sort of abstract art that mesmerizes me into a smile. The dots don’t just want your full attention. They want to make you feel something. If not happy, then entranced, or dizzy. I can even see myself now in that photo with a large polka-dot bow materializing on top of my head as I slowly morph into Minnie Mouse. Polka dots know they belong at Disneyland, “The happiest place on earth.”

I prefer that my clothing blend in with what I feel or want to feel. As an adult, I’ve never allowed myself to be overshadowed by attention-seeking clothes that make me want to cower in their presence. Plenty of polka-dot girls and women are out there in the world and they live confidently with their polka-dot outfits projecting what they feel. For me, it’s solid, muted colors or subtle patterns all the way. Soothing to look at and to wear. Colors and patterns that don’t want to be noticed. My outfits shouldn’t have more personality than I do.

Being Thankful for Mom and Polka Dots

Looking back at this picture, I can more fully appreciate all the skills my mother used to make a pretty Christmas outfit. Especially since now, I understand how difficult it is to sew. The Sewing for Beginners class I took a few years ago taught me how challenging the basics of operating a sewing machine were and also that I don’t have the patience to master the basics. That class made me even more grateful for my mother who used her hard-earned abilities to make that Christmas special for me.  

So even though my mother is gone, looking at this photo sparked a memory of all the love she showed me with this fabric creation. Without the photo, I would never have been able to recall this experience. Beyond that, I can’t resist an awkward Christmas photo. A wallflower girl holding up two new Christmas ornaments and smiling as she pretends to be a polka-dot girl.

I can almost smell the toasty, buttered sweetness of sugar cookies in the oven, baking in shapes of snowmen, pine trees and Santa that we cut out earlier. And I can hear Alvin and the Chipmunks singing in the background now. My favorite Christmas with the Chipmunks album spinning on the record player in the living room. Those festive, smart-aleck chipmunks expressing all my repressed cheekiness.

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