My great aunt Ruby was an elegant woman. Always dressed in heels, hose, an A-line skirt and smart sweater set. The jingle of her charm bracelets announced her even before her perfume.
She had been a physicians assistant- a smart woman smartly dressed, in a time when most woman were expected to be merely ornamental.
What impressed me most was her discerning eye. She chose things carefully, and cared for them thoughtfully. It wasn’t about having lots of things, but having a few beautiful things that would last.
She and my uncle were far from wealthy- sold middle class Americans of a certain era. But they lived with thought and grace. She always dressed, as did he. It was nice that they thought so much of each other that they dressed up a bit. It was a form of respect- both for each other as for themselves.
I used to love to stop in and have tea when I worked in her neighborhood. Even though they were store bought, the cookies were carefully placed on a Limoges plate. - Teacups were heated, as was the pot, while waiting for the kettle to whistle.
Once the tea had brewed, cups were lowered onto saucers, which were placed on the table set with silver teaspoons and linens. Conversation ensued. She always surprised me with her frankness. She was fond of making pronouncements like – be sure to change your bras every 6 months- your breast shape evolves!
So much of my aesthetic was formed chatting away in her house. I always felt so special after having tea with her. It carried me through the day by standing a little straighter, being a little kinder to those around me.
When she deemed it time she reveled her trousseau to me. I remember so clearly her carefully unfolding the packets of acid free tissue placed on her four-poster bed.
Her wedding trousseau had come from a chic shop in Portland and was handmade in Paris. It consisted of a grand robe and gown, chemises, tap pants and bralettes. Constructed of the softest silks embellished with fine lace expertly applied, every seam was perfection defined.
Each piece was carefully unfurled and discussed. The particulars of its design detail, the materials and of course it’s use and care.
Much was made of when to wear each piece. Wear the tap pants in summer under fine dresses- they are breezy yet keep you properly covered. A slip should always be worn in the winter. It offers a better line under suits.
From the first moment I saw them I understood what is was to be discerning. The importance of true quality and the respect it implies. Respect- of one’s self, of the person who made them and their craft, even respect for those you live with. It is not a selfish thing to make an effort- rather the opposite. It also drove home the idea that fine things cared for last. These were not things to simply look at- they were worn and cared for. That is perhaps the best lesson of all.
Nearly 80 years later they still speak of fine craft, thoughtful design and respectful care.