Do You Remember The First Time?

eighties sewing patterns

A few weeks ago, I stood in our hugely open plan office as a colleague strolled past. I did a whiplash double take. I remembered that kimono top! It was from a popular high street store from, I’m guessing, 1983. I’d once bought and worn the matching skirt.

It wasn’t just that I remembered the print. I was transported to a specific day in my life. Stroking the fabric in the shop, feeling the cold press of air conditioning on the back of my neck. Later, wearing the skirt to a disco. Ignoring my ex-boyfriend. Back To The Future doesn’t even begin to cover the journey I was on as I gripped my office mug of tea.

I twitched every time I caught sight of my colleague. ‘I think I remember that outfit,’ I said eventually and shyly. ‘1980s?’ She smiled. ‘Ah, yes. Dug it out of my mum’s attic.’ I waited for the hiss of my punctured ego shrivelling like a discarded birthday balloon. You’re the same age as her mum. Actually, I found I didn’t care that much.

But it keeps happening! This afternoon I spotted someone wearing one of those huge, fuzzy cardigans my peers and I all sported as teenagers. Melanie Griffith wore one in Working Girl. I think. Mum knitted me a pale pink version on giant needles.

My past isn’t coming back to haunt me. That would be too … ghostly. It’s vivid and it’s packed with scents, sensations and snapshots. The kids who shop in vintage shops aren’t just wearing my clothes; they’re stirring up the embers of my youth.

Now, please god – don’t let anyone wander into the office wearing the same coat I once shivered in one long ago winter evening, sat on a dry stone wall with my new beau, fists shoved nervously into my pockets. The surprise of finding satin beneath my fingertips as I realised my ballet shoes were hidden in those pockets. The shame! What boy would want to kiss a girl who still attended weekly dance class?

If those particular memories flood back during office hours, I might pass out in a dead faint. Clothes. They don’t let up their grip. Ever.

You, too?

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36 Responses to Do You Remember The First Time?

  1. norma says:

    Definitely! A Laura Ashley ball dress I wore. I just couldn’t resist a bouncy castle. It was too long without the shoes, I trod on it and the bodice parted company with the skirt. A woman I’d never met safety pinned me back into it. I’m reminded of it every time I see a bouncy castle.

  2. BMGM says:

    I went through my bin of clothes saved for when I lost 10# (now 20#). I’m never going to have a 25″ waist again, but my teenaged daughter has one today. She took some of the clothes and they look really good on her.

    That 80s boyfriend? I can’t avoid him b/c we now live in the same house.

  3. redbarngirl says:

    I wore a yellow 1950s party dress for Easter one year, and the year after, a pink one that my grandma had worn for her 8th grade graduation. Many of the ladies in the church recognized these dresses from their youth–they each had had one just like them in cut or color. They told me that they were happy to see some one enjoying the dresses now as much as they had 60 years ago. I got many compliments from younger people too, of course. I’ve worn one of my collection of 50s dresses to the Easter masses ever since–it makes me happy, and I guess it makes the others happy, too. No negative memories have been shared with me so far! 🙂

  4. Talya says:

    Thankfully- NO. I had absolutely no style in the 80s. It wasn’t that I was out of fashion, or old fashioned- I had NO fashion. So I doubt my no-style look would EVER come back in fashion. 🙂

  5. KW says:

    A rust coloured, crushed velvet halter neck culotte dress with matching long fringed shawl. It was from Bus Stop and the trendiest ( and most expensive) outfit I had ever bought. I must have been around 20 years old. I found the shawl the other day. I can still remember feeling amazing in it all (so many trends in one outfit!) I don’t think I have ever felt quite like that again. But I married the man I wore it for and over 40 years later he remembers it as well.

  6. I have a few pieces of clothes squirrelled away in boxes from the 1980’s. Some of it was vintage even back then. I would love to be able to get into them again but think that I will just have settle for stroking my size 8’s. It does fill me with a lot of nostalgia for those years and for absent friends. My favourite item of clothing was a Victorian black silk opera cloak lined in peach silk satin. It cost £120 in 1984 from an antique shop in Edinburgh. Quite a sum in those days but well worth it for the pose factor being a young goth about town. It was so long and swirly, I am almost 6′ and it was just about floor length and had a lovely draped hood. Thank you for making me think back to then. Don’t think that I could pull it off now though. Not unless M&S started selling them anyway. 🙂 Xx

  7. Needleswift says:

    What a beautifully written post.

  8. Cynthia says:

    This was such a great post – I have so many OMG and sometimes they just flood in especially after seeing a familiar fabric. I had a long maxi Mad Max type leather and cotton coat in black. I saw the same ok the leather pattern was a little different, coat in a thrift store and OMG for 10 minutes the wonderful memories of me wearing it and the fun times had while wearing it flooded my brain. And yes I brought that coat – even if it just hangs in my closet the love I feel when I see it is priceless.

  9. Kathy Lynch says:

    Oh my GOODNESS! You have hit the nail right on the head (as usual) Karen! Clothes are very firmly intertwined with my memories, that’s for sure! But let’s be honest…….what we REALLY want to know is……..he DID kiss you, right?? 🙂

  10. Jan says:

    I’ve not actually seen my past wardrobe float by me but I do find that I choose a pattern, decide on what I think is the perfect fabric for it, make up the dress or skirt or jacket and then, once I’m preening in front of the mirror, I realise it is almost a copy of something I had when I was much younger. Twice this has happened in the past two months. Two dresses made and one was like one of my first ‘posh’ frocks and the other a ‘grown up’ dress I had bought for me for my big sister’s wedding. It’s like my sewing can’t help but reinvent my past wardrobe choices and yet I don’t recognise this until I’ve finished the sewing. Strange.

  11. Hélène says:

    When I was 12 or 13 years old, I crocheted myself a cool poncho. It was green and gray with a long fringe. When my mum passed out some years ago, I found a skein of that green yarn in her home. When I saw it, all the great memories of this poncho came back to my mind. Now I cherish this evidence of my first creation!

  12. A few days I was bouncing about reading sewing blogs and for someone’s vintage pledge they are planning to sew a top from the 70s. I made that same top for my first day of 8th grade, from a crazy patchwork print I hope no one sells anymore!

  13. cclc1976 says:

    I bought myself a pair of Dr Martens recently, trying to recapture my early 1990’s youth I suppose! They didn’t feel quite the same, I suppose because I’m nearly 40 and have 4 kids. But I still love them because they’re part of my history. My girls look at me like I’m mad when I point out all the new fashion was worn by us years ago! I’ll never forget a disco outfit my mum sewed for me from the Burda magazine, peplum and Bananarama! Thanks for a lovely article xx

  14. Mary says:

    Yep! Fashion circles round and I have been fortunate enough to be able to remake some of my favorite patterns from the 70’s. Yes, I am that old!

  15. janet says:

    It gets worse when see the vintage patterns, 40’s what my Mam wore 50’s what my older sisters
    wore and for me I started making my own clothes when I was 17 so its late 50’s all the 60’s and I made my daughter and son’s clothes 70’s 80’s & some 90’s I have quite a collection of patterns
    I can’t bear to part with even though they don’t fit me enjoy your flash backs isn’t sewing and life
    wonderfull

  16. Alessa says:

    That’s some lovely storytelling! 🙂

  17. Katie M says:

    I didn’t save any of my old clothes, but my goodness I wish I had – especially the boots! I had the most amazing slouchy black suede boots with fringe down the back that would be so cool now. Also had a fabulous pair of black riding style boots with a tan trim on the top. I’ve never been one for keeping old clothes. Moving around the world makes you inclined to cull as much as possible.

  18. Ann says:

    I have had the experience of seeing an old dress of mine on someone in an upscale thrift shop and it was bizarre! She was the proprietress of the shop — I think I stared at her goggle-eyed for a second before I could tell her why. The dress was very distinctive. It was from Banana Republic in the early 90’s, a short button up dress made out of sheer crepe-y navy blue polyester with flowers and bees on it. Sheer enough that I always had to wear a slip under it, which sometimes showed in a grunge-style way, and I wore it with tights and boots. I wore that dress to death! I wore it to work, I wore it to bars, I wore it once or twice a week for ages. I think I donated it when it ripped under the arm and was in general looking very sad and bedraggled. The thrift shop owner’s dress looked in good shape, which made me think it was not my exact dress, although it’s possible — I’ve been in the same city this whole time, so who knows!

  19. senjiva says:

    Karen! You’ve voiced what I couldn’t! I am seeing ‘the kids’ wearing all the very worst fashions of the early 1990s. But I know, some day, I’ll have a swoon moment. (I wonder where my first-kiss dress is now??)

  20. LinB says:

    There is nothing new under the sun. (Eccl. 1:9)

    Fashion cycles back around about every 20 years or so, admittedly in more of a Hegelian spiral than in a flat circle. So, as I am nearly 60 years old, I’ve lived through the revival of more than one decade’s interpretation of the styles of 20 years before that decade, which were also a revival of an earlier time … see what I mean?

    F’rinstance, in the 70s, we re-visited the 50s.
    In the 80s, who knows what hot mess we were dealing with? I tend to forget the entire decade, except for the dreadfully uncomfortable sensation of Shoulder Pad Buildup (padded bra straps, padded slip straps, padded blouse, padded waistcoat, padded cardigan, padded overcoat all left my head in a valley and my ears dead to external sound).
    In the 90s there was a return to the droopy, flowy, “hippie” clothes of the 70s. In the aughts, we continued the (1920s?) trend of uneven hems and flounces on every garment edge — re-set from the ancient Greeks every century or so.

  21. omg Norma, we’re twins! Maybe Laura Ashley and bouncy castles were an 80’s thing. My daughter is 19 and into retro – it does make me smile and like you I really don’t mind at all.

  22. You are such an awesome writer Karen!
    As for the fashion comebacks, I am about to raid my mother’s closet for her culottes from the 80’s. Which makes me wonder what clothing items my now 6 months old daughter might want to steal from me in the future?

  23. Olly says:

    Ooh … a blue crepe dress with a draped front (can’t imagine that looked good as even as a teenager I was quite busty!) and cap sleeves, bought from C&A I seem to recall … 6th form disco circa 1979. Fabric is very evocative – my mother made traditional patchwork quilts (now called English paper piecing, it seems although we just called it patchwork) and I would lie on her bed identifying pieces of my old dresses and things that she’d worn. I don’t know where the quilt went but I’d love to see it again now!

  24. amcclure2014 says:

    I loved this post – so beautifully written. I have a couple of clothes related stories but none similar to yours. I was never that fashionable. I’m enjoying reading the stories.

  25. Liza Jane says:

    I enjoyed this post!! I never had a lot of style when I was younger. Clothes didn’t really become a “thing” for me until I started sewing. But I have noticed a few things that the younger crop of teachers at my school are wearing as throwbacks. And I am no longer part of that younger crop of teachers!

  26. Thank you Karen, what a lovely post! I had such a throwback moment a few years ago when I saw a girl – perhaps eighteen – walking into a museum wearing the same dress I wore to the ball of my dancing lessons when I was 13 or 14 – it had not been exactly 20 years then, but almost and I admired how well she pulled it off. It was an early 90’s kneelength dress with a huge pink rose print on black background and a pouffy tiered skirt. It also had a laced front and sweatheart neckline. There was so much going on with that dress… I think it might still hang in one of my mother’s closets.

  27. I completely understand – that could be me too. Funnily enough I brought out all my old sewing patterns recently and rifled through my earliest ones. It brought back so many memories, as did a bag of fabric scraps from those early home-sewn clothes, which I intend to sneak into a patchwork quilt. As for the patterns, I think I could only bring myself to re-make something that doesn’t look too obviously ’80s. Been there – not ready to go back yet!

  28. Catherine says:

    So, have you read The Button Box? It’s a book I’d have been proud to write.

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