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My Mother Was a Society Girl


Dara Parker

My mother was a society girl. She was fashionable, elegant, beautiful, charming. A star of La Belle Époque. She was a Gibson Girl as she pleased, with a twenty-two inch waist to be proud of and thick hair to die for. She wore the bustle, the new line skirts, the tailored suits and the pouter-pigeon bodice all with ease and grace as time demanded she do so. She shone at ballrooms, waltzing the nights away. She delighted others with wit and genteel conversation. She played the piano and had beautiful handwriting. She was a delightful product of an era soon turned to dust, an age that could not last. Of course it could not last. But it was gone much faster than, say, the Victorian establishment. That could be due to the fact that Queen Victoria lived for so long, and King Edward did not, or maybe the S-bend corset did everyone in.

I strove to look pretty anyway. All girls do, or at least all the ones I've encountered have. Being the daughter of a society princess, I have encountered many ladies willing to do anything for a smaller waist, for better hair or skin. And normal people on the street are too obviously attempting the same thing, with less money.
That is what is fabulous.

A new age dawned when the S-bend's reign had ended, and we scrambled for the Grecian line that wasn't really new if you looked at your history books, but our grandmothers' time alone was passé anyway. I was younger then, hardly more than an impressionable child; many girls of my class were, as you might imagine. Then skirts went a little wild, flaring, slimming, flaring oddly, slimming again all in a few short years, and we ran to catch up. A revolution was starting, and we could feel it.

The corset disappeared one year. We were shocked. My mother was shocked. This was too much. I fled into the unsleeved arms of all that was slinky and rebellious and masculine. Too old already to be considered a debutante, I was a young woman who loved to shock in little ways. Not wanting to put my mother on her death bed, I did not cut my hair... too much. I could still style it in a bun. That was shoved under a cloche, complimenting the strings of pearls that wouldn't go out of fashion for a while, and my skirts secretly went to the knee. Oh, the indecency.

My mother was no longer a society girl. She was clinging to something old, used, gaudy- though our new costumes were certainly a different kind of gaudy. She still danced and sang and played piano, but for me the songs were new, the dances were wild, and only the artists who recorded the songs ever played the piano. Jazz music caused a splash. As I was the new society girl of the family, the baby, I embraced a fad like my mother had before me. Now I was more obvious, more comfortable.

She couldn't say it wasn't fun. She knew I was the same as her, behind the elastic garters opposing streamlined corsets, slips opposing petticoats, knees opposing ankles. I am a society girl. I am up-to-date. I dance the Lindy Hop. I sing to jazz. I wear makeup. I sneak smokes. I show my fine knees incased in pale stockings. I am naturally slim but I flatten my body- no curves, no hips. I wear the new skirts as they change. I have my own sort of conversations, mostly about music and dancing, though not the types my grandmother would approve of. I ignore my handwriting, thankful that it's legible and nice looking enough. I am a product of now. And soon, someone else will replace me. The styles will change. They always do, and will do so quickly. My fashion will become old. I will become old. I will watch, as my mother did, a new rebellion, a new fad. A new society girl. For that is how it will always be. New. Now. Fast. Wild.

My daughter will say, my mother was a society girl. She was fashionable, elegant, beautiful, charming. But now, I am the one. I dance to new tunes. I sing to new songs. My skirts are different, my hair is different. But it isn't really all that different. Didn't it happen before? It's repetitive because that's how fashion works. That's how society girls are. So, we are all society girls. It has been and will be repeated. We are of our own ages, and when we shone we were brighter than everyone else. Perfect in the eyes of others. Soon, our time will pass forever. But we were marvelous.

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