Fereiro Family Fashion, Part 2: Before I was Born

I’ve always been obsessed with my family’s old photo albums; they bring back memories so far gone that sometimes I think I’ll never get them back. On a recent visit with my parents, my dad (while looking for some important papers in a tightly-packed drawer) stumbled upon some albums from his own childhood and teenage years. It was the seventies and eighties; the bell-bottoms were nothing short of epic, the plaids were so bad they were good, and the floral-prints were downright groovy.

Where to begin? Look at those pants (second from the left, like you didn’t already notice)!
Then there’s my grandmother and Auntie Ruth in plaid (on the right). Also note my
Uncle Bill’s hair (centre, back) and that awesome shearling coat in the front row.

Here’s my dad’s mum in a poppy-printed dress, belted at the waist. Spring inspiration?

Well, what do we have here? There’s some wicked-cool knee-high socks with what looks
like a school kilt and a leather jacket. Then there’s the mustard yellow tops (far left, far right), and
my dad in double-denim (front and centre). My cousin Adam sports a bonnet and one-piece sleeper.

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Fereiro Family Fashion

Looking at my family’s photo albums from the nineties is always a happy hour or two spent each time I visit my parents. So, of course, my Christmas vacation has to start the same way. On one of my first nights home, I curl up with an over-stuffed album, and there’s no turning back.

After seeing dozens of photographs of myself, my parents, my cousins, and my brother, I begin to wonder: Are these trips down Memory Lane a search for nostalgia of a relatively peaceful childhood in a yellow-brick bungalow? Maybe. For memories of events that happened when I was too little to keep track? Perhaps. Or, for my dress phase (which seems to be returning, more than a decade and a half later), the Halloween costumes my mom made for my brother every year, and my multiple multi-coloured-bear-patterned outfits? That sounds more like it.

My fashion choices as a child, or the choices my mother made for me, never cease to amaze me. They fill me with a desire to throw out all that I own now and start fresh, with adult-sized replicas of everything I wore before I hit ten.

Instead, to maintain my bank account and some semblance of sanity, I’ll settle for swooning over these photographs – again, and again, and again…

Here I am, sitting pretty with my grandparents’ stuffed cat on their
“spinny chair,” both of which are still in their house. Look at the dress.
Gorgeous, right? I’m not biased. It’s not me that makes the photo cute…

Here’s me again, on my third birthday, according to the candles on the cake.
Again, I’m wearing a frilly, puffy, little-girl equivalent of a ball gown.

Until recently, I would look at these photos and think nothing of the dresses. Now, I want to know exactly what’s up with the heaps of photos of me in beautiful, fancy dresses. How many formal occasions did I attend at age three? Not many. According to my mom, these designer dresses – handed down by one of her friends’ daughters – were all I would put on for at least a couple years of my life.

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The Vanity Fair Time Warp

Cary Grant by George Hoyningen-Huene 1934 Vanity Fair,
November 1934 © Condé Nast Publications Inc. / Courtesy Condé Nast Archive

Walking into the Vanity Fair Portraits exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum is like stepping into a time warp. No one takes photos, all is silent, and people walk around, discussing quietly amongst themselves the lives of celebrities I’m much too young to recognize.

On one side of the maze of rooms, black-and-white images of film stars, writers, artists and dancers line the walls. The photographs are smaller than I anticipated. I recognize few names and even fewer faces.  On the other side, there are much larger, mostly colour portraits of people I’ve seen in movies and on television for my entire life. The contrast is striking.

The first collection of portraits, taken between 1913 and 1936, before Vanity Fair’s mid-life hiatus, contains eerily staged snapshots of the best-known celebrities of the time. In one image, film star Cary Grant, clad in a cardigan and pleated pants, leans against a wall, smiling and gazing towards the camera. It’s easy to see how he captured the hearts of young women in his day like Brad Pitt does today. In another, actor and director Charlie Chaplin sits pretty with a stern stare in a crisp black suit.

With the notable exceptions of Josephine Baker, who poses in a rather tiny dancing outfit, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Joan Crawford, who lounge on a beach in swimwear, the vast majority of the Vintage Vanity Fair portrait subjects are fully and immaculately dressed.

Julianne Moore as Ingres’s ‘Grand Odalisque’, New York City,
by Michael Thompson 2000
Vanity Fair, April 2000 © 2000 Michael Thompson

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Striped Confessions

I recently flew across the country, paying approximately one arm, one leg, and fifty cents, to visit home. In many ways, I hope that a certain portion of my childhood is preserved in the home in which I grew up, that somehow it remains intact and untouched by change. Driving into my old neighbourhood it’s clear that much has been modified; my old high school is now a strange colour of evergreen rather than the original boring blue, and entirely new streets have been built and named. Even at my parents’ house I notice small things, modern differences, like olive oil hand soap in the bathrooms and shiny new saucepans. These changes are small, but when added together, substantial enough to rattle me.

As a creature of habit, I have a tendency to look through old photographs to restore and affirm the history I have memorized. I find it consoling to return to these small 4X6 records of time, in part because they will never change.

I would love to share with all of you perfect family snapshots and candid moments of picnics and past pets – but alas, I have uncovered some deep and dark secrets about my childhood. The photos I’m about to share with you reveal something so shocking and absurd that all I can do now is shake my head.

Mom, why did you dress us kiddies only in stripes?

Without further ado, the evidence:

Here I am at about 3 years old in my backyard. Sure, I am clearly excited about something (probably the attention of a camera lens), and every piece of my clothing (save for the shoes) is striped. Obviously, I myself have taken the liberty of putting on the hat I’m wearing, hence the asymmetrical hair did. In defense of my mother, I will say that she was trying to teach me my ABC’s through fashion, but this is only the beginning of my case materials.

Same hat, another day, another striped shirt. Sigh. What you see here is the very complicated baby bottle pose where one has to drink the milk with no hands. Not everyone can master this but I was particularly adept. Again, the tee-shirt is actually quite cute, puffed sleeves and all, but what about florals? Or solids? Maybe even an offensive fluorescent? Honourable mentions in this photo go to my bunchy diaper peeking out of my shorts, and the somewhat embarrassing fact that I am much too old to be drinking from a bottle.

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