Fashion and Family
Christmas morning at the York home was always an embarrassment of riches. My parents loved surprising each other with their gifts and of course, doted on me. As a teenager, I followed suit and always bought the unexpected, special present. With money saved from allowances and my summer grass-cutting jobs, at fourteen I was able to buy a chandelier for my parent’s bedroom. And at fifteen, I convinced the owner of a furniture store, to sell me a curio cabinet, for their Christmas present and pay for it at $10 a month. Then, my senior year of college, I opened a charge account at Bradford’s Furniture and surprised them with a new living room sofa. Do we see a pattern here? It’s no wonder I ended up with a career in interior design.
I especially loved to buy for my mother and opened accounts with Neiman-Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and the likes, so that I would receive their holiday catalogs and be able to pick out the latest perfume, jewelry or such. In fact, one year, I gave her a most impractical gift, a boa made from lamb’s fur.
It was in my senior year of high school, that I decided my mother needed a maxi-coat. I found a bright red, shiny patent leather, floor-length coat to surprise her with that Christmas. She oohed and aahed and said all of the appropriate things – I was so pleased with myself.
After my parents passed away and I was left to go through everything in our home, I found a description of that coat that she had typed on a yellowed piece of paper. I’m not sure if was for a talk or article but it made me smile and now framed, it hangs in my home. She wrote:
This year for Christmas, Santa Claus, in the form of my teenage son, presented me with a bright red maxi-coat. It was quite a surprise since maxi-coats are not too popular in our town and the few that are seen are on the younger generation. However, I decided that if he thought his mother could wear such a coat and wanted her to have it bad enough to spend his money for it, I would wear it.
A trip to the local grocery, and to visit in the homes of close friends, afforded me the opportunity to become accustomed to this new style and the imagined double looks I received. Finally, I got the courage to wear my new coat downtown shopping. Driving into one of the large department store garages, I rather fugitively stepped from my car, determined to proceed as if this were what every best-dressed woman was wearing.
I had only taken a few steps when a little girl, with a bull horn voice, exclaimed, “Oh look, Mother. There’s Santa Claus.”
Our trips to market, to shop for our Christmas store, would always involve clothes shopping for my mother. I was raised shopping with her and could often convince her to be a little more daring in her choices. One of her favorite spots to shop in Atlanta, was Loehman’s. Racks and racks of discounted women’s clothing was a great draw. Since the dressing room was one large communal area, I was not allowed back there. However, I would be out front scouring the racks and putting outfits together for her to try. It never failed that several of the women in the dressing room would take notice and asked who was helping her make selections. There would be times that some of the women would come out and ask if I would help them find a top that might work with a certain skirt, etc. I would often spend hours as a “fashion consultant.”
Back in Nashville, I was well-known for my skills, by the management at one women’s store. In fact, so much so, that one day, when a new employee tried to assist me, the manager came over and told her to leave me alone. She said: “He knows more than you do right now, so watch and learn.”
J. Ronald M. York, author of Kept in the Dark, is also an accomplished musician and founder of York & Friends Fine Art Gallery.
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