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Tag Archives: mink

shopping with Dorothy…

1895 Grandma and familyIf she didn’t like someone’s décor or didn’t appreciate their individual expressions of extravagance, my mother disparaged people as materialistic. It was an epithet intended to draw a clear line between us and them and to indicate her alliance with the artists and artful, the enlightened, the intellectual and the people of impeccable good taste.

The materialistic included, in addition to those for whom she simply couldn’t find a more precise accusation, people who loved to shop, who loved fashion, who had a lot of clothes and who wore clothes or jewelry or drove cars that she found excessive.

How Dorothy drew this line in the sand is unclear, and the line itself was far from straight. Perhaps she was rejecting the excesses of her Victorian mother and grandparents (above) — wearers of the most lavishly beautiful custom-made clothing — or maybe she was trying to separate her ‘more mature’ self from the younger version who reveled in fur coats and silk stockings. She didn’t use the word ironically, but was somehow able to justify her own love of clothes and shopping and beautiful objects without casting herself among the materialistic.

I remember going with her to Beverly Hills to shop at Saks Fifth Avenue and I. Magnin, walking through the heavy glass doors into the perfumed air where everyone seemed dressed for a party. Unlike today’s crowded department stores, these stores felt open and spacious, furnished with sofas where husbands and children could read magazines or watch the passing parade of fashion.

In fact, one of my mother’s favorite stories, which she told over and over until I could tell it myself, was about shopping at Magnin’s. I was about 3. She had parked me on a sofa while she shopped, but I wandered away. When she came out of the dressing room, she saw me in the next department, standing behind a woman who was wearing a full-length mink coat. I was petting her coat, saying, “Doggy, doggy.”

Early evidence, obviously, that I was well on my way to becoming a materialist.
. . . . .
Photo: my grandmother Elsie (center back) at age 9, with her sister and parents, 1895


She smoothed the front of the velvet shirt, letting her hands skim the silky nap down from her shoulders, over the round rise of her breasts, down to the turned hem at the hip. She remembered the chinchilla, a small, warm weight in her hand, with fur so exquisitely soft that it had no texture — the quintessence of softness. She thought of her grandmother’s mink coat, threadbare and finally deconstructing to its stitched panels, thrown over the big chair where she would sit reading for hours, petting the glossy tatters of fur.

Her hands were hungry, reawakening, longing for touch. Perhaps it started in the hands. Or perhaps it was just what she would allow, the defensive gates still drawn neatly across the doorway. The hand reaches out between the protective bars, vulnerable, empty, seeking.