When you move halfway around the world, all the basics of everyday life change. The moment I stepped off the plane in Manila, the first, most obvious difference hit me in the face—a blast of heat unlike any I’d ever felt. No more cool, drizzly Seattle days for me. I was in the tropics now.
We were going to need new clothes. Almost everything we’d worn back home was going to be useless in the Philippines.
My husband was fine. His new job was in an air-conditioned office. But the girls and I needed something cool to wear, fast.
It was 1971. In a few years, the Makati Commercial Center across the street from our apartment would have department stores and fancy boutiques. In the meantime, it was a shopping desert, especially for big foreign women. (At 5’4”, I was considered big.) There were dressmakers, though, plenty of dressmakers. Every woman I met had one to recommend.
My grandmother was also a talented seamstress. She made this little rabbit fur coat for me. According to my sister, she tanned the hide too.
I even did a little sewing myself. (Two years of cooking and sewing in Home Economics classes was a graduation requirement in those days.)
So I was ready for the dressmaker. I even brought a stack of patterns from the States—Butterick, McCalls, Simplicity. I showed one to the dressmaker, and she just shook her head. She didn’t need a pattern. A simple sketch or description would do.
In one of my earliest letters home to my family, I described a fitting I had with the dressmaker. “She cuts all the dresses with a high round neck,” I wrote. “Then she asks me where I want the neckline, and she just cuts it on me.”
And what did she charge for making that dress? According to that same letter, $2.40. Or, in inflation adjusted dollars, $14.
It was fun designing my dresses, even more fun designing dresses for our daughters.
When my husband returned from his business trips, he often had fabric in his suitcase. Batik from Indonesia was perfect for this warm-weather dress.
The Year End Party sponsored by my husband’s employer, the Asian Development Bank, was a fancy affair. In this photo, Eugene is wearing a barong Tagalog, the traditional formal wear for men in the Philippines. My dress is made of Chinese silk that Eugene bought in Hong Kong. I don’t have it anymore, but as I remember, it was a kind of pinky peach color.
Those “days of the dressmaker” are long gone. Now I buy my clothes at the mall or at a little store in Edmonds called Sound Styles.
Where do you get your clothes? Do you sew? What about your mom and grandma? Have you ever had clothes made by a professional dressmaker?
This is my fourth post in the series inspired by the letters my mom saved.