Grandma’s Clothes

Grandmothers nowadays don’t dress the way they did when I was a child. Thank goodness. If they did I’d be a fashion disaster. We’re not going to mention that I’m barely above crisis intervention.

My great-grandmother would probably approve of my wardrobe, though she might look askance at my neon green running shoe laces. She might possibly be puzzled by what is currently fashionable. Of course, no one ever accused me of being fashionable. Even more scandalous, I don’t wear a full apron, most of the time I don’t wear any apron.

Some of you reading this are lost in a fog. You say, “She’s a young woman. What is she talking about?” Well, I hope that’s what you’re saying.

Grandma was born in 1866 and lived to see men orbiting the Earth. She was quite the dare-devil as a girl and young woman. One time, against their mother’s rules, she and her sister pierced each other’s ears with a darning needle and heavy thread to keep the holes open until they could get to town to buy earrings. Their mother was angry at this disobedience, but said, “What’s done is done.”

As a young woman she was horse-back riding with her finance, my great-grandfather, when he made a derogatory remark about women riding side-saddle and not being real riders. Grandma threw her leg over the saddle and whipped her horse into a gallop. As the two raced into town, witnesses were scandalized at her unladylike behavior.

Grandma’s everyday wardrobe was a dark floral print cotton dress (tiny flowers, of course) that fell to mid-calf . Her sleeves reached to the middle of her lower arms, no matter what the weather. She kept her dress clean with a flour sack apron that covered her from her neck to nearly the bottom of her dress and most of the way around back. Her legs were modestly covered in cotton stockings, affixed just below her knees with a firm twist and tuck.

Those stockings came in handy one day many years later. My neighbor was working at an assisted living facility and one of her clients needed her stockings fixed. She tried to follow the woman’s instructions but couldn’t get the stockings to stay up. When she told me her problem, I hauled out a pair of knee socks and showed her how to twist and tuck.

For church or going visiting Grandma wore a black dress of a softer material, with a broach and her, once forbidden, earrings. On those days she wore opaque silk stockings. This was proper attire when she became a widow in the early 1930s. She saw no reason to change.

All this description and I haven’t come to her shoes yet. You may be interested to know that they are currently stylish. Grandma wore black leather lace-up shoes with chunky heels about 1½ inches high.

Grandma disapproved of my summer wardrobe of shorts and what was similar to what we now call crop tops. She fussed at Mom on a regular basis, telling her to protect my skin so I wouldn’t pop out with more unsightly freckles. However, Grandma’s big to-do was over a sun bonnet. Grandma insisted I wear one, but I flat out refused. It was the only time I ever got away with saying “no” to an adult. Mom had hated wearing one as a child so did not force me to submit.

Little did anyone know that many years later I would sit in a dermatologist’s office and kick my own butt for not listening to Grandma. If I had listened to her I would not be having these mini-surgeries and UV-Blue treatments now. But if I had listened . . . .

© by Sharon D. Dillon, October 17, 2015

Sharon D. Dillon,, “Laugh your way to peace, love and joy”

Chesapeake Bay Writers, Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, Southern Humorists, National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Author of “Twins! Oh no!,” one of 14 stories in The Book of Mom: Reflections of Motherhood with Love, Hope and Faith, published by Available in print and e-format at


4 thoughts on “Grandma’s Clothes

  1. Sharon,
    Cute observations. My grandmother was born of coal mines, and she lived a hard life, but far less hard than Northern Italy at the turn of the century, and she knew it. I’m not sure she would have ever thought about wardrobes, silk stockings, or bonnets. But I remember she taught me how to can dear meat (she would use a silver dime to test if it had gone bad), to can vegetables out of her garden (grandpa killed the chickens), make ravioli, stew sauces on a coal stove, and she would put on terrific meals on Sundays when our family visited from Seattle. dave

    1. Great story, Dave. You could turn this into a book.

      Great-Grandma most likely had one pair of silk stockings that she wore for years. I doubt she had more than one Sunday dress and two or three cotton dresses. Her money was tied up in the farm. She taught my mom the skills you mention and Mom taught me. We didn’t have ravioli, but chicken and dumplings, stew. etc.

  2. I think today’s grandmothers are much more on the go, and physically active with their grandchildren than in past times. That may account for some differences. I enjoyed reading your article Sharon. I think your grandmother would be proud.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Laine. I hope she would be proud.
      You’re right. Grandmothers are much more involved now, but we have fewer little ones to coddle. Grandma had two sons, 13 grandchildren and bunches of my generation, nearly all of us born in the early Baby Boom era. I think Grandma knew she’d done her share before we came along.

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