My mother taught me how to sew when I was five. My older sister wanted to learn so my mother included me in the lessons.
I remember cutting out the cotton fabric with a pattern, pinning the pieces together, and sitting at the machine and sewing with my mother’s assistance. Then I would hand sew the hem.
I wore a uniform in grade school, so my big treat was going to the department store downtown to buy new shoes every fall. I still remember my red Stride Rites, a pair of navy blue T-straps with brass buckles, and the year we went out on a limb with a pair of burnished bone-colored shoes with leather crisscross laces and tassels. Early signs of my shoe addiction, with my mother my enabler.
The downtown department store was once “the Rau store” and it was where my mother worked from 1947-1957 (high school until she had children). “Your mother was a model,” my father used to say to both brag and tease my mother. “Oh yes, my modeling career…” she’d laugh with a bit of sarcasm.
I loved looking at the old modeling photos of my mother that had been in the local newspaper. By the end of her work career, she was in the display advertising department of the store. Her responsibilities included helping with the advertising layouts, store signs, and personal shopping. “Betty Bates” was the name given for the store’s personal shopping service. Several people answered this phone, but it happens that my mother’s name really is â€œBetty”.
My mother kept a few pieces of clothing that my sister and I loved. We would suck our breath in to zip the tiny waists of her 1950’s summer dresses, which my sister stole! So I managed to smuggle a wool jersey 3/4 sleeve black scoop neck top with a full taffeta skirt. Also in my possession, (that I still wear today), is a charcoal and tan striped top with a large sash.
But my fondest memories of fashion fun with my mother was when I graduated with my graphic design degree and had to live at home until I found a full time job. I was dying to move to the city. Looking back, I cherish these times. With my extremely limited budget, my pastime became shopping at the local Am Vet’s Resale Shop. I would bring home bags of clothes and run them past my resident fashion and history consultant – my mother. What era was this? How would you wear that?
My mother was not much for shopping like my sister and I were, but we tried on our purchases and she would impart her great fashion wisdom. She would give us the “Edith Head” look, which cracked us up. (Edith Head was a costume designer who would give people a once over – much like a Stacey London of the 50’s). Fit was always important to my mother. “Keep the bigger one.” “Keep the smaller one.” “Take the hem up one inch.” She showed us how and where to alter clothing for a proper and flattering fit.
Her taste is and always was much simpler than mine. Mom said her favorite look though the years has always been a simple dark suit, with a white blouse, in the style of Chanel. Whenever I struggled with accessories, she quoted the French rule â€” “if you can’t decide, go without.” To this day, I rarely wear more than once piece of jewelry at a time.
Eventually, I found a job in advertising, moved to the city, and took an accessory design class at the School of the Art Institute, which became my obsession. I was constantly designing clothing and accessories, deconstructing jackets, and reconstructing old leather coats into skirts and pants. I sold my designs at art fairs and eventually found some success selling leather tops to boutiques in Chicago and L.A.
It was not until my mother was 60 that she took her first drawing class. I was amazed at how similar her drawing style was to mine. I did not realize until then, that the artistic talent I have came from my mother.
1. & 2. Betty Parisani (Calacci) models clothing from the Rau store, early 50’s.
3. I wanted to be a model, too. That’s me at age 7.
4. â€œBetty Batesâ€? Personal Shopper at work.
5. Betty Parisani wears Phil Rose California Sportswear including black knitted tapered ankle bone pants and wide, bold striped T-shirt with bateau neckline in green, yellow, white and black. The Pontiac is a 1956 model convertible. – Chicago Heights Star
6. My mother with her art class drawings.
7. Top I â€œborrowedâ€? from my mother and haven’t returned.