My mother is the opposite of a hoarder. Instead of cultivating mass instants, she’s obsessed with throwing everything away. We used to have a family joke that if you left something in a closet for over a year you shouldn’t expect to see it again – except maybe at the Goodwill where it had been. given. It was especially embarrassing because my mom wore nice clothes in her day. In her early days (the Irish version of prom), she looked like Elizabeth Taylor, wearing a white dress she had made herself and covered with daisy appliques. One of my favorite photos has her playing in a cabaret with nothing but black tights and the perfect ’70s scoop neck tee. The club name was adorned with sparkling sequins on her cleavage. I was so angry that she hadn’t thought of me, her future daughter, when she got rid of that shirt. I would have worn it at all.
However, there were five dresses that Mom never parted with and they took mythical reverence with us. Dad bought them for her on a trip to Cape Town in the mid-80s, and she wore them throughout her two pregnancies with my sister and me. No one knows if they were originally designed to be maternity dresses, but they feature an empire waist and long, flowing skirts perfect to accommodate a growing bump. Each of the dresses are vibrant cotton, although my favorite has always been mustard yellow with black piping. The busts are embroidered with intricate stitching and the sleeves move from shoulder to elbow. When I was little they reminded me of the high waisted dresses Olivia Hussey wore at Zeffirelli. Romeo and Juliet, and I spent endless hours throwing myself into our playroom pretending that I too was the girl in love with the Capulet house.
As a teenager, I couldn’t really wear the dresses without someone asking me if I was pregnant. An empire waist can be hard to pull off, and most of the time you need height to do it – something that at 5’3 I miss. So mom wrapped the dresses in tissue paper with a hazy smile on her face, telling my sister and I that they were there “when the time came”.
This year I am a bit concerned about those maternity-adjacent dresses, especially since it looks like they’ve come back into fashion. Printed cotton and long hems give the dresses an almost hipster / Amish appeal, or what fashionistas coined “cottagecore”. It would be easy to imagine mom’s dresses on the catwalk of a Batsheva runway show or in a Taylor Swift music video, with a crown of braided hair and perfectly polished leather ankle boots save a few tufts of mud.