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January 1, 2019

Days of formal attire

During my teenage years in the 50s and 60s there were a couple of opportunities in Rutland to get dressed up in a gown and attend a formal event open to the public.

One of these was the Cotillion. It began in 1949 and was considered a charity dance to benefit the Rutland Hospital. You had to try out for the Cotillion and it was quite the honor for a young lady to be selected. A Rutland Herald article from that time refers to the participants being coached in their dance routines by Miss Irene and Miss Lorraine. Dance music was provided by an orchestra. Pictures show the young women wearing long flowing gowns. Since the event was held during the Christmas holidays the flowers they are carrying look very festive with magnificent bows. The dance played a very important role in the life of the participants. This was verified when I read a recent obituary that mentioned the deceased had “proudly danced” in the 1958 Cotillion.

But you didn’t have to attend a public event where a queen was chosen in order to wear a long dress back in the 50s and 60s. Many holiday parties were formal. I remember a relative going to a Christmas party at the Rutland Country Club. She wore a long dress and high heels. Back in that era you could drive up under the porte-cochere at the clubhouse and be dropped off so your feet didn’t get wet from the snow or slush. I remember thinking I would like to be old enough to get dressed up like that.

Even school dances were formal occasions in the 60s and 70s. My senior ball picture from MSJ shows me wearing a short gown that was really full thanks to a stiff petticoat underneath. My shoes were dyed to match. Most of the girls bought cloth shoes and dyed them as well as our evening bag to match the color of our dress. My friend, Barbara, and I would get our shoes from Gus Brodowski at Morton Shoes and then head to Woolworth’s and select the RIT dye that was the best match for our gown. Wrist corsages were “in” and it was your date’s “job” to find out the color of your dress. My date arrived with a corsage of miniature pink roses which were a perfect match.

Formal college dances in the 60s were held in a time when floor length gowns were in. I opted to have my gown made by a local seamstress, Mrs. Rose Valente. I remember the gown had a pale yellow brocade bottom with a sleeveless black velvet top and a bow at the empire waist. She also made a full length lined coat in black velvet brocade. Mrs. Valente was so talented that many things she made for me were sewn without a pattern. 

As beautiful as my gown and coat looked for my college “Junior Weekend” dance my departure from the dorm was far from elegant. It had a touch of humor. One of my heels got stuck in the outdoor rubber mat as I walked out. I would have gone down for sure if my date hadn’t caught me. He was nice enough to pry my shoe out of the mat and off we went. The rest of the night was much more graceful. My shoes stayed on and I stayed upright!

The days of cotillions and formal attire are pretty much a thing of the past. But looking back on those days I feel it was a special time and getting dressed up like we did back then made us “girls” feel special too!

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