Our Sunday Best

Will the last church hostess to leave the powder room please grab the Aqua Net?

By Valerie Fraser Luesse

A friend of mine visited a college campus recently and was aghast to see coeds walking to class in shorts and tank tops best suited to the gym. “My grandmother used to put on lipstick to go to the mailbox”, she said wistfully. Our transformation from church-hostess Southern to lost-my-kid-gloves modern sort of slipped up on us. First came panty hose {no need to wrestle those nylons} and hot rollers {so long, bonnet hair dryer}, then pantsuits – in church! With the wave of an unmanicured hand, we had abandoned our half-slips, misplaced our Revlon “Love That Red,” tossed out our teasing combs, and taken up with sensible shoes.

Some icons of our feminine past won’t be missed at all. To that bonney hair dryer and clear-to-here girdle, we say good riddance. To the teasing comb, we offer a more reverent farewell. Together with Aqua Net hair spray, it gave generations of pageant hair the strength to bear a tiara, and that ought to mean something.

But as we boldly march forward, let us remember that “Mama’n’em” knew a thing or two about style. And I can name three blasts from our past that deserve a comeback.

1. The Easter Dress

We used to start shopping for our Easter dresses before the Valentine’s candy was even stale. An Easter dress was your prettiest, dressiest Sunday-go-to-meetin’ ensemble of the year. It screamed spring: floaty fabrics in pastel colors; short sleeves, puff sleeves, or no sleeves; store-bought or handmade. Pearls required. Hat and glove optional after 1960. If you were under 12, you wore pastel dotted Swiss, patent leather Mary Janes, and maybe a color-coordinated hat with a little elastic band that hooked under your chin. No matter what your age, the biggest challenge was trying not to shiver, since even the Deep South tends to have a mysterious cold snap on Easter (perhaps as a divine reminder that this is a worship experience, not a fashion show).

2. The Mother’s Day Corsage

When I was a kid, if a mother came to church without a corsage from her children, the whole family went on everybody’s prayer list. Now almost nobody buys one, and that’s a shame. Here’s how it works. You choose the flowers for your mother’s corsage based on whether her mother is living or dead. If her mother’s living, she wears roses or carnations in pink or red. If her mother has crossed over, she wears white or yellow roses or an orchid. Everybody gets baby’s breath. Its just the right thing to do.

3. The Hostess Apron

“When you saw my grandmother’s mint-green organza apron, you knew some cucumber sandwiches were coming out,” my friend Rebecca says. Back in the day, Southern women wore kitchen aprons, which they actually wiped their hands on while they cooked, and hostess aprons, which adorned and protected their good dresses while they served guests. Hostess aprons are all over the Web, so this would be a fairly simple charge to lead if we all work together.

Take the Pledge

Preserving our heritage takes commitment. We have to band together. So ladies, wherever you are, stand up, raise your right hand, and repeat after me: I (your name here), pledge to do my part to bring back the Easter dress. I pledge to order corsages right this minute, before the florist runs out of the good stuff. As for the hostess apron… I pledge to tie one on.

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