Poleci Dress: Memorabilia Through Fashion
Updated: Mar 7, 2019
Clothes were scattered on the floor of my mom’s walk-in closet. Dusty shoe boxes were stacked near the door, a For Donation sign slapped across one of the lids. My mom was intent on “Marie-Kondoing” her entire wardrobe in June 2018, while I was still packing my belongings in preparation for New York. I heard a screeching zip as my mom pulled down the zipper of a garment bag. Within that bag were an array of sentimental pieces my mom treasured from her past. They were buried in a corner of her closet, never escaping storage for decades. My mom sorted through the clothes like an accordion file, carefully examining each item and reminiscing about the memories they carried within their stitches. She eventually pulled out a Poleci dress that she wore whiling living in New York City during her 20’s.
“You can try it on,” she said. “It looks like it will fit you.” I caressed the silk-like material and slipped the dress over my body; The bottom barely brushed my knees. The Poleci dress was off-white and possessed paisley designs throughout its surface. The spaghetti straps were slightly frayed in the back and there was a minor hole in the lining, but the dress fit quite nicely on me. I saw images of this dress from photo albums, but never realized that my mom kept the actual piece for several years.
“You want it? I’m probably never gonna wear it.” My mom always believed that clothes are meant to be worn––not shoved in the abyss of one’s wardrobe––so I accepted her offer and carefully folded the dress in my college-bound luggage.
My mom’s Poleci dress became a staple within my wardrobe. This dress travelled with me throughout my Europe trip last summer, as well as back home along the beaches of California. However, I particularly adore this dress because I imagine that it carries a portion of my mom and her own experiences in Manhattan. After being unworn for decades, this Poleci dress has now been resurrected and prowls the city streets once again. Even though the physical aspect of the dress is vulnerable to possible damage or wear, the history within it remains.
The Poleci dress is one of the many items that epitomize this exchange of clothes and personal accounts between my mom and me. Her dress is a continual reminder of our bond and the new memories I create alongside hers by wearing it in New York City. Despite this story only being shared amongst the two of us, our world in general is in constant rotation of recycling and re-introducing fashion and its background.
Fashion as a whole is a relevant art form in expressing history and personal narratives. Material items, such as clothes, are often exhibited to society as a way of representing the past. The concept of releasing former fashion designs in a public manner further expanded in 1971 due to Cecil Beaton. Beaton convinced his “society subjects to donate their couture to the V&A for Fashion: An Anthology, the first exhibition to use fashion in the title” (Cartner-Morley). Whether the history is more intimate or contributes to our overall culture, passing down clothes from one generation to the next increases one’s understanding of a certain era.
Museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Modern Art, emphasize the importance of fashion history through continual exhibitions. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Alexander McQueen’s exhibition Savage Beauty from 2011 “bridged a gap between fashion and culture, and legitimized discussion of clothes” (Cartner-Morley). McQueen’s designs typically stirred debates due to his controversial and quite obscure fashion taste. However, the exhibit was a “game changer in the story of how fashion took over cultural airwaves” (Cartner-Morley).
Sara Berman’s wardrobe was another fashion exhibit displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Berman’s wardrobe primarily consisted of shades of white, thus restricting her to a minimal aesthetic. Berman “fashioned a new sovereign identity with the only materials she had to work with...clothing and décor” (Thurman). Her style expressed her new profound freedom after her divorce since white “is an emblem of purity and renunciation” (Thurman). Society is entranced by these exhibits and their stories since fashion is a commonality amongst us all. We universally invest in fashion, making this cultural style both accessible and relatable to various classes.
Similar to how my mom’s Poleci dress reminds me of her, clothes can embody a certain individual; Not all iconic pieces are encased behind glass in museums. We often associate so-called icons in our culture to the outfits they wear in their lifetime. From Jackie Kennedy’s pink Chanel suit in 1963 to Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahniks in Sex and the City, past fashion is still ingrained into our culture. Even though these specific items may not be personally passed down, both the pieces and the figures wearing them influenced several emerging trends.
Kennedy’s style “reshaped fashion’s view of conservative clothes and left a noteworthy fashion legacy behind” (Boyd). The Chanel pink suit itself is also associated with a historical moment in American history–the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Within entertainment, Carrie Bradshaw emerged as a fashion icon due to her overflowing closet of designer goods. The character’s obsession of Manolo Blahniks throughout the show caused her to become the main symbol of this designer. The constant mention of these luxury stilettos throughout the series led sales to “[skyrocket] since Carrie began wearing them, despite the fact that learning to walk in Blahniks is an art all its own” (Sohn).
The Poleci dress enriched my understanding of how personal connections and anecdotes can derive through clothing. Fashion altogether contributes to history by representing the physical aspect of a previous occurrence. Whether it is a political event or a cultural movement, fashion ties itself into the past. Military uniforms from the Vietnam War or jewels belonging to former aristocrats are a few examples that are displayed throughout the world as historical artifacts. Clothes worn by individuals are also capable of immortalizing their stories since these items can be shared with others. The Poleci dress personifies a portion of my mom and her transient life as a New Yorker.
The majority of our possessions carry sentimental value within our lives because they retain our memories. Most people tend to save items such as baby clothes or hand-me-downs due to this societal concept. Although some people may deem fashion inane, fashion embeds itself into our society and remains relevant in prolonging historical events and one’s own narrative.
Boyd, Sarah. “10 Fashion Icons and the Trends They Made Famous.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 14 Mar. 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/sboyd/2016/03/14/10-fashion-icons-and-the-trends- they-made-famous/#54a523881268.
Cartner-Morley, Jess. “Power Dressing: Why Fashion Has Never Been so Important.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 16 Jan. 2018, www.theguardian.com/fashion/2018/ jan/16/power-dressing-fashion-important-golden-globes.
Sohn, Amy. “The Cutting Edge of Cool: What's the next Hot Thing? Watch Sex and the City to Find out. The TV Show Is More Influential than Any Fashion Magazine or Nightlife Guide According to This Excerpt from Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell.” The Ottawa Citizen , The Ottawa Citizen , 2 Nov. 2002, search-proquest- com.libproxy.newschool.edu/central/docview/240604445/fulltext/ 62F2CD6CE9F94A08PQ/1?accountid=12261.
Thurman, Judith. “A Tribute to Women Who Reinvent Themselves, in Two Wardrobes at the Met.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 13 Dec. 2017, www.newyorker.com/culture/ cultural-comment/a-tribute-to-women-who-reinvent-themselves-in-two-wardrobes-at-the- met.