Friday, April 11, 2014

Love, Loss and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman

Love, Loss and What I Wore, is an unusual memoir in which Ilene Beckerman examines her life in the context of her wardrobe. Growing up in New York City, she was a girl in the 1940’s, a teen in the 1950’s and a wife, mother, grandmother and career woman during the next four decades. On each page of the book, the author draws a picture of a dress and writes a short essay about her life when she (or her sister, mother, grandmother, or friend) wore it. The very first drawing is her Brownie uniform. She was a Brownie, her mother a Brownie leader, and her older sister was a Girl Scout. With each new page comes a new item of clothing and a memory to go with it. Her mother made most of her clothes but occasionally she draws a store-bought item such as a winter coat with leggings. Through the forties we read about many home-made dresses and skirts for school, for dance class, for parties, for family weddings. In the 1950’s we see dresses she and her friends wore to school and parties and weekend trips. Included are shoes, underwear, makeup and her wedding dress. She details her wardrobe for over five decades and readers get so caught up in the “What I Wore” aspect of the book that the “loss” (mentioned off-handedly) takes us by surprise. References to death, separation and divorce are few but shocking when the fact is unexpectedly snuck into a description of a dress or coat or shoes. Love, Loss and What I Wore may appear to be a superficial book at first glance, but it is a good social history, recounting the life of an ordinary person with ordinary experiences. We all experience love and loss but life goes on, just as it has for Ilene Beckerman.