Fancy Dresses and Fairy tales

It was almost midnight. But that did not stop us. Once we had our hearts set on something, it was inevitable we would see it through if at all possible. The benefit to wintering in the Twin Cities with my grandparents (due to untraversable roads in the north) was that there were actually restaurants within easy driving distance. So, with lots of giggles, my sisters and I all put on our favorite ballgowns—generally cast-off prom or bridesmaid dresses that we picked up from family or thrift stores—did our hair and traipsed downstairs to confront my mother, who was clearly not too busy to fulfill our whim. Or if she was, she didn’t have the heart to tell us so. We informed her that we wanted to go out. She stared at us doubtfully.

“Like that?”

“Yes, that’s the point!”

“Is there anyplace even open at this hour?”

“Perkins! It’s open 24 hours!”

I don’t recall how long we begged her before she was convinced, but I’m pretty sure she knew the cause was lost before she began. Soon after, we were squeezing ourselves and our ginormous dresses into the car.

The wide, confused eyes and faces of employees as a bunch of dressed up preteens and early teens flounced into the restaurant was all the affirmation we needed, and we sat down to our desserts with great satisfaction. It took our waiter only a short while to gather the courage to ask what the occasion was, and an unexpected thing happened when we told him it was just for fun. He smiled. Not just an ordinary smile. But a smile of wonder and delight as he said something along the lines of:

“That makes me so happy. More people should dress up just for fun.”

We were his favorite customers, and it totally made his night, just because a bunch of young girls decided to dress up in old-fashioned gowns and go out for dessert.

Leastways, that’s how I remember it. I didn’t bother to consult my sisters’ memories, so they might remember it differently, but we’ll go with my version because it’s the best. We still love looking back at that night, and sometimes I miss the innocence of dressing up in ridiculous dresses just because, without fear of judgment from people around me.

Before I start on my regular post, I want to clarify a commonly misunderstood word. Romance. Did you know romance has more than one definition? Most of the time, when I use the word romance or romantic, I’m not talking about love. I’m talking about this definition: A quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.

So, now that you understand that, let’s proceed.

One of my favorite parts of thrift store and antique shopping is looking at furniture, décor, clothes, and even books that look like they could have fallen from one of my beloved books or movies. Whether they really are from the 17th, 18th or 19th century, or just replicas, I don’t really care, as long as they have that romantic, older style. On my way home from one such trip, someone asked me:

“Why do you like old styles so much?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. I’d never really thought about it before.

I tried to think through it while I responded, “Well, I guess probably because it’s what I grew up with. I read historical novels growing up, watched older movies, including like Pride and Prejudice, and I guess older styles are what I’m used to. I see it as romantic.” At least, I said something like that.

But I haven’t been able to forget the question. Why do I love older styles? Why do I swoon over baroque furniture, have the irresistible urge to buy any book with a Victorian or Edwardian-clothed figure on the front, or constantly search for that vintage looking dress or shoe? There are hundreds of thousands of girls just like me who grew up on Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery and historical romances, who still prefer modern styles in furniture or clothing. I’m the only one I know who actually buys those vintage hats, who puts on tea parties, and once created and served a 7-course meal. And it doesn’t have to be a Jane Austen era movie or book. Westerns, 50s shows, musicals placed in the 20s and 30s, civil war era—basically anything before what is considered the modern times. So why?

Here’s my working answer, subject to edits, as I’m sure my brain will continue to mull this over.

At first, I thought maybe it is because I see it as a more innocent time. But after much contemplation, I actually think the answer is two-fold.

  1. Yes, because I do view it as more innocent. Because it seems like a fairytale, with the pretty dresses, elaborate furniture and custom of chivalry. I love that people operated on a specific standard (I know, shocking, as an Enneagram One). I love that people actually took the time to look nice, to take pride in workmanship, to not just read, but memorize portions of books they read. That people had enough respect for themselves and others to actually take care, in every aspect of their lives. Oh, yes, I know that wasn’t the case in all society. I know that the working classes and servants didn’t have the time to relax or ability to buy pretty, quality things, but I love those stories too. I love the story of the different time periods, no matter the class. Which brings me to the second, and probably bigger reason.
  2. Because I’m a writer. Part of being a writer is experiencing the different lives and different worlds. Every time I read a book or watch a movie set in a different time, every time I see evidence of that other life, I’m transported to that world, and I wonder what it would be like to live there. To experience it. To sit down at that vanity, or pull wine from that decanter. To slip on that dress and feel beautiful no matter my weight. It’s the same reason I write. To experience more than is possible in my life.

In the end, I would argue that most people have their own version of the romantic fairytale I create for myself with the older styles. Some people love mysteries. Some love fantasy. Some get lost in non-fiction, learning all they can about specific subjects. Some concentrate on missionaries, or specific historic events. In the end, it is all a way to escape from our current life. To learn, to experience, to know. It’s something outside of ourselves and our own lives.

Which, ultimately, and perhaps unexpectedly, leads us back to God.

What? What are you talking about? Are you trying to say your obsession with historical eras is because you are a Christian? That doesn’t make any sense.

No, I’m not saying it’s because I’m a Christian. Give me a sec. As a Christian, I believe we were created for another world—in a word, heaven. So, our various hungers for something outside of ourselves and our lives I think stems from the innate desire that God put in each and every person to find that one place of fulfillment, which, ultimately, would be heaven with Him.

Not that it’s wrong to be obsessed with and explore other things—I just find the concept fascinating that it could, and, I think, does, stem from the One who created us to long for…another world.

Anyway, when I started writing this blog entry, that isn’t really where I expected to go with that. So I think I’ll leave it at that and give my brain a chance to chew on it a little more. 😊

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