Mum and I would visit the city every month or two.
She likes the much bigger choice of clothes shops and bargain stores
whilst I enjoy the gadget and media stores and visiting the museums.
Mum likes galleries which can be tedious, depending on the exhibition…
but the same can be said for the museums.
This time, there’s a new indoor market she wants to visit.
It’s set on three floors of some big old warehouse,
so each floor is huge,
filled with seemingly hundreds of little stores selling
games and gadgets,
modern and even military fashions…
all sorts of stuff.
There’s almost nothing to buy but plenty to look at.
It’s almost a museum or art gallery in its own right.
“Ooh look at these,” Mum said, gently taking hold of the skirt of a delicate-looking dress.
“Aren’t they beautiful?”
“I guess,” I said,
as we peered into the small stall that seemed to be almost bursting at the seams with the number of dresses on its rails.
Each and everyone is as frilly as frilly can be.
“I sometimes wish you were a girl so I could buy you things like this.” she sighed.
I didn’t know how to respond.
I gulped and looked up at her.
She smiled and told me not to worry.
“Boy’s don’t wear dresses,” she added.
On our previous visit to the city, there was an exhibition of vintage children’s clothing at the big museum.
It was mostly boring because most of the exhibits were dresses…
but it was interesting too because one tends to learn things that they never knew beforehand.
One thing I learned at that exhibition was that boys did once wear dresses.
“We used to,” I said.
“They had some at that exhibition.”
“Oh yes they didn’t they!” Mum replied in an almost enlightened tone.
She stepped into the stall and began browsing.
I dutifully followed but felt more than a little out of place.
“Some of these aren’t dissimilar to some of those dresses,” she commented, referring back to the exhibition.
“Which ones?” I asked.
“The boys or the girls?”
“Both really.” she smiled.
“There wasn’t much difference between the boy’s and girl’s dresses.”
I cast my mind back and visualized some of the photographic exhibits and Mum is absolutely right.
“It’s weird that boys used to wear dresses, and now we don’t…
but girls never used to wear pants, and now they do.” I pondered.
“It is when you think about it isn’t it,” Mum replied as she perused some pastel-colored petticoats.
“It’d make more sense if we just wore both.”
“I suppose it would,” Mum replied.
“But if there’s one thing you’ll learn when you’re a grown-up…” she paused as she picked up a shoe.
“…most of the time the world doesn’t make much sense.”
She put the shoe back and having browsed all around the tiny stall,
she asked if I’d seen anything I like.
I shook my head, quickly glanced around, and said
“They’re all girl’s clothes.”
“They’re all dresses.” Mum retorted as if correcting me.
She reminded me of the boy’s dresses in the exhibition last month.
“Do you think those boys thought they were wearing girl’s clothes or just dresses?” she asked.
I pondered for a few seconds.
“Erm… just dresses I guess.”
“It’s just a matter of perception really.”
“Yeah… like when girls dress like this…”
I looked down at my jumper, jeans, and trainers.
“…they’re not wearing boy’s clothes,
they’re just wearing clothes.”
“Exactly,” Mum said.
She cast her eyes around the stall again and said,
“Imagine a world in which both boys and girls can wear dresses.”
she paused and I pulled my perplexed expression
. “Now have a look around to see if there’s anything you like.”
“But…” I grimaced
. “…they’re all dressed.”
“I know.” Mum chuckled.
“We’re pretending that that doesn’t matter.”
“You’re not going to buy me it are you?” I gulped.
“Have you found something already?” my mother knowingly asked.
I pointed out a dress, made it clear that I didn’t ‘like’ it,
but it did make me smile when I noticed it.
Mum lifted the dress from the rail.
“Skulls? Typical.” she grinned.
“I was thinking you might have seen something on that rail,” Mum said as she put the dress back.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you were looking at them when I was looking at the petticoats,” she informed me.
“They are quite similar to the dresses boys used to wear.”
“So?” I muttered
I cast my eyes across the resplendent pastel spectrum arranged in yellows,
greens and blues.
“Well… this is the sort of dress girls wear these days,” she said, referring to the skull dress.
“…some girls anyway…
and girls a bit older than you.”
I was so transfixed by the frilly pastel-colored frocks that my mother’s words barely registered.
They all look so frilly and prissy that even the girls don’t wear them…
not any girls I’ve seen anyway.
Mum commented on the colors and said they looked nice.
“Some of the darker blue ones look OK I guess,” I said.
“All the rest look like they’ve fallen out of a packet of Refreshers or Love Hearts.”
Mum chuckled at my description.
“They do a bit don’t they,” she said as she had a closer look at the blue end of the spectrum.
She pulled out a few pastel blue frocks and asked my opinion.
Too pale and too frilly was my reply.
“I could imagine boys wearing one of these,” she said, picking a dark blue frock from the very end of the rail.
“That looks OK,” I said.
“It’d be better without that bow,” I added.
“Ooh… I quite like that.” Mum said.
“But it could be removed I suppose,” she said as she held it against me.
I surprised myself when I didn’t recoil and leap back to distance myself from it.
She removed it from my chest and held it aloft.
“Shall we?” she asked.
I gulped and glanced nervously at the frock.
“It could be our little secret,” she added.
I gulped and nodded, biting my lip.
Many of the little stalls aren’t manned, so payment is made on the ground floor.
I browse the fantasy fiction and RPG stall whilst Mum waits to pay.
I curse myself for not shaking my head instead of nodding.
It was nothing more than an imaginary toss of the coin.
I was on the verge of saying no but…
right at the last nanosecond, I thought…
maybe I won’t be asked again, so I nodded.
“You were a long time.” I said when Mum finally came and met me.
there wasn’t much of a queue but they weren’t exactly serving anyone very quickly.” she said.
I glanced nervously at the new bag in her hand.
“Shall we go?” she asked. I nodded.
I knew I was being unusually quiet as we strolled past the windows on this busy shopping street.
I sensed that my mother was waiting for me to say something,
which made me all the more reluctant to break the silence.
After a few minutes, Mum said.
“I can’t believe we just did that.”
I couldn’t either
However, I still couldn’t think of anything to say.
We glanced at each other.
“I didn’t come with the intention of buying you a dress today…
it just sort of happened,” she said.
Our eyes met again, briefly.
“You don’t mind do you?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Do I have to wear it?”
“Well it seems a bit silly if you don’t,” she said.
“But I won’t tell anyone…
and we can hide it in my room if you prefer.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” I replied, almost grimacing.
“Dunno what my friends would say if they saw it in my room.”
We strolled in silence for a little while longer until Mum said.
“I suppose you’ll be needing shoes too.”
“What kind of shoes?” I hesitantly asked.
“Well… deck shoes would look nice with it,” she replied.
“Navy blue or white ones,” she added.
“As would a nice pair of Mary Jane’s.”
“Are they girl’s shoes?” I asked, looking up at her.
She smiled down at me and nodded.
“Remember those T-bar sandals you used to wear for school when you were about six or seven?” she asked.
“Well they’re a bit like those,” Mum informed me.
“Although deck shoes would be cheaper.”
Whenever we visit the city,
Mum likes to browse the discount stores as well as the high street stores.
She’s also partial to a bit of charity shopping, and there are loads.
Since it’s a Tuesday,
the city isn’t very busy,
so as I’m looking for a pair of deck-type shoes on the boy’s shelves in TK Maxx,
I’m not too embarrassed when Mum appears with a pair of dark blue girl’s shoes for me to try.
“I’m a four-and-a-half,”
I state when I notice their size is five-and-a-half.
“I know but girl’s shoes are sized a bit smaller than boys,
so these should be about right,” Mum says.
I glance around before discreetly pushing my feet into them.
I don’t fasten the buckles but I do stand
. “How do they feel?”
“I don’t like the heel.”
“It’s tiny,” Mum claimed.
“Do they fit OK?”
“They’re a bit tight?”
“A bit tight or very tight?”
“On the toe & heel or on the sides?”
I flexed my foot and wiggled my toes as best I could.
“A bit of both I guess.”
“Hmm,” Mum said as I sat and she crouched.
The shoes were removed and Mum asked.
“What do you think?”
“I think I’d prefer deck shoes.”
“Did you find any?” she asked.
I shook my head.
“Well, these will do I suppose.”
“They were a bit tight.”
I claimed as I pulled my trainers back on.
“I think they’ll be OK.” Mum supposed.
I browsed the toys and games whilst Mum queued for the tills.
The drive from the city back to our village takes about an hour-and-a-quarter.
I spent every moment having second thoughts about saying yes to the dress.
And the shoes!
Although technically I didn’t say yes to those…
Mum just bought them for me.
When we arrived home, Mum wasted no time unpacking my dress and asked me if I wanted to try it.
not really but…
I guess I’ll have to.”
I sheepishly reply.
“I got these too…
whilst you were in that role playing shop.” she said.
“Tights!” I gulped.
“Well it was either these or white knee socks.” Mum said.
“And given the time of year…
I figured tights would be better.”
With help and encouragement from my mother,
I was soon wearing the navy blue sailor dress,
the white tights and my new shoes.
The buckles were really fiddly so Mum fastened them for me,
then she stood me up to have a look.
“Does it feel as bad as you’d imagined?” she asked.
“It’s OK I guess.” I timidly replied.
“These tights feel weird though.”
“And the shoes, do they fit better now?” Mum asked.
I wiggled my toes and flexed my feet and nodded.
“I had a feeling they would.”
After a short silence in which my mother smiled down on me and I looked down at myself,
Mum asked if I wanted to keep it on for a while,
“…or are you desperate to take it off.”
“Nah I’ll keep it on for a bit…
if that’s OK.” I said.
“Of course it’s OK.” Mum grinned.
“Come on, let’s watch TV.”
I spent the entire evening wearing the dress.
And about four or five days later, I wore it again.
I probably left it a fortnight before I wore it for a third time.
Mum asked if I liked wearing it and I nodded
. “I don’t think I’d wear it outside but I like knocking about the house in it.” I told her.
“Something to wear on a rainy day?” Mum said.
“When there’s nowhere to go and no one to visit.”
“Yeah.” I bashfully replied.
“You don’t mind do you?” I cautiously asked.
“I wouldn’t have bought it if I did,” Mum told me.
“In fact, I’m glad you like wearing it…
it’d have been a bit of a waste if you only tried it once.”
My nautical dress did become a bit of a regular ‘rainy day’ outfit.
Mum bought me some new tights after I accidentally laddered my first pair
All of a sudden I had a choice between woolly white tights and navy blue ‘school’ tights.
Mum had also found the book that accompanied the exhibition of Children’s Victorian Clothing we’d visited,
There in its pages is a chapter all about the days when it was normal for boys to wear dresses.
I learned that for boys my age,
their dresses were only worn for special occasions rather than daily.
Younger boys, up to the age of five or even seven years old apparently wore dresses all the time.
I often found myself flicking through it, paying more attention to the pictures than the words,
baffled by just how ‘girlie’ some of the boy’s frocks are…
but I guess in them days they probably didn’t consider them ‘girlie’,
just ‘nice’ or ‘ornate’…
possibly even ‘pretty’.
No matter how many times I look at these two pages,
I find it difficult to believe that there’s only one girl in all of those photographs.
At some point or another,
I’ve imagined being each and every one of those boys.
One afternoon a month or so later,
I sauntered home through an April shower with one thing on my mind…
warming up under the shower
and wearing my cozy frocks and thick woolly tights for the rest of the evening.
I was drenched by the time I arrived and predictably,
Mum told me that I looked like a drowned rat.
She placed a large bag on the kitchen table and said,
“I bought you something.”
“What is it?” I asked as she slid the bag towards me.
“Something for a rainy day.” she smiled.
I bit my lip as I lifted the garment from the bag.
“Oh, mu-um.” I bashfully commented.
“Do you like it?” she asked.
“I know it’s a bit of a step up from your sailor dress but…”
she paused as my jaw slowly dropped.
“…and now spring’s just around the corner…
I thought it would be nice to have a new one.” she added.
I was kinda gobsmacked.
I really wasn’t expecting it.
what do think?” she asked again.
“It’s not too girlie is it?”
it’d be better without those bows.” I gulped.
“I like the one on the collar but I wasn’t so sure about these either,”
she said, taking hold of the skirt and thumbing one of the bows.
“Thinking about it, I never did get round to taking the bow off your sailor dress.”
“I know,” I said,
although I have got used to it being there.
“I got you a little something else too.”
she said, dipping her hand deep into the bag and removing a small carrier bag.
Again I asked what it was, expecting socks or tights.
“Well.. you might not want them,” she said as I took it from her.
“But it doesn’t seem right somehow…
not having anything nice to wear underneath.”
I peered inside the bag before dipping my hand inside.
I removed and unfolded a pair of knickers and a matching training bra;
white, trimmed with frilly red lace and decorated with a cherry pattern.
Beneath these, a pair of white ankle socks with half an inch of frilly lace trim around the ankles.
“These look really girlie Mum.” I shyly stated.
“I know,” Mum said as a bashful smile swept her face.
“You remember when I said that I sometimes wished you were a girl…
so could buy you nice things?”
“Well… now I can.” she smiled.
“If you’ll let me?”
I smiled and nodded.
Shopping with mother would never be the same again.