GRABBING THE RING!
How a 'happenstanced' Macintosh started Jennifer on her adventure!
When I Was a Little Girl
N.B. Please keep in mind that everything I describe here is true in every detail. This is not fiction, and happened when I was at school in Sussex in the 1950’s.
Those of us who so love to be little girls can usually remember clearly when we first recognised our inner, longed-for self. I certainly do.
For me, it was back in 1951, when I was about 10 years old. I’d gone round to play at my friend Billy’s house, and when it was time for me to go home, it was pouring with rain. Billy’s Mum, like any responsible mother, wanted to make sure that I didn’t get soaking wet, so she took down his sister’s white translucent plastic mac from the back of the door and said that I must wear it home. At this moment of self discovery I gave a gulp of inner pleasure at the prospect, and willingly slid my arms into the sleeves while she pulled it on over my shoulders. She closed the press fasteners down the front, and then tied the belt around my waist with a neat bow at the front. Then she put up the hood, which was of the typical girl’s raincoat pattern in the 1950’s, with a square cut top at the back of the head. As she tied the tie tapes in a bow under my chin, something went click inside me and I just felt wonderful. At that moment I so envied Billy’s sister June being dressed in her mackintosh by her mum like that. I said goodbye, and set off through the dark wet streets, and I felt so good walking home in the rain as it beat down on my mac and hood When I got home, my mum didn’t think anything of it, and I so hated having to return it a couple of days later!
Well, I know that’s what started it, and by the time I was a year or so older, I had acquired a girl’s plastic mac of my own. By now my inner little girl self was longing to materialise, and I gradually accumulated a complete girl’s primary school uniform, befitting my age. Money was of course very short with my level of pocket money, but I was able to buy what I needed at the railway lost property office for next to nothing. My outfit consisted of a green check gingham primary school dress, white ankle socks, a pair of my own brown T bar sandals which at that time were worn by both boys and girls, and a headscarf to hide my short hair.
And so began my first excursions into the outside world dressed as a girl. I used to creep out of the back door of our house on winter evenings when it got dark early, and I would go for a walk through the streets wearing my gingham dress, on top of which I wore my hooded plastic mac, which meant that you could also see my dress underneath. Aged ten or eleven, I had no trouble passing myself off as a girl, as I had a naturally feminine appearance, and I became quite confident at it. Unfortunately, I had to restrict these activities to when I was home on holidays when I was sent to an all boy’s boarding school in 1952.
But there were to be some compensations that I’d never dreamed of, such as school plays for instance. What an opportunity that was. Being an all boy’s school, it meant that all the female parts were played by the younger boys, myself included. I wasn’t a bad little actor, so you can imagine how delighted I was to land the part of Lucy the maid in Sheridan’s ‘The Rivals’, a comedy written in 1775.
In a boy’s school of the 1950’s, about the only women around were the school matron, who was in charge of sick bay, and the headmaster’s wife. Our costumes for this play were of the period of the 1770’s, so you can imagine how enjoyable that was. Under my green and white striped dress I had to wear small artificial bust pads. They were small because I was meant to be a young maid, and I also wore pads just below my waist at the back and at the hips, as this was the fashion at the time. A calico petticoat went on top of the pads and under my dress. That dress was lovely. It had three quarter length sleeves with lace at the cuffs and around the collar. It fastened down the back, and matron had to lace me into it for each performance. She also had to release me afterwards! At the age of 12 I had a very narrow waist, about 18 inches I think, so with the hip padding as well, I had something approaching an hourglass figure. For the first scene, where I’d just returned from a library errand for my mistress, I wore a dark green cloak with a large hood, again in the style of the time. We were of course made up, and I well remember the thrill of being tutored by matron to walk and talk like a girl. I also had to learn to curtsy properly in the fashion of the 1700’s. If Matron had only known how much I enjoyed that! Looking back now, it’s funny really, because the other boys used to sympathise with me at having to dress as a girl. If they’d only known! It still makes me smile.
Unfortunately we were only given the girl’s parts when we were younger, so this idyllic situation didn’t last for more than a couple of years, but one other nice experience I remember was when I took the part of Vicky, a ten year old little girl in a play called ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, a short supernatural thriller. That I really enjoyed. To save money, and because the play was contemporary, it wasn’t considered necessary to go to the expense of hiring costumes, so consequently my outfit was borrowed from Jane, the daughter of my housemaster, who lived with her parents in a detached cottage next to the school.
So one afternoon I had to go round to their house to be fitted out by my housemaster’s wife and daughter. Being dressed up by them was absolute bliss, and a pleasure I’ll never forget. I arrived there to find that they’d searched for something befitting a 10 year old little girl, and they’d certainly found it. It was a beautifully childish white cotton dress with a peter pan collar, short puffed sleeves, and a sash belt tied at the back. It had a row of buttons down the back as well, so it was probably the inspiration for the little girl dresses that feature so prominently in my stories these days. Needless to say, underneath I wore a pair of white girl’s knickers and a stiffened petticoat which made the dress stick out sweetly but not ostentatiously. For my feet they found some white cotton ankle socks and a pair of black T bar sandals.
But just about the best bit was when they were trying to work out how my hair should be arranged. Because the play was an internal school production, and not on view to the general public, they didn’t go to the expense of hiring wigs, so it was to be my own hair on display. I remember the utter joy of having Mrs. Jeffries and Susan experiment with two bows of red hair ribbon tied tightly in my hair, secured with two white plastic hair slides. At that age, despite my relatively short hair, I really did look sweet. (If only I had some photos!) What made it even funnier was that they kept sympathising with me at being dressed as a girl and having ribbons tied in my hair. Little did they realise that I was loving every minute of it!
At the beginning of the play I had to come on as if I’d just arrived home, so they also lent me Jane’s navy blue gaberdine school raincoat with a hood to wear for the opening scene. How I loved wearing it, and wished that I could have one of my own.
What made it extra nice was that I was allowed to store my costume in the wardrobe of my dormitory, and I made sure that I wore it after school every day for a couple of weeks during rehearsals. Again, nobody would have dreamed how happy it made me, and I had to pretend to accept the sympathy of the other boys. Nobody even thought of teasing me, so It felt wonderfully natural. I remember that on a couple of afternoons when it was raining, I went for a walk down the street after school wearing Jane’s navy blue school raincoat with the hood up. Nobody in the village high street took any notice of me, so they obviously thought that I really was a girl. My secret.
I’m not really sure, but I think that it’s because of the fact that boys and girls in the England of the 1950’s led such formal lives that to me, an English girl’s school uniform was the very essence of what I wanted to be. And of course, the added attraction for me was that most schoolgirls had to wear their school uniform whether they liked it or not. The senior girls in particular must have hated having to wear the same style school uniform as their little sisters. To me, the coercion aspect does play its part to some degree.
One other fond memory I have is of the occasion when I wore a pink tutu. A friend of mine’s mother ran a dancing school in a very large house, and consequently there were always lots of delightful costumes all over the place. One afternoon, a few of us were playing cards, and each of us had written a few forfeits to be paid by the losers. Needless to say, I wrote down on one piece of paper that the ‘unfortunate’ loser would have to put on a tutu and a pair of matching ballet slippers and present themselves to the class of little girls that Michael’s mother was teaching at that moment.
Needless to say, I made sure that I lost the game of cards, and had folded my forfeit so that I could distinguish it from the others. I pulled it out of the hat, and had a real job pretending to be surprised and dismayed. So into Mike’s bedroom I had to go with the pink tutu over my arm. I stripped off, and I still remember the sheer pleasure of zipping it up at the back and feeling how firmly it enclosed me. Mike knew how to tie the ribbons fastening the ballet slippers on my feet, and when I made my appearance the boys thought it was hilarious.
We waited until the dancing class finished, and I then made my entrance. The girls howled with laughter, and Mike’s mother thought it was pretty funny as well. My only problem was pretending to be hideously embarrassed, when in fact I was relishing every moment. I couldn’t believe my luck when she thought she’d add to the fun by making me keep it on for the next four hours, until it was time for me to go. At least she didn’t make me wear it home, as I can’t imagine what my Mum would have said if I’d arrived on the doorsteps dressed as a little ballerina. I tell you what though, there’s something really nice about a tutu. Perhaps it’s the feeling of being firmly encased in something that is the very essence of femininity. I often think what fun it would be to be zipped into one with a lockable zip! Imagine that. With the gusset between your legs, there’d be no way that you could pull it up or down. You’d be stuck in it until some kind person unlocked the zip. What fun!
Well ever since those far off days I’ve grown into dressing either as a little girl, a teenager, or a young woman. It just depends what mood I’m in. I often venture out at night dressed as a girl, but I do prefer the security of wearing a raincoat with the hood up so as to hide my face a little, so I usually go out when it’s pouring with rain. But it always goes well, and I’ve never been challenged yet. The only thing I miss is company, and I would so love to attend a little girl’s tea party one day. My white party frock with back button fastening, peter pan collar, short puffed sleeves and a sash belt tied at the back in a bow, is gorgeous. My hair would of course be tied up in two bunches with hair ribbons, and on my feet would be white cotton ankle socks and a pair of my T bar mary janes. Ah well, we can dream, can’t we? Of course we can.
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