Monday, January 7, 2013

Jr. Gayfer Girl Quilt

"Riché Deianne Richardson as Jr. Gayfer Girl in 1983 at Age 11 and Dressed for the Group Photo, the First Event after Graduation from Poise-Charm Classes at Gayfers Department Store (formerly Montgomery Fair) in Montgomery Mall"(Family Series, Education Series, Self-Portrait Series)

Mixed-media, including paint, jewelry, fabric, synthetic hair, and denim border and backing

Age 11. Posing for photo after graduation fashion show in spring of 1983 from six-week Poise-Charm Course at Montgomery, Mall; am wearing my favorite piece of clothing at the time (other than my Calvins), my white lace ruffled prairie blouse. We had the matching prairie skirt made by a wonderful seamstress named Edwina who had made a few things for me around that time, like my choir uniform for the Tender Golden Voices at Maggie Street Baptist Church. In the poise-charm course, we learned skills such as runway modeling, introductions, poise-pivot turns, how to sit properly, mannequin modeling, and dealing with different accessories on the runway.

Age 14. Photo shoot at Gayfers Department Store for graduates after completing second poise-charm course, "Seventeen's Beautyworks."

Autobiographical reflections

●All New Junior Gayfer Girl Club members, about 25, wore a red lettered T-Shirt with jeans for the 'Class Photo' Taken in Front of Gayfers at Eastdale Mall; the T-Shirt used on this quilt is a replica and recreation made by T-Shirt Express in Ithaca, NY

●In an era when it seemed that if you didn’t have your Calvins, then you weren’t cool, I was wearing Jordache jeans with a gold Jordache belt because of accidentally burning the label off my Calvins when ironing jeans before class one evening in the spring. Was also wearing a pair of white and blue Jordache canvas tennis shoes whose little yarn horse mane I loved.

●Rhea Alfreds was our instructor, and the overall course program, which included "White Gloves and Party Manners" for small girls and "Seventeen's Beautyworks" (influenced by Seventeen Magazine) for older girls, was coordinated by Wanda Marshall.

●I returned to poise-charm classes at Gayfers for the Seventeen's Beautyworks course at age 14.

●Being a Junior Gayfer Girl for two years (from ages 11-13) came with seasonal 10% store discounts (which were nice to get though I actually used the discount just once). Junior Gayfer Girls also had the opportunity to attend the final rehearsal of the annual "Back to School Fashion Show" of the Gayfer Girls downtown at the Davis Theater. The highlight was being asked to stand up together as a club for recognition briefly as the spotlight panned the audience on the actual night of the show.

● I best remember the show where the theme was "Borrowed from the Boys." Fall fashion items such as ties and tams were modeled to the tune of songs such as "I Wear My Sunglasses at Night" and the theme of Pink Panther films. Attending the show was the highlight of my summer other than attending the University for Youth at Alabama State University, where my family enrolled me four straight summers between ages 12 and 15 for courses taught by university professors.

●This poise-charm class at Montgomery Mall was my only education in a racially integrated educational setting before I was 22 and started my work on a Ph.D. at Duke.

●The other African American girls in this course were my friend LaShaun Hooks who had told me about it in the first place and urged me to take the course with her; her sister Alicia (who I like her called "Lisa"); Candi Turner; Peaches Oldes; and LeCheryl Lesueur.

●I once saw one of our classmates in a clothing store at the newly remodeled Montgomery Mall in high school, who had by then grown tall like I had, and still had the most amazing long, honey-blond curly locks of hair. When recognized by name, she said hello, smiled warmly and said, "We must have met at Cynthia's," a modeling school. She seemed so sure of it that I didn't have the heart to correct her and mention that we were actually in the class together at Gayfers years earlier and that I'd never attended Cynthia's.

●My grandfather, who took me to my classes which met weekly on Thursday evenings for an hour, was okay with me taking the course mainly because it stressed etiquette and cultivated social graces.

●Gayfers purchased Montgomery Fair in Montgomery in 1970, which is where Rosa Parks was working at the time of her arrest in 1955.

●A few years later when I was 17, my family bought my debutante dress at Gayfers and had it altered by the store's seamstress, an African American woman named Hannah Foster(who had the job Rosa Parks once had when Gayfers was Montgomery Fair). She also tailored a beautiful wardrobe for me in wool gabardine when I was 25 and in graduate school, and made several lovely matching dresses for my cousins Keri and Megan when they were little girls.

●My Grandmother kept her old Montgomery Fair hat box and also used her and my grandfather's credit card that still said "Montgomery Fair" until Dillard's replaced Gayfers in the late 1990s.

Link below to the review I wrote at of Marjabelle Young Stewart and Ann Buchwald’s book What to Do When and Why: At School, At Home, at Parties, in Your Growing World, which I posted on May 25, 2002. Also see Stewart’s White Gloves and Party Manners, the book that inspired the beginning poise-charm course at Gayfers for little girls.

For Savoir-Faire Everywhere

This book was distributed in the first set of poise-charm classes that I took at Gayfers department store in Montgomery, Alabama at age 11. Through weekly drills, we covered topics such as walking on a runway, making regular poise-pivot turns and Dutch boys, climbing stairs, doing introductions, maintaining good posture, and sitting properly, among others. In the end, we had a fashion show at the mall, and membership in the Jr. Gayfer Girl Club was extended to us, along with seasonal store discounts at 10%. This was the spring of 1983 when "Calvins" still meant almost everything and many girls in my class said that Tom Selleck was their favorite actor[I said mine was Billy Dee Williams, LaShaun said Gary Coleman, and Alicia said Nell Carter]; it was before anyone had ever heard of a concept such as the "supermodel." By this I mean that few if any of us in the class had an idea of who Gia Carangi was or what she represented at the time. As I recall, Stewart's book covers numerous questions: How to set a table? How to make introductions? What to do when you lose your best friend or boyfriend- the kinds of relationships that are at best "iffy" from the start? (And this is where I first learned that word, along with a few others, for overall, Stewart addresses her young audience with the grace of Miss Manners and does not condescend to it by watering down her language). How to handle it when you are the target of gossip? She offers a party lexicon, consisting of varieties such as the "come as you are party." She addresses the importance of sending a "bread and butter" note after visiting someone. There are even, I think, a few recipes. And there's a section for filling in your family tree inside the front cover. We never engaged this book directly in our course, but this was reading that I complemented by poring over illustrated sections on "social graces" in one of the old and very thick dictionaries in our house, which seemed to cover just about everything. I was disappointed that in a later charm course I took at age 14, the official book was one from Seventeen magazine and more focused on makeup instead of the development of social skills along the lines of Stewart's book. I even read and referred to her book many times throughout my early teen years. I finally passed my much-loved copy on to the preteen little sister of my boyfriend when I was 17, for I was tutoring her in math at the time. In retrospect, this is a book that part of me wishes I'd held on to as a keepsake, for only hindsight has allowed me to understand fully the difference that it helped to make in my social, emotional and personal development and maturation. In general, exposure to a text with that kind of orientation at an early age also introduced me to and gave me a deep love and appreciation for the "how to" genre, and to this day, as an adult working as a university professor and moonlighting as an artist, I regularly mix "how to" books into the range of selections that I read. This book may have also put me on the road to cultivating a love for books in the self-help genre, though I don't always have a lot of time to read these kinds of selections. The world has changed a lot since this book's first publication date, and with all the complex issues youth often face in and beyond school settings these days, it may well come across to some as dated and old-fashioned. But I think that there is a timeless quality about it that would make it work for any time.

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