India, Real People »
May 9, 2012 | 1 Comment | Betsy Woodman
At age ten, if you’d asked me what were the essential ingredients of the diplomatic life, I would have said, “clothes.” My family arrived in India a few months before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, an event that touched off celebrations in Commonwealth countries across the globe. India, then six years independent, was no exception. My mother found she needed at least half a dozen extra ball gowns for the parties in then sleepy Madras (now bustling Chennai.)
Later, in New Delhi, before my parents went out for the evening, my sisters and I would watch my mother putting the finishing touches on her hair and makeup. Taped to the mirror of her dressing table would be all the formal invitations for that night and the ones to come. Often there would be two or three functions in the same evening. My dad would have to check whether the event called for “black tie” or “white tie,” and decide whether a cummerbund was necessary.
This state of affairs was a bonanza for the dress-up box. Each season, my mother would have to replace many of her evening gowns, and we got the discards for our plays. Including petticoats, because fashion required stiff crinolines to hold out billowing skirts. Sometimes we dispensed with the outerwear, and just wore the petticoat, as in this costume created for my sister Lee: