You Can’t Go Home Again, Or, From Polos To Faux Leather

The family house, 1940 something until late 1990s

I was surprised by the guests’ attire at my uncle’s service. To be sure, no one wore anything inappropriate. I was surprised, simply, by my memories and resultant expectations.

The event was held at the Hyannis Yacht Club, 3-5pm. No program, only drinks, food, and conversation. I had assumed that most people would arrive in the traditional garb of Cape Cod, and sailors, i.e. navy or Lilly for the women, Nantucket Reds, khakis, blue blazers, or Tommy Bahamas for the men. Like this.

blue polo dress, regatta red, lilly pulitzer, tommy bahamas

Many of the men did arrive as predicted. And dapper they were, adorned by pocket squares like flags. Or in shorts. People sail in shorts,  you know.

Some of the women, however, ventured on beyond navy, beyond pink and green. (By the way, I will not and would never venture an aesthetic judgment on the garb at this occasion. That would be brutally rude. Besides, everyone looked beautiful, especially as they hugged Win’s wife, and gave her their support and condolences.) Hammered silver cuffs joined traditional pearls and baskets.

I suppose because of the Cape’s emotional weight in our family, I’d invested the place with large meaning, and dressed the people like paper dolls in my mind. We all have an imaginary map called home, my culture may clothe the inhabitants a tad more specifically. But it’s been over 50 years since Mom played softball in Hyannis, and the Cape, like the world has grown more diverse. Even as Cape Cod dress took its place amongst other iconic styles, the Cape itself was doing what America does. Evolving. Red pants may not always mean red state.

Just before the event, my sisters, my daughter, and I found ourselves with a couple of hours at liberty. Giddy like sailors on leave, we headed to Main Street. First we ducked into a nail salon, thinking of pedicures, but the smell of chemicals was too strong. We ran out. Walked a little further down Main. And found ourselves at Puritan Cape Cod. Nice name, no? A local retail chain with several Cape locations. Almost 100 years old.

A half hour, and many cries of “This, no this!” later, we had bought a Magaschoni sweater for my sister’s birthday, and an Isda faux leather jacket for my daughter. My sister’s sweater is cashmere, tailored like a jacket, with a  nice little back gather, and actual leather elbow patches.. She’s the academic. How perfect.

My daughter, a Sturdy Gal of the best sort herself, wanted something a little edgy. Ready to evolve. Et voilà a new jacket for the redhead. Worn, the collar is less daunting, the effect wholly fetching. Good for anything from shorts to ballgowns. No animals harmed in the making.

Now, I’d like to ask you a favor, if you would be so kind. Go over to the Puritan Cape Cod website and compare the men’s clothing to the women’s. The men’s offerings? Just what you’d imagine. The women? No. What we see so clearly is that women are the social laboratory of America. Our clothing is semaphore, flag code to communicate weather, currents, and other dangers.

No wonder we focus so much on clothes. Our concerns must not be shallow at all.

We left Main Street, my sisters, daughter and I, to take a peek at my mother’s family’s old house. We followed a long hedgerow lane, and peered into many driveways, but eventually had to call my aunt for directions. The house looks smaller, as one would expect, and fancier. I hope the residents didn’t mind our encroachment, but probably they were down at the beach. Or sailing.

They might have been sailing.

We ended the day, all the cousins and children, at the Green Harbor Resort. We sat on beach chairs drinking wine. I waded in the Atlantic, on crunching shells.

Chairs on a Cape Cod beach

Even if we can’t go home again, it appears that women carry ‘home’ on our backs. Mine is still navy blue, worn now with platform wedges. I have no photos of myself from the weekend, but I can tell you that my enormous prescription Costco sunglasses produced an unexpected glamor, what with the pearls, the pulled-back hair, and something, probably, that I just can’t put my finger on.


Women’s navy polo dress, via Petit Bateau
Men’s Regatta Reds, via Puritan Cape Cod (they also sell Bill’s brand)
Men’s Tommy Bahama shirt, via Puritan Cape Cod
Women’s shift, similar at Lilly Pulitzer
ISDA faux leather and canvas jacket via Puritan Cape Cod

All other images mine.

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  • Evolution of target market or evolution of those in the target market? I suspect some of both. The Cape is more culturally diverse than in the past. The women in your extended family are dressing differently than they would have in the past. Updating the look, or finding less value in social signaling?

  • I am so sorry for the loss of your uncle. It’s strange how our idea of “home” seems to stay the same in our minds, yet continues to change and evolve in real life. It’s always jarring to see stark difference in a place that hasn’t changed for decades in your memories, but sometimes the differences can learn to feel homey too. I love that navy blue shirt dress. I do believe I will be investing in a good shirt dress this fall.

  • “Our concerns must not be shallow at all.”

    Thank you. I didn’t even know how much I needed to hear this.

  • The events honoring your Uncle Win sound like the perfect way to spend time with the tribe in ways he would have very much enjoyed.

    And that “…something, probably, that I just can’t put my finger on.” is LPC. Your core, your center, your sense of self. BTW, couldn’t agree more on the broader fashion commentary.

    Sending more hugs your way,

  • Your mother’s home in Hyannis is beautiful – must have been hard to let it go.
    Thank you for the line “Our concerns should not be shallow at all” ~ needed to hear that today; well, more often than that to be truthful. Thanks.

  • I learned a new word: semaphore. I’m going to try to use it in a sentence today. Or this week, at least.

    Hugs for the loss of your uncle.

  • Just responding to HijabEng’s comment and thinking that I once knew semaphore, having earned a badge in Brownies, so very, very long ago, about when your mother’s family was letting go of their wonderful house. The past, another country indeed.
    As usual, you elevate consideration of clothing, fashion into provocative social analysis. That “elusive something” about yourself that you “can’t put your finger on” comes through here as well.
    xo, babycakes . . . ;-)

  • that THONK was my seal of approval on the isda jacket. the seal, if you wondered, features a small hand-crocheted skull and is vaguely teutonic.

  • Thank you for sharing this intimate view and snippets of family.
    The Cape house looks very snug and sturdy in it’s design. I love those weathered grey shingles and the idea of living on the beach sounds like a dream.

    I drive past our family home often and it always surprises me at how small it looks now and I wonder why.

    I am off to the Puritan to see what they are offering…

    Take care Lisa,

  • Funny how small the internet makes our world – it’s like old home week in here :-)

  • The photos are beautiful. Your writing too.

    Semaphore has a special meaning in Computer Science. You probably knew that :-).

  • First, I’m sorry for your loss. Funerals are never an easy thing to deal with. No matter how expected.

    And second, looking at the Puritan Cape Cod website, it’s interesting to see how the woman’s clothes are changing more than the men’s clothes.

    I wonder if it is because woman are more worried about aging than men. More current fashion translates into the belief that one is younger than chronological years. So those are the styles that sell– even in ultra-preppy, conservative Cape Cod.

  • I appreciate your observations, as always, but I must admit that I am distracted by the jacket your daughter bought. I covet it. You have responded helpfully when I asked questions about clothing, and now I have another one: when are you too old to wear something like this? Or, perhaps more aptly phrased: when are you too old to wear something like this without looking foolish? Is being tall and thin and having an attitude enough to let me get away with it, or do I just have to accept that at 60+ it’s better left to your daughter’s generation?

  • That jacket is divine. And to weigh in on MJ’s question, I don’t think anyone is ever too old to wear a beautifully designed, tailored jacket such as that one. Being tall and thin and having an attitude certainly doesn’t hurt though!

  • It’s interesting how we carry certain places in our mind’s eye, and the changes can be welcome or unwelcome. Seeing the changes firsthand shakes up the memories a bit sometimes. (The person/family who bought the first home I remember living in chopped down every gorgeous tree on the property; some were over 100 years old. I’ve never been able to drive by there again since seeing it the first time afterward.)

    And semaphore, yes! It’s never so simple for women, but I’m also glad that some of the old dress codes and boundaries are dissolving, leaving us freer to experiment and express. The jacket is perfection.

  • I’m sorry you lost your uncle. How interesting to examine how people dress for public grief. It would make an interesting study. I wasn’t expecting this type of dress for such an occasion.

  • You know I love your writing, don’t you? You take us right along with you wherever you lead with your words.

  • I love “dressed the people like paper dolls in my mind”! I do that so often and your phrase captures it perfectly.

  • the jacket your daughter found is excellent. Hmm, if women’s clothing is a semaphore, I wonder what all the baggy capris and t-shirts on women in my area might mean.

  • A wonderful way to honour your Uncle – a gathering where the dress is not the dull black of mourning – a celebration of his life. And I love your daughter’s new jacket. As you say, one of those pieces that will take her anywhere and everywhere. Adore how you write – “dressed the people like the paper dolls in my mind” – perfection. x

  • I was in Hull this weekend at a friend’s house and thinking of your family as we looked across the bay. We wore navy, white, stripes, and pink. Hauled in pots of sea water to cook lobsters. New England Jews borrowing the high wasp tropes.

    Jews sit shiva after funerals and I have always found it is healing to the living to spend time together remembering and enjoying each others’ company (and eating, too, of course). I hope this weekend, the sea, and your family brought you peace.

  • Isn’t it funny you went so far east to find an Isda San Francisco jacket? :)

    My favorite costume earrings are by Northern California’s own Extasia,

    And where did I discover Extasia? On a trip to Baltimore MD.

  • I have been following your weekend, attending your uncle´s funeral.
    What a wonderful memory was left for all of you attending it. Informal in so many ways, not forgetting the real meaning of the occasion.
    I think that your uncle would have wanted it this way.

  • I am so sorry to read about the loss of your uncle. He sounds like he led a very interesting life here on Old Cape Cod. You relate your experience and observations here so beautifully. It struck me right away that I’d made similar observations several weeks ago while attending the visiting hours for an “old salt” from our town (Chatham – the height of preppy. There was little black and there were many pairs of “reds”….my thoughts on it were so fleeting, but you captured it all in your inimitable way. I walk by our Puritan often and rarely shop there but do notice that have some very trendy things in one corner of their window. Love the jacket you found!
    We’ve had a beautiful summer here and I am so glad you got to visit a bit and see your mother’s home.
    It is a lovely place to live here, but then, I guess you know that!
    Thanks, as always.

  • I spy a MUCH, and long time, coveted Nantucket basket. Sigh…XXOO

  • A toast to your uncle, to the family, to many generations coming together to celebrate what sounds like a life fully and well lived. And to you, dear LPC, for your witty, sincere, always-on-the-mark observations.

    Here, here, to you both. xo.

  • DocP – Yes, absolutely, changes all around. I think my family is still concerned with social signaling, if I’m honest, but at least my immediate family wants now to signal a new order.

    Cathy – Thanks. And I might even need ANOTHER shirtdress:).

    Louise – Oh, I’m so pleased. You are so not remotely shallow to begin with:).

    TPP – Thank you. Growing up in this sort of culture, I think it can take a while to allow one’s core an audible voice.

    Kathy – It was a beautiful house, and so wonderful for children. Much more casual when we owned it, with a gorgeous back porch, right on the ocean. I am glad to be useful – women bear more cultural weight than we realize, I think.

  • Hijab – I hope the hearers of the word appreciate. Thanks.

    Mater – Brownies. I can imagine that, very clearly. xox.

    Kidchamp – But of course. The things I should have known, but didn’t. The recognition.

    Hostess – My please. Thank you for listening. You might like some of Puritan’s sweaters, now that I think of it…

    Patsy – Well, yeah:).

    Susan – Thank you very much. And I hadn’t known the meaning of Semaphore in CS until I Googled the term to make sure I was spelling it correctly. I love multiple threads, how they converge to enrich our meanings.

  • Ally – Thanks. I would love to read a treatise on the role of women’s clothing in society. With historical backup. I think it’s as much the requirements of society as any personal feelings we all might have. But of course, I’m just making that up.

    MJ – I think that absolutely a 60-year old could wear that jacket. Especially one who is tall and thin. A pair of skinny black trousers and a perfect white blouse to stay this side of rocker, if you like? Or over a mid-calf wrap dress, really, as long as your hair is behaving and you have the right attitude:). I have to say, the jacket looks even better in on the person than in the image.

    Audi – The next time my daughter comes home, I should love to enlist your help in her wardrobe evolution:).

    Une femme – I suppose, now that I think of it, it’s up to us to remake the codes if any are to exist, and to ensure the codes are helpful, not restrictive or shaming. I am in mourning, a little bit, for your tree. I take those things hard too.

    Ashley – It was not a funeral, just a gathering, so that explains a lot.

  • Stephanie – Thank you so much. Very sustaining, comments like that.

    BethAnn – :).

    Terri – Oh lord. I think that’s a very good question. Where are the academics doing the longitudinal analyses?

    Sarah – Thank you so much. And don’t you love to see your daughter grow into her own way of dressing?

    R – Oh, thank you for thinking of us. I love the idea of the High WASP tropes wending their way through other cultures – the tropes that I like at least. And I find many Jewish traditions, from weddings to funerals, to be what I can only call very well thought out. Meaningful and supportive.

  • RB – Ha! I didn’t know Isda was from SF!

    Mette – Thank you very much. I think you are right. His wife did a wonderful, wonderful job, and his children rallied around.

    Marcia – Thank you very much. It is so beautiful on the Cape. My daughter and I drove around the last day, taking some back roads. We got a little lost:). But as we made our way to the hotel, we were thinking how nice it would be to have one of those little houses, and spend the summer in bare feet, and on boats.

    Allie – It was a BEAUT, that one.

    bigBANG – Thank you. Large families can be a real joy sometimes.

  • Love seeing pictures of your old house and life. I only lived one year on the East Coast, in New Canaan, as a 17 year old exchange student, so this makes me feel quite “homesick”

  • Amusingly enough, I bought myself a linen Isda swing jacket at that very Puritan a couple of years ago. . .

  • I want more. I did not want the writing to end. You have such a way with carefully crafting words to create a splendid and real story. I love the way you transcend time and state. California to the Cape. Hope that the love of your old home and the time with family and nature gave you comfort. Sorry to hear of your Uncle Win passing on.
    Write a novel, please.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] Having made my peace with both my inability to take pictures when out and about, and the remote function on my little camera, I wanted to show you what I wore to my uncle’s memorial event. […]

  2. […] for year in 1968. Transportation? The QEI’s final eastward voyage. When we returned, and spent a summer on Cape Cod, Mom signed us up for sailing lessons at the Wianno Yacht Club. Us 12-year olds got to sleep over […]