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Published August 07 2011

Swift: Family fashion like one big sister act

I blame the Partridge Family.

That telegenic clan in matching Dacron can be the only explanation as to why my mother always wanted her four daughters to dress alike.

After all, the ’60s and ’70s were rife with famous family musical acts, including the Partridges, the Jacksons, the Osmonds, the DeFrancos and even the Semonski Sisters on Lawrence Welk.

Early on, Mom realized we would never become a famous group, probably because there wasn’t much demand for flute/French horn/piano/cowbell quartets on “American Bandstand.”

Still, she insisted on dressing us identically. She would spend weeks at her Singer, whipping up four duplicate outfits for certain special occasions.

My clearest memory from my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary is that we all wore long-sleeved mini-dresses in navy-blue dotted swiss. A girly Mohawk of stiff white lace ran down each sleeve. We looked like the “Laugh-In” farm team.

We also looked wickedly uncomfortable. The elasticized cuffs left angry rings around the wrist; the polyester fabric itched like you’d just rolled in fiberglass insulation.

But people raved about us, all stacked up like little von Trapps trapped in man-made fabric.

The trouble is that, as the youngest girl, I often wore hand-me-downs. And so I not only had to wear my own swiss-dotted dress, but the swiss-dotted dresses of Bertha, Mabel and Verbena as each outgrew them.

That’s a long time to wear an itchy dress.

The same happened with the long granny gowns of 1972, the patriotic shorts outfits designed for a Glen Ullin Homemakers Club Fashion Show and the polyester pantsuits for the 1975 Christmas portrait.

Thankfully, Mom finally tired of all that sewing, just as we tired of looking alike.

In time, we all grew up and developed our different styles.

But a strange thing has happened in the last few years. Every time we sisters come home for a reunion, we find we’re dressed alike. This happens even though Verbena and I live 1,900 miles from our Florida sisters. We shop at different stores, hold completely different jobs and have vastly different personalities.

And yet we’ll gather together and discover we still look like “The Mandrells: A Reunion Special.”

This was especially apparent during my nephew’s recent wedding. Verbena, Mabel and Bertha arrived at the groom’s supper dressed in navy-blue T-shirts, khaki capris and eerily similar sandals.

I was the only holdout. I wore sandals and khakis but then brazenly opted for a shirt that was light blue.

That was just the beginning. Throughout the week, we routinely showed up at the breakfast table in similar colors, shirts and jewelry.

We can’t really figure it out. We haven’t lived under the same roof for 20-some years.

Yet we seem to have this mysterious, psychic style connection. And then we realized it: The common thread was mom. We have all gradually adopted Margaret’s Book of Style.

For as long as I can remember, my mother has had dozens of opinions on how she dresses and how she thinks we should dress, too: Pastels will wash you out. V-necks are better than round-necks. Don’t part your hair down the middle unless you want to look like Maurice Gibb.

We all used to rebel against her rules, but as we grew older we realized a disturbing thing: She was right. So now we all subconsciously dress under the WWMD (What Would Margaret Do?) credo.

You see?

Blood may be thicker than water, but it isn’t any thicker than mother.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525