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On the streetcar the other day, I saw a woman wearing white gloves. Sweet little wrist-length, white gloves. You couldn’t mistake these for the Keep-Out-The-Germs variety. My friend, Gertie (not her real name – she made me promise not to put that here) confessed to have gone through a “phase” of wearing white gloves 24-7. It wasn’t until she found herself preparing to wash her hands with the gloves still on that she saw her neurosis and reentered the world of germs once more. She has, fortunately, lived to tell the story.

The white gloves on the streetcar lady did keep her fingers free of germs-lurking-on-every-surface of that streetcar, but that’s not why she was wearing them. They were part of her ensemble — blue and white seersucker suit, perfectly matching blue beads and clip-on pearl earrings, white pumps with flashes of blue flowers on the toes — it was before Labor Day so perfectly proper to wear white shoes — and a matching white plastic pocketbook on her arm. The finishing touch — those sweet wrist-length white gloves covering her tiny, cane-holding hands. She was a study in a well-dressed woman of the 1950s — classic.

I had memories of my older, very classy sisters’ glove wearing days. They were models for me in all things fashionable. Those girls knew the etiquette of gloves. They had different lengths for different occasions — kept them tucked in a drawer upstairs still in their tissue-paper-lined little white boxes from Lazarus Department Store. When they were teenagers in Columbus, Ohio, no one would think of going downtown shopping or to Mills Restaurant for lunch without dressing up — suits, dresses, pumps, hat, lipstick and gloves. Katy confesses to still having a pair hidden away.

The only time I remember wearing white gloves was for Easter Sunday. We younger Eyerman girls always looked divine walking into church. We wore little blue duster coats, straw hats, black patent leather shoes, crisp white socks and carried teeny tiny purses stuffed with Kleenix (what else does a six year old carry in a purse) and sparkling white gloves. We learned well from our older sisters.

Maybe the lady on the streetcar was coming home from shopping downtown or church. It was Saturday evening so either was possible. But wherever she was coming from, I was impressed with her spiffiness — my mother would have approved. It was nice to see someone all dressed up.

I used to do it every day — minus the gloves, of course. That corporate law firm I worked at in D.C. had an image to maintain and expected its staff to hold up their end. Many of the secretaries (not me particularly) took it very seriously. Someone once commented that the secretaries were dressed better than the lawyers. They probably cared more — or were trying to snag one of those lawyers. But last year when I was in D.C. and stopped in for a visit, casualness had taken over. Everyone — including the lawyers — were dressied way down from what we used to wear back in the 1980s and 1990s. I thought it made the whole place look tacky and wondered what clients would want to pay those exborinant fees for a lawyer in jeans and a shirt with rolled-up-sleeves. No class at all.

Since coming to Toronto, all of my dress-up clothes have disappeared into Goodwill bags.   I remember the murmuring ex-husband telling me on my first visit here that Torontonians didn’t dress up — you could wear jeans anywhere. I didn’t believe him but gradually, over the years, even I have occasionally opted for casual comfort when going to a play and, shamefully, even one time going to the ballet. It didn’t feel quite right but no one blinked an eye. I never told my sisters.

I think I’ll go out and find a couple of dress-up outfits to counter the casualness of my closet. Who knows, if I buy them just maybe the perfect opportunities to wear them will appear. And I’ll have that lady on the subway with the white gloves to thank for it.

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