Full Circle: Ring around her shoulders

Published 9:44 am Saturday, May 19, 2018

It’s the 1940s and the weather has just turned chilly.  You are entering an Austin church.  Any church will do, as doctrine does not matter.  Only worshipful fashion matters.

You look around, What’s that you see?  Yiiiikes!  It looks like animal carcasses!  And, you are right.  Those are dead foxes.  In fact, many foxes and in particular encircling the shoulders of the members of the ladies guild.  (Should this instead by called the ladies “guilt”?  But, no, because surprisingly none of them seems bothered by this astonishing carnage.)

This is called vogue a la mode, quite possibly of the lowest caliber.  Additionally, reincarnation at its worst. Where is the beauty, I ask, in killing lovely woodland creatures, removing their bones and innards, and then wrapping what’s left of them around your shoulders?  Sounds macabre, like a really bad joke, huh?

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Well, it wasn’t because dozens of women, including my very own mom, owned that grim apparel. And they paid a pretty penny for it. These aberrations of nature were mainly displayed in church since Austin had few other opportunities for such finery.  The foxes were brought out of mothballs in late fall and worn over woolen suits. Later, in the dead of winter, they were worn over heavy coats.  Note: if these were full length fur coats, the stoles were not included. Redundancy.

Unlike the teddy bear who had been so transmorgrified that all savageness was removed from its being (little children took their teddys to bed with them, for goodness sakes!), fox stoles retained all their wild, feral, untamed purity minus their insides.  What remained was nothing more than empty fatuous fox fur sacks.

The result was that the deboned legs and paws hung limply like really fat, hairy, overcooked lasagna noodles, and as the women sauntered down the church aisles, the boneless appendages flopped back and forth grotesquely.  One fox was not enough to circumnavigate one woman.  It took several.  Therefore multiple limbs hung suspended in time and space.  They were not a pretty sight.  Little children cringed in terror.

How, you ask, did these abominations stay perched upon the women’s shoulders?  Well, buttons and zippers were unseemly, so one particularly clever furrier came up with the perfect solution.  Teeth. Yes, teeny tiny sharp teeth that had once been used by hungry foxes to rip apart their prey, but had by now been removed because actually keeping them would have been …really now…. over the top.  In their empty jawbones was the barren length of the fox’s mouth held in place by wrapping the creature’s lips around two metal clips and sewing them with perfectly executed overcast stitches of which any seamstress would be proud.

And what did the poor, dead, toothless fox’s mouth bite on to? Its tail, of course, silly!  Well, not exactly its tail, but the second fox’s tail.  As gorgeous as that may sound, it wasn’t.  But, on the plus side, it did secure it to the woman’s shoulders.

Baby boomers—and especially millennials—will not believe one word of this. But, they must trust me for I grew up with those pitiful, desiccated animals crushed up against me in a Presbyterian pew every wintry Sunday morning of my young life … touching me!  Such ghastliness led to a lifetime of vulpesnovusphobia and explains the counseling I should have had, but didn’t.  In its absence I have led a scarred existence.

Week after week I sat in that pew trying to imagine my mom’s long departed fox stole suddenly coming to life right during the sermon.  Like large gerbils they would, in lock jaw position, churn around my mom’s shoulders as if she were their private exercise wheel, spinning around and around her body like whirling dervishes with no regard for the sanctity of her or their heavenly surroundings.

As horrifying as the thought was, I couldn’t help but imagine how un-Presbyterianlike such an outburst would be… and how much I’d enjoy it!  Actually, getting caught in the spirit of the spin would have sparked up the congregation as no sermon had ever done.

Of course, once the foxes began on this road to nowhere, they wouldn’t be able to stop their ceaseless rotations because as far as my young mind could figure, foxes had no sense of direction or time.  And, besides, there were no Burma Shave signs in the pew to guide them.

Boy, it sure would have made church fun.  And I would have looked forward to the weather changing when Mom would go into her cedar lined closet to release the foxes once again.

Years later, Mom’s fox stole was inexplicably excavated and became the dress-up piece de resistance for my daughter.  Then even more years later, for my granddaughter.  The darned thing wouldn’t die.  Not sure if foxes have nine lives, but I’m thinking they do for although the fur was flattened in places, the fake beady eyes were as steely as ever and the tight clamp of the mouth was as firm as the day it was first pinched on there.

It’s impossible to explain fashion, especially ishy fashion like this.  But then, who in the future will ever believe that once upon a time young men wore their pants under their bottoms?  That they were unable to walk naturally because of the incessant need to hold them up?  Or that otherwise perfectly intelligent girls slashed and poked holes in their $40 denim jeans (jeans whose very claim to fame was their wear resistance) to make some sort of chic statement?

We’d all agree that the hoop skirt and tightly laced waist cincher were inspired by the devil himself, but let’s face it, folks, he’s still with us.  Take a look at a 300 lb. sunbather in a 3 oz. Speedo and you’ll get what I mean.