Growing up in Miami, you rarely feel different or exotic looking. Miami is filled with so many different cultural groups that most people tend to fall into one category or another. My friend, Barb, who moved to Miami from a small Florida town, always felt different. She's tall, blonde and a WASP, something that is pretty rare in Miami. It was my friend Barb who introduced me to the world of country clubs and Lilly Pulitzer frocks.
When we moved to Miami from New York, my father's firm would hold meetings at a restricted Miami country club. The meeting locations quickly ended when my dad refused to set foot in a very publicly restricted club, as in no Jews and no Blacks and I imagine anyone not considered "white" by the club board. (Now that sounds like a brilliant Curb Your Enthusiasm episode.)
Years later when I was invited to hang out by the pool with Barb's family, who were members of this particular country club, I was quick to tell Barb that her little "country club" didn't accept my kind. Meanwhile in my world "white" women had various nicknames. My grandmother referred to them as "shiksas" (Yiddish word referring to a non-Jewish girl), my black friends used the phrase "thieves of all the good Black men" and my Latin friends would call them "gringas" (translated "white non-Latin female"). So even though this club was discriminatory, it seems like judgment was occurring across all cultural groups.
Barb, or maybe her father, explained that "the club" was no longer restricted. Howdy do dah, I was thinking... us Jews can come in! I did still have a chip on my shoulder, so I made sure to throw on my uniform at the time -- vintage motorcycle jacket, combat boots and a short dress -- perfect attire for a country club that had a history of having a hard time with anyone who looked different. (Additionally kind of a strange outfit to sit by a pool, but who am I to judge my former teen self?)
I definitely felt out of place (which was partly my own doing), my wild hair and curvaceous figure stuck out in a sea of perfectly straight blonde hair. Additionally they also had tall, thin bodies which fit beautifully in these floral pattern dresses all of them seemed to wear.
I leaned into Barb, "Gee, thanks for telling me about the floral explosion uniform I was supposed to wear." Barb gave me a look like she was about to physically assault me. I couldn't blame her -- she had already harbored resentment from me calling her a Nazi due to her German ancestry and now this comment... anyone would want to punch me. "Mara, they are wearing Lilly Pulitzer," Barb explained.
What? Me, Mara Menachem, had never heard of a designer? I was appalled. These women, lacking in body fat and loud voices all seem to share the same stylist and nutritionist. The world I had entered was one where Lilly Pulitzer was the official designer, vodka martinis the cocktail and Junior League the charity.
You know how you never notice something and then you start seeing it everywhere? Well, that was me and Lilly Pulitzer dresses. So I bought one at the Jewish women's homeland, Loehmann's, and shortened it to an appropriate length of about six inches above my knee. I then paired my little dress with a vintage pair of platform shoes, which Barb and her mother had artistically drawn flowers on the rubber heel.
When I wore my Lilly number, I knew I looked nothing like any of the women I saw at the country club with Barb. I realized what I loved about my friend Barb, was she was not ashamed of me and my need to push the envelope. Barb was part of that world, but it didn't occur to her that I couldn't be as well. I did don the Lilly Pulitzer dress, but I looked like Mara.
Thank you Mrs. Pulitzer for creating bright and happy designs for all women to appreciate and wear. Rest in peace.
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