Memaw’s Pale Pink Polka Dot Dress



The Birmingham Museum of Art

By this point, I think it’s pretty obvious I have an appreciation for history and “old things”–see here and here. Beyond Birmingham’s history and historical homes, I also have a fascination with vintage clothing. As I mentioned on a previous blog post, my minor was in costume design. Fashion history appeals to every level of my love of art, design, and history. I loved introducing my little ones to children’s fashions from the 1800s

My great-grandmother with her twin siblings, c. 1916

at The Birmingham Museum of Art recently. And I keep our gallery wall at home well-stocked with old family photos (even dating back to the 1880s). One of my favorites is a photo of my great-grandmother (we called her “Memaw”) and her twin siblings dressed in very frilly, puffed-sleeved dresses circa 1916. I love the great detail, extravagance, and elegance in these outfits even though they were a hard-working farm family in Owassa, Alabama.

Don’t you just love the South?! We know how to work hard, get down and dirty, but don’t doubt for one second that we don’t know how to get “gussied up!”  

Ahead of Her Time

That very same great-grandmother grew up to be a very talented seamstress. She was ahead of her time and balanced a career outside the home as well as a family during 1930s and ’40s. She designed and sewed all her work clothes and suits, and when she became a grandmother in the 1950s, she made my mother a special dress for her one-year-old portraits. (See what I did there, Mom? I didn’t out your age–people can guess if you were born any time during that decade!!)

My mother, the original wearer of Memaw’s dress

The 1950s ushered in new silhouettes for children’s clothing that have since become classic. We still see the same styles today on Southern children: ruffles, full skirts, jumpers and rompers.

The dress was pale pink polka dot organza with ruffled shoulders, a full skirt, and a sash at the waist. My mom saved that special hand-made dress to pass down to her daughters. By the time my older sister turned one, the pale pink dress had various stains and discolorations, so my mom hand-dyed the organza a darker pink to cover up the stains. Amazingly, the dress has held up well for the one-year-old portraits of my niece and my children.

Local Sewing Spots

I’ve been unofficially elected the “family historian,” and I have this precious heirloom in my possession (along with some family wedding dresses….a post for another day). I cannot wait to continue to pass this down for generations to come. The saying: “They don’t make things like they used to,” is true! The craftsmanship and detail my great-grandmother possessed is a lost art. I can sew enough to get by–but I could never dream of having the talent (and patience) she had! That’s why I’m so thankful for local stores like The Sewing Room in Inverness and The Smockingbird in Homewood who hire expert seamstresses to custom make special outfits and heirlooms for your little one. Or, if you’re up for an adventure, they also offer classes where you can learn to sew yourself. If you don’t have a special dress handed down through the generations, start it now with your children!

How about you? Did your parents or grandparents save a special outfit you got to wear and pass down to your children?

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After graduating from college, Julie worked for ten years as a paralegal and as a medical software programmer before becoming a SAHM to her and her husband's two children. Life is crazy for her these days, but a lot of Jesus and a little exercise and painting keeps her sane! When she's not editing for Birmingham Mom Collective, you can find Julie illustrating wedding gowns and heirloom keepsakes--check out her Instagram page @bridal_illustration_by_julie for more information!


  1. Love this blog post documenting the special dress MeMaw made for me all those years ago! Thanks Julie!?

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