I'm 90 and I've been worn once. My fabric came in a large paper parcel from England; I sat on the docks of Sydney in the heat in February and was loaded on a train that took me out to a town where everything smelt of coal. The seamstress who made me was rough; the girl I was made for didn't want to wear me. "I'd rather white!" she whined in her rough voice, "White or cream but not this ugly orange!"
The seamstress smelt of cloth and unspun wool and was rougher still when the girl whined. She disregarded the measurements on purpose so that when it came time to be worn I could barely stretch over the girl's head. "She's made it all wrong, the stupid thing, it's too tight!" the girl whined to her mother and sister. "But you look lovely, Dot," her mother assured her, "the colour really suits you."
It didn't. I drained all the tone from her pale skin and made her soft rat brown hair dull. Her mother smiled with tight lips and tried to compensate, dabbing some violet water behind the girl's ears. "Ew, it stinks," the girl whined but I liked it, savouring the thin scent that sank into my fibres.
I was made for a dance but it rained and the celebration in the local Town Hall never really started. Only a few young people came. One man followed the girl around, from corner to wall to corner. "I love your orange dress, Dorothy," he told her but she was uninterested. "Is Morrie coming?" she asked the man but he said no, Morrie was gone down to Sydney. "D'yer wanna dance?" She walked away, pretending not to hear and he grabbed me, tearing my tiny pleats. He frightened us both.
When we got home the girl told her mother that Morrie had gone to Sydney. I could taste resignation on her salty poorly washed skin. It was a relief for us both when she jammed me a box and slid it under her bed.
She got me out a few times over the years and showed me to some little girls. "That's dress I wore the first time I danced with your daddy," she'd tell them and they'd smile, feeling my embroidered hem as if I might be magic. It's so pretty, they'd tell their mother and she'd agree but when the little girls lost interest she'd slide me back into the dark.
It was dark until last year and I found myself handed over to a woman in a stall full of dresses in a huge market in the same Town Hall, the same room where they had the dance decades before. I hung amongst other unwanted dresses, most of whom had been in the dark for a long time too.
Dozens of hands passed over me but no one looked until some pale fingertips rubbed my fabric, gently lifted me out to and stared shrewd-eyed at my colour. She bought me straight away and took me home to soak the dirt of age out of my fabric, hung me to breath deeply in the fresh air outside. The next seamstress who handled me gently sewed up my tear and made a gentle cut at my neck. Now I fit over the new head with the help of a tiny shell button.
On Saturday we stared at our reflection in the mirror. I'm clean and fresh and my fabric looks new. The man here peered around the door and smiled. "Is that for the wedding?' he asked and she nodded. "You like?"
"I do," he said. "The colour really suits you."