I adored Betty White. She made me laugh even when tears were closer. And we had a unique connection, although she knew nothing about it.
She wore my dress.
On the first episode of “The Golden Girls.” September 1985.
It was a light denim shirtwaist with roll-up sleeves and a pink stretch belt with a tan leather, buckled closure. It made an ongoing, brief appearance in each episode for seven years. During the “Thank You for Being my Friend” introduction.
This was not a good thing.
The dress was spot-on for her Rose Nylund character, but her wearing it on national television forced me to face a truth about myself. My fashion sense was decades ahead of my age.
When my dress made its television debut, Rose was a 60-ish widow with grown children. I was a married 32-year-old with an infant son and a four-year-old daughter. I was a few months postpartum and dressed like a postmenopausal television character.
My clothing choice made its way from my closet to the small screen way before the Internet gremlins could read my thoughts and transmit them as Facebook posts, pop-up ads on my phone or prime-time television storylines. And way before Google searches. I didn’t see the dress on TV and then try to track it down for myself. I owned it before its television debut.
I can’t tell you for sure that her dress bore the exact label as mine, but it looked close enough to be pulled from the same rack. Hers probably in a smaller size.
Who wore it better? Definitely, Betty White.
Was I a Golden Girl before my time? Or was Betty White still young at 63? I think she would have gotten a laugh out of my dilemma and answered yes to both.
I grew up watching her on TV game shows. “Password” was my favorite. Later, it was in iconic television sitcoms, variety and talk show appearances and her movie career (more about that later).
The first sitcom was “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” where she portrayed Sue Ann Nivens. I have no memory of what that character wore, other than a frilly apron for her happy homemaker TV segment. I have never owned a frilly apron.
It was not until “The Golden Girls” era that I unconsciously adopted Betty White’s style. Before she even showed up on my TV as Rose. I was struggling with the insecurities of young motherhood, a move to the unfamiliar Mississippi Gulf Coast and first-time home ownership. I made a few questionable home decorating decisions, which included custom drapes and upholstery pieces that ended up in the next issue of the JC Penney’s catalog. And another fashion pick that, added to the Rose Nylund dress fiasco, made me doubt any clothes purchase for years.
It was a dress.
A beautiful dress from a Mobile, Alabama, department store. I was attracted to the fabric more than the style (shirtwaist, full skirt – I didn’t learn from that mistake). It was cotton sateen, a lovely floral print. Sage green background with mostly pink and yellow flowers. A bit dressy, I had not even worn it when, one day, I innocently walked into a gift shop. And there I spotted the exact same floral fabric.
As a suitcase.
Fast forward to 2009-2010. I was close to being a real Golden Girl. Divorced. Grown children. I had totally reinvented myself, having earlier returned to college as a 43-year-old to pursue my lifelong dream of being a journalist. I worked several years as a newspaper reporter and freelance researcher/writer before launching a technical writing career. My wardrobe consisted mostly of blue jeans, worn with a blazer for workplace business casual.
One weekend, I rented the “The Proposal” on DVD to unwind after a stressful work week.
…Traveled down a road and back again…
(“Thank You for Being a Friend,” song by Andrew Gold)
Betty White, who was close to 90 years old at the time, played Grandma Annie, or Gammy as the Ryan Reynolds’ character called her. About an hour in, a new morning in the movie, she walked into the scene wearing my blouse. I had ordered it from my favorite online store months before.
And there it was on Betty White. It was chambray with pintuck pleats front and back, cut loose and swingy. In the movie, she wore it that entire day, including when she donned an ancestral, ceremonial cloak over it for the thanking-mother-earth/fertility dance scene. That’s where she lured Sandra Bullock’s character to join her. The characters and my blouse danced around and around a bonfire.
Who wore it better? We know the answer to that.
Rest in peace, Betty White.
Debbie McClanahan, a former staff writer for The Tennessean, recently retired from an 18-year technical writing career. She’s glad to be back in the newspaper world and would love to hear from you. She can be reached at email@example.com.