The Le Chateau Blouse

I had bought the blouse the year before, the year before we married. When we were dating. Or perhaps after we’d decided to go back and see his family for our honeymoon.

It was one of Le Chateau’s top lines that year and the material had been made up in blouses, jackets, and shoes. An unlikely mix. Perhaps there was a skirt too. I don’t remember.

Anyhow, I bought the blouse and the shoes. And maybe the jacket, but it was too multi-coloured to wear often. And the shoes scuffed, at the toes. Shoes covered in fabric have a tendency to do that.

Let me tell you about the fabric. It was something like rayon. Rayon? Well, a man-made material anyhow, a byproduct of the petroleum industry, something that looked great when it was fresh out of the box, but didn’t always stand up to years of wear. Well, this blouse didn’t need to, because it was very trendy. The fabric was in strong floral colours—that’s what drew me to it—deep blue-greens, bright pinks, and pale pinks, and perhaps a splash of red to clash with the pinks and make the whole thing really stand out.

That’s how I was in those days. Trying to stand out. Nowadays I’m into mellower colours. Maybe. Maybe not.

So when we went on our honeymoon to Bulgaria to see his family, I took the blouse; along with the suitcase of clothes for seven-year-old Orlina. That’s all his family had said they wanted us to bring. Clothes for Orlina. The day we arrived and were still fresh off the plane, young Orlina had modelled the clothes in fashion show style.

I wore the blouse, the multi-coloured one, early on in our stay, with a pair of green pants. I was still wearing bright British colours. Perhaps Welsh colours. The weather in Wales is drab—rainy, cloudy skies, cool weather, drizzle. We used to brighten things up in Wales with our bright clothes and by painting one wall in our living rooms a bright colour—red or marine blue. Even now, all these years later, I have a bright red kitchen. It always startles people when they come to our home.

So maybe the blouse wasn’t for me to stand out. Maybe it was just for me to be normal; to be Welsh.

The blouse was girly, feminine. I felt pretty in it. It had just three largish buttons, covered with the same fabric. And it was a little bit too short, with a scalloped neckline and a scalloped lower edge that sometimes almost revealed a bare midriff. A bit bold.

One day in Bulgaria, on my husband’s and my honeymoon visit there, my sister-in-law Raina leaned in to talk to my husband. She looked at me as she spoke. I couldn’t speak Bulgarian. I could just read a couple of words, letter by Cyrillic letter, finding out that each letter was important and held its own. Unlike in English.

“What did she want?” I asked my husband.

“She wants to borrow the blouse you wore yesterday,” he said.

“The one in bright pink and red and blue-green? Why?”

“She likes it.”

She likes my blouse! And so I have to lend it to her? I didn’t understand.

Anyhow, I went into the room where we were staying in his mother’s apartment, fetched the blouse, and gave it to Raina. She put it in her shoulder bag. I watched. And wondered.

I had more blouses.

The next day, at Raina’s apartment, she gave me back my blouse. She had wrapped it carefully in tissue paper and placed it in a paper bag. Looked after it. Carefully.

I waited for some kind of explanation. She had shown it to her dressmaker.


To make a pattern.

That felt intrusive, somehow. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Violated? No, too strong. Definitely I felt bothered.

I didn’t find out what Raina had really done until she wore the dress. Her dress was in more muted colours, and the fabric was something more lasting. Perhaps a cotton. I don’t remember.

The story came out.

During the day that Raina had had my blouse, she had taken it to her dressmaker, who had unstitched it into its fourteen pieces—two capped sleeves, one back, two panels on each side of the front, five collar pieces, and two button placket pieces for the buttons—made a pattern from the unstitched pieces, and cut out material using that fourteen-piece pattern. Next, she made a skirt pattern to fit with the blouse pattern. Then, she had found a material for the dress, cut it out following the two patterns, stitched it up roughly, had Raina over for a fitting, and sewn it up completely, to fit Raina.

Then Raina’s dressmaker had sewn my blouse back together. And actually, she sewed my blouse back together better than it had been sewn together originally—in some factory in Taiwan, or wherever Le Chateau had its factories in those days.

I still felt a little bit violated. Not really. I was more gobsmacked. Almost in awe.

Then I thought about it. There were no pretty styles in the stores in Sofia, Bulgaria, the stores that had only recently been handed over from Communist management. The only department store was TZUM (pronounced Tsoom and standing for Tsentralen universalen magazin)and the clothes displayed there looked tired and dated.

Raina had found a way around that problem.

And she looked beautiful in her dress—proud and pretty and happy.

I never looked at my Le Chateau blouse the same way again, but I loved wearing it, appreciating its appeal in a whole new way.