Picks and Pans Review: Love, Loss, and What I Wore

updated 10/23/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/23/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Ilene Beckerman

The first day of school. The prom. The interview. Long after ceremonies and feelings have faded, most women can recall, with intricate detail, the clothes they chose for significant occasions. So Manhattan ad exec Ilene Beckerman's sleek little memoir, illustrated with her own drawings, strikes a startling chord.

Beckerman, now in her 50s, keeps her distance from emotion; her centerpiece is style. Her mother ("a large handsome woman" who couldn't afford fancy clothes) dies when Beckerman is a young teen. Soon after buying her two navy blue frocks, her father disappears. Decked out in an "iridescent brocade Chinese-style dinner dress," she catches her first husband passionately kissing the hostess at a New Year's party. She wears the same black-and-red print taffeta maternity dress through six pregnancies. (One of her children, David, will die before his second birthday.) No matter the public or private trials, Beckerman focuses on pinafores and peplums, floral chintz and black faille.

The effect is both unsettling and oddly powerful. "Do you ever think about the clothes we wore when we were growing up?" Beckerman asks one of her oldest friends. "Never," Dora answers. "It was such a painful time." (Algonquin Books, $14.95)

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