Betty Clifford recalls sitting in the background for a magazine shoot at the ground floor of her Perry Road mansion, Peace Haven, a Bandra landmark. "I was wearing a red dress and you only see a bit of it in the photograph. Yet, it caught everyone's attention," says Clifford, whose business travels (she was in the shipping industry) have led her to shops across the world — Europe, Middle East, the Far East — and resulted in several closets and suitcases full of clothes, many of which she confesses to not having worn even once since bringing them home.
"When we were children, we didn't have much of a say in what we wore. Our parents would pick out our clothes. It was only when I was doing a secretarial course in London that I indulged my passion for clothes," says Clifford, who has now, in an attempt to de-clutter, parted with some items from her vintage collection for a pop-up at the Bandra store Lifafaa (run by Meenal Agarwal), curated by fashion consultant and stylist Nikhil D. "I was also working at the Scout HQ at the time and we'd get paid every Friday. The next Thursday, the other women from the office and I would make a beeline to the late night shops on Oxford Street," she adds. Marks and Spencers and C&A were her favourites for their classy clothes that were easy on her wallet. "At M&S, the most expensive dress at the time cost £5, which was affordable. At office, the ladies would set up a fashion parade to out-dress each other," she laughs, sitting on one of the vintage furniture sets that line her 85-year-old Grade A heritage home.
When she was going through a sari phase, she bought 100 of them. Later, she switched to suits. "It was easier to travel in them. Also, when my mother was around, I would go with her to church and keep money and other things in my pockets, which was convenient compared to carrying a handbag. Even now, during winters I pull out my suits and wear a new one each day," she smiles.
This pastel blue dress is one of the evening dresses, memories of evenings which Clifford recalls fondly. "My mother would get upset if I stayed back late. So, I began to take her along," she smiles. The parties were often cocktail parties organised for official purposes, and would be held at the city's plush five-stars. While the long evening gowns, today's maxis, were popular among the expats' wives, most Indian women wore saris.
This is a sports top from a store, Clifford doesn't remember which. Often she says, she'd stop and pick up a dress just because she liked it. The compulsive buyer (her words not ours), says she was once in the English countryside when she saw a dress hanging in a small shop, on sale for £1. "I insisted on buying it even though the salesperson told me it would not fit me. I never wore it, but I couldn't let a bargain go," she smiles. Clifford plans to give the money from the sales to St Andrew's parish, which completes 400 years. She has previously donated some of her clothes to St Catherine's Orphanage at Mt Mary.
The project took three weeks to execute, with Nikhil altering some of the clothes to make them seem less costume-ish. This striped silk blouse, Clifford says, she picked up in Switzerland, because quite simply, she liked the colours. "I picked up a pink embroidered blouse from a shop in Manila and then bought it in three other colours – yellow, peach and turquoise," she adds. She doesn't know what fabric they are made of; it's not her strong point. Most of the blouses on sale on Thursday, she's never worn. "When I'd brought the striped one back, I thought it was too loud. Others, I had simply forgotten about."
This pleated midi skirt, which is all the rage now, is among Clifford's vast collection. "I remember travelling on the trains in the '70s and '80s on stilettos and dresses bought from the UK, my hair tied with a scarf, or, wearing hats to church. Even now people remember them. It was fun," she smiles.