Great dresses of Mediocre Literature, Meta-Discussion

Great dresses of Mediocre Literature, Meta-Discussion

reader Lynn is looking for fiction that describes twentieth-century older women and their clothes, which reminded me of the wonderful descriptions of clothes (on women of all ages) in the novels of Kathleen Norris, like this one:

Only the wearers and their dress-makers knew what hours had been spent upon these costumes, what discouraged debates attended their making, what muscular agonies their fitting. only they could have estimated, and they never did estimate — the time lost over pattern books, the nervous strain of placing this bit of spangled net or that square inch of lace, the hurried trips downtown for samples and linings, for fringes and embroideries and braids and ribbons. The gown that she wore to her own dinner, Mrs. White had fitted in the Maison Dernier Mot, in Paris; — it was an enchanting frock of embroidered white illusion, over pink illusion, over black illusion, under a short heavy tunic of silver spangles and threads. The yoke was of wonderful old lace, and there was a girdle of heavy pink cords, and silver clasps, to match the aigrette that was held by pink and silver cords in Mrs. White’s beautifully arranged hair.

Mrs. Burgoyne’s gowns, or rather gown, for she wore exactly the same costume to ever dinner, could hardly have been more startling than Santa Paloma found it, had it gone to any unbecoming extreme. Yet it was the simplest of black summer silks, soft and full in the skirt, short-sleeved, and with a touch of lace at the square-cut neck. She arranged her hair in a becoming loose knot, and somehow managed to look noticeably lovely and distinguished, in the gay assemblies. To brighten the black gown she wore a rope of pearls, looped twice about her white throat, and hanging far below her waist; pearls, as Mrs. Adams remarked in discouragement later, that “just made you feel what’s the use! She could wear a kitchen apron with those pearls if she wanted to, everyone would know she could afford cloth of gold and ermine!”

From The rich Mrs. Burgoyne (review here; For a contemporary account of Kathleen Norris, look here).

Do you have a favorite author for descriptions of dress, especially descriptions of twentieth-century dress? (Georgette Heyer is terrific for Regency dress, at least to read — I have no idea how accurate her depictions are, but I’m sure someone will tell me!) Please leave your recommendations in the comments …

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