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Posts Tagged ‘fashion in fiction’

Here’s a little story about how I found My Mrs. Brown: A month or so ago I was at my public library looking in the Fiction section for George Orwell’s novel, 1984. Affected by the current state of the world, I had an unexplainable desire to reread this dystopian classic. To my surprise there were no copies on the shelf. (Were other readers of the same mind?) So, I perused the other titles nearby and I swear this smaller-than-average blue book popped off the shelf and into my hands. My heart beat a little faster as I looked at an illustration of a dress form on the cover. Could it be? Might I have stumbled upon fashion in fiction? Indeed I had!

It’s rare to find fashion in fiction and My Mrs. Brown, written by former Vogue editor William Norwich, is a treat for its fashion detail among other things.

Middle-aged Mrs. Brown lives a modest life in a small town in Rhode Island. When she volunteers to help inventory the belongings of the town’s recently deceased Grand Dame, she comes upon a black dress suit (a dress with a matching jacket) that will change her life. The simple but exquisite suit was designed by Oscar de la Renta and once she set her eyes it she was captivated. After reading the novel Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, the story of a woman quite like our heroine who travels to Paris to buy herself a Dior gown, Mrs. Brown is inspired to travel to NYC and buy her own dress suit by Oscar de la Renta. Never mind that it cost thousands of dollars that she doesn’t have. Where there’s a will (and many good Samaritans) there’s a way.

My Mrs. Brown is described as a fairy tale. I call it a quiet story. There are no superheroes fighting off violent villains, no crass language, no drug-addiction. There is no darkness, although, there is timeless reality such as sadness, jealousy, and death. We also have (oh my gosh!) pleasant characters, a charming story of persistence and courage, and a nod to the everyday woman with a reasonable desire to own something lovely and stylish. Mr. Norwich creates a nostalgic small town with a main street and residents who actually know each other and spend time together. It has such an old-school vibe that I had to remind myself more than once that this was a story set in present day and I wondered if the author was hinting of a certain provincial quality to New England. But this sleepy Rhode Island town is also a handy contrast to hectic New York City, which is featured in the later part of the book.

As for fashion detail, Mr. Norwich seamlessly weaves in details of clothing, style, and the lifestyle of those in the biz. He knows the world of fashion and pulls it in as part of the story, but at just the right balance. For someone like me, that’s candy! Dark chocolate See’s candy.

I truly enjoyed My Mrs. Brown and the opportunity it allowed me to escape our increasingly uncivilized world and step into an uplifting story where a quiet, unassuming character is the winner.

We need more books like this.

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Early one September not long ago, a rural woman with a secret grief traveled to New York City in pursuit of a dream to buy the most beautiful and correct dress she’s ever seen. The dress wasn’t at all what you might expect. It wasn’t a riot of feathers and chiffon. It wasn’t designed to catch a man or reawaken her youth. It had nothing to do with a paparazzi-lined red carpet or the glories of shopping, “It” bags, “It” designers, or must-haves. The dress – and the lady’s use for it – was something else.

This is the opening from the novel My Mrs. Brown (Simon & Schuster).

Come back to ODFL tomorrow and read my review of this charming book by fashion insider William Norwich.

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Dressed up in white flannels I went over to his lawn a little after seven, and wandered around rather ill at ease among swirls and eddies of people I didn’t know.

Nick Carraway, fictional character in The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

It’s that time of year again, time for Gatsby Summer Afternoon! Presented by the Art Deco Society of California, Gatsby Summer Afternoon is coming up on Sunday, September 12, 2021 and once again in person at Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate in Oakland, after going virtual last year due to the pandemic.

Come back to ODFL tomorrow and get the latest scoop with this year’s event chair, Diana Brito.

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Sylvia Plath

Her college was so fashion conscious, she said, that all the girls had pocketbook covers made out of the same material as their dresses, so each time they changed their clothes they had a matching pocketbook. This kind of detail impressed me. It suggested a whole life of marvelous, elaborate decadence that attracted me like a magnet.

Esther Greenwood – fictional character from The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963).

I imagine many of ODFL readers are familiar with this book. Published in 1963 under a pseudonym, The Bell Jar is the fictionalized story of Ms. Plath’s time in early 1950s New York City where she worked as one of the guest editors of Mademoiselle magazine, although, in the book the magazine name was changed along with the names of central characters. Known for her poetry, this was Ms. Plath’s only novel. She died in 1963 of suicide.

Check back tomorrow for more on matching accessories.

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The bodice was from a red satin gown I found at the thrift store where I work – halter neck, structured, water-stained in a couple of spots. I hacked the top part off the dress, altered it, and water-stained it all over so it looked like a pattern. The skirt was one of the first things I made out of completely new material … At first I made it in a pretty basic shape – fitted at the waist and flaring outward to glorious fullness. A good twirling skirt. But it wasn’t quite speaking to my soul. So, I started adding on to it. I sewed on some ribbons, flowing along the hemline. I added sequins to match. And then I saved up and got myself some fancy fabric paints and painted this wild, multicolored … things all over it. The whole thing came together when I found that red satin gown and realized it was the last piece I needed to turn this initially simple skirt into the beautiful dress it was meant to be.

Kimi Nakamura – protagonist in I Love You So Mochi, by Sarah Kuhn (Scholastic Press).

I can’t resist a novel whose protagonist has a thing for fashion. I Love You So Mochi is a charming young adult novel that tells the story of high school senior Kimi Nakamura and her struggle to figure out what she really wants to do with her life. Her mother wants Kimi to become an artist (what? not a doctor?) but Kimi isn’t feeling it, and is drawn more toward fashion.

Kimi is Japanese American and when her grandparents, whom she has never met, invite her to visit them in Japan, she goes and makes discoveries about her family, herself, and falling in love.

I really enjoyed Kimi’s journey, which speaks to everyone – those of us who already went through this stage and those young ones who are facing their wide open futures right now. The Kyoto travel guide is fun as are the Japanese food references, particularly the mochi. And of course, Kimi’s inspired fashion designs are the most fun.

I Love You So Mochi is an excellent holiday gift choice for any young fashionista.

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She spent most of her time outside and had no care for fashion, always dressing in precisely the same way: dark leather button-up boots and a green walking suit, the long skirt of which was always caked with mud about the hem. She had a large woven basket … and she carried it wherever she went … used for carrying sticks and stones and birdseggs and feathers and all manner of other natural objects that had piqued her interest.

This quote from the novel The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (Atria Books).

There isn’t a lot of fashion in this book but there is mystery, intrigue, history, art, and a ghost! Just my cup of tea.

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No one can face a crisis unless they are suitably clad.

Louise Cray, fictional character from the mystery novel Madam, Will You Talk? By Mary Stewart.

I enjoy a good mystery and I recently discovered a new-to-me mystery author, Mary Stewart (1916-2014). Apparently her books were categorized Mystery/Romance back in the day, but don’t let the romance part put you off. There is just a touch of romance; the focus is the independent female protagonist and the mystery she is there to solve, not to mention all the adventures she has along the way.

Madam, Will You Talk? was published in 1955 and I recently happened upon a BBC radio dramatized version. Click here to listen.

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9781524740955Dear Miss Sweetie, 

I do not possess the plump curves so in fashion. My arms are like sticks, and I have a barrel for a chest, but wearing a corset makes me red in the face. How shall I ever look beautiful? 

Miss Broad in the Middle

Dear Miss Broad in the Middle, 

Puffed sleeves deemphasize a stocky middle, and adornment on the bib adds “treasure” to the chest. Leave the whalebone to the whales; it is healthier for both man and fish. The best way to boost your attractiveness is to accept yourself the way you are, which will free your mind to pursue creativity and joy. 

Yours truly,

Miss Sweetie

This exchange is from The Downstairs Girl (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) the story of a seventeen-year-old Chinese girl in 1890 Atlanta, GA working as a lady’s maid by day and moonlighting anonymously as the Agony Aunt columnist in the local newspaper. Written by award winning author Stacey Lee, there’s a lot of action and fashion in this well- crafted novel.

The Downstairs Girl is a Young Adult novel (written for ages 12 to 18). ODFL readers may not know that I have an MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in children’s literature from Mills College. I came away from the graduate program with a completed  middle grade novel and several picture books stories as well as a few short ghost stories. I have a fondness for children’s literature and every so often I peruse the children’s section of my local library.

Reading is a wonderful escape while we shelter-in-place and although public libraries are closed around the country, many have e-books and audio-books available to check out online. Take a look on your county library’s webpage.

Remember, Keep Calm and Keep Your Distance.

 

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It’s not cool to look fashionable in my gang. I think it’s important not to be ‘fashiony.’ We try to send the message that we’re against consumerism, and that’s our kind of revolution. We don’t throw bricks; we stop buying. We don’t look at magazines, they make you feel insecure and they’re too authoritarian … Instead, in my group, we create our own thing. Someone will pick up a mood from an old record cover or an old film and we will play with it and interpret it … fashion just isn’t important anymore in the conflicted times that we live in. 

Othilia – French teenager and fictional character in Widlchilds by Eugenia Melian.

Book review coming soon.

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Dorothy Parker in 1935.

They looked alike, though the resemblance did not lie in their features. It was in the shape of their bodies, their movements, their style, and their adornments. Annabel and Midge did, and completely, all that young office workers are besought not to do. They painted their lips and their nails, they darkened their lashes and lightened their hair, and scent seemed to shimmer from them. They wore thin, bright dresses, tight over their breasts and high on their legs, and tilted slippers, fancifully strapped. They looked conspicuous and cheap and charming. 

Dorthy Parker (1893-1967), American author.

Quote from The Standard of Living, 1941.

Favorite words in this quote: adornments, besought, fancifully, conspicuous, charming. Stylish words that are not used much anymore.

As for the idea of not painting our lips and darkening our lashes? Perish the thought!

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