Thursday, 26 September 2013

Elnora's dress and other stories

Three scenes involving clothes from (old) favourite books.

1) Elnora finds herself without the requisite white dress for graduation so a friend, known as the Bird Woman, helps her out:

She snatched up a creamy lace yoke with long sleeves … Elnora slipped into it, and the Bird Woman began smoothing out wrinkles and sewing in pins. Next … she caught up a white silk waist with low neck and elbow sleeves, and Elnora put it on … the Bird Woman loosened the sleeves and pushed them to a puff on the shoulders … Next came a soft white silk dress skirt of her own. By pinning the waist-band quite four inches above Elnora’s, the Bird Woman could secure a perfect Empire sweep …

This all sounds lovely, but completely baffling. I know what an Empire line dress looks like but there seem to be several dresses and at least two sets of sleeves here; how does it all fit together?
The words are so evocative though that it doesn’t matter. I get the picture.
From A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter

2) Seventeen-year-old Olivia is given a bolt of glorious flame-coloured silk to be made into her first evening dress, for her first dance. The local dressmaker, genteel spinster Miss Robinson, suggests:

‘Have the draiping on one side only and caught here’ – she prodded Olivia’s left hip – ‘in a graiceful bow. That ’ud take off from your hips.’
‘And a flower. A big silver rose – or something.’ Olivia woke up, clearly seeing a silver spray on flame-colour silk.’

Sadly, the dress fails to live up Olivia’s hopes and dreams:

Uneven hem; armholes too tight; and the draping – when Olivia looked at the clumsy lumpish pointless draping a terrible boiling-up, a painful constriction from chest to forehead started to scorch and suffocate her.
‘It simply doesn’t fit anywhere … ’

What woman could read that and not feel Olivia’s pain?
From Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann

3) The Provincial Lady is on holiday in France with her husband and two children.

Discover that Robin is wearing last available pair of shorts and that these are badly torn, which necessitates visit to Dinard to take white shorts to cleaners and buy material with which to patch grey ones.

Spare a thought for her as you fill the washing-machine with your children’s brightly coloured disposable clothing.
From The Provincial Lady Goes Further by E M Delafield

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