Secret Lives of Dresses #14

by Erin on March 27, 2008

Secret Lives of Dresses #13

She was sitting on a gunmetal-gray velvet pouffe, feeling uncomfortable. It wasn't my fault; I'm very comfortable. I know every dress says she's comfortable, but I really am.

The waiter had already come by twice, but she hadn't touched her champagne. I think she only took it to keep them from asking her if she wanted any.

I knew something had happened when I felt myself tighten; she'd taken a deep breath. She didn't let it out for a long time. She stared into the bottom of the glass.

A shadow loomed over us, and a light voice said "Kathy! You, here?"

He wasn't very tall, and he wasn't very young, but he wasn't old, either. In brighter light I bet you'd see gray in his hair. His evening dress was immaculate, but it looked as if he wore it every day, like he put it on right after breakfast. It was tailored to hide a little bit of a belly, I thought.

He sank down beside her. A waiter immediately appeared, and he took a glass. I could feel him staring; it felt like being next to a hot radiator.

"You look perfectly elegant," he said.

"It'd be a nicer compliment if you didn't sound so surprised," she answered. She took her first sip from the glass.

"Well, I usually see you in dungarees and an old shirt. Or a boiler suit. Although I must admit the boiler suit can be pretty cute."

"That's what I paint in. This is what I — " she waved the glass around " — whatever this is — in."

"This is Elena's showoff party. Are you showing off?"

"I think I'm being shown off. Or I'm going to be. She bought something last month. The big canvas — you remember? And with a big canvas you get a personal appearance by the artist. Plus Green Stamps."

"Ah." He smiled. "That explains all. Even the dress. Did she send it?"

"Her secretary did. I even get to keep it."

"Elena likes to make sure of all the details, she does. It's endearing in her … and lovely on you."

She looked into her glass again. "Where's the Countess? I didn't see her."

"She's with the Count. Wherever he is."

I could feel her turn towards him, slightly. "Should I feel sorry for you? Or for her?"

"Do you feel sorry for the library book when it has to go back to the library?"

"Sometimes, sometimes I do. If I didn't get a chance to read it before it was due."

"Well, then, you shouldn't feel sorry for either of us on that account. We figured out how the story ended."

"And it's really ended? This time?"

"Big letters, saying "THE END" appeared on the screen. I believe there was a sunset involved. Probably a horse, too."

"You're mixing things up. We were talking about books, not movies."

"We were?"

Music started in the other room.

"C'mon," he said. A waiter was right there, again. He was the kind of man waiters liked. He took her glass away and put it on the waiting tray, next to his. "Let's dance."

When he put his hand on her waist I felt her gut clench, but I don't think he felt it.

"You dance like you paint," he said.

"Lots of blue?"

"Lots of air." He smiled down at her. Not very far down; their faces were close together. "Lightness. Lots of little surprises, surprises you only find after a very long time looking."

She didn't say anything, but I felt her relax, just a bit.

"The funny thing about you, Kathy, is that as a woman, you're very direct. More direct than most women. As an artist, though … you're oblique."

"That's an interesting interpretation," she said. "I have told you how much I hate being compared to 'most women', though, haven't I?"

"You see? Direct. Of course, most women want to think they're unique. The difference is, you actually are."

He sounded so dispassionate, as if he were talking about auto insurance or Korea; that alone should have tipped me off that he wasn't.

"And what about you? Are you unique?"

"Me, I'm right off the assembly line. They make ten thousand of me a year, and you can get me in any color you like, with an optional radio."

"I could give you a custom paint job." She grinned at him. It was the first time she'd smiled since she put me on.

"I bet you could. Good thing I like blue."

They had drifted to the edge of the dance floor as the music stopped. A large woman in an electric-green dress swooped down on them. There was a jeweled clip in the shape of a peacock feather in her hair, and her eyes were lined in the same peacock color. She spoke in a low voice but it carried like a shout.

"My two geniuses! Of course you know each other! How perfect! Clancy, doesn't she look deee-vine?"

"Absolutely," he said. "I was just telling her so."

"Liar," she said.

"I was getting around to it." He looked like a sulky boy, just for a moment.

Elena wasn't paying attention; she had her head turned towards the band. "Clancy," she said. "I know I said I wasn't going to make you do this, but the drummer got a hernia or indigestion or malaria or something, and the replacement won't be here for twenty minutes — would you play something?"

He looked doubtful. Elena didn't notice.

"Please, Clancy — it would mean so much to me. And everyone here loves you, you know that. Play something for me?"

"For you, Elena, anything," he said. He shrugged. "Although you're making me stand Kathy up for the next dance. I can't dance and play at the same time."

Elena laughed. "If anyone could, you could, Clancy." She was still looking towards the band. "Oh, and play something new, will you? Thanks, darling!" She hurried off.

"Play something new, will you, darling?" she said, imitating Elena.

He looked away, absent for a moment. He took a deep breath. "I think I will play something new," he said. "Be careful what you ask for." He headed up towards the piano.

Elena was already up there. I thought she would make an announcement, but she just said, "Everybody, Clancy!" There was a lot of applause.

She didn't clap. She just looked at him.

He sat down and did an elaborate jokey hand stretch. He dropped his hands on the keyboard in a dramatic chord. The room went quiet.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said. "This is a new piece. It's called "Kathy"."

I can't really tell you what it sounded like; I can only tell you that she shivered and got goosebumps. And that I got really mussed during the cab ride home, but I didn't care.

[NB: this is a first draft … wrote it all this morning very quickly! so it might change.]

[Note: Sarah pointed out that this is really #14, because #13 was the fundraising post back in December. I've updated the list on the sidebar, so everything should be properly numbered and ordered now …]

{ 80 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 9:37 am

I love it !! You’re such a good writer !!Donna


angldst March 27, 2008 at 9:43 am

Hurray! That was marvelous, Erin!Thanks for writing these, I (and others) love reading them. :)-d


Julia March 27, 2008 at 9:44 am

This one is fabulous!


Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 9:45 am

Thank you thank you! I’ve missed the secret lives. This one is wonderful – but then they all are.


Nora March 27, 2008 at 9:47 am

Oooh, I was so excited to see a new SL – and it did not disappoint. And that DRESS – it DOES look comfortable and elegant! I love the color blocking.Thanks Erin for the storytime treat!


Becky March 27, 2008 at 10:00 am

Now I have goosebumps.Becky


Brenda March 27, 2008 at 10:03 am

Count me as another who loves it. No need for editing. It’s lovely. And I’m glad it had a happy ending.


Claire March 27, 2008 at 10:07 am

This is so wonderful! The dress, the story, everything is perfect.


Fiona March 27, 2008 at 10:08 am

Ooh, that gave me goosebumps! Very good!I was just watching an old black-and-white film; it must have put me in the right mood for that!


Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 10:10 am

Oh, hurray for a happy Secret Life!–Lydia


Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 10:13 am

I love it! It’s perfect! I can’t tell you how much I love the Secret Lives stories! Thanks for brightening up my day!


Leslie March 27, 2008 at 10:15 am

Wonderful! I think it’s your best yet!


karooble March 27, 2008 at 10:28 am

Hooray, a Secret Lives! 😀 And even better — it has a happy ending! 😀


Miss Kitty March 27, 2008 at 10:35 am

WOW! An awesome first draft, indeed! I love how you combine gorgeous dresses with stories that keep us on the edges of our seats.


Kristina March 27, 2008 at 10:37 am

Hmmm (happy sound). That’s my favorite one so far.


WhiteStone March 27, 2008 at 10:38 am

Thanks for another dress story! Love them! Your words cause me to “see” the setting, the individuals, almost like a movie! Wow!


Dottie March 27, 2008 at 10:48 am

What a great way to start the day by reading this after a tough day yesterday. I feel like today’s already going to be better.BTW, no I have to Google “boiler suit”


becky f. March 27, 2008 at 11:00 am

this is great. :-) I love the notion of feeling sorry for library books that don’t get read — something I’ve never been able to put into words for myself.silly question: is Elena also the Countess? (I can see how the dress wouldn’t know for sure, but when I came to the end I didn’t know for sure, either.)


Nina Parker March 27, 2008 at 11:23 am

Oooohh…….I “shivered and got goosebumps” right along with her at the end. Fabulous!


the_lazymilliner March 27, 2008 at 11:32 am

I love the shadow behind the dress in the picture. It gives the dress such a sense of mystery.


What-I-Found March 27, 2008 at 11:56 am

So there I am just bopping around online, checking Dress-A-Day like I do each morning…and suddenly I am transformed into the middle of a novel. What a lovely surprise. Thank you, Tina


Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 12:05 pm

You made my day! What a terrific break from the ho-hum stuff! THANK YOU!! Teresa


sixties sewer March 27, 2008 at 12:18 pm

This is like finding a big package on Christmas morning but even better because it was a surprise that it was even Christmas! I will be thinking about it all morning.


sdn March 27, 2008 at 12:19 pm

wonderful. more please!


Latter-Day Flapper March 27, 2008 at 12:21 pm

What a perfect dress–such a simple design, but distinctive.I should spend more time poking around the pictures on this blog. I’ve got a cousin’s wedding coming up in July and I always seem to get caught at the last minute, trying to find something comfortable yet appropriate to wear. My uncle–and I know he meant well, but still–just sent me an email reminding me that I’m the “last one standing”, so now I really want to find, or sew, something better than the usual off-the-rack compromise.Sigh.


nuranar March 27, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Oh, how lovely!And I do hope you didn’t choose the name “Kathy” at random. It IS a song, and it’s just lovely and sweet and romantic and… well, it’s the perfect song. And I’ve only heard it in one place, on an old radio show from about 1950.This has made me SO happy.


Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 12:27 pm

wow!!!!!!! so much inspiration from one dress…….you amaze me


Theresa March 27, 2008 at 12:33 pm

YAY! My computer always lags behind and this morning I had yesterday’s psot …and then after lunch, I ws feelign like I think I’ll finish reading the comments on Dress a Day — and YAY happy surprise SL! It was fun to read one where the wearer was talking too.


Luck(x8) March 27, 2008 at 12:35 pm

What a lovely secret life.It’s definitely worth clicking the photo to see the back of the dress, too!


Sarah Derck March 27, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Erin, I continue to love Secret Lives. They are my favorite part of the blog. I’ve spent the last year reading the archives, ever since your blog turned up on one of my husband’s ‘StumbleUpon’ trips. You have done what my mother has failed to do in the last 30 years of my life: convinced me to learn to sew. But alas, it will have to wait until we return to the U.S. in 3 years. (By the way, I think your numbering of the Secret Lives is off by one. #12 was posted March 16, 2007, then #13 was posted, sans dress, December 17, making today’s #14. Just in case it matters. Please forgive any perceived nitpickiness–I am an editor.)Thanks again for your regular contributions of joy to my day!Grace and peace,Sarah


Julia March 27, 2008 at 12:43 pm

Oh, I just LOVE this one. At the risk of being trite, a happy-ending story just hits the spot today.


DivaJean March 27, 2008 at 1:08 pm

First draft?!? It’s perfecto!Thank you so much for bringing us a special surprise today!


Etiquettely Correct March 27, 2008 at 1:18 pm

finally!!!!! I love secret lives of dresses. These would make such good stories in a short story book. You are a wonderful writer.


kagitsune March 27, 2008 at 1:42 pm

I was getting a little confused in the middle, but the ending is just wonderful! I wish we could see more from the dress’s perspective, tho, like in some of your earlier “Secret Lives”. 😀


Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 2:02 pm

I thought this was extremely well written. -Negative Nancy


mamafrog March 27, 2008 at 2:07 pm

I really loved this one, too! Exciting and hintful without telling too much–but with a possibly happy ending! I like to hear about the people from the clothing’s angle, makes me worry about what mine would say about me.


Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 2:34 pm

Is there a Secret Lives of Dresses #12? I think I missed it. I love the Lives of Dresses. I sometimes wonder about the dresses I have seen in thrift stores or online and wonder who wore them and when they wore them. It is such fun to make up stories about them!Linda


Lisa Simeone March 27, 2008 at 3:15 pm



Amy B. March 27, 2008 at 3:16 pm

ah, the power of a good dress and honest flirting. I love this series. It’s so fun to see a new installment.


melinda March 27, 2008 at 3:50 pm

divine! thank you.


Eirlys March 27, 2008 at 6:00 pm

Wow! Very charming indeed. Fred and Ginger couldn’t be more charming, in fact (and I should know – just went to a screening of ‘Shall we Dance’ last night, with a live pianist tickling the ivories beforehand in expert Gershwin manner). That gave me goosebumps too. You’re very skilful to be able to write such a first draft.


mickey March 27, 2008 at 6:13 pm

Seriously. When are you going to put these together into a book?


Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 6:27 pm

yes, yes, a secret lives collection. we all live our little secrets, collectively. i haven’t read them all, but this one was a peach! tres sexy.


Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 6:29 pm

Another wonderful secret lives; I think it’s one of my favorites even though it featured the dress less than others. And I loved the line about the library books!


Laceflower March 27, 2008 at 7:31 pm

I guess you gave a lot of us goosebumps, me included. I was just sort of wishfully longing for a new secret lives this past week, thanks for coming through! I’m mostly lurking, but enjoy your blog daily; thank you for entertaining and connecting us all.


Robin March 27, 2008 at 8:09 pm

Oh, I was having such a bad day and when I saw the headline “Secret Lives…” in my rss feed it was just the little pick me up I needed. And as always it is fabulous and the dress is fabulous – love the color blocking. You have a good ear for dialogue.


Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 8:49 pm

Loved it! I look everyday and always hope for a new Secret Lives..did I miss 12 or is posted differently? Thank you for sharing.


lorrwill March 27, 2008 at 9:53 pm

I love it. It is so descriptive without being obvious and it sucks you right in. I love how you catch subtleties and ambiguities and illustrate them without actually spelling them straight out. And you keep such an engaging tension – just like a great piece of music your stories are.I lurve the secret lives of dresses…


Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 10:40 pm

You HAVE to write a sequel…with a wedding dress maybe???


Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 10:59 pm

Erin,Love your site and dress stories it really makes me happy. I thought about your website when I ran across this web vintage dresses on greeting cards!!! /


nandas March 27, 2008 at 11:14 pm

that was a fabulous first draft…. i wish my first drafts were this good… when you get it tightened up its going to be great! the dress is fab too…. i like the idea of an artist indulging her patron…


vntagegirl805 March 27, 2008 at 11:14 pm

love the story – you really are an excellent writer! here is a link that I think you will love it’s vintage dresses on greeting cards –


Anonymous March 28, 2008 at 12:03 am

i liked it….you should write more…..


bani March 28, 2008 at 3:30 am

I think it’s perfect as it is.


Anonymous March 28, 2008 at 4:25 am

??? I visit to see the dresses.


Lou March 28, 2008 at 8:39 am

Brilliant. Change nothing. It is perfect. I love these. I was feeling pretty down and this just perked me right up. It would fit right into an epic romance novel or a Chick Flick… *sigh*


Anonymous March 28, 2008 at 9:07 am

Great story, as usual. Where is the one about the MEAN dress? I liked that one-


Anonymous March 28, 2008 at 9:33 am

perfect as always well done Erin


Bridget B. March 28, 2008 at 10:51 am

Oh, how delicious!! It’s just like all my favorite movies – it makes me want to run out and watch anything with Katherine Hepburn in it!


goosefairy March 28, 2008 at 1:59 pm

dang woman. that’s a first draft? how do you do it? i love these. just love them.


Valerie March 28, 2008 at 3:00 pm

Okay that actually made me cry. I don’t know if that’s allowed. I suspect you’d be one of Elena’s “geniuses”…


Purl Buttons March 28, 2008 at 6:10 pm

Where can I get the rest of this book?


phoenix March 28, 2008 at 10:25 pm

Yup…it’s perfect as it is. I saw the dress first and thought, how perfect…and then noticed that it was the latest installment of the Secret Lives of Dresses. This one has got to be your best yet!


The solemn cat March 29, 2008 at 8:27 am

Aww, what a wonderful story. These Secret Lives would make a brilliant book.


lsaspacey March 30, 2008 at 4:58 pm

Love it, love it! I see Dana Andrews as Clancy and a Lauren Bacall or Lizbeth Scott-type as the female artist who’s usually grubby but cleans up well. I want to advance-order your book right now! When? When will you do it?


anthrokeight March 31, 2008 at 1:19 pm

I love the word “gunmetal.” It is, like the semicolon, a sadly underused thing.


Diana @ So Fash'on March 31, 2008 at 5:28 pm

this dress is soo cute!


Georgiana March 31, 2008 at 10:27 pm

This is the best Secret Lives ever! It’s a whole novel in a tiny vignette!Wonderful!


Jo April 1, 2008 at 1:25 am

Many years ago we were watching a black and white (charlie Chaplin type)home movie of my aunt’s wedding which was in the 1930s and commented (were astounded!)on her wearing a black wedding dress with a huge saucer shaped black hat to match. She always tried to be a “fashionista” and was most offended at the suggestion. It was “gun metal, my dear, not black”. As a young teenager, it was the first time I had ever heard of that colour!


Anonymous April 1, 2008 at 10:23 pm

That gave ME goosebumps…because I have been there ~ he came back 10 years ago. And I still love the dress. It was vintage black strapless silk with red poppies. Sometimes there is a happy ending. Thanks Erin.


Ellen April 3, 2008 at 1:02 pm

I love the dress, and I really love the name Clancy–so much that I named my son Clancy. It’s a treat to hear others using it too.


Anonymous April 3, 2008 at 8:19 pm

At first I thought oh, another woman being dumped, another sad story (don’t get me wrong, my favourite one ever is the one of the mother on the lonely ranch) but it’s so lovely that the story is about 2 free spirits that have to work for unimaginative and presumptuous people and who find each other despite their daily struggles. It’s so Breakfast at Tiffany’s but Kathy is so much more clued in than Holly. Thank you, Erin.Sue


soosie April 29, 2008 at 7:59 am

I have just discovered a dress a day and am transfixed!!! I am going to check out my wardrobe to see what my dresses have been up to! It is wonderful to imagine that all the dresses out there have tales to tell!!!


Anonymous May 23, 2008 at 7:32 am

These secret lives are wonderful. I’ve just read all of them (should have been working but well). I think I’m going to add your blog to favorites and get organised eough to start seeing again.


raq May 27, 2008 at 3:01 am

love the dress, love the story too! please keep it up (:


Lavon June 25, 2008 at 10:00 pm

When I started reading this it reminded me of the movie a new leaf. Elaine May and Walter Matthau.I love that movie.This is such a great story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us all.


Cyndie July 11, 2008 at 10:59 pm

This is definitely my favorite :)


Eva November 13, 2008 at 2:27 pm

I love this series of stories. I usually don’t like short stories, but, these I Love! I am hoping that you will expand your collection a bit, little girls have dresses, too! Just imagining the stories a little girl’s dress could tell, makes me bubble with wonder…I hope you


Anonymous May 3, 2009 at 1:29 am

Do you have the pattern number for this wonderful dress?


Anonymous May 3, 2009 at 1:29 am

Do you have the pattern number for this wonderful dress?


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