Dresses in Literature, Joan Didion edition

In this light all narrative was sentimental. In this light all connections were equally meaningful, and equally senseless. Try these: on the morning of John Kennedy's death in 1963 I was buying, at Ransohoff's in San Francisco, a short silk dress in which to be married. A few years later this dress of mine was ruined when, at a dinner party in Bel-Air, Roman Polanski accidentally spilled a glass of red wine on it. Sharon Tate was also a guest at this party, although she and Roman Polanski were not yet married. On July 27, 1970, I went to the Magnin-Hi Shop of I. Magnin in Beverly Hills and picked out, at Linda Kasabian's request, the dress in which she began her testimony about the murders at Sharon Tate Polanski's house on Cielo Drive. "Size 9 Petite," her instructions read. "Mini but not extremely mini. In velvet if possible. Emerald green or gold. Or: A Mexican peasant-style dress, smocked or embroidered." She needed a dress that morning because the district attorney, Vincent Bugliosi, had expressed doubts about the dress she had planned to wear, a long white homespun shift. "Long is for evening," he had advised Linda. Long was for evening and white was for brides. At her own wedding in 1965 Linda Kasabian had worn a white brocade suit. Time passed, times change. Everything was to teach us something. At 11:20 on that July morning in 1970 I delivered the dress in which she would testify to Gary Fleischman, who was waiting in front of his office on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. He was wearing his porkpie hat and he was standing with Linda's second husband, Bob Kasabian, and their friend Charlie Melton, both of whom were wearing long white robes. Long was for Bob and Charlie, the dress in the I. Magnin box was for Linda. The three of them took the I. Magnin box and got into Gary's Cadillac convertible with the top down and drove off in the sunlight toward the freeway downtown, waving back at me. I believe this to be an authentically senseless chain of correspondences, but in the jingle-jangle morning of that summer it made as much sense as anything.

From "The White Album," suggested by reader Sue O. (Thanks, Sue!)

Remember, submissions to "Dresses in Literature" are always gratefully accepted.

There she is, your ideal


ebay item 5402086980

I think it's a given that, if you ever considered going on the pageant circuit, you would naturally turn to Ebay for all your gently-worn pageant gown needs.

According to the listing (click on the image to visit the listing) "THIS GOWN HAS BEEN GENTLY WORN ON A LOCAL AND STATE LEVEL THREE TIMES. IT HAS WON TWICE." Also: "OVER $300.00 IN AB STONES HAVE BEEN ADDED TO THIS DRESS TO REALLY CATCH THE LIGHTS ON STAGE AND BELIEVE ME IT DOES." And: "IT IS LISTED BY THE COMPANY AS A SIZE 4, BUT PLEASE CHECK THE MEASUREMENTS TO BE SURE. THE DRESS CAN FIT UP TO A SIZE 8 IN THE TOP EASILY. IT IS ONE OF THE MOST SLENDERIZING DRESSES IN THE PAGEANT WORLD TODAY. IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A TO DIE FOR WAIST THEN THIS DRESS IS IT." (All shouting is original lister's.)

I think this is all you need to know, really. Now I might dust off my application to the Mrs. Illinois Pageant. I always thought I had a shot at that, really, if they didn't mind that my "talent" is jumping rope on roller skates.

Again with the collars


McCardell collar

It's a cowl and a collar! A cowllar! Click through to see pictures of the dress from all angles, and even perhaps to buy it for $425. I'm not wild about the color, but maybe you might be.

Oh, and it's Claire McCardell again, of course. Did you really have any doubts?

Charles James (in Phoenix!)


Charles James Petal Ballgown

The Phoenix Art Museum has a lovely Charles James, go figure! Click on the image to read more about this astounding dress (including its heavily-engineered underpinnings).

I had no plans to go to Phoenix, but I think now, if it ever comes up, the the Phoenix Art Museum is going to be the first stop … from their site: "The Collection emphasizes major American designers of the 20th century including Adrian, Norell, Galanos, and Claire McCardell; and European Designers such as Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior, and Yves Saint Laurent." Like, whoa. (Although, as a point of pure, unadulterated quibbling, I think I would have put a comma after 'century' and done something different with that semicolon.)

In the "I could read this stuff all day" department


Selling Style

"Advertisers operated in a similar gray area between old and new models of consumption. Diamond Dyes published an ad in 1895 with the text: "To dye or not to dye, that is the question: whether it is better to wear that faded, shabby dress and endure the scornful looks of all your well-dressed neighbors, or to purchase a package of Diamond Dyes and restore its freshness in another color — making a new dress for ten cents." Once again we see the early use of certain advertising tactics — the emphasis on a brand name and a sales pitch based upon sociopsychological appeals rather than utilitarian claims — that historians generally associate with later phases of mass merchandising. However, this ad does not attempt to challenge the prevailing values of thrift, reuse, personal handiwork, or custom clothing. Purveyors of female garments created ads attempting to promote standardized goods in a customized context, using headlines such as "Your dressmaker told us" or text such as "Fashionable modistes the country over are studying how to make the new Princess dress skirts hang properly. We have have solved the problem."
In short, the women's clothing industry was not immune to the onset of a culture of mass production. Yet it did not respond as the men's industry did with a shift to ready-made garments, but rather by incorporating productive and distributive advances into a context that continued to emphasize custom work. This happened because for women, custom clothing and fashionable attire embodied a set of cultural values singularly appropriate to the gender politics at the time."

Click on the book cover to go to the U.Penn press page for this book by Rob Schorman.

And now for something much more cheerful


beccaria dress

Well, more cheerful if you have $1500 to spend on a dress, which I do not (and probably could not even if I did). I do love this color, though, and it's got gorgeous lines. Click on the image to go to the Net-a-Porter catalog page and check out the back view, which is interesting, too. I'm not sure I agree with their thinking on the center-back zip, but I can agree to disagree, considering that I'll never be wearing it …

A good dress, spoiled

I ruined a dress yesterday.

The dress is (was) one of my favorites — a vintage pattern, made from a huge abstract print of blue and green, with x's and doughnuts (sorry about the poor description). I had just shortened the skirt to this summer's preferred length, and I had been looking forward to wearing it again.

I didn't spill ketchup down my front, or tear it climbing over a fence, or burn holes in it by running into someone holding a lit cigarette (which is actually a phobia of mine, come to think of it). No, I ruined the dress by wearing it on a day of such vast suckiticity that I think I won't be able to wear it again.

No, nobody died, and there was no blood and very little betrayal, but there was a lot of bleh concentrated into a small space.

I had another favorite dress that I ruined by wearing it on an unhappy birthday. I didn't realize that dress had been spoiled for a while — I would keep putting it on, and expecting to feel that favorite-dress happiness, and things would just sour, inexplicably. Until I realized what was going on, and gave the dress to Goodwill.

I should really give this dress to Goodwill right away, cut my losses, but I'll probably try to salvage it. Hope springs eternal. (I need to take in the bodice a bit, anyway, as I've lost a little weight since last summer. Maybe that will cure the bad dress karma.)

Today I am wearing an alphabet-print full skirt that is bad-day-proof. I hope. Wish me luck.

Buy This Book


ebay item 8305987417

This advice is right on target, so how good must the rest of the book be?

Here are a few things to do to a simple black frock to give it the spice of variety:

1) If it is a dress with a collar, have two or three collars in different colors and alternate them. Be sure at least one is white; for there is still nothing in the world more "appetizing" than a black dress with a fresh white collar.
2) If it is a collarless dress, vary it with colorful scarfs. This doesn't mean rushing to a shop and buying a handful. Be a critical collector of scarfs. When Aunt Mary asks you what you want for your birthday, ask for a scarf. If you see an extraordinary bargain, treat yourself to it. If you make your own clothes, or have them made, remember that the leftover fabric of that pretty sheer or that attractive print will make a good little triangle to knot softly at the neck of your black frock. And remember that many women who think they can't wear black would find it enormously becoming if they would just wear a dash of color with it.
3) If it is a frock with a very simple blouse, you can often wear a plastron or "topper" over it. These should be chosen with greatest care. If you are slender, white is always effective. But if you are inclined to be somewhat chesty, choose a soft, dull color. If you are really large around the bust, do not use this particular way to camouflage your black frock.
4) Jewelry is another means to variety. A necklace of several strands of pearls will make a black dress look more formal and dressy. A necklace of gold or silver (with or without colored stones) is less formal but equally attractive. Strings of colored beads (they can be very inexpensive; just be sure their color is becoming) will work wonders. Or use a pair of nice clips, instead of any of the necklaces.
5) One of the best tricks is to add a gay little jacket to a black frock. If your print ensemble has a black background with bright flowers or a colored background with plenty of black in the pattern, by all means try the jacket over your black dress. If you cannot decided whether you like it, try hanging them together on a coat hanger and placing them where you can step away and examine them. If you saw them together in a shop, would you buy them? If so, by all means wear them together. If not, scout around for another jacket. It may be the bolero of your evening frock, or an extra jacket which you can buy or make yourself.

OMG TEH CUTE !!11!!1!!


ebay item 8310212392

Cherries? Check.
Gingham? Check.
Bows? Check.
Buttons? Check.
Pockets? Check.
Inexplicable and incongruous "whah-huh?" picture of near-topless woman in Ebay listing? Check. Click on the image to check it out. It's a nice large size — the dress, that is — B44, W36.