June 9, 2016

'Wearing the wrong thing...

 ... can afflict us all. Perhaps the most famous description of the Wrong Dress belongs to Virginia Woolf's short story 'The New Dress.' Poor Mabel does not even make it out of the cloakroom before having 'her first serious suspicion that something was wrong', a suspicion that grows as soon as she enters the party:  'for oh these men, oh these women, all were thinking -- 'What's Mabel wearing?' What a fright she looks1 What a hideous new dress!' ... She felt like a dressmaker's dummy standing there, for young people to stick pins into.' Virginia Woolf knew of what she wrote. She loved clothes but had a complicated relationship with them, feeling intimidated by shop assistants and cringing at taunts from Vita Sackville-West and Clive Bell. Woolf's diary describes her love of clothes '...only it is not love; & what it is I must discover'; also, her 'clothes complex' and her 'idiotic anguish .. that wave of agony; about 2 in the morning', over a dress for a dinner party. But the diary also conveys her great joy in having the money to 'give way to the temptation of 30/- dress'.  Woolf was thrilled when Madge Garland, then fashion editor of Vogue, commissioned a dress and jacket* for her, made by couturier Nicole Grouth, Paul Poiret's sister. With Madge Garland dressing her, Woolf said, she would have more time to write.
     As Virginia Woolf knew all too well, observations from friends can be among the most lethal, though they are not necessarily spoken out loud. ... Even Mildred in Barbara Pym's Excellent Women gives vent to her feelings while out shopping with a friend:
 I'm not sure that it's your color,' I said doubtfully...
      'Now you're talking like a fashion magazine,' said Dora, struggling with the zip-fastener. 'I've always had a brown wool dress for every day.'
      Yes, and look at you, I thought, with one of those sudden flashes of unkindness that attack us all sometimes.

from The Button Box:  lifting the lid on women's lives, by Lynn Knight

So happy now to have Mrs. Dalloway's Party and the audiobook of Excellent Women waiting for me. :)  {And even happier to have found more about Madge Garland and the dress here.}

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