Monday, July 11, 2011

Unplugged & Vintage

This weekend I unplugged from the virtual world. When I logged on tonight, I was so overwhelmed, I wanted to turn off my computer and huddle in a corner. It's easy to get left behind online.

Quickly, I buzzed through the Facebook postings but some felt so old, the world must have circled the sun in a weekend. Twitter had a few surprises for me but mostly, a small mountain of information that was truly outdated by the time I read it all. Even though the weight of the blog posts I need to read is crushing me, at least those don't feel obsolete.

Despite having a full-on Monday-at-the-office feeling when I plugged back in, I enjoyed my mini-vacation. I swam in a beautiful pool while the temperatures soared to over a 100 degrees. I plotted a couple of blog posts very loosely in my mind as I floated in the sun, my toes trailing in the cool water. And I read a wonderful, wonderful book: The Secret Live of Dresses by Erin McKean.

I loved it from the very first page (and finished the last half in a single afternoon.) It's light and lovely, like a beautiful house dress - the airy fabric of the story breathes effortlessly.

On the other hand, the characters are as much fun as a 30's checkerboard dress in kelly green!

One particular aspect I enjoyed, aside from the great use of vintage clothing, were the numerous and varied friendships and relationships between women. The MC Dora was situated among wonderful women: Mimi, her grandmother (Designer 50's Tweed Suit); Gabby, grandmother's housemate and dear friend (a 50's bombshell ala Sofia Loren); Maux, family friend (Betty Gable pin-up meets Rosie the Riveter). Through these women, Dora ceased to feel lost and patternless, rediscovering a world of beauty. (Never fear, a loathsome aunt and cousin appear in Liberace tanks and flip-flops adding a similar texture to the interaction.) Each woman's personality had a style, but Erin McKean managed to make their fashion alter-egos an accessory. The style never wore the character.

Nestled subtly into the fashion lesson was a dainty nod toward a woman running a business (Mimi) without a college education and raising a grand-daughter, Dora, with all the advantages of opportunity. Mimi fought for and earned her direction in life while Dora was handed so many choices, she slipped into an indifference like cargo pants and t-shirts. Obviously, Dora transformed from slob to chic, but happily, there's also a deeper change. Often when we 'see' a modern female character don a dress and immerse herself in soft femininity, it is in the search for meaning through motherhood over career. These four main women exist in various stages of femininity, and their motherly natures play second (sometimes last) to their existence as people. It's a tender look at strong women who love being women, as well as a subtle examination of enjoying options our mothers and grandmothers marched to give us against tradition.

Another seam giving the story shape is the role of romance. It is not front and center and in fact, the sexual exploits are as heated as an episode of Donna Reed (so more like a well-placed dart giving shape to silhouette). However, as a supportive plot, the romantic adventure of The Secret Live of Dresses reproduces the charm of an Audrey Hepburn dress (Ginvenchy). It's an elegant romance. Sometimes, when romance is subdued, it is merely a flat prop held by a male mannequin, but Erin McKean fashioned a marvelous hero minus the stereotype. Con is a good guy whose slow pace feels appropriate and not at all like an abstinence only belt with an "aw shucks, little lady," buckle.

It's too sweet a read to waste on lay-away. Slip it home and try it on. Personally, I'm keeping this one to read and re-read, like a beautiful dress.