The Secret Lives of Dresses, by Erin McKean

>> Monday, May 27, 2013

TITLE: The Secret Lives of Dresses
AUTHOR: Erin McKean

PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Women's fiction / Romance

Dora has always taken the path of least resistance. She went to the college that offered her a scholarship, is majoring in "vagueness studies," and wears whatever shows the least dirt. She falls into a job at the college coffee shop, and a crush on her flirty boss, Gary.

Just when she's about to test Gary's feelings, Mimi, the grandmother who raised her, suffers a stroke. Dora rushes back home to Forsyth, NC, and finds herself running her grandmother's vintage clothing store. The store has always been a fixture in Dora's life; though she grew up more of a jeans-and-sweatshirt kind of girl, before she even knew how to write, Mimi taught her that a vintage 1920s dress could lift a woman's spirit.

While working there, Dora befriends Mimi's adorable contractor, Conrad. Is he after Dora, or is working from a different blueprint? And why did Mimi start writing down--and giving away--stories of the dresses in her shop?

When Mimi dies, Dora can't get out of town fast enough and cedes control of the store to her money-hungry aunt who wants to turn it into a t-shirt shop for tourists. But ultimately, she returns to Forsyth, willing to battle whatever may stand in the way of her staying there. Dora can trade her boring clothes for vintage glamour, but can she trade her boring life for one she actually wants?
Dora Winston has no idea what to do with her life. She never really has. She's in university mainly because there was nothing she particularly wanted to do, and so basically thought 'might as well'. She's studying liberal arts and thinking of moving on to do a postgraduate degree, all for the same reasons.

And then her grandmother, Mimi, has a stroke. Mimi brought up Dora after the latter's parents died, and when she hears the news, Dora just gets into the car and drives back home. Mimi really isn't doing well and is in a coma, and, wanting to do something for her grandmother, Dora decides to keep Mimi's beloved vintage clothes store open and running. And as she surrounds herself with what she always thought of as her grandmother's dreams and nothing to do with her, she starts to understand what she herself might want.

This is one of those books that just aren’t very exciting, but which are, at the same time, very readable. I didn't love it, but I did enjoy it. I wasn’t tempted to put it down, and when I had to, I then was happy to pick it back up again.

The story and the characters are... well... inoffensive. Dora is pleasant, and the romance that develops with the extremely nice young contractor who was working with Mimi is cute, if a bit to easy, even with the bit of conflict at the end. What brought it all to life (and I feel very girly for saying it!) were the vintage dresses.

On a superficial level, they sounded gorgeous. I read this just after The Next Always, first in Nora Roberts’ Inn Boonsboro series, and the level of loving detail in the dress descriptions was as high as in Nora's refurbishment descriptions. I cared more about the dresses, though!

There's the stock in the shop, but also there's what could be described as Dora's dowry. Throughout Dora's life, Mimi has been collecting dresses for her. Whenever a particular garment came into the shop that looked like it would suit Dora, Mimi would put it away for her in a separate room. Dora doesn't ever wear them, mainly because she doesn't feel the dresses are her, but when she arrives to Mimi's with just the clothes she's wearing, she has to resort to them. And as she starts to discover the secret lives of all those all dresses, she starts to feel like there's more to her as well.

Dora does come to realise what she wants, and I liked the way that her decision between running her grandmother’s vintage clothes shop and going to university is presented. I liked that I never got the feeling that McKean was trying to convey a message about one option being more virtuous than the other, that it was a matter of education vs. tradition, or anything like that. It was very clear that it was all about what was the best decision for this particular person, and for what it's worth, I agreed it was the right one.

The only bit of the book I didn't much like was the characterisation of the horrible relatives who come in to provide a bit of conflict and threaten Dora's 'relationship' with Mimi's store. The women, her cousin and her uncle's wife, were a bit too over-the-top awful. I didn’t really buy them as characters, and most especially, I couldn't believe that someone like her uncle is described to be would be married to this awful woman.

Still, these were a minor part of the book. On the whole, it was a nice, enjoyable read.



lakaribane 27 May 2013 at 13:02  

If my online sewing forum had a book club, you could say this book was on the list. I'm sad it was a bit bland but the topic is so close to my heart that I will add it to the wishlist anyway.

I love dresses, in fact most of what I sew is dresses so this book is like the ultimate fantasy. I love the idea of writing the stories to go with the dresses, really cool!

Rosario 1 June 2013 at 09:53  

Oh, I wouldn't necessarily say bland, just not exciting. I enjoyed reading it, it's definitely a worthy add to the wish list. And the dresses are so amazing that you'll be drooling :)

Post a Comment

Blog template by

Back to TOP