Dress Down Sunday: London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins

published 1945


chapter 33 - Doreen appeared. She was smoking a cigarette and wearing an old, flowered dressing-gown. Her face glistened with cold-cream and her hair was gathered up in a red silk handkerchief. On each cheek a small disc of rouge that had not yet been rubbed in burned fiercely. Altogether she looked like something large and sticky from the back row of the ballet.

‘Listen, my pet,’ she said. ‘I don’t like little girls who go about stealing other girls’ friends.’

Chapter 82 – It was just 9.30 when Mrs Josser got there. And Cynthia wasn’t yet dressed properly. She came down to the door in a kind of kimono with her hair done up in a fish net. The sight offended Mrs Josser. In her house, particularly when the children had been little, she herself had always been clothed and presentable from 7 o’clock onwards. She didn’t approve of housewives who made a late start. Also, she wished that Cynthia could have looked a little more pleased to see her. Pleased. Not just surprised.

observations: This lovely book is undecided on its attitude to young women. Norman Collins has satirical intentions often, and the second extract definitely gives the views of Mrs Josser, the serious housewife and matriarch. But NC seems to be a bit innocent about the female sex, and to have some very traditional views. The book is liberal-minded and wide-ranging, with a generosity of spirit to all kinds of behaviours and minor sins – but there are some puritanical attitudes tucked away (the one woman who is wild ends very badly), and he doesn’t show women as having any great interest in sex.

Unwanted pregnancy is usually one of the staples of a big-city slice of life like this book, particularly given the working-class setting, but doesn't feature at all here.

If you thought ‘fishnet’ was a mistake for hairnet (as I did) – it’s a kind of crochet pattern, and can be made into a most attractive snood for holding up your hair when hanging around in your dressing-gown:

This picture came from the wonderful Vintage Knitting Pattern site. 

Links on the blog: There’ve been plenty of robes, kimonos, Chinese robes and dressing-gowns, but mostly without the judgemental air found here. The whole question of snoods gets a good going-over in this entry

The kimono picture is by Frederick C Frieseke, is in the Indianopolis Museum of Art, and can be found on Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Moira - Interesting observation you've made about that liberalism mixed with the more archaic views. In a way not surprising, given the way women had moved out of the house and into the workplace during the war years. 'food for thought,' for which I'm always grateful. Oh, and when I thought of 'fishnet' I thought of stockings. Just goes to show you how one word can evoke different mental images.

  2. Interesting observations, but I don't actually agree. After all, when Doreen gushes over Percy Boon being a garage mechanic, Mrs Josser, so "traditional", tells Doreen that the only reason she (Doreen) didn't know about it all was because it wasn't her job. When Doreen gushes on, saying that she thinks men are so much cleverer than women, Mrs Josser draws in her lips. It was quite clear, as Norman Collins states, that she didn't agree... she also feels that the entire male sex is superfluous at times of caring for the sick...

  3. Very interesting points!It's a good book, isn't it?


Post a Comment