Clothes in Books: Dress Down Sunday + Margery Allingham

The Clothes in Books blog is  featured in the Guardian books podcast this week, and is described by the books editor there as 'a delight'. The discussion covers fashion/lit issues, including Bret Easton Ellis, Waugh, Dickens and Mitford. 

The blog entries discussed in the podcast include those for Don’t Look Now, David Copperfield, Brideshead Revisited, Romance & Love in a Cold Climate, Cold Comfort Farm, and Rules of Civility.

The entry below is the 600th on the blog.



The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham

published 1938  chapter 8

[most of the book’s characters have assembled in a fashionable nightclub. Amanda is dancing]

[Tante Marthe]… sat up, her small shoulders compact and severe. ‘Tell me about your engagement. It is so entirely unexpected.’

‘It is, rather, isn’t it?’ he agreed. ‘Still, Amanda’s an unexpected young person.’

‘She’s sweet.’ Tante Marthe glanced across the tables to the dance-floor. ‘She looks so lovely. Her figure is completely natural. How does she keep her stockings up?’

Mr Campion gave the matter his serious consideration. ‘I tremble to think. Two magnets and a dry-battery, if I know her, or perhaps something complicated on the grid system.’

The old woman leant back in her chair.

‘Delightful,’ she murmured. ‘You love her so comfortably. There is no unhappy excitement. I am so glad, my dear boy.’

observations: Hold-up stockings – no garters or suspenders needed - were invented rather later than this: here’s an early example from 1957 – thanks as ever to Dovima is Devine.

The best Allingham is surely Tiger in the Smoke, a wonderful book, but a lot of Campion-lovers and clothes-lovers have a soft spot for this one, based in the world of fashion as it is. 

Albert Campion’s sister is revealed as a top designer, in business with Tante Marthe above, and the story is funny and tough, and very good on love and marriage and dresses. The plot concerns a larger-than-life actress and her exotic lovelife – are bad things happening to the men in her life? Amanda – an expert engineer, hence the magnets - and Campion are only pretending to be engaged (for now) for a rather unconvincing reason.

The clothes are wonderful and memorable: over many years I’ve wondered about the Lincoln-green face-cloth cape (first page) - does it just mean towelling?

****ADDED LATER: check out the comments below for updates on this****

The fashion house is casually revealed to have had some drug smuggling going on at one point, but they just flung the morphine in a drawer and carried on. It is much more serious when designs are stolen – two women turning up in the same dress is a major catastrophe. Such melodramatic adventures in fashion are an occupational hazard – as explained in this entry

Georgia, the actress, is a splendid character – horrible in many ways, but you can’t hate her as you should. When a dead body is discovered, her husband bracingly points out ‘a lovely girl looks very touching grizzling over a corpse, but she looks damned silly doing it over a skeleton’ and you can see she won’t make that mistake.

Altogether a wonderful read, enveloping you in the atmosphere of raffish 1938 London and one of those luxury country hotels just outside London, as well as the fashion studio. 

Links on the blog: For more Dress Down Sunday click on the label below. The extract above is a flight of fantasy on stockings, but at least Allingham knows her stuff, unlike this modern author writing about the same period, while a 1950s crime story has an intriguing detail about saving your stockings.

The top picture is from a lingerie advert – the smaller one is what she is allegedly wearing under the dress, with ‘an extremely practical concealed girdle with garters’. It is ‘the only foundation one wears beneath dancing dresses


  1. Moira - I've always liked Amanda as a character so I'm very pleased that you highlighted a book in which she figures. And even given her profession, I find Camprion's remark about the batteries funny. Allingham did do some fine novels with those characters and this is one of them. And agree, the clothes in this novel are beautifully written. Thanks for the reminder of it.

    1. Yes - I wish there was more of Amanda in the Campion books, she's a delight. I'm just reading a biog of Allingham, which is very interesting, and I'm sure will send me back to the books, so watch for more entries!

  2. Congratulations. I enjoyed listening to the podcast this morning. The reference to "face-cloth" as a cloak would mean a firm, finely milled woolen cloth with a smooth, velvety surface. I'm not sure what the precise differences are, but it falls into the same family as broad-cloth, ladies'-cloth, habit-cloth, and things like limousine-cloth and baize which were used for upholstery. Just imagine the surface of an expensive billiards table. Usually, the name seems to come up as a furnishing fabric such as a background for embroidered church hangings or lining the interior of a carriage. Perhaps the "lincoln green face-cloth" was meant to point out the good-quality but stout and durable characteristics of the outfit.

    1. Thanks Ken - I hope you noticed when you were mentioned as an expert reader! That's very interesting and helpful about face-cloth - as I said, I really have been wondering about it for years.

  3. It has to be the early version of the book, before she cut 25,000 words.

    1. I *JUST* found out about that, I'm reading her biog. What did she cut out? And why? My version says nothing on the copyright page about being abridged, but is a 1973 I don't know for sure.

    2. If I remember correctly, the abridge version was for the Mr. Campion's Lady omnibus and all the reprints as a standalone novel are complete. I don't know if anyone has done a comparison -- there doesn't seem to be one in the contents list for the Bottle Street Gazettes.

    3. Thanks Lesley, that's helpful and reassuring! I first read it in the omnibus book many many years ago - I kept borrowing it from my local library, and always wished I could own my own copy. There was a weird extra story in there too, wasn't there?

  4. Moira, how exciting to be picked up by the Guardian! Congratulations. Enjoy your success. Cheers

    1. Thanks so much Carole! It was great fun to do, I enjoyed it.

  5. It was fun to read about this book again. It is one I have been planning to read for a while, after reading Sweet Danger (the first Amanda?).

    Congratulations on the 600th entry. That is a lot of posts for the amount of time you have been blogging. And each entry requires research. How do you do it?

    1. Tracy thanks for the kind words: I have really enjoyed blogging and getting to meet people like yourself. I read very fast, which is a huge help, and I worked as a journalist for years, which encourages fast writing... and yes, what a good book this one is.

  6. Veronica Horwell also commented on 'facecloth' - she said:
    before the term came to mean what those of us brought up with them called ''flannels" -- ie the US washcloth -- it defined a fairly light, British-woven, woollen cloth with a bit of a nap on it -- softer suits, light coats. You can always trust Allingham on fabric.


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