Dress Down Sunday: My Friend Madame Zora by Jane Duncan

Published 1963  set in 1951


[Janet has gone to a dress design showroom with her friend]

Monica said: ‘Go in there Janet, and take your suit off’ and a slinky woman led me away into a fitting-room… [She] measured various bits of me and went away, leaving me standing in my underwear. I lit a cigarette, sat down on another little sofa and waited. I finished the cigarette, put it out and waited. When I was half way through a second cigarette, I decided that Monica had… forgotten me.

[But Monica is looking at a dress:] .. a brilliant scarlet dress made of folds and folds of chiffon, but which was mostly ankle-length skirt, the top part consisting of only a minimum in the front…

A minute or two later, feeling a fool, I walked out of the fitting-room in the scarlet dress, with nothing on under it but my shoes.

‘I feel like the woman in Gone with the Wind,’ I said, ‘only I feel really gone with it.’

observations: In fact the scarlet dress isn’t the perfect-makeover-Cinderella dress, unexpectedly: it’s the dress that’s so wrong it shows the fancy designer what Janet should be wearing – dull, deep blue silk and some taffeta.

Read earlier entry to get a line on the series of books and an earlier appearance by My Friend Monica.

Noticeable that everyone smokes and drinks all the time – boy do they drink, the whisky flows like water – friend Monica, above, is pregnant and has ‘only three’ glasses in the pub at one point, and lights up without a moment’s qualm. And why would she have a qualm in 1951, when the book is set...

Following on from this scene, Janet’s solid engineer husband, the annoyingly-named Twice, says something surprising and perceptive about clothes, when Janet is worried about the new-dress-project.
We all admire elegance in car body design, for instance, or in domestic architecture or table-ware. All these crafts can be raised to border on the arts and we all accept that admire the master craftsmen who make the things. Why should we feel differently about clothes – especially women’s clothes?
The book is very down on Madame Zora for her fortune-telling, but has it both ways by giving hints of Highland second sight, psychic feelings and timeslip thoughts. But then endearingly – late on at the dramatic climax of the plot on a stormy night – Twice says "This place is like a scene from Wuthering Heights tonight." 

This climax has no surprises exactly, but the exact form the resolution of the various plot strands take would have been quite hard to predict.

For more Dress Down Sunday, click on the label below.

The top picture comes from the Clover Vintage Tumblr.

Strapless dress is a sketch for a Balmain model.


  1. Moira - I always think it's so interesting the way novels reflect the eras in which they're written. People really did drink a lot (and smoke) at that time - and not just wine and beer either. In fact, you're making me think of several films and books in which that happens. That was the culture of the times. Now of course we would shudder to think of what would happen to an unborn child under those circumstances but as you point out, not then. And I have to say that scarlet dress is something!

    1. Yes, isn't it interesting? When a modern programme like Mad Men shows a pregnant woman smoking in the past they are very much making a point, but a contemporary version is quite different. You hear stories of women being told to smoke to help them relax...

  2. Sorry - I'll pass on this one.

    1. Even though it's full of smoking and whisky, very hard-boiled? Nah, you're probably right to stay away...


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