LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
[Fabric designer Jane Farris has just taken delivery of a new outfit, and wants to try it on]
She had the lid off and the top garment unfolded and was holding it up for inspection. ‘Oh my God! … Hey what’s that? Oh – snip that thread, will you, Cora? Isn’t it pretty fine?’… She laughed. With the smock off and likewise the dress that had been under it, the pink silk hanging from the shoulder straps left almost as much bare skin displayed as if it had been a fashionable swimming-suit.
The skin was nicely tanned. She touched the pink silk. ‘Have you seen these, Eileen? Brettons are featuring them – they call them Shapesheers! Isn’t that terrible? Sheepshears, Shakespeares – it will haunt you. Cora, please dear, the brown pumps from that cupboard – no, over there – I’m glad it isn’t sweltering, because I do want to show this sort of casually – and oh, I forgot to phone Roberts & Creel to send samples of that two-sixteen mixture - ’
Miss Delaney was emptying a drawer, trying to find stockings to go with the brown pumps.
commentary: I first mentioned this book in one of our Tuesday Night Club entries on Rex Stout, but felt I hadn’t done it full justice. I loved the clothes content of the book – there’s a great description of a fashion show, plenty of detail of how the business works, and a lot about traditional weaving. We find out that eight or ten women in the New York fashion industry earn more than the US President. There is a discussion of whether an outfit should be priced at $200 or $300 – a lot of money in 1941 (still is).
Jane, above, is trying on a jacket and skirt – she has woven the fabric, to incorporate the very-important red threads, which have come from her boyfriend’s vintage (as we might now say) jacket. So it is a striped tweedy material, and that thin red line is going to be vital evidence in a murder investigation. As the proprietor of Clothes in Books, I don’t lightly say this, but it is actually quite difficult to visualize either the boyfriend’s jacket or the suit created by Jane. I wish I knew exactly what Stout had in mind.
Later on Jane wears a ‘straw falcon hat… at an angle that stopped before it touched the tilt of freakishness.’ I don’t know what a falcon hat is…
The designer setup resembles that lodestar of fashion/murder, Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham, over on this side of the Atlantic a year or two earlier – the plots are completely different.
Jane’s undergarment is going to be important again – because she is mugged for the vital clothes, and left to wander round a country estate in her slip.
I did enjoy this book, but feel it really suffered from the lack of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, who would have raised it to higher levels.
There’s more discussion of slips in this recent entry on the book that inspired the musical Pajama Game.