The slender girls are sharing dresses

the book:

The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

published 1963   set in 1945    chapter 3


‘I can’t lend you any soap this month,’ Selina said…

 Anne said ‘I don’t want your bloody soap. Just don’t ask for the taffeta, that’s all.’

By this she meant a Schiaparelli taffeta evening dress which had been given to her by a fabulously rich aunt, after one wearing. This marvellous dress, which caused a stir wherever it went, was shared by all on the top floor on special occasions, excluding Jane whom it did not fit. For lending it out Anne got various returns, such as three clothing coupons for a half-used piece of soap…

Haggling bouts... took place with Anne when the taffeta dress was wanted to support the rising wave of long-dress parties.

‘You can’t wear it to the Milroy. It’s been twice to the Milroy… it’s been to Quaglino’s. Selina wore it to Quags, it’s getting known all over London.’

‘But it looks altogether different on me, Anne. You can have a whole sheet of sweet coupons.’

‘I don’t want your bloody sweet-coupons.’


observations: The girls (and they are undoubtedly ‘girls’ throughout the book) live in a very respectable hostel, the May of Teck Club in Kensington, in the months between VE day and Hiroshima. Long dresses have briefly come back into fashion, rationing will go on for years, and the girls obsess about being thin, and the number of calories in stewed cherries. But don’t be fooled by the clothes and the sharing and the attention to love lives: this is a serious novel, Muriel Spark at her best, and although she does these peripherals superbly, she has a tougher story going on underneath.

May of Teck – a fascinating person in her own right – was the grandmother of the current Queen of England.

For Willo, who is having her slender means years... and blogging about it.

Links up with: Princess Diana has her connection with
Kensington. We’ve looked at some excellent women-sharing-flats books in other entries, but the only one with comparable seriousness is Hilary Mantel’s Experiment in Love. Girls or women? They were all girls to Yeats, at least until they were old and grey and full of sleep.

The picture is a sketch by Schiaparelli - you can find a lot of images of her clothes on the web, and very beautiful they are too. The label is apparently about to be relaunched.



  1. This is a great excerpt, very "sisterly" with a pragmatic touch! I loved this book and many others by Muriel Spark, she was a great observer of human nature. I guess books like this, and/or set in Kensington, are somewhat out of fashion these days. Not quite Kensington, but in today's (31 Aug) print Times (part 2) there is a great feature by their fashion editor about spending a day helping at the Chelsea branch of Oxfam. You can only read the online version (or link to it) if you have a subscription, sadly.

  2. Yes, Spark is wonderful and there can't be enough books like this for me, even if, as you say, they are not in fashion.
    I miss the Times behind the paywall, but not enough to pay! I'm guessing the Chelsea Oxfam is full of designer castoffs?

  3. Wow. Connie Willis totally ripped this idea off in Blackout -- right down to the dialogue about places the dress had already visited.

  4. Well that is interesting indeed - well-spotted CompassRose...

  5. thanks for linking this in to Books You Loved. Cheers


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