300th entry: Beautiful Dresses and Economic Independence

the book:

Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers

published 1932  chapter 3

[Harriet] looked about the room. Long skirts and costumes of the [1870s] were in evidence – and even ostrich feathers and fans. Even the coyness had its imitators. But it was so obviously an imitation. The slender-seeming waists were made so, not by savage tight-lacing, but by sheer expensive dressmaking. Tomorrow, on the tennis-court the short, loose tunic-frock would reveal them as the waists of muscular young women of the day, despising all the bonds. And the sidelong glances, the down-cast eyes, the mock-modesty – masks, only. If this was the ‘return to womanliness’ hailed by the fashion-correspondents, it was to a quite different kind of womanliness – set on a basis of economic independence. Were men really stupid enough to believe that the good old days of submissive womanhood could be brought back by milliners’ fashions? ‘Hardly’ thought Harriet ‘when they know perfectly well that one has only to remove the train and the bustle, get into a short skirt and walk off, with a job to do and money in one’s pockets. Oh well, it’s a game, and presumably they all know the rules.’

observations: Nobody's favourite Sayers book, but  the seaside resort is done very nicely, and Harriet, who is always a bracing if sometimes annoying treat, features a lot. (Yes of course a treat can be annoying, before you ask.)

This particular passage was brought to mind by a recent  entry from Miss Pettigrew – Harriet’s firm beliefs about women’s shapes would be contradicted by Joe. But her thoughts about feminism and women’s independence are very interesting, and how nice to know that DLS was writing that in the mainstream in the 1930s – a big plus for the book. DLS was no lightweight herself, had a keen interest in clothes, and would never have let her own shape stop her from having a view. Good for her.

Also, more important and mind-blowing than all this, Have His Carcase was the very first book ever featured on Clothes in Books. So its place in history is assured, and that is why we have picked it for the 300th entry.

The dress was designed by Madeleine Cheruit. The picture came from a French fashion magazine, via Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Congratulations - 300th entry, these posts have inspired me to re read, to go out and experience for the first time... oh so many books.... Thank you xx

  2. Well-done, Moira! 300 entries is impressive. And thanks for reminding me of Have His Carcase. Perhaps not Sayers at her best, but I do like the strength of Harriet Vane's character; I really do.

  3. A lovely blog, and it reminds me of DLS's description of Harriet's marvellous wedding dress. I have always been grateful to her for pointing out that intellectual women can also take a strong interest in good clothes....Your illustration looks a trifle long in the skirts for Harriet though. Doesn;t she spent most of Have His Carcas in shorts?

  4. Yes congratulations and I always love the pictures and accompanying text Moira.

  5. Congratulations, Moira! The variety of the books you write about amazes me, and the depth of your knowledge. And your sense of humour, and the pics. But I'm still trying to think of an annoying treat...

  6. Thanks all for kind messages! Have His Carcase will feature again - Amanda - the contrast between her hiking gear and posh-hotel gear will feature then....


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