Clothes Panics – V 2.0, Readers’ Suggestions

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A week or so ago I did a blog entry on clothes panics in books, something I really enjoyed writing about. I predicted that blog readers would have their own suggestions and indeed they did, so I am featuring some of their ideas today.

First up, Victoria Harris put forward this:
Can I recommend Bond Street Story by Norman Collins, which I've recently read. Poor Irene, who's only 17 and quite self-conscious, starts her day with no outfit for the staff social and ends up with 3. A scarf/sash thing and handbag she bought to jazz up her old black dress, a posh frock which a colleague saves from stock and marks down for her because of a lipstick mark - and which she can't really afford but knows she just has to have because it's gorgeous and a real bargain, and a dress she gets home that night to find her mother making for her.

I don't know if you've read Bond Street Story, but if not I would really, really recommend it. It's a bit of a doorstop but it's set in a department store in the late 50s (published 1959 I think), and the whole business of selling and ordering and modelling the clothes and fabrics is fascinating. It's just when young people are starting to buy factory as opposed to wearing home made clothes, and there are nuances about men's hats and ties and soft shirts that I probably wouldn't have picked up on before I started reading this blog.

Norman Collins’s London Belongs to Me was a great panics 1favourite on the blog, and I already had Bond Street Story on my Kindle (I think from a recommendation from Lucy Fisher), so I have now started reading Bond Street Story and am halfway through and loving it. Meanwhile, the whole business of adapting a frock with different accessories came up in a recent blogpost on Noel Streatfeild’s Aunt Clara. You can add and subtract bits and pieces of the outfit above, like a Lego doll.

Next up, here’s Shay:
Just off the top of my head, the plotting and contriving done by Jo and Meg March when they are invited to a party given by a wealthy friend of Meg's. Among other things, they only have one presentable pair of gloves between them, and wonder if they can get away with each wearing one nice glove and casually carrying a stained, torn one crushed in the other hand.

Little Women 2Little women labor day

A book illo, and my choice of photo, for the Little Women on a picnic

The Little Women gloves have indeed featured on the blog in the early days, and the book has featured in many other entries too – most recently there was a post on ‘Some Questions about Little Women’ at the beginning of this year.

Shay went on:

The only men's clothes panic I can remember is in 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith. I believe his thoroughly rotten bounder Bruce comes a cropper involving a kilt at a formal event but don't remember the details.
So here is racing driver Lewis Hamilton in a kilt:

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My good friend Bill Selnes – a man with an eye for stylishness – said this:
I thought of Another Margaret by Janice MacDonald where her casually attired sleuth, Randy (Miranda) is on her way to a high end boutique to as part of the investigation when she asks her friend Denise if she is properly dressed for the store:

Denise raked a clinical eye over my ensemble, panics 3which consisted of red jeans, red Birkenstock rubber clogs, and a white and red striped T-shirt …. She nodded, and said that I looked as if I’d been hauled away from my prize-winning perennial garden and had a sort of Katherine Hepburn disregard for fashion.
I loved this description so much, I have taken it as my fashion goal, that is how I would like to look (some of the time). Another Margaret is on the blog here.

Susanna Tayler came up with a winner:
Anna Lacey has a clothes dilemma before her first Parents Association meeting in Fresh From the Country by Miss Read: "She was weighing the merits of her tartan frock (loathsomely familiar to her, no shoes to go with it and decidedly spotted about the skirt) against her blue silk suit (too tight across the back, the blouse which looked best with it languishing at home in Essex, and probably much too conspicuous in any case for such an occasion), when the bell put a stop to her speculations."
- a situation only too recognizable to most women. Other Miss Read books have featured on the blog: I must get to this one.

And Susanna, who really knows her books, also came up with two cases of masculine panic:
I can think of two examples of men worrying about their clothes: Alan Bennett going for an interview at Cambridge but not owning a dressing gown ("Nobody'll mind if you just wear your raincoat," my mother reassuringly said. I wasn't reassured but there was a limit to what my parents could afford.) And Horatio Hornblower going to a dinner and feeling self-conscious that the buckles on his shoes were only pinchbeck.

Birgitta came up with a wonderful real-life situation:
Admittedly not from a book, though definitely literary: During Charlotte and Anne Brontë’s unannounced visit to the publisher George Smith in London, they were appalled when Smith turned up at their lodgings in the evening to take them to the opera. ‘We had by no means understood that it was settled that we were to go to the Opera – and were not ready – Moreover we had no fine, elegant dresses either with us or in the world’, Charlotte wrote to her friend Ellen Nussey. ‘They must have thought us queer, quizzical-looking beings, especially me with my spectacles /---/ Fine ladies & gentlemen glanced at us with slight, graceful superciliousness quite warranted by the circumstances’. The humiliation of the occasion was double – not only was Charlotte keenly aware of the oddity of her own small, plain and bespectacled person, but she also had to suffer the assumptions from ‘fine ladies and gentlemen’ that in what she described as their ‘plain – high-made, country garments’ the sisters were so rustic as not even to know how to dress properly for the opera.

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Christine Poulson only brought up one of the most touching scenes in all literature:
Not exactly the same thing, but I am thinking of Anne of Green Gables and the dull plain clothes that Marilla makes for her and her longing for puffed sleeves.

One of the original inspirations for the blog, and there were two entries on the whole puffed sleeve scenario in the early days… And only someone with a heart of stone doesn’t react to Matthew’s plotting to get her the right dress… and now Chrissie’s got something in her eye, and I’ve got hay fever…

So – moving on: important blogfriend Sara O’Leary strongly recommends Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet books, which she says are full of excellent clothes scenes. Where Sara recommends, I certainly go… (it was she who introduced me to the revered Marina Endicott).

The comment roll contains even more than I mentioned here, and some nice personal stories of clothes panics, so I strongly recommend reading through the list

I haven't even mentioned the suggestions from social media (eg Diary of a Provincial Lady & Harriet's wedding dress), so there will be more to come. And I would happily continue doing Clothes Panic entries till Christmas, so please still add examples in the comments if you haven’t had your say yet - or even if you have. Bring them on.

And thank you to my wonderful readers above – I knew you would come up with winners.


  1. I thought the clothes panic post was an excellent one, Moira, so I'm glad you returned to it. And your readers suggested some great books. It's one of those moments that I think resonates with people. That's what helps us connect with characters in books when it happens to them.

    1. Thanks Margot, and indeed, I think we can all empathize, and with any luck it makes us laugh and gives us a heart-warming moment.

  2. I think Mrs Lind who makes Anne's dress happen is a wonderful character and has some sound ideas about children too. I'm alright now, by the way . . . no, really, I'm absolutely fine . . .

    1. Oh I don't remember that, I'll have to look her up.
      And yes, you know if you keep rubbing your eyes like that it will never get better.

  3. Let's not forget Scarlett O'Hara and the curtains. Also Harriet Vane, in 'Have His Carcase', where, after Lord Peter remarked he would like to see her in a wine-coloured frock, went out and bought one for dinner with him at the hotel.

    1. Oh excellent additions, Sarah, thank you! (Frantically makes notes.)

  4. Found London Belongs To Me at Open Library where is is available to borrow as a ebook under the title Dulcimer Street.

    (Damed publishers changing the title for the American market again, I suppose).

    Will hold off on Bond Street Story until I can find a cheap copy. There is something in me that recoils at the thought of paying
    eleven dollars for an ebook.

  5. "Damned," not "damed." Dammit.

    1. How strange to change the name of the street ?! Inexplicable. It is a great book, I am about to finish it and absolutely loved it. Persevere with your searches.

    2. Sorry, have just realized that Its London Belongs that had the changed title, which is still a shame...


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