Dress Down Sunday: Those night-time adventures…


the book: Lady in Lilac by Susannah Shane

published 1942

[A young woman has suddenly been launched into a life of luxury]

She sang under the shower, and dried off with lovely, deep-napped, half-acre towels. She dusted her skin with fragrant bath powder, and slipped into a dressing gown of daffodil silk embroidered in misty pastels of blue and mauve and faint greens like the first pale shoots of spring in the garden.

[Theron O’Hara, a male visitor to the house of mystery, is describing what happened when he  went  to bed]

I didn’t hear anything more until the sound of the shot. I had undressed by that time, but I hadn’t brought any dressing gown. I tried to locate one in one of the closets and it took a little time.

commentary: I have already done a post on this book, but another one was called for because it connects up with several favourite Clothes in Books themes.

One is, creeping round the house at night in your dressing-gown. Many entries on this, but
in particular see The Crime at Noah’s Ark. 

We always like an adventuress in a nightie – see the Michael Innes book Hamlet, Revenge! And one of Agatha Christie’s nicest woman characters, Lady Bundle Brent, knows what to do with a sinister countess in a skimpy negligee who faints so as to avoid questions: throw water in her face to mess up her makeup. That’s in The Seven Dials Mystery.

And of course dressing-gowns had more importance in the days when if you stayed away you might have to venture into quite public areas to reach the bathroom – it was vital to pack one in your overnight bag, so what was O’Hara doing above? And would you expect to find one in the closet in your room in a private house, as in a posh hotel in modern times?

Also was delighted to find an old blog friend and piece of disputed furniture, the davenport.
The housekeeper was lying on one of the big davenports that flanked a massive fireplace,and she was so frail and white that she seemed lost and dwarfed in its overstuffed bosom.
‘Davenport’ means something completely different in the UK and the USA – desk versus sofa. There is in existence a most unlikely correspondence between Evelyn Waugh and Erle Stanley Gardnersee this entry for discussion of this, and of davenports in Raymond Chandler. And the story gets another going-over and more detail in this entry on one of Gardner’s books, The Knife Slipped.

(I’m also very interested in the piece of furniture called a credenza – see this entry – but sadly there doesn’t seem to be one in the sinister house at the centre of the book.)

Top outfit from the Brooklyn Museum - it is Elizabeth Hawes, one of our favourite designers from the past. See more about her here and here on the blog.

Previous post on this most enjoyable book here

The peachy negligee is a 1920s one from the NYPL – as I said when I used it before, ‘they have a collection of ‘loungewear’ to gladden the heart, from smoking caps to teagowns to moustachioed fellows in solid robes. We think this generation invented loungewear. Ha.’


  1. Ah, yes, the negligee and dressing gown! I love it that you featured them today, Moira. They really did feature in a lot of stories in the past, when, as you say, you needed one. But not so much any more. Hmm....You know, I haven't done a post on sleepwear in crime fiction, but it might be fun to do that, just thinking about how it's changed over time...

    1. Oh Margot please do - I think you'll have a load of great examples...

  2. I have never heard of a credenza at home. Almost every self-respecting lawyer has one in their office. I say "almost" as I lack a credenza. I do have a small table topped with a birdcage filled with brightly coloured porcelain butterflies.

    1. Best image of the day Bill! I am visualizing that birdcage...

  3. Thinking of women who faint to avoid unpleasantness or to seem frail and interesting, I am reminded of a scene in a book where a girl has fainted and a sturdy matron character just looks at her and says something along the lines of "She has got remarkably thick legs, hasn't she?". The girl revives immediately, jumping up to cover her legs. I think it might be an Agatha Christie novel, but I'm not sure. Does anyone recognise it?

  4. Hamlet, Revenge is one of my all-time favourites. I must re-read it, and also find this one.

    1. I think Hamlet Revenge is Michael Innes's standout, and there is much to love about it, even aside from the adventuress in a nightie! And a murder during a theatrical performance, which I always love... This one was enjoyable, and a bit different.

  5. I just take a peek and saw your post. Love this yellow dress. Big thanks for sharing this with us.


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