Dressing up for Dangerous Neighbors

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The other day, I posted about my unglamorous self—my puffy hair and anti va-voom status.  I do not wish any of you to conclude, however, that I am not blessed with a cadre of utterly beautiful friends, who can rock a room or a Zumba class with effortless glam.  One of those friends is the dear Jan Shaeffer, whom I met on a river boat following a reading from my book Flow, and who has knocked me out every single meeting since with an invincible and still un-selfconscious style.

It was Jan who encouraged me to put more fashion into my stories, and with Dangerous Neighbors I had not just the excuse but the desire.  I wanted to know what Katherine and her twin sister would be wearing in a city unusually warm and swampy, even for 1876 Philadelphia.  I wanted a picture, in my mind, of the little girl with the caged bird, Snow, whom Katherine follows into Operti's.  Among the books and resources that enabled me to see the past was Dressed for the Photographer:  Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900, by Joan Severa.  It was here, on page 361, that I discovered my little girl.  Here, in part, is what Severa writes of her:

The woven cotton plaid of the dress is in smart, dark tones, possibly dull greens or indigo and red, and the enormously wide sash is probably a heavy red silk ribbon.  The full coat-sleeve style and dropped shoulder of the seventies are here exemplified, with the piped deep bias cuff showing clearly with its button and buttonhole trim and white cuff facing. A rather large collar of coarse white lace, a girlish fashion, is centered by a rosette of the lace at the front, and a gold chain encircles the neck.

The child's face is well-framed by the contrived tiny ringleted bangs, the tiara comb holding the back hair into deep side puffs, and the glistening corkscrew ringlets of the back hair. 
A description that would do my friend Jan proud.  And I like it when I can make Jan proud.


Elizabeth Mosier said...

Food and fashion -- that's what made me feel like I was living in 1876 that afternoon when I read your beautiful novel, Dangerous Neighbors!

Lilian Nattel said...

Great description. Books like that are a priceless find for novelists!

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