[London charwoman Mrs Harris has got herself into the Dior couture show in Paris]
Thereafter, for the next hour and a half, before the enthralled eyes of Mrs Harris, some ten models paraded one hundred and twenty specimens of the highest dressmaker’s art to be found in most degenerately civilised city in the world. They came in satins, silks, laces, wools, jerseys, cottons, brocades, velvets, twills, broadclothes, tweeds, nets, organzas, and muslins— They showed frocks, suits, coats, capes, gowns, clothes for cocktails, for the morning, the afternoon, for dinner parties , and formal and stately balls and receptions.
They entered trimmed with fur, bugle beads, sequins, embroidery with gold and silver thread, or stiff with brocades, the colours were wonderfully gay and clashed in daring combinations; the sleeves were long, short, medium, or missing altogether. Necklines ranged from choke to plunge, hemlines wandered at the whim of the designer. Some hips were high, others low, sometimes the breasts were emphasized, sometimes neglected or wholly concealed. The theme of the show was the high waist and hidden hips. There were hints and forecasts of the sack and trapeze to come. Every known fur from Persian lamb, mink, and nutria to Russian baumarten and sable were used in trimming or in the shape of stoles or jackets.
observations: Mrs Harris was recommended to me by blogfriends Daniel Milford-Cottam and Lucy Fisher, when I did a list of ‘older women winning through’ a couple of weeks ago: the mention of Dior dresses settled the matter. After all the Xmas books, and the Guardian & Twelfth Night this week, and the crime books, it's time for a good straightforward Clothes in Books book.
Mind you, at first I was under a complete misapprehension – I thought Mrs Harris the Cockney charlady went about doing some light detecting while she cleaned houses. This is certainly not the case in either of the books I have now read: Mrs H IS a charlady, but she is just out to have adventures and enjoy life. I’d also assumed there was a Mr H in the background eating kippers for tea in his shirt-sleeves and giving out advice on the world. Again, quite wrong, she is a widow. (Am I thinking of some completely different series? One of my brilliant readers will surely know…)
In this one she has set her heart on a Dior dress, and painfully and slowly manages to save up the money for it – including winning some of it on the football pools. I am always fascinated by the finances of clothes in books, and this one is most helpful. Mrs H earns 3/- an hour (15p), and by working hard makes around £450 a year. And that is, roughly, the cost of her Dior dress plus fare to Paris. If you bring these figures up to modern levels, then the sum is just under £10,000, which sounds about right. Whatever, it’s a year’s pay for her.
Off she goes to Paris to buy it, and of course there are a few pitfalls along the way, but she makes friends and changes people’s lives for the better. It is a complete sentimental fairytale, it would be hard to think of a less realistic story, but it is also very charming. I can quite see why some people read it over and over again – and Mrs Harris is definitely one for my list of older ladies who are role models.
The only thing that surprised me in the book was what happened to the dress after she got it home – that totally confounded my expectations, and made the story a little bit tougher.
And all a perfect excuse for these wonderful photos of Dior dresses & accessories from the Dovima is Divine photostream. The top one is, exactly, Dior’s 1957 collection, photographed by Cecil Beaton.
Mrs Harris wears quite the hat on her trip:
It was of green straw and to the front of it was attached the flexible stem of a huge and preposterous rose
which resembles this one, used on the blog entry on Michael Arlen’s The Green Hat.