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book review: The Secret Lives of Dresses

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Recently I’ve come to believe that we are our most authentic selves when we are in high school. After all, high school is the time when we experiment with what we love and who we love. And it is a time to experiment with the safety net of a home below us.

And I’m not saying that this is true for everyone. And I’m not saying that I want to repeat high school. However, I do wish that I had held onto some of the personality traits common to my seventeen-year-old self.

Wearing vintage, for instance. (I used to scour thrift stores for just the right skirt or jacket.) Spending more time creating and writing. (I even tore apart some vintage pieces to make something new and especially unique.) Spending more time with people I love. (Monday nights with friends were my favorite.)

What brought on this bout of nostalgia, you ask? Well, none other than the book The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean.

In this book, the main character, Dora returns home to care for her grandmother’s vintage clothing store after her grandmother’s stroke. Since she raced home unexpectedly, Dora was forced to dress herself from “the closet room” of vintage-wear that her grandmother had been “curating” for her.

Besides the vintage clothing and being allowed to vicariously live my dream of owning a store through Dora’s character, I loved this book for its writing. For instance, Dora’s iPod wasn’t simply plugged in, it was “jacked into the shop’s stereo.” I also took a picture of a paragraph with an allusion I want to share with my students this fall. And I was consistently entertained by McKean’s creative metaphors.

This book is a love story, of sorts. But not in the typical sense. It explores romantic love, of course, but also love of family and life itself. The novel includes several surprises, but I won’t spoil them for you. I’ll just leave you with one last quote from the book. Probably my favorite:

“Most people think weddings are all about the bride (mostly because she has the best clothes), but when I was there, in front of the minister, I could just feel the love pouring off the groom. It was warm, like you’d imagine love to be, but at the same time it gave you goosebumps, and that little shiver that some people describe as feeling someone walk over your grave. I don’t know if I was feeling it myself, or just feeling Hannah feel it. But I’ve never forgotten it. I hope you feel it someday… I’d like to feel that again.”


About sisujones

I teach, I write, and I thought I'd be in high school forever. But really? I have no idea what will happen next.

One response »

  1. Thank you for posting this! I have been wanting to read this book.


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