Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Clothes Maketh the Woman



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What to wear, what to wear? Never in my life--well maybe in high school, maybe in my 20s, well, never mind –– never in my life has any question been so fraught as right now: Deciding what to wear back in real life. I have no idea. I have spent the last two years in leggings and black T-shirts. I have now moved to black t-shirts and black floaty skirts. That’s it. I look at the clothes in my closet and think… What are those things?

Another tough decision is deciding what my characters wear. (Thinking back, a lot of them seem to wear all black. Oh well. Let’s move on.)

We welcome today our darling fabulous dear and beloved friend Catriona McPherson. Who has the perfect style of her own. And today, Reds and Readers, some thoughts about the fashion decisions her characters make ––and equally intriguingly, why.



Clothes Maketh the Woman

    by Catriona McPherson


I can’t remember who was once asked, “What did the sixties look like?” and answered, after a pause, “They looked like the fifties”, but I’ve never forgotten it. Of course! The sixties in real life looked like our idea of the fifties, since that idea came from Hollywood (or Pinewood). By the time ordinary people had saved up for their bubblegum-pink appliances and atomic-print curtains, it was the seventies, Hollywood was all brown and orange, and real life looked like the sixties.

I was determined to bear this in mind as I clothed the people – oh all right, the women! – in my new book. In 1948, Myrna Loy was helping Cary Grant build his dreamhouse, Judy Garland was wearing an Easter bonnet chosen by Fred Astaire, and James Stewart was at a very awkward Manhattan dinner party featuring a length of . . . Rope.


But my book is set in Edinburgh, more specifically the tenements of the Fountainbridge district, where the dairies, breweries, distilleries and abattoirs scent the air and employ the populace. My heroine Helen Crowther might go to the pictures twice a week with her mother and her wee sister but none of them can dash out to buy the clothes they see on screen. (Or the clothes they hear about on the news. Truly. On the day the book opens, the Royal family was in Edinburgh and the bulletins all mentioned that little Princess Margaret Rose wore a pink coat to church.)

Even the characters who do have a lavish wardrobe allowance are subject to their own kind of time-lag. It’s another truth about fashion that I remember switching on a like a lightbulb in my head when it hit me: people don’t age in to the style of the generation before them. When I’m old – no heckling, please! – I won’t be wearing what women in their eighties wear now (i.e. old-lady clothes). No, I’ll be wearing what I wear today and that will make my clothes old-lady clothes, because I’m wearing them. Like when the dowagers in Jane Austen adaptations are still wearing yards of satin and tight stays, while the girls float around in hankies. This point seems to be beyond all those irritating articles about what “No Woman Over __ Should Be Wearing”. Grrrrrrrrr.

Personal time-lag meant that forties’ fashion was completely irrelevant for one of my favorite characters in the book. Helen’s benefactor, Mrs Sinclair, is in her fifties, has found her style, and is sticking with it. She dresses to be impressive rather than attractive: a high neck, a cameo brooch, box pleats, a fox-fur even in the summer, and a system of undergarments that creak like ship’s rigging whenever she’s moved by high emotion. Usually umbrage. I was born in 1965, and I can just about remember elderly versions of Mrs Sinclair, buttoned and buttressed, undoubtedly impressive. I definitely remember the creaking.

Helen has no ambition to be grand, and she’s on a tight budget too. Besides, there’s yet another factor she needs to consider: she must dress the part for a new role that is nothing like her past life. She’s about to start work as an almoner at a doctor’s surgery – sort of a proto-type medical social worker, I suppose you’d say – and we meet her as she’s steeling herself to put on Sunday clothes on a Monday morning: nylon stockings with a seam instead of hard-wearing lisle, shoes with tipped heels instead of the clogs that keep her mother’s feet up off the bottling-hall floor; a serge skirt and a poplin shirt instead of wool and a pinny; and strangest of all . . . a hat. She has never worn a hat on a Monday.

Of course, then as now, the rules can be ignored. You might pay a price for the decision (and be turned away from a swanky club, for instance) or, if you’ve got clout, you might get away with it. One character in the book whom I dressed just about from living memory – although my God it makes me feel old to consult my childhood for historical material! – is the free-thinking, devil-may-care lady doctor (doctor = clout), who wears a cotton dress and sandals with – gasp – bare brown legs. It wasn’t a doctor who rocked the village where I was born, mind you. It was the minister’s wife. She attended Sunday service in this shocking ensemble: bare legs, brown leather sandals, toes on show to the entire parish. And, once, a love bite! (Actually, I think the parishioners who took the vapours might have had a bit of a point there.)

So, all in all, the clothes in the book are very little to do with the fashion of the day and a lot to do with power, expectations, and tribal loyalties. I could never understand why make-over shows don’t get that. Even Queer Eye, which I love, tends to dress a shape, not a life. Still, the Fab Five are nothing like the dreaded Trinny and Susannah from What Not To Wear, who blithely turned every woman they got their mitts on into what one critic called “a newly divorced travel agent on her way to the PTA”. Ouch.

So, Reds, I’m assuming there is nothing you’ll be scolded into not wearing by some random opinion piece that thinks it’s the boss of you. Let’s celebrate! I’ll start: I’m never giving up pictorial prints. I plan to die in a dress covered with . . . let’s say . . . beach huts, and might even rock a jean jacket in my coffin. How about you?


HANK: Good question, you all! (I also love watching Say Yes to the Dress, where half the time I’m yelling at the screen---no no no!) I cannot think about what I will wear in my coffin, yeesh, but I WILL say I will NEVER wear ruching, or cutouts, or those cold-shoulder things. Asymmetrical hems. Gaucho pants. (I know, but if they DO come back, just saying.) High platform sandals. Anything with tricky lacings or fluttery sleeves. I’ll stop now. 

But I love what you said, Catriona, about power, expectation, and loyalties. That is a key lesson!

Reds and readers—how about you? What items will you NEVER give up? Or...wear?


Catriona McPherson (she/her) writes preposterous 1930s detective stories about an aristocratic sleuth, darker (not difficult) contemporary psychological thrillers, and comedies set in the Last Ditch Motel in fictional (yeah, sure) California, She has just introduced a fresh character in June’s 1948-set IN PLACE OF FEAR, which finally marries her love of historicals with her own working-class roots.

Catriona is a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime. 


IN PLACE OF FEAR



Edinburgh, 1948. Helen Crowther leaves a crowded tenement home for her very own office in a doctor's surgery. Upstart, ungrateful, out of your depth - the words of disapproval come at her from everywhere but she's determined to take her chance and play her part.

She’s barely begun when she stumbles over a murder and learns that, in this most respectable of cities, no one will fight for justice at the risk of scandal. As Helen resolves to find a killer, she’s propelled into a darker world than she knew existed, hardscrabble as her own can be. Disapproval is the least of her worries now.

147 comments:

  1. Oh, I am chuckling about the clothes! Catriona, I can’t wait to meet Helen . . . .

    As for the will never wear/will always wear . . . I’m with Hank on the no cut-outs or cold shoulders or asymmetrical hems.
    Also, no loud patterns, no loud colors. I’m sticking with flat shoes, quiet colors, comfortable . . . and with a bit of sparkle.

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    1. Yes to the flat shoes! I've been tall since I was twelve and, luckily, I caught every wave of sensible shoe fashion as it broke - moccasins, clogs, docs - so I have never worn "pretty shoes". The result is I know have pretty feet - straight toes and no bunions. My friend who has always worn beautiful shoes and now has ahem un-beautiful feet says my feet are wasted on my Keens and Tevas!

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  2. Hank Phillippi RyanJuly 6, 2022 at 1:03 AM

    Sparkle is good!! Xx💍

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  3. Those are such good points about fashion and trends, Catriona! I will never give up my blue jeans, along with something turquoise.

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    1. Surely not even the bossiest make-over queen would try to tell someone not to wear jeans?!

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    2. Unless they look terrible. Like they do on me. No matter how I try.

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  4. CATRIONA: Good or bad, expectations on what women wear at work have changed a lot. I remember my mid80s office work attire: power suits with huge shoulder pads and blouses with big bows. In my last office at Environment Canada from 2014-2016, I was wearing blue jeans to work!

    These days, I would never wear anything to reveal my muffin top, so no crop tops, halters or bikinis. And no platform sandals. My wonky ankles could not endure another bad sprain or broken bone.



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    1. Oh yes, the dreaded muffin top. The batter overfloweth.

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    2. Oops - those two anons above were me! There's a Brit comic (can't remember which) who said think girls think they're average, average girls think they're fat, fat girls think they're obese, and obese girls think they're . . . supermodels! I have to admit I do admire those very substantial young women who just buy the spaghetti strap mini-dress in a size 28 and go for it.

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    3. When I was 20 and a size 6 I thought I was fat. Now that I'm over 60 and into the plus sizes, I don't own a mirror and buy what fits. Grace: never could see the sense in platform sandals!

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    4. GRACE: I remember meeting you at mystery conferences and you always wore beautiful clothes. The only women I knew who wore crop tops were nursing mothers and that made sense. Easier to nurse babies, right? I believe that when we wear what looks good on us AND we also feel comfortable wearing them, then we look great.

      Diana

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    5. Crop tops.. WHY? WHY? :-) What is the earthly point?

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    6. HANK: I am thinking of TV's Daisy Duke (The Dukes of Hazzard) with her crop top and short denim shorts. She wore them to show off her tiny waist.

      DIANA: You are too kind. I wore what I felt comfortable wearing, and it was not much different from my everyday clothes.

      DEAUN: I hear you about not looking in the mirror. I have moved from a size 8 to a size 12 now. My only regret is that I no longer can fit into most of the classically-cut suits & jackets that my mom made for me.

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  5. I can't think of two people with more different, or more individual, styles than you two, Hank and Catriona. Even if all I could see of you was from the shoulders down I'd recognize either of you instantly. That's a compliment, by the way.

    Settling into a recognizable style, whatever it is, means not following trends too much. Looking back I've always had a sort of pared-down tailored look, not as sleek or chic (or black) as Hank's, but with relatively simple lines, and I don't see that changing any time soon. It's hard to tell the difference between sweaters/blouses/trousers from 2000 and those from 2020 in my closet. Stuck in a rut? I prefer to think I know my own style.

    My 92-year old mother, though, is way more trendy. I took her shopping recently, and she rejected 90% of the pant styles because they didn't have "thin legs". She wears jeggings, a style which will never darken my closet door, and she loves asymmetrical hems. No one would dare to tell her they're too "young" for her. She looks great.

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    1. "She dresses to be impressive rather than attractive": Wow, exactly! When did that stop being a thing?

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    2. Your mother sounds like a hoot Karen--we'd probably shop in the same departments!

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    3. Karen. I'm in denial about what Hank said. I can cope with no handshakes, eating outside and the end of birthday-cake candles. But if the pandemic has stolen Hank's pencil skirts and gorgeous shoes . . . hmph. I'm just back from Tesco with my mum and the check-out woman said "Is that a Cath Kidston dress?" That's how I know I'm home. People know where my clothes came from! In the US, I often get asked "Where did you buy the fabric to make that dress?". It doesn't strike me as a compliment, exactly!

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    4. Catriona, you always look great, and your dresses fit perfectly. I love your style, and as someone who has sewn clothing since the 1960s, I think that actually is a compliment!

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    5. Karen in Ohio, your mother sounds like a hoot. I often reject 90 percent of the clothes that I try on while shopping because they are "the wrong cut". I am sure that your clothes look great on you. I believe that we all have our own styles.

      Diana

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    6. Yes, I agree it's about the fit. And I always swoon at Catriona's dresses--WHERE do you find them??? (and aw, thank you. That is my go-to look, aw, thank you. That is reassuring. xoxo)

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    7. I think it was Jean Kerr who wrote about taking her mom shopping for a grandma-of-the-groom dress. The salesgirl asked snippily “What’s wrong with this dress?” and grandma replied, “All my friends are being laid out in it!”

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  6. Welcome Catriona and congrats on the new book! Your point about old lady clothes is fascinating--you're saying that if we're wearing jean jackets once we're old, those become the old lady style? We can't get away from it I suppose...

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    1. Catriona here (not anonymous by choice!) I think so. I mean, I'm not going to start wearing a brooch on my lapel and stout brogues. Although it works for the Queen.

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    2. I am beginning to see things as "matronly"--that's what my mother used to call it. (Although in high school I was big on army fatigues, and my mother said I looked like a prison warden.) There's a midi-length skirt that's dowdy, and one that's totally cool. And we know it when we see it.

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  7. I'll never give up my jeans, my cotton jersey tees, my cashmere sweaters and my scarves and shawls. I'll never wear leggings or tights out in public, and pretend they are trousers ( so everyone can gape at my round tush)!
    I'll wear any length skirt or dress and I'll wear knits that cling until I am too lumpy to pull them off. Like Grace, no more bikinis or halters.

    Catriona welcome! Your new book sounds terrific and it's going right onto the TBR list! The fashion explanation is enlightening. Please tell us a little more about where your own history intersects with this story and the inspiration for it. ( I was entering university the year you were born.)

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    1. HA! Sometimes I am tempted to yell at random women: YOU FORGOT YOUR PANTS! Or sometimes YOU FORGOT YOUR SKIRT!

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    2. I have to reply to that . No they weren't rationing clothing in the 60's. I was an art student in London doing fashion design , it certainly didn't look like the 50's , look up Mary Quant for one . Kings Road in London was hopping . I'm still wearing my jeans , T-shirts and flowery long skirts at 75.

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  8. In the late 60s and early 70s, I remember lots of plaid, much of it ugly. I am no historian, but wasn’t the UK still rationing clothing into the mid 60s? Wasn’t the whole Carnaby Street movement fueled by the end of rationing?
    Thanks for trying to be accurate. Errors in historical fiction can ruin the whole work.

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    1. Catriona, we were stationed in Germany during the late sixties, and I remember my mother going on a shopping trip to London. She came back with a swinging wardrobe, including a hot pants-with-open skirt combo and a stunning lace blouse. She brought back overall hot pants for me in bright yellow and orange, and I was SO happy with them!

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    2. OH! I lived in Germany in 1967 for awhile, and I had a raspberry wool bell bottom double breasted pants suit from Carnaby Street. I was the COOLEST!

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  9. Welcome, Catriona! Yay! A new book to read!

    I don't think I'll ever give up my dark-wash jeans, my jackets, my soft cotton shirts (long or short sleeve) and cute flats. I wish I hadn't had to give up my killer red heels, my cowboy boots, or my knee-high, stiletto heel, brown suede boots, but it was not a "these are too young for me" decision (Grace, I'm with you - I don't think my ankle could take another sprain or break).

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    1. Catriona here. Oh Liz - because I was tall and they weren't in fashion anyway, I never learned to walk in heels. I stump along like a drag queen. And not a RuPaul drag queen. More Harvey Fierstein.

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    2. Catriona, my Scottish relatives are very tall! I seriously thought that I was going to be 6 feet tall because my Aunt was 6 feet tall. Both of my parents are tall. Surprise! I stopped just before I reached 5 feet 6 inches due to childhood illness (meningitis). At university, I noticed that many women were shorter than me (usually 5'2" or under).

      Diana

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    3. Liz, I am sure that your clothes look beautiful on you. It is really important to know what looks good on you, right?

      Diana

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    4. Yes, we know what we're comfortable in. And Liz, you are so wise: no shoes are worth pain! Or even..potential pain. (I adore cowboy boots, but am too chicken to wear mine. Red boots with a cool black suit would be SO great. But..chicken.)

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    5. Aw, Diana - thank you!

      Catriona, I loved, loved, loved my heels. My mother would not let me wear mini skirts when I was in high school, but I could wear heels. And I did.

      Hank, yes. I thought I could get away with my cowboy boots because they are a low heel. Nope. Plus the ankle that was broken doesn't pronate enough for me to get them on. Sigh. But the red boots with a black suit would be smashing!

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  10. Oh, Catriona! Reading your hilarious thoughts always makes me eager for your next book... IN PLACE OF FEAR right now. What I'll never give up are colors. Red.Hot pink. Turquoise.... and of course black. Also sleeveless tops though I know arms are among the first (visible) places to show aging. (Am I the only one who's noticed aging celebs wearing long sleeves with their ball gowns? It makes me sad that they feel they have to.)

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    1. Catriona again: YES. And also YES! One of the things I love about living in California is that no one expects women to cover their arms because they are old. Why should we/they? We don't cover our faces. And they're old too. Grrrr. And as for colour - I'm back with HM the Q. her colour-block hats and coats are the absolute bomb.

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    2. OOOH, I love the Queen's colourful coats & hats. During the Platinum Jubilee, a commentator said she chooses to wear those bright colours so that she can be "seen" by the huge crowds.

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    3. Count me as another vote for not succumbing to pressure to cover my upper arms. I will admit, the pressure is sufficient that I do sometimes give it a second thought. But I will not be cowed!

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    4. Susan, it is not my upper arms that I am concerned about. I wear long sleeves because I am too embarrassed to show my bra. LOL

      Diana

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    5. Oh, I kinda love long sleeves. I would choose hem because they're more comfortable to me, and warmer. And I'm not always worrying about adjusting. MGHT it be sometimes about style? And I so agree about the Queen--but wow. I would not try to emulate. That'd be so funnny! Can you imagine us all at the next Malice--in Queen outfits???

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    6. Hank: sounds like the beginning of a closed room mystery!

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  11. Congratulations Catriona! I love to read books set in Scotland, and particularly Edinburgh,so I am looking forward to your book. I'm in the "old lady" crowd now, but have been dressing for comfort for a long time. I still remember how happy mom was when the librarians were finally allowed to wear pants suits (the top MUST cover the tush!) to work in the late '60s. She got rid of the girdle! My wardrobe is mostly jeans which get dressed up or down (I wear the newer pairs to church along with a nice top and maybe a jacket), light pants or shorts in the summer, and very occasionally a dress.

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    1. Catriona writes: a fellow writer from Scramento (Janelle Hanchett) taught me the CA rule that says: cocktail attire = my darkest jeans!

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    2. Really? That's so fascinating, Catriona. Good to know. And I love wearing dresses, Gillian! They're so floaty.

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  12. I live by the motto "if you wore it when it was in style the last time, you're probably too old to wear it this time." Mostly, it works. Congrats Catriona on another release, sounds amazing.

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    1. Catriona writes: I swore I wouldn't wear flares last time they came in, but they got me in the end. I don't think I'll get caught a third time. (Mostly because I don't wear trousers anyway. I've come to Scotland for nine weeks with a dozen dresses and one pair of cropped jeans.)

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    2. Catriona, I came to the UK for eight weeks donkey years ago and I brought dresses. People seriously thought that I was British. On our first trip to England for two or three weeks, the guards at Buckingham Palace thought that my Mom and I were there for a garden party. It never occurred to me to wear jeans. I remember studying what Princess Diana wore and I would bring similar clothes. That was when William and Harry were young children.

      Diana

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    3. Judy, I rarely wore clothes that were "in style". In fact, I did not like clothes that were "in style" until my teens. The only clothes that I liked as a young child were clothes from storybooks like a Alice in Wonderland type dress or a Cinderella princess dress or a Holly the Strawberry Girl? bonnet and dress. I never was "trendy". I went for whatever looked good on me and I had to like it too. I once wore a dress and I noticed years later that the Duchess of Cambridge wore a similar dress. I wore that dress before I knew about Catherine and William. I started to be aware from the day they were engaged.

      Diana

      Diana

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    4. Diana, I so agree! I'd often look to see what Princess Diana wore--it was always perfect.

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  13. Catriona, I'm with Liz--yay! Another new book, new characters--and a time-warp visit to Edinburgh! I totally get what you mean about old lady fashion--but they won't take my jeans and t-shirts without a fight!

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    1. Catriona here: I own a t-shirt! My sister bought it for me to go along with some pj bottoms. But I can't wear it as a day-time t-shirt because it says "Gotta go; my coffee needs me." I adore the fact that it's got a semi-colon on it, but I still don't want people reading my chest.

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  14. Another thing to consider when writing women's fashion - a lot of keep things and rework them slightly instead of tossing and buying new. This is truer and truer the further back you go. Right now, I'm wearing a safari style shirt I had from the eighties that fits me again 'cause I've lost weight. (Yeah, me!) I ripped out the shoulder pads, and since it was simple to begin with, it works fine.

    My mother did the same with many of her clothes - she hemmed them up, she let the hems down, she would bring in the waist and let it out again. Of course, she was from a generation when every woman sewed, which very much isn't the case now.

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    1. JULIA: I remember that my Mom often mended clothes with a sewing needle even though she did not sew clothes like other mothers of my friends when I was a child. I learned how to mend holes in clothes. That reminds me. I need to replace my sewing kit, which I lost a while ago.

      Diana

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    2. Catriona says: I can darn (but I don't) and I can hem, which I just did - fixing three frock hems that has started to unravel. I was pretty chuffed with myself. There is where my dress-making skills run out, so I'm always really impressed with anyone who can make their own clothes.

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    3. When my father-in-law was alive he once asked me if I would darn some socks for him. I told him my method was to say "Darn socks!" and pitch them in the trash.

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    4. Brilliant, Karen! (and yes, sewing kits. I think mine is from the sixties, and all the spools of thread are tangled up. But I am so proud of myself when I sew on a button. like--HA! I can DO it!

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  15. CATRIONA: Welcome to JRW! I remember that you always wore beautiful clothes that are perfect on you. I remember meeting you at my first mystery conference (Malice Domestic in 2016) and meeting you again at a local Sisters in Crime meeting at the Rockridge Library in California. I remember asking you if you had a Scottish accent. Your new novel sounds like a mystery that I would love to read. I am going to see if my library has the book. If not, I will try either Apple ebook or ordering from my local independent bookstore.

    Question: Growing up in Scotland and now living in America, did you notice any differences between attitudes towards women?

    HANK: I remember that you CAN wear black and look great! Because of my Celtic fair skin, I can only wear Navy Blue, which is as close to black as possible. However, I inherited my grandmother's beautiful black dress, created by her personal dressmaker. I wear it with a blue or green scarf? wrap? under my chin. Though I look like my grandmother, her skin color was olive and she was always tan.

    Over the years, I have kept many clothes that I just cannot let go because I am one of these people who are very difficult to fit. Since I am Not Wealthy, I do not have a personal dressmaker. I buy clothes that I know will last forever!

    Diana

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    1. Catriona writes: Diana, Attitudes *of* women towards clothes - certainly. I was just shopping in Edinburgh and a woman from new York stood in the middle of White Stuff (it started as a surfer brand) and said, in amazement, "I've never seen so many dresses in my life! Where are the regular clothes?" Ha!

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    2. Catriona, that is a great story! Diana

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    3. "regular clothes"--that's great!

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  16. I can only wear dresses in the summer because I refuse to wear tights in the winter.

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    1. Ohh....that's a situation, Margaret! :-)

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    2. Catriona here: see now I love a woolly tight. So cosy!

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    3. Dresses and leggings in the winter!

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  17. Celia here - lovely to meet you Catriona and I’m still deciding to laugh or cry over your old lady comment as statistically I’m them: I’m wearing a light patterned knit dress, it’s knee length and what used to be called princess cut so flattering, kind of, on my generous figure. But cool and easy on. I’ve lived through all the styles and I think the ministers wife was appropriately dressed though I used to go to church in a hat - oh and the rest including gloves of which I have several pairs of Italian leather put away still. I think the best fashion change from when I first started work in the dark ages, is that there is no fashion. Go as you like but in my book it needs to be clean and I do prefer it without rips. As for death, just bought a green burial plot and plan to be buried in an old cotton caftan and no bra!

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    1. Oh, you are so right--princess cut can be SO flattering! Do they call it "dropped waist" now? That's a little different, I think..

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    2. Catriona here: I think princess cut is what I've been calling fit'n'flare. I prefer your name for it . So that's what I'm calling it form now on. And I love the shape. I'm wearing one today too. In contrast, if I wear a sheath, I look like a house brick.

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  18. Never going the wear puffy sleeves or shoulder pads or fluffy ruffles around my neck and shoulders. Will always wear my jeans, though not the 501s of my teen years.

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    1. YES! No to puffy sleeves. :-) xxx

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    2. Catriona writes: Puff sleeves are the work of Beelzebub. However, I do love Molly Goddard. And she is the queen of frill.

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  19. Loving all these comments! Yes, I plan to die in my jeans and a tee shirt. It's the only way to go. Oh and running shoes on my feet.

    Julia, I remember all those styles and owned many of them. I still love big daisies and bold colors and it amuses me that my early mini skirts (fingertip length) had hot pants built in.

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    1. Fingertip length! Can you even imagine it now? Ahhhhh

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  20. |"a system of undergarments that creak like ship’s rigging whenever she’s moved by high emotion" Ok, that made me laugh out loud. Go Catriona, that's a brilliant piece of writing.

    It is all about fabric for me. Cotton, wool, silk, linen, leather. Most man-made fabric causes an ugly reaction so I cannot wear it against my skin. Makes buying lingerie difficult! Clothes are expensive to buy, so my style, such as it is, is classic and monochromatic. Jeans, turtlenecks, sweaters, flannel shirts and boots or cotton deck pants and my husband's cast-off button downs. I haven't transitioned out of Covid wear yet but LL Bean has just opened a store here in Waterloo so maybe there are some respectable clothes in my future. Still, you'll never catch me in short shorts.

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    1. Short shorts! I mean--how could a person SIT?

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    2. Catriona here: Short shorts! I saw Bjorn Borg in an old film from Wimbledon last night. And I agree about fabric. People say "Oh no, linen gets so creased." But everyone knows that, so to me the creases say "Hey, I'm linen". A lack of creases says "Hey I'm polyester pretending to be linen".

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    3. Catriona: Yes, tennis and basketball uniforms have certainly gotten more modest, at least for the men. You wonder how they could have played in some of that gear.

      Hank: exactly

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  21. “No, I’ll be wearing what I wear today and that will make my clothes old-lady clothes, because I’m wearing them.“

    That seems so obvious now. After retiring this year and donating two dozen suits, I realize most of the rest of my clothes are only suitable for gardening, so I need to figure out what my style will be. Luckily it’s SoCal, so likely hiking skirt and sandals. And of course some dark jeans for cocktail parties!
    Lisa in Long Beach

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    1. You are so kind--think of how happy people will be in those suits! xxxx

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    2. Catriona writes: Yes indeed! Someone trying to spiff up for a job interview is going to be blessing you! And I'm with you on the hiking skirt.

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    3. I just ordered a hiking skirt (skort...), but I won't be hiking in it.

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    4. Best feature of hiking skirts/skorts? POCKETS!

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  22. As a teen in the 70s rocking those styles big time, I said I would never wear bell bottomed or wide legged pants again. Well, here I am wearing them again, because they are comfy. So I’m gonna keep my mouth shut on what I will or won’t wear in the future.

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    1. Yes, love the flares to balance my hips! Lisa

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    2. Catriona says: What about harem pants, or Bobby Browns you might know them as. I loved them in the 80s. I'd be back in them in a heartbeat if they come around.

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  23. I recall watching a movie set in Australia in the 60’s and the fashions were all what I considered American 50’s and thinking that there must have a been a time lag for the fashions to travel there.
    Lisa in LBC

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    1. It's a fashion time-zone thing... :-)

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    2. Catriona says: I remember something similar with eastern Europe in the 90s. It looked like Britain in the 70s.

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  24. What will I never give up? My jeans. When I was growing up —I’m 73– my parents didn’t approve of jeans. In the second week of my freshman year in college, I discovered a five and ten cent store near campus. The store sold inexpensive Levi’s. I bought four pairs with money I had saved up for college clothing. Last week I told this to one of my younger sisters. (I’m the oldest.) She said she remembered wearing jeans in high school. I said “of course you did. I paved the way. You’re welcome.”

    What will I never wear again? A bikini. The last time I wore one was when I was two years old. From pictures I’ve seen, I don’t think the style looked good on me then, either.

    My sister (the same one mentioned above) recently told me that I should wear tighter-fitting clothing now that I’ve maintained a weight loss for several years. I don’t know. I just can’t see myself doing that. Too many years of trying to cover up the fat!

    Oh, and I threw away all my heels decades ago. Sneakers and flat shoes are all I’ll wear on my feet.

    DebRo

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    1. Oh, I have other pals who feel that way--once your body image is in your head, it's hard to lose. But maybe, just this once, listen to your sister? Once? It might be fun...

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    2. Catriona says: I would have nodded in agreement about the bikini, Deb. Until I went to Vero Beach, Florida when I was 50 and realised that, in Florida, everyone wears a bikini. All ages, all shapes . . . I haven't worn it since I got home though.

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    3. DebRo, good for you! Wear what makes you feel comfortable. My philosophy is to Wear comfortable clothes that also makes me look good.

      Hank: Interesting about body image. I always think I am taller than I really am. LOL

      Catriona, Even when I visited Florida, I never, ever wore bikinis. I wore loose light colored clothes that are comfortable.

      Diana

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    4. I happily wore a bikini as a teen and at around thirty, before my first child was born. Then in my forties I had a totally cute polka-dot two-piece with high-waist bottoms and a halter top - but I was running a LOT and at my lowest weight in years. Never since.

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  25. HANK: I never could wear short jackets or tops. I may wear a short top in my Pilates class. With my figure (no waistline), I prefer long tops and long jackets. I never could wear anything that did not look good on me. There was a time in my life when I was a size 2-4 and I ate a lot and exercised all the time. The clothes that I could wear at these sized would not look good on me at my normal sizes (8-10-12)

    Diana

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    1. It's fun to see what works for who! Yes, I agree, we know when something doesn't look right... I can't even do it even when no one will see me.

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    2. Catriona writes: this reminds me of one time that neil and I were on a long car journey home, both tired. Neil said "This would be going by a lot quicker if we were engaged in an argument". Then he suggested we have a fake argument. (You can already see what a terrible idea this was, right?). I said "How do we start a fake argument?" He said "Just say something outrageous. Or I will." After a pause, he said "I've got one. Okay, Catriona: when are you going to start dressing like someone who owns a mirror?" He was right. The journey flew by. Even though all he said after that was variations on "But I just made it up! It's fake! It's not real!"

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  26. I love fluttery sleeves and asymmetrical hems! And my dress shoes are all Birkenstocks.

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    1. Chacun a son gout! xxxxx ANd fluttery sleeves are ALL the rage!

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    2. Catriona writes: I don't think I've got any asymmetric hems, unless I've been hasty in the bathroom.

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  27. So many interesting comments! I'm not sure what I can add....I was less than 5' 2" at my peak height, and as a young woman I used to wear 4 inch heels almost daily. Around age 50 I pulled back to 2" heels, but after covid I have sworn off anything bigger than a tiny wedge. Never going back.

    I wear jeans but I don't think I love them as much as many of the commenters here. To me they are merely functional. I do love floaty summer dresses and skirts. Nothing that reveals my muffin top or clings through the torso.

    The fashion thing that made me start suspecting I was an "old woman" was when "matchy-matchy" became an insult. I mean, I get it: there is such a thing as being overly matched. But still, in my mind's eye an outfit where the colors really tie together can be quite attractive. Sigh.

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    1. matchy-matchy--I can hear Heidi saying it!

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    2. Catriona: I have to guard against matchy-matchy. I veer towards it by nature!

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  28. Comfort! Heresy, I'm sure, but I am more and more making decisions based on comfort. A teaching colleague long ago said his criteria for shoes was, "Can I still smile for my 7th period class?" and it made sense to me. Then the latex allergy added further restrictions, no elastic, spandex, rubber soles. I favor anything cool in summer and warm in winter that allows me to move freely and HAS POCKETS. Scrubs are my summer favorite, though on med. appts., I sometimes get mistaken for staff. No problem, I like being helpful. ;-)

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    1. Pockets, pockets!! Yes! I have had pockets put into things, in fact. Brilliant thing to remind us of!

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    2. Catriona: I only own one pocketless dress. And I make sure to wear it with a pockety jacket!

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    3. This reminds me of a meme making the rounds on facebook: Little girl to her dad: My dress has pockets! Dad: Yes, it does. Little girl: Nothing can stop me now!

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    4. YES, all my summer and winter pants have plenty of pockets since I don't carry a bag. Keys, credit card/bus pass, cell phone all have to fit.

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  29. Catriona, nine weeks in Scotland!! Tell us more! And wave at my old flat in Montgomery Street. (In my imagination, Ian Rankin's Siobhan lives there now...) I can't wait to read In Place of Fear! Such an interesting observation about clothes and aging. My grandmother's old lady clothes were pastel polyester pant suits. Mine will be (um, are...) loose yoga pants and t-shirts. Every generation gets less constrained--hope fashion doesn't reverse and put us in stays again!

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    1. I'm triyng to remember what my mother wore on a day to day basis. Not a wisp of a memory. Hmm. I will go ask my sister. I THINK my Gramma wore dresses. STAYS!? Never. Well...depends. :-) xxxx

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    2. Catriona: I remember my Godmother, in her seventies, with lifelong rheumatoid artritis, still struggling into a girdle every day. Why????

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    3. Deborah, my grandmother Never wore "old lady" clothes. She was always very stylish. My other grandmother died during the second world war so she never lived long enough to become a grandmother.

      Hank, I once wore Stays when I visited a friend who worked at Colonial Williamsburg, We tried on costumes and that was fun, However, I did keep my bra on and wore both my bra and stays.

      Diana

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  30. Congrats on the new book, Catriona! I am one who pays attention to what characters are wearing, and I'm always surprised when it is the male point of view and he is describing a lady with such perfect detail about her clothes and hair. Really? I would expect him to think more "brown trousers with off-shirt" instead of fabric details.

    I like what you said about the woman who had found her style and was sticking with it. I think that's me but I dress for comfort which isn't exactly a style. I don't care for jeans because I have never found a pair that fit well and looked good on me. I'm wondering - what was the age, more or less, of that minister's wife? I'm thinking he chose one that was pretty hard for him to handle.

    And Hank, I love how there is at least one of your characters who wears suede shoes. I dearly loved a pair of suede shoes I used to have.

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    1. Aw, thank you! What a memory, Judi! xxxxx And yes, suede shoes can be so perfect.

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    2. Catriona: ah the minister and his wife were probably both in their twenties or thirties. Ancient to me, as I sat there in my little white shoes and gloves!

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    3. One of my pet peeves--when the view point character, male of female, meets someone for the first time and attributes every item of the person's clothing to the correct designer. I mean, seriously, how would you know, unless--maybe--you were in the business? Or you had x-ray vision and could see the labels...

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    4. Catriona: so rare. I watched that Brooke Shields / Cary Elwes Christmas movie and tapped the ballgown as Vivienne Westwood. And I can spot a Molly Goddard, but that's about it.

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  31. I love this! Such a fun, frivolous - and yet, not unimportant - topic. And I can't wait for the new book. Sounds wonderful. Like others, the item I will never give up is blue jeans. I was part of that generation, and I still find them comfortable, practical, go-to. I can't quite give up pretty scarves and stoles either. To me, they dress up anything, and add elegance. Of course I lived in exercise clothes most of the last 3 years and can barely pull together an outfit now! And I've worn ugly, supportive shoes for a long time. Bad feet requires it. I have to add a story: I saw a "Mrs Sinclair" for real, in London, about 1995-ish. First time I was sent there for a meeting, employer paying basic costs, so I indulged myself with my first all-out traditional tea. Yes,at the Ritz. Loved everything about it, including making up stories about the other people there.(Yes, my future, but I didn't know it) And in the middle of a posh and fashionable crowd, there was a woman right out of a British movie of the 1950's. Gray, tightly curled salon hair. An eternal "good tweed" suit, probably decades old. Too-bright lipstick and no other makeup. Visiting from the "provinces" for the first time in decades? An actress trying out a role? A ghost?

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    1. Catriona: a ghost! Love it. Yes, that look - see the Queen, again - of bright lips and no eye make-up whatsover.

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    2. Hank Phillippi RyanJuly 6, 2022 at 3:27 PM

      Oh how completely fantastic! What a moment!

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  32. Today's post is such fun to read; thank you, Catriona! Your book is coming to me soon, I hope, from my local library.

    I can't add much to the comments; they pretty much cover the range. But I'll echo those who have said that comfort is No. 1; for me, too. Also, I don't like anything too revealing, as I think that leaving something to the imagination is much more attractive than showing a lot of skin (this might make me a prude?). And definitely, flat shoes and loads of colour.

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    1. Catriona: I do agree with the adage that says a dress can be low OR short, but not both.

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    2. Hank Phillippi RyanJuly 6, 2022 at 3:26 PM

      Yes, perfectly put! Long, or short. But not both.

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    3. Amanda, since I do not like wearing anything too revealing either, perhaps that makes me a prude too?

      Diana

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  33. Catriona, your story about the minister and his wife reminded me of my great grandfather. My American Great Grandfather was a clergyman and of the old school. He saw my great grandmother and fell in love immediately. My great grandmother was quite the rebel and was similar to a suffragist in her outlook though she never went to anything like marches. Her parents arranged the marriage so she married my great grandfather, In the 1920s, my great grandmother went to a barber shop with her daughters, including my grandmother, Mother and all of her daughters got the bobbed cut with the fringe. My great grandfather told my great grandmother "I cannot take you to church anymore". My great grandmother said "I do not care." She outlived him by 10 years. Though I never met my great grandparents, I have heard stories. My great grandmother was a hoot!

    Diana

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    1. Hank Phillippi RyanJuly 6, 2022 at 3:29 PM

      Yes, that “Bernice Bobs her Hair”
      moment must’ve been quite astonishing! For so many women!

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    2. Catriona says: Perfect! "I cannot take you to church" - "I do not care" I love the sound of your great grandmother.

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    3. Catriona, my great grandmother's name was Molly like the Molly Murphy mysteries by Rhys Bowen. I never met her because she died when my Mom was in college. I have a photo of her with my great grandfather and their children, including my grandmother. She could read, write and speak SEVEN languages! German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, ? Latin or Hebrew? and Sign Language ?

      Diana

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  34. Delightful post, Catriona, as always! You've given me much more to think about in regards to characters and fashion than I fear I ever have before so thank you for that.
    We're of an age, so I can confess I plan to go toes up in my Converse All-Stars, a jean jacket and a Grateful Dead T-shirt (I think it'll send a nice message). LOL. Congrats on your release - I am soooo looking forward to reading In Place of Fear - brilliant cover, btw!

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    1. Catriona says: Isn't the cover great? We fiddled with Helen for ages to get her looking confident and determined.

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    2. Oh. that's fascinating! What was the thing that made it work?

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    3. I want to know this too, Catriona. What made the cover work?

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    4. Jenn, you can wear anything and look great! Diana

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    5. Catriona again: the angle of her ankle made a difference as did the angle of her head. her chin was up and down like a yo-yo!

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  35. I'm still chuckling, Hank, about that "dress" that was supposed to be so perfect for you. You know, the one that looked like black strips of material binding a body?

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    1. Catriona: I remember that dress. The Mummy's curse!

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  36. Oh, so very late today. 11:35 p.m. here. But, I always love whatever Catriona writes, I had to pop in and read it and comment. Catriona, in mentioning bare legs, as in the preacher's wife, don't you think that's more of a UK thing than the U.S. I always think about how the royals (the women anyway) are supposed to wear neutral-colored stockings with their dresses and no bare legs. I think that would get so terribly hot in the warm months. And speaking of dressing for church, boy has that changed since I was growing up. When I was growing up, you wore a nice dress and nice shoes, no pants. Now, jeans are perfectly acceptable. I should say that I don't attend church these days, but I still remember when the barriers to relaxed clothing came down.

    I am now reading In Place of Fear and loving it!

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    1. Kathy, perhaps it is more of a UK thing than the US? Even on hot days, it can get windy where I live in the USA so I would wear stockings with my dress. If I am wearing mid thigh shorts or pants, then I do not wear stockings.

      Diana

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    2. Catriona here: I and my three sisters wore dresses, wee shiny white straw hats, wee white patent shoes and wee white gloves. And white socks. And white underskirts, vests (undershirts to you) and knickers. My poor mum - so much washing.

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  37. These posts are fascinating. When researching, and remembering, the 1950s, Jeans were dungarees, a hickey scarf was popular, taps on your shoes, and the music was, well, freeing. My clothes? I grew up in a housing project on NYC Lower East Side. I would never wear shorts of any kind and all of my colors were to blend in...to not be noticed. I've come some distance from the projects now but no doubt they are still in me. No shorts. Don't want to stand out. And every now and then I call my jeans, dungarees.

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    1. Catriona here: Fascinating. I had no idea that "dungarees" could mean that. Clothes terminology is great social history.

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