Title: The Secret Lives of Dresses
Author: Erin McKean
Published: 5 Spot on February 2011
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Dora is in love with a man who barely notices her, has a job she doesn’t care about, and dresses entirely for comfort, not style. All a far cry from her vivid, eccentric childhood, growing up with her beloved grandmother Mimi.
However, when disaster strikes, Dora knows she has no choice but to return to her childhood home and take over running Mimi’s vintage clothing shop. And there she makes a surprising discovery – Mimi’s been writing stories to accompany every dress she sells. Romantic, heartbreaking tales about each one’s secret life before it got to her shop…
Dora starts to match make these lonely frocks with new owners, but will the stories help her as well? Trading her boring high street clothes for vintage glamour is one thing. What she needs to know is whether she can trade her safe old life – and love – for something better too?
My Review: I was hooked the moment I started reading this book. I will admit that I was spectacle at first of this book. I found it in the bargain books section at amazon.ca. I always check there before I place an order just in case there are any good deals I don’t want to miss out on. I found this gem for 4.90 in paperback so I decided to read what it was about. It sounded interesting and what caught my attention is that Dora has a close relationship with her Grandmother. This is something we have in common and a topic I enjoy in books. So I was sold even though I didn’t have any high exceptions for it. I didn’t particularity love the main character Dora but the other characters I thought were great. Like Conrad Murphy the Contractor, first of all how great is his name? I instantly developed a book crush on him. I really enjoyed his personality, I thought he was funny and charming. I admired the way he took care of Dora even though she really was just a stranger to him. Maux was fascinating as well. I would love to have a friend like that in real life. I thought the character Camille was nicely done, even though she inst supposed to be a well liked character I did enjoy reading the scenes with her because it really was quite comical and entertaining. I laughed out loud multiple times reading this book, it was a great joy to read. I would have to say that my favorite part of this book was the characters and there relationships with each other. The dress shop sounded like a great place to work almost as nice as an old book store. The “secret lives” aspect of the book I thought was interesting expect I didn’t enjoy all of the stories, just some of them. That was probably my least favorite part of the book. It was hard reading the last few pages because I really didn’t want it to end. I would love it if a sequel came out or even a movie.
“Did she burn down the garage?”
“Nah, there wasnt that much kerosene. I think she just figured that if she set something on fire she’d get a bunch of men there double-quick to take cafe of the snake clean up!”
“You wrote this?” Con picked up the pages. He started reading.
“Hey, stop” Dora said. “You only get the story if you buy the dress.”
“It won’t fit me,” Con said. “That’s not fair.”
Reading Group Guide (In back of the book):
Q: If the outfit you’re wearing right now were going to tell a story, what would it say? Do you have any items in your closet that would have interesting stories to share?
A: My outfit im wearing now is just my PJ’s and they were given to me for free so no story there but I can answer the next question. When I was in grade 9 I wanted this winter coat from a new clothing store that opened up in my small town. It was $60 so I couldn’t afford it on my own. I told my grandma all about it. I Told her it was light brown corduroy marital with faux caramel colored fur trim around the inside of the sleeves. It had large buttons going all the way up the front, the color of hazelnuts. Then the liner of the coat was a light material with a pattern of the tiniest pink flowers. She could tell how much I wanted this coat and she could also tell I had started up my nervous habit of biting my nails again. She said if I could stop biting my nails by a certain date I could have my coat. I did it and sure enough I got the coat and I was lucky because they only had one left in my size! I still have the coat now almost 10 years later and its still in great condition. I plan on keeping this coat forever because it reminds me of my grandma.
Q: Do you think its true that “the clothes make the man”? Why or why not? Would Dora’s perspective and goals have changed if she had continued to wear cargo pants and raggedy T-shirts?
A: I personally prefer to only wear clothes that I feel comfortable wearing. I feel very weird about wearing clothes that i feel dont like good on me regardless of what others think. I think if you feel confident in your outfit that that effects your confidence as a whole. I think that Dora would have chose to wear the dresses no matter what because she wanted to do it for Mimi and because Mimi would only want her running the store if she was well dressed. At first she didnt feel comfortable in the dresses but by the end she didn’t want to wear anything else. I think after time she figured out that they helped her grow into the women she wanted to be.
Q: Maux has a very flamboyant personal style; she never excuses the way shes loves to dress. Do you wear something you love everyday?
A: I liked to wear more neutral colors like brown, black and grey. I do like to add pops of color hear and there usually with accessories and sometimes shoes. I wouldnt say I love everything I wear but I like to be comfortable in the end.
Q: If Mimi hadnt fallen ill, do you think Dora would have learned about the secret lives or about her mother and father? What was Mimi waiting for?
A: I think Mimi wanted Dora to not have so many stories of her parents because she felt that Dora would miss them too much to more she knew. I dont think Dora would have found out about the secret lives but eventually I think she would have asked about her parents.
Q: Mimi spent a lot of time assembling Dora’s closet, yet Dora never wore anything from it. Why do you think each of them did this? Has anyone ever done you a favor so huge that it felt like an obligation?
A: I think that Mimi knew one day Dora would appropriate that clothes and want them. I think Dora wanted to find her style on her own and felt that Mimi was pushing her to wear the clothes so she went with the opposite. My grandma also raised me and she spent all of her time teaching me about life. I feel obligated in a way to do the things she taught me the way she wants because she means so much to me and because she didn’t have to teach me anything yet she taught me everything. Sometimes its feels like I should just do it to honor all her hard work and to make her proud. I think Dora felt the same way about the clothes, the shop and the secret lives.
Q: Con falls in love with an ideal of Dora (as put forth by Mimi) before ever meeting her. How do you think he would have felt if he’d met Dora at Lymond? Did Dora have an ideal of Gary in her mind, too?
A: If Con met Dora at Lymond I dont think things would have worked out because they really didn’t have anything in common when she was all about school. He had left his life to come back to the small town and when she did that too it became easier for a relationship to happen because they had more in common and they had a better chance at making a life together. The way that Dora felt about Gary confused me because it was obvious to me at least that he was using her. He never really showed that he cared about her, but in her mind they were going to be together. I just cant understand how she came to that conclusion. It just seemed like she was trying to force things in her new life at Lymond because nothing she did there felt right or made her happy.
Q: After many in-between relationships, Gabby ends up remarrying her first husband. Will it work out? Do you believe in giving second chances to relationships?
A: I think that the marriage will work because it was her first love and they found there way back to each other after all these years. I believe in giving second chances if you love the person and you can forgive them.
Q: Mimi’s family relationships are troubled: she was estranged from her son, distant from her half-brother, and even slightly removed from Dora at times. Why do you think Mimi held herself apart? Are any relationships in your life like this?
A: I think Mimi wanted to just let others make there own decisions because when ever she gave advice they didn’t seem to take it. Most of the relationships in my life are like this but worse.
Q: Do you think Dora eventually would have come home even if Mimi hadnt fallen ill? What else might she have done instead?
A:I think that Dora would have came home eventually and worked in the shop because she would have realized its all she ever really wanted to do. She would keep feeling out of place at school and Gary would have never been interested in her because he was interested in everyone else.