Monday, August 22, 2011

What To Wear In Books

What To Wear In Books

I recently returned from the Amazon jungle. Now before your jaw drops, let me hasten to add that my trip was a mental journey made possible by the writer Ann Patchett. You see, I have just finished her new book, State of Wonder, in which she writes so visually about this part of the world that I had no difficulty at all following her along through her story, tripping over tree roots in the mud as I kept a wary eye out for strange and lethal insects. I came away with volumes of new thoughts after reading State of Wonder, not the least of which was the absolute certainty that Amazonian weather would give me a migraine of colossal proportions. I also had no idea what I’d wear. And after all, this is the month when I think about clothes.

Here, in August, the noonday sun melts the air into a gelatinous soup that even the most hopeful of breezes can never quite perforate. For lunch we have peaches and cheese, then join Edward for an afternoon nap.
Even the sunflowers droop.
This is the month when I hibernate with books and the September issue of Vogue. I indulge in daydreams as I read and often my daydreams feature those most colourful of temptations.... fall clothes. I read and I read, and I dream and I dream and, eventually, the two seem to merge into one - I see another glorious autumnal ensemble and then, quite naturally, I imagine myself in another glorious book and eventually, like magic, the two become one.
Take a look at these four mouth-watering new designs from the fall collections and see what I mean.
I know just what books they’d be perfect for.


For A Grand Party
My invitation has been sitting on the mantel for weeks.
Propped up against the silver candlestick, it is reflected in the old mirror above, thus doubling my joy over its presence.
I am going to Mrs. Dalloway’s party in this dress.
Of course I am.

“It is angelic - it is delicious of you to have come!” She loved Lords; she loved youth, and Nancy, dressed at enormous expense by the greatest artists in Paris, stood there looking as if her body had merely put forth, of its own accord, a green frill.
“I had meant to have dancing,” said Clarissa.

from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
dress by Valentino, Fall Couture Collection 2011


Looking for Houses in England
I have joined Vita Sackville-West in a house hunting expedition and our train has just pulled into Staplehurst station. We set out walking, past the old church, to the footpath that turns off to the left. It is an autumn day and everything shimmers in colours of nut brown and orange. The crisp air enters our lungs like an elixir.
We walk briskly, as is Vita’s way. Eventually we see it.
On the market for over two years now.
I wonder what Vita will make of it.

“Vita, peering through a hole, at once exclaimed, “That will be my library, and this, “ waving a teaspoon around the walls, “will be my sitting room”. Within a month or two it was, and it remained hers for the next thirty-two years. Few were ever admitted to it...She filled the rooms with books and her personal mementos - a stone from Persepolis, a photograph of Virginia, one of Pepita’s dancing slippers - and as the wallpaper peeled and faded, and the velvet tassels slowly frayed, she would never allow them to be renewed. Her possessions must grow old with her. She must be surrounded by the evidence of time.”

from Portrait of a Marriage by Nigel Nicholson
Ensemble by Ralph Lauren, Fall RTW Collection 2011


A Snowy Night in London
I have been driven through the London snow to Number 14, to accompany Mr. and Mrs. Darling to a party at Number 27. There is a strange chill to the night air, and I find myself frequently turning my gaze upwards, as though I expect to see something wonderful just beyond the grey clouds.
I pull my gold coat a bit tighter around my shoulders and shake my head.
It must be my imagination.

“No. 27 was only a few yards distant, but there had been a slight fall of snow, and Father and Mother Darling picked their way over it deftly not to soil their shoes. They were already the only persons in the street, and all the stars were watching them. Stars are beautiful, but they may not take an active part in anything, they must just look on forever. It is a punishment put on them for something they did so long ago that no star now knows what it was. So the older ones have become glassy-eyed and seldom speak (winking is the star language), but the little ones still wonder. They are not really friendly to Peter, who has a mischievous way of stealing up behind them and trying to blow them out; but they are so fond of him that they were on his side tonight, and anxious to get the grownups out of the way. As soon as the door of 27 closed on Mr. and Mrs. Darling there was a commotion in the firmament, and the smallest of stars in the Milky Way screamed out:
“Now, Peter”

from Peter Pan by JM Barrie
dress by Valentino , Fall Couture Collection 2011


After Dinner in Italy
The night air is cool in Italy this April.
I’ve left the dinner and wandered out on the terrace to stand in the moonlight and consider how far away I am from home.
I hear the others begin to assemble behind me and I retreat to a cover of green behind five tall cypress trees that stand guard in this part of the garden, protecting the unaware from the steep path down to the sea.
In my black dress, the only part of me visible is the gardenia that glows in my hair.
I look and I listen.

“That evening was the evening of the full moon. The garden was an enchanted place where all the flowers seemed white. The lilies, the daphnes, the orange-blossoms, the white stocks, the white pinks, the white roses - you could see these as plainly as in the daytime; but the coloured flowers existed only as fragrance.

The three younger women sat on the low wall at the end of the top garden after dinner, Rosa a little apart from the others, and watched the enormous moon moving slowly over the place where Shelley had lived his last months just on a hundred years before. The sea quivered along the path of the moon. The stars winked and trembled. The mountains were misty blue outlines, with little clusters of lights shining through from little clusters of homes. In the garden the plants stood quite still, straight and unstirred by the smallest ruffle of air. Through the glass doors the dining room with its candlelit table and brilliant flowers - nasturtiums and marigolds that night-glowed like some magic cave of colour, and the three men smoking round it looked strangely animated figures seen from the silence, the huge cool calm of outside”.

from The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Dress by Valentino, Fall Couture Collection 2011


I wonder.
What are you reading? And what will you wear?


  1. you have outdone yourself with this post, my friend


    it leaves me speechless


  2. I would love to sit around lounging and reading in a big ruffly dress like that! So much more glamorous than sweats.

    Hope you stop by my blog sometime too!

    Have a great weekend!


  3. Beautiful post! No further words necessary...

  4. I can only wish for fall as spring has already burst upon us although the calendar still says it is winter. I dread the long hot summer which seems already creeping upon us.

    I can only wish for leisure to read . . .

  5. I will be short. Wonderful !!


  6. This is marvellous Pamela...I love your combinations and the thoughts behind them. I am reading 'Persuasion' long and simple, with a little cleavage for me! xv

  7. Well, we are still waiting for summer, but already the season is slipping into autumn.
    I loved your migraine comment!
    One of the books in the list I posted recently is by Vita's grandson, Adam Nicolson - 'The Smell of Summer Grass'. Since I am reading so many books about the countryside just now I am wearing soft-as-butter cord trousers and a faded blue linen work shirt. I would live in this workwear if I could.

    Any chance of seeing your Skye photo on your blog?

  8. Just wonderful. From a wet north of Spain where the summer never arrived.

  9. Oh, for a dream of such elegant sophistication that would accommodate such lovely visions! I'm rereading "Heidi" wearing a beautiful blue dirndl skirt with bright red and green embroidery, a green bodice over a white cotton blouse , and sporting bare feet. The air is crystal clear, and the future is bright.

  10. Beautiful! I would love to wear the Ralph Lauren ensemble while looking fir houses in England and I love, love , love the blue dress at the end of the pos. That is stunning. What a wonderful imagination that you have and your writing transports me to exactly those places.

    I just finished reading A Cottage by the Sea ..Ciji ware and and am now reading A Gift From Britany.

    Enjoy your weekend.

  11. First of all, Clair de Lune, in my opinion and I think you may agree with me, is the most beautiful song ever written.

    Secondly, you are brilliant. I am so glad to connect here with you, if only to read each others' blogs. You pull me in and I hope I can do the same for you. What am I reading? Nancy Willard's SWIMMING LESSONS, Mary Oliver's NEWEST POEMS and Ted Kooser. What am I wearing? My thinking cap, to hopefully help me emanate one day, the skill and beauty of these fine poets.


  12. Blogs are now one of my best sources for picking up ideas for reading material, and the House of Edward never disappoints. For you info, and your readers as well, I found that the book by Elizabeth Von Armin, "The Enchanted April," is a freebie on Kindle, and I've just begun to read it. Just the thought of visiting Portofino in April doesn't leave much time to contemplate what I might wear.

  13. Well, this post is simply amazing. What a great idea, great imagination and great writing! I would turn it into a series of posts if I were you - and had your talent for writing. Fantastic to imagine being inside these books. And can I just say that we must have the exact same taste in books. There are no places I'd rather be than at Clarissa's dinner, the Darling's in London, with Vita at Sissinghurst and in Italy in April.

  14. I have just finished Elizabeth Von Arnim's An Enchanted April, so I would have to be wearing something flowery, gauzy, flowing, flattering and entirely romantic. Before that it was Colin Thubron's To a Mountain in Tibet - there is was wearing tough mountain boots, an anorak and a thick wool sweater to keep out the cold - and boy was I tired at the end of each day!

  15. How I admire your blog, Pamela, for its originality and the intellect and talent behind it all..I want to be able to do this but I'm afraid to even vicariously I follow you faithfully..

  16. How wonderful! Some of my favourite books there and I love the gown you have chosen for an Enchanted April dinner. I am reading 'Cherries from Chauvet's Orchard' so I would wear something cool and slightly bohemian that was also suitable for picking cherries in:)

  17. I love this very clever piece of writing and you have chosen some of my favourite books.

    I am reading Margaret Drabble's "The Sea Lady" so I would have to be wearing a mermaid dress covered in shimmering pearl sequins.

    Good job I wasn't reading The Book of Genesis !

  18. what an utterly marvelous way to elevate high fashion into something to THINK about.....

    I found myself fantasizing about what to wear to Anna Karenina's...

  19. Your words and images are beautiful. What about Dr Zhivago.
    That grey coat with pink fur hat..
    are instilled in my mind.


  20. Country elegance and Sissinghurst for me, with Enchanted April a close second. What a beautiful, original post.

  21. Hello Pamela:
    Such a beautifully written and clever post. How perfectly you have matched the extracts with the clothes, such a wonderfully imaginative idea.

    Having just returned from a visit to Virinia Woolf's home, Monk's House at Rodmell, we should love to join you at Mrs Dalloway's Party. Vintage Fortuny, complete with 'fascinator' and Armani 'White Tie' would be the order of the day. But, no dancing for us, just people watching, what fun that would be.

    We are sure that you must be a 'Bloomsbury Set' fan too but do not know if you have ever had the chance to visit Charleston or Monk's House. If not, we can heartily recommend them when you are next in England.

  22. Pamela, your reading list is enviable, as are the gowns-especially Valentino. I'm reading this summer for the second go round Lady Diana Cooper's memoirs, along with other things-so I think I could easily borrow that coat-and the dress underneath please. I love your picks, of course.

  23. Super-delicious reading this post, Pamela! My schedule limits my reading, but I have been browsing Kathryn Ireland's Summers in France and Brooke's Patina Style and love them both. Your post makes me want to browse my fancy NYC clothes that are not appropriate for SoCal but are simply fun!

  24. What a brilliant post! I love the idea of turning our modern fashion into something from which we read. I'm in the middle of a tale of a neurotic Italian businessman, so I think the Patrik Ervell fall collection will suit my wardrobe well for now...

  25. Another perfectly magical posting!

    ... for more delicious vintage clothing -- check out "timeless vixen vintage" on etsy ... (no I don't work for them ... just adore looking and dreaming at the items in their online shop!)

  26. You have the most marvellous ideas you are so creative I love the ways you see the world..
    Lynn xxx

  27. such a clever post Pamela, if I had to dress for just one of the occasions, it would have to be helping Vita househunt - how I would have loved to have seen Sissinghurst at its debuts.

  28. LOVE that dreamy black dress at the end and it would be perfect for an enchanted April evening. One of my favorite movies - though can't find the book (and don't have one of those electronic readers). Right now I'm reading Victoria Clayton's "Past Mischief" set in England in the early 70's. I'd be tempted to go shopping on King's Road and getting something really mod, but since it's set in the country at a moated manor house, I'd probably be wearing bell bottom jeans with an Edwardian style black velvet jacket and a bit of lace-edged ruffles peeking out at the neck and cuffs. Fun!

  29. Beautiful choices, I love that 4th dress - simply wonderful post.
    Thanks :-)


  30. Edward, tell Pamela I'm wearing that suit Cary Grant is chased in by a crop duster in 'North By Northwest' - with a slight dusting on the shoulders - so I'm reading a short story collection by Kurt Vonnegut so I don't have to stay in the same place too long.
    Bye, Pal. Woof!

  31. Your blog is always delightful! I am reading about the founding of America so I'm not sure if I will be very stylish! ♥

  32. no books right now. I’m wearing baggy linen pants more like pantaloons really and an old fashioned white tank top with no shoes. Much love to you sweet Pamela and darling Edward

  33. delightful and always enchanting!
    i am re-reading 'gift from the sea' by anne morrow lindbergh ...
    so i think, sitting in my little room by the sea i am wearing my hair in a short bob, and a midi cream colored dress that is simple and filmy with a dropped waist and perhaps a ribbon.. i'm barefoot so that the sand and the water are warm and cool under my feet... i can hear the waves and i revel in my solitary moments with this lovely writer.
    tammy j

  34. My dear Pamela,
    This was such a lovely post and such amazing clothes too. My favorites are the Mrs.Dalloway dinner dress and the black Valentino.
    Wouldn't it be fun to dress up beautifully all the time.
    For some reason, I like this season's clothes better than I have for some years.
    Pats for Edward and Apple.

  35. I think I would wear the Ralph Lauren coat if I was Margaret Schlegel taking Mrs. Wilcox Christmas shopping in "Howards End." Though it would be worn over a dress of course! This post is enchanting and is perfect for taking us out of the summer heat and steering us towards fall and winter pleasures, which are always my favorites.

  36. all! Can I join you?..
    On the market for two years? Come quickly back to London...we must go! :)

    Jeanne xxx

  37. *claps hands in delight*

    Oh clever! I love this post. (As I do all your writing. You have a cheerleader in London!)

    I am now wondering what my clothes today read like. Hm. I should have read your post this morning. At least then I could have dressed to match my book. I would have teamed my cotton twill dungarees with a light beige cotton dress shirt and tied my hair back with a red turban. I'd wear bright red Max Factor lipstick and be dreaming of the handsome Spitfire pilot I'd be writing to this evening.

    My actual clothes sadly do not invite me to a great party, or to view beautiful homes. They don't place me in Italy either. I think today they place me as a magazine reader, possibly something focused on cats, as well as maybe a self-help book on fashion.

  38. Wow, great post! I learned at least three things about you: You have a romantic soul, you love the idea of more graceful times, and your taste is classic. Did I get anything right? Such beautiful ideas. At the moment I'm reading "Coming Home" from Rosamund Pilcher, so I guess I'll have to find something to wear for dinner at Nancherro. Thanks for the inspiration.

  39. Hi Pamela
    I had missed reading your blog, travelling and limited time prevented me. This post is luminous and has me dreaming. Coincidentally, just a few days ago, I started Mrs Dalloway and I am slowly relishing it. I would wear a chanel dress to Clarisa's party.
    I agree with Carina's suggestion of making this a regular item.
    Take a bow


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