Books in which people shop for clothes
February 18, 2018 9:52 AM   Subscribe

I love scenes in books in which people go shopping or make clothes, with loving descriptions of the clothes themselves. Bring 'em on!
posted by chaiminda to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (52 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
William Gibson's Blue Ant trilogy, maybe?
posted by humboldt32 at 10:07 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]

Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years.
posted by Melismata at 10:11 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]

Oh man, I also love this! The older/antique novels for young girls I love often have scenes of this nature: Chapter 16, "A Dress Parade," in Louisa May Alcott's "An Old-Fashioned Girl" is a good example. Laura Ingalls Wilder's books also often feature this as well, especially the later ones like "These Happy Golden Years," with Laura's brown poplin, sage-green poke-bonnet, cream-colored hat with ostrich feathers, the black cashmere wedding dress, and I think Mary's dresses for the school for the blind are in this one as well.

The utterly delightful "The Uncrushable Jersey Dress" blog about Betty Neels' romance novels also ranks mentions of fashion specifically in their book reviews (along with mentions of food).
posted by spelunkingplato at 10:11 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

In Stephen King's Carrie, Carrie is very good at sewing and makes her own prom dress.
posted by threetwentytwo at 10:18 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, she doesn’t go shopping, but she does unpack her trunks and her cousins try on her clothes, and the loving descriptions of her fine dresses stuck with me my entire life!
posted by kapers at 10:32 AM on February 18 [9 favorites]

Anne of Green Gables waxes poetic about the clothes she has and those she makes frequently throughout all the books about her.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 10:33 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]

In the book "Circle of Friends" by Maeve Binchy there are descriptions of making, wearing and caring for clothes that I still remember more than a decade after reading. If you saw the movie, the book is definitely better.
posted by bunderful at 10:48 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

it's not quite what you're asking for, but I bought Women In Clothes to scratch that same itch.
Also echo the William Gibson suggestion - I love how he writes about clothes.
posted by stray at 10:48 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

In "A Girl Of The Limberlost", the main character is an impoverished teenage girl who wants to attend high school, but she has no proper or fashionable clothing. Her neighbors are extremely fond of her, so there's a scene where they go to town and buy her clothes (well it takes place in the early twentieth century, so they buy the fabric and patterns for dresses) and they end up buying much more than she needs, plus lots of interesting accessories (coat, hats, shoes, gloves, lunchbox, pencil case, etc.) which are all described in detail. It's really fun.
posted by katyggls at 11:04 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

Great stuff in Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary.
posted by Melismata at 11:14 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

Save Karyn
posted by tilde at 11:31 AM on February 18

Juliet Blackwell's Witchcraft series in which the protagonist runs a vintage clothing store features lots of clothes shopping with murders, friendships and romances on the side.
posted by Botanizer at 11:42 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

There are some total duds in there, but this incredibly 2000s short story collection Retro Retro has a few decent stories revolving around eccentric second-hand clothes shop owners or troubled teens reinventing themselves through outfits involving boleros and matador pants. The descriptions of the clothes are really satisfying.

Also Viv Albertine of The Slits wrote an absolutely brilliant autobiography, Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys, and although the clothes and boys are much less important than the music there are still lots of interesting discussions about what clothes meant to her and great descriptions of the outfits she was wearing from the 70s to the present day.
posted by Lluvia at 11:44 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

Doesn't Jane Eyre have a scene where Rochester is trying to get her to dress like a fine lady and she's like, no - plain Jane black frock for me, thx. (Oh yes, they go to Millcote, to a silk shop, in chap 24)
posted by ikahime at 11:51 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I'll Take It is a comic novel from 1989, written by Paul Rudnick. Lots of descriptions of clothes (mostly store bought, but some homemade), as part of its celebration of shopping and style. (Granted, the book ends up also being about shopLIFTING, but it's a light, humorous novel with a sweet heart, and no one gets hurt.)

Unfortunately looks like there's no ebook, but used copies are cheap.
posted by theatro at 11:57 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Regency-setting romance novels have boatloads of 'hero/heroine gets a whole new wardrobe after becoming wealthy/ennobled/betrothed' scenes, if you're into the genre at all. Mary Balogh does it a ton. And the heroine in Tessa Dare's "The Duchess Deal" is a seamstress, so I think there were a bunch of descriptions of her creations throughout (I'm a little hazy on the specifics aside from the wedding dress mentioned in the review; per the review it's a wonderfully bonkers novel).
posted by oh yeah! at 11:57 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

All the Miss Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood have lavish descriptions of her clothes, all handmade of course. And Miss Fisher is rich so they're lush and luxe (1920s). There's also descriptions of others' clothes, too. And one of the books centers on her couturier problems with a murder in the sewing room and designs being stolen.
posted by MovableBookLady at 12:26 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]

There's an Anita Brookner novel, I think it's Look at Me, with a main character who grows up with an aunt and uncle who sew couture fashion and make her an outfit every year. It's been ages since I read it and it stuck with me.
posted by theora55 at 12:58 PM on February 18

I remember there being a big focus on dresses, and the difficulty of affording them, in Ballet Shoes.
posted by prune at 1:29 PM on February 18

The Ladies' Paradise might scratch this itch.
posted by dizziest at 1:32 PM on February 18

In I Capture the Castle, Rose and Cassandra’s clothes are an important illustration of their journey from poverty to their endgame- especially encapsulated in their first and subsequent trips to London.
posted by mymbleth at 1:48 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]

The Secret Lives of Dresses is a fun novel with a big emphasis on clothes descriptions and by the same author, The Hundred Dresses: The Most Iconic Styles of Our Time is *only* descriptions of clothes.
posted by dogmom at 1:53 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Judith Krantz novels like Scruples, Princess Daisy and The Spring Collection often have extremely detailed descriptions of clothing and high end shopping.

+1 to the William Gibson series too.
posted by DarthDuckie at 2:26 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I felt like pretty much all GRRM did after about book 3 of the Ice & Fire series was describe clothes and food, so maybe you'd like that?
posted by nosila at 2:48 PM on February 18

Love in a Cold Climate, in addition to being riotously funny, has many great descriptions of buying clothes in Paris in the late 1930s. There is quite a lot of description of the clothes and jewellery of English aristocracy and Oxford don’s circles as well. (The first book, The Pursuit of Love, has some pretty good ballgown descriptions.)
posted by Concordia at 2:57 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

The shopaholic books have this on about every other page
posted by raccoon409 at 3:56 PM on February 18

Vintage by Susan Gloss.
Steve Martin's Shopgirl
posted by Neeuq Nus at 4:44 PM on February 18

Well, there is a fair bit of this class of thing in American Psycho and to a lesser extent in Glamorama but...hmmm.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:12 PM on February 18

Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex and sequel(s) have a lot of this! The lead character is the PA to a mediagenic superheroine, and several recurring characters either work in fashion or are noted for being snappy dressers. Demonic portals in lingerie shops are a feature of the plot.

This is not quite a recommendation, but whenever someone talks about detailed descriptions of clothes I always think of the Wheel of Time series, where characters are always traveling and always adding to or modifying their wardrobes, with loving descriptions from Robert Jordan of every tweak in cut, color, design and occasion. The trouble being that Wheel of Time is notorious for loving descriptions of everything.
posted by bettafish at 5:30 PM on February 18

Maud Hart lovelace's Betsy tacy and deep valley spin offs, beginning with the silk dress Betsy gets to wear for her 5th birthday.
posted by brujita at 5:47 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]

Well, there's a lot of clothes shopping in Crazy Rich Asians
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:13 PM on February 18 [6 favorites]

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is about a working-class London woman who wants a Dior gown and goes to Paris to get one. I haven't read it since high school but I think there must have been at least a chapter or two about shopping.
posted by fiercekitten at 6:38 PM on February 18

Lee Child's Jack Reacher is always buying clothes (well-considered, practical and chosen to fit in wherever he goes) as he moves on and on, with only a toothbrush and the clothes on his back.

Takeshi Kovacs in the extremely violent Altered Carbon (Richard K. Morgan) narrates being taught by a younger female soldier on the social need for (clothing) shopping.
posted by unearthed at 12:48 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

Love, Loss, and What I Wore Here's how the author describes her poignant book:

Ilene Beckerman’s runaway bestseller articulates something all women know: that our memories are often tied to our favorite clothes. From her Brownie uniform to her Pucci knockoff to her black strapless Rita Hayworth–style dress from the Neiman Marcus outlet store, Ilene Beckerman tells us the story of her life.

Nora and Delia Ephron adapted the book into a successful Broadway play.
posted by Elsie at 12:53 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

Alison Lurie's The Nowhere City is good for this. (The same author wrote The Language of Clothes, which is also great, but not exactly what you're asking for here.)
posted by Grunyon at 1:19 AM on February 19

Clothes (and the constant challenge of getting/making clothes) is a recurring theme of Ballet Shoes. As a bonus, a lot of the clothes involve their uniforms for the dance academy that all the sisters attend. And it's based in England so there's exotic words like "frock" and "pinafore" thrown about.
posted by like_neon at 1:42 AM on February 19

In Rebuilding Coventry by Sue Townsend, the protagonist is down on her luck but decides to spend the little money she has on shoes (and there are many descriptions of what people are wearing in general). The purchase gets a whole chapter of its own, titled Boots to Change My Life...

The boots are so soft that they have already taken on the shape of my feet. I can see every one of my toes, and the slight bunion on each foot. I love my boots. I intend to buy them a tube of black polish. These boots are going to keep me out of prison, find me a job and change my life.
posted by Vesihiisi at 6:15 AM on February 19

Oh and how could I forget, Confessions of a Shopaholic. It's pretty vapid and the I wanted to shake the main character a few times but there is a ton of description about the things she buys and fashion takes up a large portion of her, uh, budget.
posted by like_neon at 6:33 AM on February 19

The book Fabulous Nobodies is billed as "a novel about a girl who's in love with her clothes," and she is. All her dresses have names and she senses that they have their own personalities. The clothes, and their descriptions, are pretty much the driving force of the entire book. It's twee but it's weirdly charming, and I have read this book many times since it came out in the very late 80s, and I wish more people knew about it.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:56 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

Sarra Manning's Unsticky is a dark, faintly depressing yet strangely compulsive romance novel in which the main character works at a fashion magazine and becomes mistress to a wealthy art dealer. Apart from that, she is also a big clothes-geek so there are lots and lots of descriptions of high-fashion couture throughout the novel.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:33 AM on February 19

Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series, especially the first trilogy, features a sacred prostitute!spy whose clothes are personally tailored in loving detail. I particularly love a scene where she receives a cloak in a rare deep red color and is so overcome by its beauty that she cries. The second book also has her working with a personal tailor. (Content note: lots of explicit kinky sex, and some [mercifully separate] sexual violence.)
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 9:01 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]

John Le Carre's "The Tailor of Panama" is about an English tailor/haberdasher who gets coerced into participating in a spy plot by an MI-6 agent. I'm pretty sure there's descriptions of tailoring, suit-cutting and whatnot, but it's been a while and maybe I'm conflating it with the movie, which had a long (but sped-up) take of actor Geoffrey Rush chalking and cutting a wool suit-jacket.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:16 AM on February 19

+1 for American Psycho if you're interested in lovingly psychotic descriptions.
posted by stinkfoot at 7:50 AM on February 20

Seconding I'll Take It. I love that book.
posted by Mchelly at 11:17 AM on February 20

I only just now noticed that I mis-pasted my amazon link to I'll Take It. Sorry about that! Here it is:
posted by theatro at 12:39 PM on February 20

Don't recall shopping or making, but if loving descriptions of clothes is good enough, you'd probably like Emma Bull's War for the Oaks.
posted by Zed at 5:16 PM on February 20

Yarn by Jon Armstrong is a post modern cyberpunk novel with this sort of thing going on - its about a tailor, and a conspiracy involving, of all things, specialty fibres. Its very bizarre, and has strange language that can take a bit to get into, but there are tons of descriptions of weird futuristic clothing and clothing manufacture, and the use of clothes as a marker of class.
Its very different from all the other types of novels described so far, but it is all about clothes. There is also murder and sex and just general s-f weirdness.
posted by sandraregina at 7:31 AM on February 21

Smilla in Miss Smilla's Sense of Snow loves clothes, and has some lovingly described garments (also a wonderful cup of coffee, if that's something you like too); the female protagonist in Brother of the More Famous Jack knits and makes her own clothes, and likes to talk about smocking and aran knits, that sort of thing.
posted by glitter at 3:56 PM on February 21

A Little Princess has several shopping/clothing passages, the acquisition and loss of lovely clothes is a non-trivial part of the story.
posted by yeahlikethat at 12:43 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]

+++ for Fabulous Nobodies; I came in here specifically to recommend it only to find that dlugoczaj has already done so! It's hilarious and adorable. Lots of loving descriptions not just of Really's wardrobe and the frocks that have names and personalities, but of things like her going to second-hand stores and finding adorable vegetable-basket-shaped kitsch earrings and real Rudi Gernreich blouses that somebody's used as a dishrag.
posted by andraste at 9:23 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken introduced me to the word "pelisse" and is full of descriptions of 19th century British clothing, especially for children.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 12:33 PM on February 28

You may like the graphic novel The Prince and the Dressmaker, a Paris-set fairy tale about a prince who loves wearing dresses and a dressmaker who keeps his secret.

Adorable art, a sweet story, and SO MANY pretty dresses.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 2:31 AM on March 3

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