I signed up for a quarter Cannonball (13 books) with my online community, but I’ve completed it and I’m working on my half Cannonball (speaking of cannonballs, my behind is one), and, not wanting to let the 79 works I’ve read in this genre since February go to waste, I now return to Loretta Chase, who, while not my favourite romance novelist, is extremely reliable and entertaining. I’ve chosen Silk Is for Seduction because it’s about romance and fashion, specifically 1830s clothing which is particularly ridiculous. Look at what the fashionable wore under their clothing, and keep in mind that a shift, drawers, and more petticoats would be added, and that those things on her shoulders would be like wearing down pillows –
Isn’t the thumbnail hideous? I dare you to click on it.
Have you stopped laughing yet?
Now, you would not know it to look at me, but I really like fashion, past and present. My interest in period clothing has led to the purchase of coffee table books, museum visits, and hours of trawling the internet for drawings, extant clothing, recreations (huge subculture), and I have a lovely memory of cooing through drawers of lace samples at the Victoria and Albert museum with the Dowager Julien. These efforts have resulted in a reasonably decent overview of 19th century dress styles by decade. My favourite era is the 1870s, famous for its bustles. Can you blame me? I mean, Sweet Fancy Moses, I nigh on swoon when I look at this kind of dress –
How could I not? It is all that is beautiful and good. So beautiful and good, that when it came to my wedding dress, I unconsciously chose this kind of style even though I hadn’t started learning about specific eras yet. To wit –
I know, I know the overskirt is too long! It mocks me in the photos. That is not a bustle, by the way, it is the aforementioned cannonball. These days, it’s an entire armory.
Loretta Chase’s Dressmakers Series features the three Noirot sisters who work as modistes. In contemporary language they would be couturiers, but since Frederick Worth hasn’t quite blazed his trail yet that term is not used. Marcelline, the oldest and the designer, is featured in the first book, Silk Is for Seduction; Sophy, the saleswoman, is featured in book two, Scandal Wears Satin; and Leonie, the money manager, will be the heroine of the third book, as yet unnamed, but let’s go with Velvet Is for Viscounts. They are “in trade”, but come from a shady upper class background. Their work requires them to rub shoulders and cultivate relationships with the aristocracy and wealthy gentry. They seek a young, beautiful aristocrat to dress and enhance their reputation and set their sights on Lady Clara Longmore who is the almost fiancée of the Duke of Clevedon. (His first name is given as Gervase, but in keeping with the era, he is referred to as anything other than “Clevedon” only once). Marcelline approaches His Grace in hopes of winning his lady’s patronage for her shop. From there, it all goes as one would expect from the genre. Poor Lady Clara, there are two books published so far and she gets a fuzzy lollipop in both. I hope Chase takes proper care of her in the next book.
The women’s clothing is an important element in historical romance novels. The men’s clothingalways skirts around any effeteness that would be consistent with the era and is plain and elegant. With main characters who are dressmakers, Chase spends a great deal more time than usual describing and talking about clothing. She either did a lot of research or is very good at making up words. Of particular enjoyment in both Marcelline and Sophy’s books is the acknowledgement of the extremely complicated nature of a woman’s toilette. Some romance authors simply ignore these details and with a quick pull of a few buttons the heroine is fully disrobed. Julia Quinn, who writes charming, funny, and mostly chaste novels, often has the heroine wearing ONLY the dress and it annoys me every time the hero unfastens a row of buttons and BOOM! she’s naked. I wear more cannonball management layers than that and it’s 2012. Any 19th century man trying to get to the good stuff would have to get through gloves, the dress, layers of petticoats, maybe crinolines, corset, drawers, shift, shoes, garters and hose, and possibly the “sleeve plumpers” seen above, plus any outerwear, bonnet or head covering, not to mention a potential Gordian knot of a coiffure (H/T Courtney Milan). These layers could have hooks, pins, myriad buttons, and/or lacings. It was like penetrating an Eastern Bloc bureaucracy to get all the way to the woman herself. Loretta Chase includes all these details and plays them for laughs and practicality. As fashion purveyors, the Noirot sisters’ clothing is especially complicated. Marcelline actually stops Clevedon from trying to undress her at one point because they simply don’t have time. Still, these are romance novels, so the men are very experienced and at some point the heroine can’t help but notice how adept he is with her assorted fastenings and adjustments.
Loretta Chase is one of the big names in romance for good reason. Lovely banter. Good at the smolder. Her Lord of Scoundrels is considered a classic of the genre and I’ve been working my way through her collection as my favourite writer, Lisa Kleypas, has moved on to writing exclusively hardcover contemporary romance. (It’s more profitable.) I will read “Velvet Is for Viscounts” when it comes out and until then I have books I return to again and again to re-read the “good bits” which sometimes means exactly what you think it does, and also really does not mean that at all.
Thank you Malin for recommending this book.