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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Maxwell

Are You A Fashionista?

(Previously posted on The Wickeds Blog)

Question: are you a fashionista? Do you love the feeling of being all put together, or are you happier in a t-shirt and jeans/shorts/whatever? I’ll admit I’m a little of both, or maybe a little fashionista and a lot casual.

Nowadays, of course, we have the freedom to make these choices for ourselves; we can dress as we like pretty much wherever and whenever we want. Such wasn’t always the case, though.

Until the 20th century, there were fairly strict rules about fashion (among the very wealthy, there were even rules about how you dressed in the various rooms of the house!) and oftentimes clothes defined who you were – at least in terms of your economic status. Clothes also formed the basis of first impressions, much more than they do now. Whether you were a wealthy society lady, a servant, or a middleclass matron, your clothes tended to reflect your place in society.

That remained true up until the second decade of the 20th century. WWI redefined many aspects of society, including the clothes women wore. Gone were restrictive corsets, dragging trains, narrow, floor-floor length skirts, and the many layers that kept women from enjoying freedom of movement. Why? Because during the war, more and more women entered the workforce to fill in for the men who were off fighting. Even society women joined the effort. For example, Gertrude Vanderbilt and others of her class served as Red Cross nurses near the front lines. Of necessity, women’s clothes became simpler, the hems shorter, and the styles less class specific.

As the war ended, a name in the fashion world began to spread through Europe. Coco Chanel had been working as first a hat designer, and then as clothing designer in Paris during the 19-teens, and following the war her popularity began to take off. Coco embraced the idea of comfortable fabrics like jerseys and tweeds and favored styles that all women could wear, no matter their economic status. In fact, Coco had such an egalitarian view of fashion that she didn’t mind when other manufacturers began copying her designs and making them more affordable. Coco Chanel’s fashions not only reflected the expanding roles in women’s lives, they also helped facilitate those changes by providing fashions that empowered women to move, to be bold, and to be themselves -- and not what society had always determined them to be.

In A Lady & Lady’s Maid Mysteries, Julia Renshaw, the eldest sister, has been a follower of Chanel’s fashions for several years now, and in this latest release, A Fashionable Fatality, she is thrilled to host her fashion guru in her home. Right here, though, I’m going to stop and repeat a quote I read recently:

“Don’t meet your heroes.”

Although Coco Chanel is still years away from choosing the wrong side to be on during WWII, she is already exhibiting the traits that will lead her to make those regrettable decisions. As Julia – along with sleuths Phoebe and Eva – finds out, while someone you admire may be utterly brilliant at what they do, it’s no guarantee they’re actually a decent human being. As Eva and the Renshaw sisters soon learn, Coco Chanel is difficult, self-centered, oblivious and indifferent to the needs of others, and often downright mean. Which is partly what made her such a compelling secondary character for this book. Who doesn’t love to write about one of history’s villainesses, and give her a bit of what she deserves in the end? While Coco is never a suspect, she IS very much a catalyst driving those around her to behave as they do, which can be pretty contentious at times – contentious enough for someone to commit murder.

Have you ever met someone you’d admired from afar – and were you delighted or disappointed in that person?

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Alyssa Maxwell

  Author of the Gilded Newport Mysteries


A Lady and Lady's Maid Mysteries

Alyssa Maxwell, Author of the Gilded Newport Mysteries
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