History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

15 October 2012

Motherhood, Copy Edits, & Fashion

I've been going through the copy-edited manuscript of my next book, The Paris Affair. My last chance to tweak the prose before publication and all inevitably the time I find myself double checking a bunch of research minutia, adding in things like description of gowns, verifying word usage, etc... . It coincided this week with unexpected car trouble, the power going out, and a morning visit to a nursery school my daughter may some day attend. All of which is a round about way of explaining why instead of writing a new post, I'm recycling one I wrote for my own blog, with a few embellishments and updates.

This post is a favorite of mine because it combines two topics dear to my heart - being a mom and (at the risk of sounding frivolous) fashion. I confess I love clothes. I love putting together outfits each morning, choosing accessories – it’s like a chance to create a costume and decide who to be that day. My friends will testify that I have a tendency to dress up much more than I need to – why not wear heels and a dress for an afternoon of writing in a café? (which in fact is what I'm wearing as I write this post). Why not wear a cocktail dress to a casual dinner with friends instead of leaving it hanging in the closet? Why not wear a long gown at the smallest excuse? Last night was Mélanie's 10 month birthday. We went out to dinner with a friend at a nice restaurant where we wouldn't look out of place in jeans (after all jeans rarely look out of place anywhere). But instead I wore an LBD and Mélanie wore the her "princess" party dress (which previously belonged to two other little girls) because the pink tulle skirt always puts a smile on her face.

It’s probably a sign of shallowness, but I confess that one of the things i wasn’t looking forward to about pregnancy was finding things to wear. I was afraid getting dressed wouldn’t be fun anymore. But as it happened, I found I enjoyed the challenge. Fortunately I love empire-waisted dresses, so some things already in my closet worked through pregnancy. A black jersey dress I splurged on at a post-holiday sale a few years ago got me through everything from meetings to lunches to cocktail parties. And I found I was able to buy new clothes that weren’t maternity clothes, including a gauzy taupe dress that looks like a short version of a Regency gown which among other things was great for two baby showers and Thanksgiving dinner with a variety of cardigans. Realizing that my diaper bag was going to double as my purse, I bought a big Longchamp tote in a nice solid brown instead of something floral patterned.

I went home from the hospital in another empire-waisted dress I’ve had for years with a good neckline for nursing. And thus I went from the challenges of pregnancy dressing to the challenges of new mother dressing. A lot of my friends loved the fact that they didn’t have to dress up when they had new babies. For me it was the opposite. I wanted to curl my hair and put on makeup and wear dresses and heels. Part of it was that it was the holiday season when Mélanie was born, so there were lots of parties and special events. But part of it, I think, is that it was a way to hang on to who I was. I love being a mom, but I still wanted to be Tracy. My baby gift to myself was a new black dress with lace sleeves (which you can see me wearing in countless photos including the one above). When Mélanie was less than two weeks old, we got up at almost the crack of dawn the morning after Christmas and went Boxing Day sale shopping at Union Square in San Francisco. I was delighted to see lots of others parents with young children (everyone with strollers was using the elevator) as well as moms with teenage daughters which made think about trips with Mélanie when she’s older. The need for clothes that work for nursing provided an excellent excuse for shopping (I fear I’m all too good at find excuses for shopping). I learned that surplice mock wrap bodices are great for easy, discreet breastfeeding. I found a wonderful dress in this style at Teddy http://www.shopteddy.comin New York that goes everywhere from writing afternoons to to meetings to dinners out. I got in two colors on two different trips.

But while I’m still able to have fun with clothes, it’s not quite the same as before. There was the night I went to the symphony with my uncle and aunt in a cute cocktail dress, carrying a tiny black bag instead of my big tote/diaper bag. I came home from my sophisticated evening out to find that the cute cocktail dress had been unzipped on the side the entire evening because i breastfed before I went out (it has a slip, so I was covered up, but still…). There was the day I got Mel and me dressed in cute outfits and out the door at an early hour for a day of lunch and meetings only to realize I’d forgotten to wear earrings for probably the first time in twenty years (I went around all day with my hair combed over my ears). And there was the recent afternoon when I left Mel with a friend and went to a meeting at the Opera House and drinks next door at Jardinière wearing a cute LBD I hadn’t worn since before my pregnancy. Only to realize when I got home that the cute LBD had avocado and baby sunscreen smeared on the shoulder.

All of which is something of a metaphor for a deeper truth. While I still am the person i was before Mélanie was born, being Mélanie’s mom has changed me. Which is a good thing.

One of the things I've been doing in my copy edits is layering some additional clothing descriptions where they can accentuate character details. Particularly fun with my heroine Suzanne who frequently is in disguise in the book. Do you find clothes help define who you are in different parts of your life? Do clothes in books do the same for characters?

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Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Tracy, this may have been recycled but it was a fun first read for me.
I run the range of loving to dress up and just staying in my pjs until 3:00. But I too love shopping online and in stores. Do you have favorite fashion blogs or websites that you follow that you are willing to share? One of my favs is www.thesartorialist.com. How about books on fashion. Among the best 100 DRESSES and Linda Grant's THE THOUGHTFUL DRESSER.

4:03 AM  
Blogger Juliet Grey said...

I love this post!

As we all know, Tracy, clothes make the woman! I'm an inveterate clothes horse, and it wasn't a stretch to write about Marie Antoinette's passion for fashion and her incredible influence on it. Of course, she was damned if she did and damned if she didn't, condemned for dressing opulently, as befitting the queen of the most sophisticated court in Europe,a nd equally vilified for "dressing down," a few years later, wearing the white muslin "gaulles" with pastel sashes that people said made her look like she was parading about in her undergarments.

I completely agree that clothes can create character and give the impression that they define you. Why else do career counselors and public speaking instructors tell women to wear red suits or men to wear red ties? It's generally believed to be a color that conveys power and strength.

And of course costume designers know various clues, buth subtle (a pinky ring on a man, for example, can telegraph that he's untrustworthy -- or, given the era and the geographic location, gay) and unsubtle, adding flamboyant touches with color and texture, or telling us that someone is more buttined-up by, well, buttoning them up. Or giving them a sweet neckline.

And a perfect disguise is a wonderful way to shape (or shapeshift!) character.

5:34 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I adore historical clothing details (some of my reviews say I enjoy this a little too much, LOL!). I’m writing a lovers reunited/secret baby book, and one of the first things the hero notices about the heroine when he first sees here again is that she’s dressed differently than he remembers her. She’s “hiding” as a modest gentry widow, and something about it just pisses him off.

I’m in the process of getting ready to attend Le Diner San Francisco (the secret, all white, picnic) and it’s been an interesting challenge for someone who pretty much only wears black to put together an all white outfit!

8:21 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

So glad you liked the post, Mary! I too like staying my nightclothes until 3:00 some days - one of the perks of being a writer! As for websites, I love net-a-porter, for shopping but also for their clothes descriptions (they have great copy writers) and suggestions for pairing things. I also like to shop on The Outnet and YOOX where there are great deals.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks, Juliet! You're doing such a great job with clothes in the Marie Antoinette books - it must be really fun use them as a way of showing her character development and the privileges and dilemmas of her life as dauphine and queen. I had fun with Suzanne in The Paris Affair in which she masquerades more than usual - as a bird of paradise, a seamstress, a famous actress, and a ladies' maid.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I love how you use clothes in your books, Isobel! I think it says so much that the hero notices the heroine is dressed differently, and it bothers him. Lovely character and relationship development for both of them.

Love to hear about your all white outfit. Do you even own one?

11:53 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I do not! I'm borrowing stuff from a couple of different people and using a pair of white 18thC shoes I haven't got around to dying yet. I'll put something more specific and cool together for next year though.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Sounds great - the shoes sound very cool!

3:28 PM  

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