PICADOR £12.99 £11.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

My Mother's Wedding Dress by Justine Picardie

The most significant outfit of the book escaped that fate: the long dress of soft grey wool jersey in which Ruth died, with a cobweb cashmere scarf her mother tucked by her departing daughter's cheek; both were cremated with her. Picardie's description of them is as fine and tender as the scarf; it, and the finale of the book, in which she accepts the ragbag quilt of existence, are excellent work. As is the entry on her South African grandmother, who protested in the 1950s against apartheid by donning a sash, or long gloves, or fabric flowers, all in black: Picardie gets exactly the action of, and reaction to, outrageous appearances. Hard to bring that off now that no self-presentation surprises.

However, the rest of the book is a disappointment: chic chick nonfic, written in a tone that drifts like voile. Picardie professes a lifelong passion for what she calls "fripperies" but lacks contexts for clothes, and her researches seem casual, too personal. She's all sensibility, all feeling, and not for the texture of stuffs, either. A day in the V&A library would have established the real origins of an inherited embroidered jacket, around which she creates a romance about her father's Eastern European Jewish ancestry. (I was going to write "she weaves a fantasy", but Picardie is vague about warp and weft - defining a selvage, the nonfraying margin of cloth, as a "raw-edged seam".) There are litres of blood and pages of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable in the section on scarlet women, but no curiosity about when and how dyes were developed that made flagrant garb fashionable. The King James translation committee worked on the Bible at a time when cochineal red was the hot colour: 10 years later, they might have described smart sin incarnate as the blush pink whore of Babylon.

Again, in a chapter on women in white, Picardie quotes multiple Brontës, Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Emily Dickinson, but among literary flitting doesn't consider the history of blanched females, no mention of the millennia in which washable vegetable fibres were worn next to the body beneath unwashable daywear, or as a single layer of pure vulnerability at night, and no sense of the extraordinary fashion change around the mid-1780s - which lasted for the next 30 years - when women wore flimsy garments of the type that would previously been underlayers. (Miss Havisham's fouled nuptial raiment would have been judged as pornographic when Great Expectations was published in 1860.) Picardie discovers that one of her forebears earned enough through whitework embroidery in the 1820s to purchase an education, an intriguing fact, but she is only interested in the familial details and not in the whitework, that ostentatiously discreet needle art. She rounds up a crowd of artistic dress extras - besides the above mentioned, Woolf, Plath and Zelda Fitzgerald are much cited for their mad glamour. (But not Jane Austen - a woman far too knowing about how useful, and useless, is the whole clothes charade.)

What exasperates is that Picardie has the intelligence and, through a job on Vogue, the rare access, that could have made a work of couture quality of her very original idea. She was allowed into the Haworth museum storeroom to see Brontë dresses; she sat on Gabrielle Chanel's sofa; she interviewed Donatella Versace and Claude Montana (and insisted on confronting them about deaths in the family); yet all these are subsidiary to her own emotions or indeed any passing pair of party shoes with the proper label. And why did she not consider menswear, especially in her family, with the same nostalgia? A patched tweed jacket on its last journey to Oxfam breaks the heart harder than any frock.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week