Sartorial elegance should have been our dress code for the night but it was March and we doth not cast clouts so foolishly early in the year for the Endsleigh Salon, so as I recall we all turned up in our usual comfortable array of woolly jumpers and woollier boots, because I for one can never be quite sure whether I will boil of fry in this beautiful early nineteenth century setting. Thus attired we set to with our evening's theme of Fashion but in fact we quickly peeled layers because our lovely friends at the hotel had given us the gorgeously stylish sitting room complete with log fire, so we were mildly blissed out by our surroundings...they really are very good to us and for that we thank them.
There's always a brief silence when we call to order after a quick catch up over the teapots...who's been on holiday... who's going in for surgery...who's fallen over on the ice and fractured their arm... and then someone asks 'Right, who's going first?' and there's complete silence until eventually somone pipes up and off we go.
Linda launched us on our way with The Way We Wore A Life in Threads by Robert Elms, a local library cast off and after a bit of a dodgy start the book came good as Robert Elms recounted his love affair with clothes, and those up-to-the-minute fashions that signalled membership of certain social groups which most of us could remember quite clearly. The tonic mohair suit, the Levis, the Ben Sherman shirt and the Cherry Reds all had us nodding at mention of skinheads and mods.
Jane (you will see there are a lot of other Js to come) took us into Linda Grant's world of The Thoughtful Dresser, a third time read for her before confessing that she worked in a clothes shop in town that the majority of us had never had the courage to go in because nothing in the window was priced (= expensive.) Only the rich can afford cheap shoes apparently and at all cost we must avoid the decline into beige as we age, but a fascinating account of how Linda's Jewish immigrant family dressed to assimilate.
Rebecca had read Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro and had been sufficiently impressed with the book to order the book on which the novel is based and uses extracts from as a means of taking the heroine's life whilst advancing the plot alphabetically through a lifetime of fashion...A Guide to Elegance for Every Woman Who Wants to be Well and Properly Dressed On All Occasions by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, who with a name like that has to be the epitome of grooming I feel sure.
Then it was me and I had taken along Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie and probably gave a rather garbled account of an excellent book because it is a while since I had read it, but hopefully the gist was there.
Judith had read Cleopatra A Life by Stacy Schiff citing the idea of the fashionable woman of her time and was very impressed with the book, meticulously researched and a great read... we did of course stray into some debate about all those myths about Cleopatra and blamed Shakespeare for a great deal including the whole asp thing. No asp.
Jeannie had chosen The Clothes in the Wardrobe by Alice Thomas Ellis before discovering that the book wasn't really about clothes as much as the central theme of a wedding and a mis-matched couple. However the book was so good she carried on knowing there were bound to be some references to dresses which, with group latitude allowing for interpretation of themes, was fine with us. Interestingly several of us had read Alice Thomas Ellis voraciously back in the 1980s and wondered quite how she seemed to have gone out of fashion now (forgive the pun.)
Jane had endured sterling toil on our behalf, having done a last minute dash to the library and grabbed the only book she could see on fashion which happened to be Through Thick and Thin My Autobiography by TV fashion celeb Gok Wan. Jane then proceeded to soldier on through the life of a man who she couldn't help feeling quite sorry for but truthfully didn't really warm to. Perhaps it all epitomises the cult of celebrity, that craving of approval, the hatred of criticism and a man who only really revealed what he wanted in the book (autobiography so his perogative we all agreed) including the fact that originally weighing in at eighteen stone severe anorexia followed; a diet of honey and fifty laxative pills a day leading to the loss of ten stone in a year. Much discussion followed about Gok's TV series and how so much of what he does is about self-esteem and making women feel good about themselves when much of the time he seems quite fragile himself... all fascinating.
Chris had opted for the fashion of architecture (clever eh, and why we love our themed reading approach) and had read and loved The Glass Room by Simon Mawer and as quite a few of us had read it we had some interesting discussion about the way that the book had left us all feeling we wanted to see the house, and had then all dashed off to google it.
Karen had acquired her book after an unfortunate incident in a charity shop wherein her son had toppled a great pile of books and she thus felt obliged to at least buy one to make amends. In fact it was 99p well spent because Things My Mother Should Have Told Me proved to be hilarious. One of those 1920s and 30s handbooks full of little epithets of the moment about sweeping your house daily and dressing nicely to go to the shops, so much hilarity ensued.
Almost as desperate for something to fit the theme, and also drawing a blank at the library, Jean had discovered In Vogue - Six Decades of Fashion by Georgina Howell on her shelves and took us on a wonderful tour of fashions we have known. Much debate about the present-day value of what we may all have thrown away in our time, and how years ago many of us would happily trek off to buy the Butterick pattern (do you remember the fuss the shop assistant used to make about stamping "Cannot Be Exchanged " on the envelope?) and a few yards of fabric to make our own clothes. Jean very versatile in this respect though her son still hasn't forgiven her for the crochet fig leaves that she knocked up so that he could enter a Pontin's Holiday Camp fancy dress competition.
And lastly but never leastly (if there can be such a word) Angela having just returned from a two week pre-earthquake holiday in Japan had taken along The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal as her reading for its netsuke connections (yes, we all said netski) and having reached the end, turned right back to the beginning and read the book again. Advancing the suggestion that this book is about a fashionable lifestyle, we were all entranced, and of course it is about fashion and much more besides. I'm reading this one very very slowly at the moment, rationing myself to a chapter a day and then indulging the thinking and other bookish trails that it opens and I'm thinking I will hardly be able to leave the company of the Ephrussi family when it ends.
April's theme is The 1950s... all suggestions welcome. So much choice I don't quite know where to start.