Saturday, 4 January 2014
Dressing The Housemaid's Daughter
When writing my novel, The Housemaid's Daughter, one of the most intriguing challenges was how to dress my female characters accurately for the era and the setting: a sweep of 60-odd years in a small town called Cradock, in the semi-desert Karoo region of South Africa.
The heroine, Ada, had to show in her clothing the constraints she faced in her daily life. So we see her in simple overalls and a doek, the scarf traditionally worn wound around the head. Slowly, though, as her status grows within the walls of Cradock House, she is encouraged by her enlightened Irish employer to leave behind the uniform and the overalls and stand tall in her own clothes. Here is what she says when she finally owns a pair of shoes with heels...
"How proud I was of them! Such shoes will last me for the rest of my life."
Meanwhile, the second heroine of the book, Cathleen, has to adapt her style from cool, drizzly Irish conditions to the demands of searing temperatures and a fierce sun. When Cath is packing to travel to South Africa in 1919, she writes in her diary about what she should take.
"I won't need the fur muff or my one good silk hat, not in Cradock. And Mother, who knows about foreign parts from her brother in India, says the most important thing is to protect my complexion... So - sadly, for I love the silk even though it's ancient - I shall leave it behind and take three plain bonnets and a spare parasol instead.
In fact, just the sort of dress that many of us would secretly love to wear today...