About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Shopping Perfection

Through several years of reading the Clothes in Books blog of my friend, Moira Redmond, I have become aware of descriptions of clothes in books. Janice MacDonald in her series featuring Miranda “Randy” Craig, a session lecturer in English at universities in Edmonton, is very conscious of what Randy and others are wearing.

Randy, having a modest budget for clothing, admires fine clothing but must normally purchase in moderately priced stores. Most often she is focused on the sales racks.

In MacDonald’s book Hang Down Your Head, published in 2011, one of the major characters, Barbara Finster, owns three high end women’s clothing stores, boutiques seems more appropriate considering the pricing, in Edmonton and Calgary. They are modestly called the Barbara Shoppes.

As set out in my review of the book Barbara and her brother, David, have abundant attitude as they protest a huge bequest from their mother’s estate to the University of Alberta for its Folkways collection.

Insatiably curious Randy easily draws her best friend, Denise into visiting two of the stores to see what Barbara and her Shoppes are all about.

We all have our vulnerabilities. On the drive Randy frets about whether she is dressed to enter a Barbara Shoppe. Denise does little to quell the unease:

Denise raked a clinical eye over my ensemble, which consisted of red jeans, red Birkenstock rubber clogs, and a white and red striped T-shirt …. She nodded, and said that I looked as if I’d been hauled away from my prize-winning perennial garden and had a sort of Katherine Hepburn disregard for fashion.

After Denise’s mixed blessing Randy hesitates to cross the shop threshold. Denise provides tactical advice:

“Ready, Randy? Just remember, these women can smell fear. Just try to look bored and we’ll be just fine.”

As a guy I have few, if any, qualms about whether I am properly dressed for shopping and how I will be perceived in a men’s wear store but I have been married long enough to appreciate those matters are real issues for women.

Once in the store Denise recommends trying on some clothes. They will have some “entertainment shopping”. Randy doubts she is petite enough for the Barbara Shoppe. Denise advises her not to worry for “a place like this has to have sizes for the dowagers who are rich enough to not have to worry about tennis lessons”.

She soon learns another lesson on sizing for the well-to-do woman. Normally she wears a size 12 or 14 but at the Barbara Shoppe she is a size 9.

Denise, at home in any women’s clothing store, tries on an outfit that leaves the sales representative, Pia, purring:

Denise’s suit was wheat coloured, with black and gold piping around the edges of a boxy jacket and the pocket flaps. Black and gold military buttons marched down the front. Pia pulled a black suede headband from behind her back and offered it to Denise. She was right. It was perfect, pulling back Denise’s blond hair and declaring it part of the ensemble.

Pia has a recommendation for Randy:

Pia reappeared at that moment and flourished a sailor top in front of her. It was made of a thick, cream-coloured polished cotton, and navy piping was worked into two lines around the squared-off sailor collar. My mouth must have hung open because Pia beamed with a look of self-congratulation. She had my number good.

(I have done my best to find a suitable image of the fictional middy. The above photo was the best I could see online. I welcome any reader with a better image to send me the link.)

Trying it on Randy dreams:

It was perfect. It hung just to the right length to make my hips seem controllable, and felt like silk against my skin. The long sleeves ended in cuffs that looked tailored, but somehow hid an elastic making them easy to slide into. With my hair drawn back into a braid, I looked like a young Victorian girl ready to recite “The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck” for my mother’s tea party, or to be Anne Shirley’s bosom friend, Diana. I loved it. I turned to the door, and opened it. Denise and Pia were standing there, waiting, and both of them clapped spontaneously at the sight of me.

But shopping love must be priced. While reduced from $150 to $93 it remains too expensive for Randy. She leaves the store depressed. I found myself wishing her boyfriend, Steve, had been there. He would never have let her exit the store without the middy.

Denise, following a shopping principle often pressed upon me personally by Sharon, suggests they go to the other Barbara Shoppe in Edmonton to see if the middy is there at a “deeper discount”.

In the second Shoppe despair turns to joy. The middy is there in her size and marked down further because a replacement brass button has rendered it less than perfect – “[T]he rope on the anchor leads off to the left instead of the right, and it’s not top drawer brass” - though no one but an obsessive shopper would discern the flaw. For $49 Randy buys the middy.

Fewer mysteries than I would expect make clothing stores and the experience of women shopping for clothes a part of the plot.The social implications for women of budget versus luxe shopping have a dynamic of tension. Most likely I am reading the wrong mysteries for shopping scenes.

I thought MacDonald beautifully explored the pleasures and frustrations of women shopping for clothes while showing how Randy, a highly educated and confident woman, is beset with insecurities in a Barbara Shoppe. 

I rarely make a specific recommendation but this is a book for you, Moira.
MacDonald, Janice - (2015) - Another Margaret and Q & A; (2017) - Hang Down Your Head


  1. Oh, this does really describe what shopping is like for women, Bill. It really does. I like the wit in the little snippets you've shared, too. And I couldn't agree more: Moira will probably love this one!

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I am glad that you saw MacDonald's shopping experiences as true to life.

  2. I meant to add, Bill, that this is so interesting because it's a book that's not only perfect for Moira, but perfect for me, too with the folk music. Now that's impressive!

    1. Margot: Thanks for the further comment. Now you and Moira can head to Edmonton for shopping and the folk festival and make a side trip to Saskatchewan!

  3. You've really caught the "clothes in books" bug. I admit that I pay more attention to clothing descriptions in books, too, since reading Moira's website.

    However, one thing universal to all but the wealthiest women is the feeling of triumph upon finding a bargain in a clothing store.

    I remember meeting a woman for the first time at her daughter's wedding. The first thing she told me is that she found the groom's suit which normally sold for $400 for a mere $100. She loved the deal.

    Most women can relate to that except those with limitless financial means.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment and story. Sharon finds a sense of satisfaction in finding good clothing at a bargain price that is special to her.

  4. Oh this is fabulous, I couldn't agree with you more Bill: this is a book for me. As a matter of fact, I already have Another Margaret on my shelf (bought on your recommendation) so I have to rush through that and move on to this one. Those descriptions are wonderful, and talk about tension - I'm so glad she did get the top in the end!
    I found a lovely page with some historical/retro/vintage sailor blouses which would be earlier versions of this kind of top:

    The point about the sizing - that's the kind of detail I think (probably) only a woman writer would know about.

    1. Moira: I am glad you enjoyed the post. I am really looking forward to your thoughts on the book in due course. It would have been a real letdown if she had not gotten the middy. I found myself caught up in the shopping.

      The historical / vintage sailor / middy blouses are lovely and the stories interesting. At the end they spoke of Japanese school uniforms adopting the middy look. I found several examples as I searched images. Thank you for taking the time to find and include the link.

      Now sizing would be a perilous venture for a male writer.

      I have learned over the years that "size" on women's clothing is but a guideline. That part of life has been simpler for a guy buying clothing though I am finding the sizing of men's clothing less predictable.

  5. I have news for you: Sizing in women's clothing is a mystery to women, too. First of all, sizes are very different globally. I bought some cotton long t-shirts that come in sizes 1, 2, 3. Then there are other clothes which are made without chemicals and come xs, s, m, l, xl, xxl. Then there are women's sizes, petite sizes, then sizes 2-28, let's say.

    In other words, one has to try on clothes to see if they fit, can't go by sizes unless a size chart is provided. It's maddening.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. Sharon has educated me on the vagaries of sizing. I do not know who manufacturers think they are fooling with their inconsistent sizing.