Dream Dressing: Stories

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What exactly is it that we dress?

Our bodies?

Such would be a simple, straightforward answer.

But what if we dress other kinds of things, too…things that are ineffable and elusive….

Things that are often kept in secret places and yet sometimes surface—both foolishly and profoundly—as dream-dressing?

How, for example, do you dress true love? Or a place known as the belle-of-the-ball? The perfect mother? Trophy wife?  How do you dress for revenge, or success, or blending in?

Dress is a neglected topic in the now voluminous, critical literature on “the body.” It is often treated as something superficial, as an add-on to the-body; better placed under the banner of “fashion.” Equally overlooked in this literature are acts of dressing. By this I mean the whole process—all the varied experiences—of dressing. Dressing usually involves choosing and strategizing about what-to-wear and then having to navigate the actual wearing-of-clothing itself. And yes…it very frequently involves some very secret places in ourselves where we dream and speculate about what-to-wear and what-might-happen.

So what, then, are we really dressing?

As a cultural anthropologist I became fascinated with this question and began to reflect on my own life-history of dressing. I also began to pay attention to how other women spoke about their clothing. The upshot of this was learning how central dresses and dressing are to women’s lives and memories.

The eleven short stories below—collected under the title of Dream Dresses—are the results of an exploration of dress and dressing over the life-cycle. The stories embrace not only common experiences (marriage, pregnancy, death), but also off-the-beaten-trail (off-the-runway?) dress moments, too.

“The tone and dramatic arc are carefully wrought…Scharper’s controlled expression and understatement touchingly illuminating….”

—The Globe and Mail

“Hilary Scharper…is among other female authors who want to give respect to a subject too readily dismissed as slight….Without turning it into a big issue, Scharper has been motivated in part by a desire to loosen fashion’s stranglehold on the discourse on dress.”

—David Livingstone, the Toronto Star

Little Black Dress

Florence Coleman’s last wishes are to be buried in a cherished, low-cut little-black-dress. The eighty-year-old grandmother left clear instructions: this is what she wants to wear for her funeral. Everyone thinks Florence should go to her final resting place in a respectable blue suit. Everyone except Jane…Florence’s black-sheep-of-the-family granddaughter.

Anonymous Cloth

Lei sews beads on expensive designer bridal gowns at a sweatshop in Toronto. Alone and new to Canada, she spends much of her time wistfully thinking of her deceased mother. Then Lei is given a special job: she must sew real Akoya pearls and Austrian crystals onto a wedding gown that will sell for $52,000. All seems to be going well, until some of the crystals go missing.


Clara’s high school social life is overtaking her homework. Her harried mother is growing concerned. But what Clara’s mother doesn’t know about are the plans of two “friends” to make her daughter more “sexy.” After buying a thong and push-up bra and undergoing a transformation, the “friends” want to help Clara find a boyfriend. But Clara isn’t so sure she wants to have a “sexy photo” taken after all…

Prodigal Bodies

Valerie has just had a baby and is coming home from the hospital. Her husband announces that he needs her to look “fabulous” at a gala dinner that is important for his job. Can she do it? Hmmm. Valerie was planning to get-her-body-back anyway…but can she do it in six weeks?

Birds of a Feather

Do we ever get too old to squabble about sharing clothes? Julia and Lillian are elderly sisters sharing an apartment in an assisted-living complex and they decide to get really dressed up for a community event. They manage to get their nephew, Frank, to take them to the hairdressers. Should they splurge and get their nails done? Even more important: whose turn it is to wear Mother’s pearls?


Dorothy had known that her publisher was inappropriately interested in her young daughter. But she never left him alone with Holly long enough for anything “serious” to happen. Now  Holly is grown up, dealing with the past and getting married. Dorothy wants to let bygones be bygones. She has a beautiful piece of antique lace for Holly’s wedding gown. Weddings are important family occasions. A time for family unity. Isn’t the issue of Holly’s abuse all in the past? According to Dorothy it’s all “water under the bridge.” Or is it time for a “Niagara”?

The Colour of Gray

Victoria is in Grade Three and goes to a school where she must wear a drab and ugly uniform. Forced to wear “sensible” shoes, Victoria asks for a pair of truly spectacular red boots. Surely they will come this Christmas! Or will a child’s true shade-of-gray ruin her dreams?

Aging with Grace

Grace Morrison has acquired quite a spare tire—the proverbial “muffin top.” But she’s going to wear a tight-fitting dress to the annual Christmas Party anyway. At the gala her husband of 35 years starts paying attention to a younger woman. Will it be divorce or a diet to loose 20 pounds?

And more:   • Firstwedding    • Diana’s Dresses      • The Dream Dress   The Dress Snatcher   A Good Groom is Hard to Find