Dressing the Dearloves

Written by Kelly Doust
Review by Christine Childs

Dressing the Dearloves is Australian writer, Kelly Doust’s second novel. Author of a number of craft books on vintage clothing and a multi-period novel, Precious Things, featuring a glittering beaded collar, Doust’s passion for the history of costume is also front and centre in this latest novel.

An ambitious multi-period narrative spanning five generations from the 1920s to the modern day, Dressing the Dearloves is mostly set in an English ancestral home (think Downton Abbey with no maintenance budget). Most of the action takes place in the current day with only occasional glimpses of earlier periods, via short character scenes or news extracts, making it at times seem more like a contemporary novel than historical fiction. As the novel progresses, Doust does slightly increase the length of past flashbacks, subtly giving the illusion of delving deeper into the past.

At the beginning of the novel the main protagonist, Sylvie Dearlove, returns home to her decaying family estate after failing spectacularly as a fashion designer in New York. She’s a hard-drinking, smoking, pill-popping mess with zero self-esteem or purpose. Expecting condemnation from her high-achieving family, she finds them distracted by their own problems.

With four generations of Dearloves under the same roof, hiding from past issues and secrets, Sylvie finds herself spending more and more time in the attic sorting the family’s collection of period clothes and accessories. Through this she rediscovers what’s important, as she uncovers truths about herself and her very complicated family.

Dressing the Dearloves is recommended as pure escapism for lovers of fashion and contemporary and historical romance.