The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle
One doesn’t often think of World War II novels as “juicy,” but that’s a good way to describe the latest book from Jennifer Ryan. The story follows three British women as they make the best of a world where a white wedding dress has suddenly become a rare and precious commodity, clothing is rationed, fabric is in short supply, and ugly uniforms are de rigueur. Fashion is no longer fashionable.
Grace is a vicar’s dutiful daughter engaged to marry another vicar and continue her life of service to others. Violet is a privileged snob on the lookout for an available duke. Cressida is a sophisticated London designer whose independent life is upended when Nazi bombers destroy her home and her business. Their lives intersect in the small village of Aldhurst where the women come together to create new clothes out of old cloth for themselves and others. This book lives up to the adage that the journey is more important than the destination. We can see early on where and with whom each woman should end up, but how they get there is the fun of it. With delightful characterizations and surprising situations, the book explores the resilience of ordinary women in extraordinary times.
By focusing on clothing, Ryan has dug into a fascinating closet of World War II history. People don’t stop falling in love and wanting to marrying just because a war is going on. So the women in the wedding dress sewing circle are doing their best to provide a sense of normalcy. Ryan doesn’t ignore the deadly toll of war, but her emphasis is on how people, especially women, manage to keep life (and love) going when so many others are intent on destroying it. Their actions are a form of bravery, and a beautiful one at that.