1 St Patricks Day Dress1 Gathered Bust DartThe window of my local charity shop was full of green – a St Patrick’s Day display – and as I walked past I spotted this neat little dress. The bust dart turning into a princess seam particularly interested me as I’d only just done some experimentation in that area, though my handling is very different and the result more smock than sleek.

By coincidence, my muslin, made from a worn IKEA bedsheet, is also green!

I had no need for the dress in the charity shop, the kind I imagine worn by a bright young office girl just starting out. But it’s sold now and I wish I’d looked at it more closely while I had the chance – who made it? what was it like inside? – because yesterday evening I saw Brooklyn, the story of a young Irishwoman (played by the beautifully lucid-eyed Saoirse Ronan) who due to lack of work and prospects leaves her family to begin a new life in the US. Not only did one of the women who shares Eilis’ lodgings wear a top featuring the same detail on the bust as in the charity shop dress, but the entire film captivated me in a way films rarely do, so that I’m now dwelling all misty-eyed on every remembered detail.

1 Old World Knitwear

Before leaving

I wasn’t particularly impressed by the trailers for the film when I saw them on TV but one of the reasons I chose to go anyway is the costume. Odile Dicks-Mireaux was nominated for a Bafta for her designs.  Set in 1951-52 – days before homes had telephones so long distance calls between the two sides of the Atlantic had to be arranged by appointment – the story sometimes focuses on clothes: trying to dress well on a little money (the Ireland scenes feature some bulky, homely knitwear), and the way clothes are used to create a persona or those important first impressions. The contrast between the plain outifts worn by new émigrés and those who’ve already made their home in the US, with all the income and confidence this gives, is a sub-plot in itself. Here the big screen proved a better choice than TV would have been. I delighted in each set of old buttons and the simple style lines, remembering the clothes worn by my very elegant maternal grandmother. Modest and classic, these garments were usually home-made and treated with care so they could be worn for decades, even as cruel fashion moved on and mocked.

Source: 'Saoirse Like Inertia' on Pinterest

Source: ‘Saoirse Like Inertia’ on Pinterest

I looked, as us dressmakers tend to, for the odd anachronism of an invisible zipper or man-made fibres, or the tell-tale perfection of a garment that had been mass-manufactured in its thousands, but I saw none.  Perhaps because many of the outfits were not made for the film but sourced from vintage shops as this interview with the costumier suggests.

Another reason I went to watch the film is that some years ago I read the novel by Colm Tóibín.  It was foisted upon me (you could say) by a member of my book group who chose it as one of our monthly reads.  In a group of about eight every one of us liked it which doesn’t often happen.  But the film, in my view, is even better.  Partly as the sets and the costumes are so well done and evocative, thus filling between the lines of a book, but mainly because the performances of the entire cast, and especially the lead, are mesmerising so that everything I’ve mentioned so far is secondary in this poignant and character-led story.  Having recently watched Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant, two well made, Oscar-scooper films in which the main characters have a super-human ability to repeatedly escape death so that it becomes impossible to care, here is the perfect antidote. To watch a sweet and vulnerable girl having to make a choice between two worlds, either decision causing pain and loss to those who love her, was almost unbearable. Which is not to say it wasn’t funny too. Go see.

"He's not Irish, you know!" Click for source and more stills from the film

“He’s not Irish, you know!” Click for source and more stills from the film

13 thoughts on “Brooklyn

  1. Very sweet, Marianna. I was duped into thinking it was showing on an Air Canada plane in December but they were only showing the trailer (which I watched several times, enjoying the period detail)! I have been wanting to look it up and your review has given extra impetus to do so. Love the detail on the window dress and of course the stunning green.

    • I can’t think of anyone who needs to see this more than you – and Gianni – who have no doubt agonised over similar considerations. Though we have the luxury of a smaller world, with an easier to cross ocean!

      Please let me know what you think, whenever that may be. And thanks as ever for keeping in touch :-).

      • It’s funny you say that as I hadn’t even thought of the film in that light. I guess I am just resigned to the fact that I am at an age that makes it more difficult to make a big move. Also Gianni always notes that at least we are fortunate to be able to cross the pond frequently, although it has been weighing on my mind more and more lately. Thanks! 🙂

  2. I also absolutely loved this film. The difference in Ailish when she returns in her American clothes and sunglasses was so subtly and beautifully done. I especially liked her bathing suit! Your dress with gathered darts is cool. I hope you’ll finish it.

  3. Brooklyn was such a visual feast even my hubby enjoyed it! I had commented on Remake recycle that I wondered if the costume designer had perhaps happened upon a period detail then used it to death – the buttons on cardi placket all the way to the top for instance? So I’m pleased to read they were authentic. Thanks for the links and look forward to seeing your finished side dart w gathers?

    • It often is overdone and I hate period films where everyone seems dressed in clothes that are impeccable and brand new. As for the plot, I am now thinking what your family would think because wasn’t there a similar move (and even further away!)?

  4. Sometimes I lose the plot of a film because I’m focusing on the clothes so much. My husband would probably call Brooklyn a “women’s film” so I might have to wait until it hits TV.

    • I told mine it’s a woman’s film full of frocks but ended up going with a male friend who thought it was very good!

  5. We have very few films screened locally – let alone in VO (version originale) – so I’ll probably have to wait until it’s on Sky Première. I might read the book though as I’m just about to finish the one I’m reading at the moment.
    That dress in the window looks lovely – I could imagine a young secretary wearing it in Mad Men. It looks really well made – was it vintage do you know?

    • I had so little time so didn’t even go in and check… gutted now because I couldn’t stop thinking about it and the next day it was gone!

  6. It does sound lovely, and I will see it. Covered buttons? I love vintage, I dress like that, but I love the fantasy costumes even more. My spouse likes to lure me into things “because you’ll love the costumes – the dresses are so you!” This man has lived with me for decades and still can’t figure why I’d drop money to go see a girl in a big blue dress, and her to-die-for evil stepmother’s acid green outfits.
    Damn, that dress was something else!
    More with that dart please. Me, I’m avoiding work by playing with gussets.

    • Playing with gussets, or bust darts for that matter, could attract some unwelcome interest from those googling certain search terms!

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