I’ve been thinking about the power of clothing.

I do this a lot because I am both a) rather strangely obsessed with historical clothing and b) profoundly dissatisfied with how we dress in modern times.  Look around you – almost nobody looks spiffy.  Rather, nearly everyone looks like they thought they would be spending the day lolling about on the floor of a college dorm room ( even the 50 year old executives on the metro on “casual Friday”) or like they’ve been under the weather so they never quite got out of their sweats.

My son at 6 in a suit modeled on one owned by the Duc d'Anjou and made with fabric remnants from the Vatican

It used to be that clothes reflected a person’s status.  Sumptuary laws made certain that only those at the top of the pecking order were allowed to wear certain materials.  You knew a king when you saw one.  I am not advocating a return to class-distinction by wardrobe.  By no means.  But who would have predicted when dress was democratized that a race to the bottom would begin?  Yet today, after hundreds of years during which tradesmen and later the middle class tried to dress up a socio-economic level (or two),  people willingly leave their homes in such a slovenly state that, but for their hygiene and the fact they have their teeth, they could pass for peasants.

All this “casual” dress is done in the name of comfort, but there is no reason in the world why nice, properly pressed clothing can’t be comfortable.  And if it is not as comfortable as just throwing on any old rumpled thing, isn’t personal pride worth a modicum of sacrifice?

Yesterday over at Steampunk.com there was a discussion of the 2013 Prada Fall/Winter line.  They were, of course, interested in the steampunkiness of the collection but I saw lots of historical references in the garments.  I was struck by just how good the models all looked—even Willem Dafoe who has looked slightly seedy and decrepit for years.  They look powerful, confident, sharp and generally more attractive then when you see them in modern clothing (go ahead, Google Gary Oldman and compare an image of him in street clothing to those of him in the Prada).  This confirmed something I’ve suspected for a long time—almost everyone looks better “dressed-up” (as in properly, neatly and relatively formally attired).

If you want further proof compare pictures from people in your own life  when they look “thrown together” with those where they are “sharply dressed.”  I mean there is a reason we tend to put on more formal clothing for auspicious occasions—we want to look our best.  You didn’t wear flip flops, sweats and a tee-shirt for your wedding right? (please, PLEASE tell me you didn’t).  To illustrate my point, here are two pictures of the same young man (a daughter’s boyfriend).  In the first he is dressed in typical college wear, in the other in a vintage bespoke 1939 tailcoat.  Not close is it?

 

I concede (though it gives me no pleasure) that the days of dressing for dinner are past, and that going back to styles which require the assistance of a valet or ladies maid is out of the question.  But surely it is not too late to bring back pride in personal appearance and the idea that different clothing is appropriate for different settings (work vs. cutting your lawn)?

Maybe what we really need is this fellow.  Is he rude in this sketch—yes.  Is it meant to be funny—of course.  But have we all seen people dressed like this and thought they were “a turd”—I sure have.

Mother’s Day is a “brunch holiday.”  I detest brunch.  There is something so very non-committal about it.  Besides, all the best food (not to mention the alcohol to go with it) comes out after dark.  In the early years of being a mother I devoted considerable time and energy in the month of April to oh-so-subtly delivering my anti-brunch message (my husband comes from a Mother’s-Day-Brunch family).  By the time we had two toddlers I’d given up on subtle and had “Sophie hates brunch” tattooed on hubby’s arm.  Let’s face it there is NOTHING relaxing or celebratory about trying to consume a meal in a nice restaurant with two toddlers.  And, crazy as it may seem, I’ve always been under the impression that a gift is supposed to delight and relax its recipient.

Motherhood is not, generally speaking, a relaxing occupation.  Everything is prone to interruption.  Everything.  If you are a mother and you’ve been drawn, shampoo-still-in-hair, from the shower by disturbing sounds from elsewhere in your house—sounds suggesting that either furniture or children are being broken—then you know precisely what I mean.  The TRULY perfect Mother’s Day gift would be an exotic getaway.  A weekend on a beach inBali.  Shopping inParis.  A day at the spa.  Heck, I drive past a Dominican retreat on my appointed motherly rounds, and lately I’ve been thinking a day with the nuns would do wonders for me.  Please note, I am not even Catholic.

The truth is, for many of us, an actually physical getaway is pipe dream.  There are kids to be delivered to and from a myriad of activities (anyone who’s had a “oh my god I forgot to pick up [insert child’s name here]” moment, raise your hand), homework to help with, etc.  And can you just imagine the size of the laundry pile that would await a mother’s return should she actually manage to slip away toBali?

But being a mom is a joy and an avocation.  It’s taught me a lot of things including how to live in the moment.  After two decades of motherhood I know that I need to both treasure and expect my “me time” in small increments.  You have perhaps heard of the twenty-minute power nap?  Well, I have become the master of the eleven-minute sitting-in-the-car-getaway.  And that leads me to books.

Books offer the perfect, portable, getaway.  I may look like I am in the carpool line, waiting for the man with the whistle to call a hundred car engines to life, but I am not.  I am in ancient Rome thanks to Kate Quinn’s Empress of the Seven Hills.  I am in regency England watching a confirmed bachelor-dandy fall head-over-heels thanks to Miranda Neville.  I am spending an afternoon with Catherine de Medici thanks to biographer R. J. Knecht.  I am attending festivities at the Valois court with Philippe Erlanger.  I am discovering a set of sisters from Provence in a secondary research source on Notre Dame de Paris—sisters who will lead me on an adventure ultimately resulting in the publication of my debut novel, The Sister Queens.

The cost of these getaways is negligible (certainly not in the league of airline tickets to Bali).  For the cost of a brunch I’d hate for the five of us, my family can get me a whole armload of books I’ll love and that will fit into my schedule.  Yes, I may get snappish when I am forced to put down a novel at a climatic moment to help find a uniform skirt gone missing, or “check” on someone who has already been in bed for an hour but is still not asleep (you know who you are, son).  But it’s a lot easier to settle back down on the couch and slip back into the French Revolution with Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud than it is to sop up all the water and suds from interrupted tub-time.  When I travel by novel I can get back home from Paris for tuck-in time.  Try doing that by airplane (especially in a TSA infested air-travel world).

So, husband dearest, books please.  Mother’s Day is still more than a week away.  Don’t make me tattoo this on your. . . oh, never mind.

Share/Save

I’ve been tagged by author, Erika Robuck, whose novel Hemingway’s Girl will be out this September  with NAL (same imprint as The Sister Queens).   To play the game, she instructed me to do the following:

1. Go to the 77th page of my latest book (or wip – author’s choice).

2. Count down 7 lines.

3. Copy the 7 sentences that follow, and post them as a teaser.

4. Tag 7 other authors.

In this scene from The Sister Queens, Eleanor of Provence’s brother-in-law, the Earl Richard, returns to the English royal court furious over the secret marriage of his sister to Simon de Montfort.  The Earl confronts King Henry III during court festivities, interrupting Eleanor and Henry while they are dancing.   Without further ado, here are seven sentences (or thereabouts) from the 77th page of The Sister Queens:

Her welfare?  If that is all that worries you, be done.  Lady Montfort is quite abundantly happy with her situation.”  For the first time Henry looks in my direction.  “Is that not so Eleanor?  Our sister writes to the Queen glowingly of her new husband.”

“This is not a fanciful troubadour’s romance!  It is a royal marriage!  It ought not to be managed by women.”

My Uncle, silent himself, gives me a meaningful look, warning me to hold my tongue.

Now, I’ll tag 7  brilliant authors to give us teasers of their own:

1. Kate Quinn

2. Nancy Bilyeau

3. Elizabeth Loupas

4. Erin Cashman

5. Mindy McGinnis

6. Stephanie Dray

7. Lydia Netzer

Visit their websites in the next few days to get a peek into their latest work and discover who they’ll tag in turn.  Nothing like a little game to start the weekend.

What would the weekend be without a bit of crusade humor?  In The Sister Queens, Marguerite accompanies her husband Louis IX of France on the first of his crusading expeditions (the Seventh Crusade).  She certainly didn’t experience much to laugh about.  Particularly when Louis and his knights were captured and she shouldered the responsibility of holdingDamietta and ransoming the knights.  

No reason we shouldn’t enjoy a laugh or two at this Horrible Histories explanation of the crusades however. :)

Things get a little zany in my interview at Unabridged Chick today. Did you know, for example, that I was the first (and possibly remain the only) writer to attempt to make a career out of banana-fiction?  Yes, I am a master of the genre, but *blushes* downright terrible at titles.

Go Sophie!

Stop by, learn more about my early attempts at fiction and what terrific books by fellow historical writers I’ve been reading lately!

One day after release of The Sister Queens I am offering absolution to those who don’t find it their cup of tea.   Come on over to A Bookish Affair and receive official permission to love me but not my book. 

And speaking of loving me . . .  pop over to Between the Sheets for your daily dose of Sophie facts.  I share with Heather my advice for aspiring authors, and explain why I am a character junkie.

When I became active on social media and started blogging I promised myself I was never going to use those tools to say “buy my book.”  I made this vow primarily because such direct shilling makes me profoundly uncomfortable when I am on the receiving end of it.

Now, with the launch of my debut novel. The Sister Queens, only 2-weeks away (March 6th), and knowing as I do how important it is to sell well in the two weeks after the book debuts there is a considerable amount of temptation to break my word.  As an individual who embraces “historical” values, however, I still believe “a man’s word is his bond” (ditto a woman’s word).  So what to do?  Make all the new friends I’ve made on twitter, facebook and through this website feel uncomfortable by hitting them up?  Or remain silent and possibly miss sales?

As I tend to do whenever faced with unpalatable choices, I’ve imagined a third option (darn creative types, always imagining things).  So today, and without breaking any promises, I am asking you to tell someone else to buy my book.  You don’t have to spend a dime of your own money on The Sister Queens if you don’t want to, but please consider suggesting or recommending it to someone else.

How, you may ask, can I do that when I’ve never read The Sister Queens?  Ah, but here’s the beauty of my suggestion—I didn’t specify WHO you should tell.  If you suspect, based on your virtual acquaintance with me, that I am only good for 140 character quips and I probably should have stuck to Twitter, then recommend The Sister Queens to your mother-in-law, that lady in the next cubicle at work who talks too loudly on her phone about matters of personal hygiene, or any other person you are not particularly crazy about.  Sale for me; revenge for you.

If, on the other hand, anything I’ve said in this forum or elsewhere has resonated with you or made you think, “that woman can write,” then please mention The Sister Queens to a friend.  It won’t cost you anything and you will be doing me a big favor.  Heck you might be doing your book-mad friend a favor too.

I prefer the Athenian lifestyle . . . too bad about the no-votes-for-women thing.

Real Tudor laws leave a gentleman in nothing but his skivvies. Elizabeth may not see the humor in this, but I CERTAINLY do.

Oct 092011

I have a certain weakness for cats – well, I don’t consider it a “weakness,” but my husband most definitely does.  Having lost my beloved Siamese nearly a year ago, I currently live with two senior-felines, both of whom believe that I “live to serve” (them, of course).  Perhaps that is why this cartoon resonated with me.