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The Secret Lives of Dresses

3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  3,687 ratings  ·  682 reviews
‘Every dress has a story.
Let me tell you mine...’


Dora is in love with a man who barely notices her, has a job she doesn’t care about, and dresses entirely for comfort, not style. All a far cry from her vivid, eccentric childhood, growing up with her beloved grandmother Mimi.

However, when disaster strikes, Dora knows she has no choice but to return to her childhood home and
...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 2011 by Hodder & Stoughton
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In the Pink
64th out of 1,033 books — 352 voters
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4th out of 81 books — 4 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Anne  (Booklady) Molinarolo
3.5 Stars

I love vintage clothing and hats! On my closet shelf, many sassy hats from the 30s, 40s, and 50s sit in protective bags while a few prized dresses and suit pieces hang on wooden hangers waiting for the right occasion to be worn. A couple of been thrown out: the yellow sun-dress that witnessed my son’s father breaking my heart. I haven’t worn yellow since. The Aqua jumpsuit witnessed my humiliation – I got fired from my broadcasting job. My kids News Telecast had been cancelled. There
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Karen!
I read this book a while ago and just, well, I forgot completely about it. This is the story of a lost college girl who is in love in love with her uber-flirty boss at the college coffee shop. Dora is smart, organized, and one assumes pretty. But she’s the 90s chick flick kind of pretty where she doesn’t know it and neither do the boys because she dresses all frumpy. She was raised by her grandmother, Mimi, in a microscopic town where Mimi owned and operated a vintage clothing store. Adorable. E ...more
Rebecca
The Secret Lives of Dresses is best described as "cute" and "fun." The dresses are described well and when you get to the actual "lives" of the dresses, they are all quite interesting.

However, the human characters fall short of the dresses. Dora, the main character, is a lost, drifting college student with no aim in life. When her grandmother (who raised her) falls ill, Dora drops everything to go home. Seriously, she drops everything: school, her job, her life, her clothes, her identity.

After
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Jennifer
Quick summary: bleh.

This story starts out well enough. Dora, college student nearing her graduation, must return home when the grandmother who raised her suffers a stroke. Dora ends up running her grandmother’s vintage dress shop as she tries to decide what to do with her life. She discovers that her grandmother has been writing “secret lives” for many of the vintage dresses that she gives out to the customers who buy the dresses.

I liked the idea for the book, but I didn’t really think it was we
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Jennifer
The best word I can use to describe this book is “vanilla”. It’s enjoyable, in that I read through 100 pages without realizing it, but ultimately boring and forgettable. I wasn’t attached to any of the characters, and none of them really had a distinct personality. Dora showed some spunk, but not enough for me to feel any emotional attachment to her, and I don’t feel like she grew at all as a character. It was the same with the plot; it plodded along slowly, but nothing ever really happened. Eve ...more
Kim-Lost-In-A-Book
I thought I was going to love this book, and I really wanted to love it. I only liked it. The story is unique (to me anyway). Some of the flashbacks were confusing. I'd be a few sentences in when I'd have to stop and go back because I'd gotten confused so when I'd go back and re-read, it was then that I would realize that it was a flashback. I didn't care for the stories of the dresses. With the exception of the last (and most relevant) one, they were all sad or negative. I would have liked to h ...more
Lisa
I love the cover of this book, it drew me in, and I think that even if the blip from the back of the book didn't draw me in I would have had to have read it just because of the cover. Kudos to whom ever chose this design!

Okay, on to the book. I enjoyed the story of Dora but also found a couple of things just a little confusing. I feel like I may have missed something or that it is just missing in the story.

Things I enjoyed about this story. Erin McKean did a great job of telling the reader exac
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Sarah Goodwin
I read thirty pages of this book, just to try and give it a chance. But no, I won't be reading anymore.

I understand the book is based on a blog, and I guess the idea of the stories behind the dresses is a good one. Probably quite interesting.

The framing device of the novel is not interesting. Dora seems weird from the get go, because after running out on work mid-day and driving non-stop to get to her grandmother, she then stops for a makeover and a shower.

The start of the book is exposition h
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Lauren
After finishing A Discovery of Witches earlier in the week, The Secret Lives of Dresses came off as… cute. If I hadn’t just finished a book that threw my entire world for a loop and made me positively itching for the next installment, I would have probably had stronger feelings towards this one, but as it is, I am simply left with the word ‘cute’.

The Secret Lives of Dresses follows Dora, a soon-to-be college graduate, as she copes with her grandmother’s failing health. After hearing about “Mimi
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Leigh
The premise of this book is great! Vintage dresses, a little romance, a dash of family drama, it was set to be a perfect read. While I did enjoy it, I didn't love it. The stories each dress told were wonderful. It helped move along the story between the main character and her grandmother. Where it hit a snag for me was the the family conflict. I spent a large part of the book waiting for the resolution to the conflict and rooting for the heroine. Once it finally arrived it seemed so anticlimacti ...more
Suzanne
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Chrystal
I asked for this book because it looked interesting and I thought it would be a cute read. Little did I know that I would fall in love with the characters and get so emotional while reading it. The Secret Lives of Dresses is an absolutely fabulous read: you have such great description of the vintage dresses, mixed with the crazy emotions that an unexpected romance can bring and add a little dash of humour and voila you have the perfect story for a hopeless romantic like myself. There were also s ...more
Teagan C.
This book is centred on the life of Dora, who, after her grandmother suffers an accident, must return to her home town and run her grandmother’s dress shop. Despite some of the circumstances in the book it is still a relatively light read, probably a good in-between book for those who are more partial to heavier novels. I wouldnt go out of my way to recommend it though, it was reasonably enjoyable but not a REALLY good book that I’ll remember. I’m not partial to first-person narrative but this s ...more
Justine
I'm going to coin a new genre called "orphaned girl with quarterlife-crisis return home to ailing/lonely/dead grandmother and rediscover themselves amongst a pile of the grandmothers cache (clothes, books...) as well as snag a cute hometown boy who falls hopeless in love with the new-to-town girl."

On occasion, I do like these books, especially those that add a dash of whimsy (many deal with cooking) but I found this book contrived and soap-operay. It'd be good for a day at the beach and a book t
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Elizabeth
a delightful and quick read.

dora is raised by her grandmother mimi after losing her parents as an infant. mimi has a shop that sells vintage dresses. it is in this atmosphere rich with history and fashion in which dora grows up.

dora is a senior in college when mimi has a stroke and is bedridden. dora immediately returns home and without thinking twice, takes over the store. it is in these weeks of caring for her grandmother and looking over the shop that dora realizes her place in life.

one of t
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Dana
I admit--I picked up the book because of the gorgeous vintage yellow dress on the cover. (I have a different edition than the one Goodreads has pictured.) And then I saw that the book was about a whole shop of vintage dresses, and their 'secret lives'--so I brought it home.

The book turned out to be a light romance/drama centered around a college girl who was raised by her grandma--and grandma runs the vintage dress shop. When grandma becomes ill, the main character returns home to keep the shop
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Dana
I spent a few hours today finishing up "The Secret Lives of Dresses," by Erin McKean, which was light reading, a sweet story that didn't require much thinking. Combine vintage dresses with the south, a dying grandmother, a quirky family, a grown orphan (grandchild of the dying grandmother who returns from college to run the vintage store, MIMI's, while grandma Mimi lays dying in the hospital). Add a flirtatious boss from a college job and a very kind and charming contractor in Grandma's town, an ...more
Amanda Kimball


Loved, loved, loved this book! Beautifully descriptive and heart wrenching. I loved watching Dora come into her own! Gabby and Con were the perfect side characters and Camille was a great villain (just wish they would've really given it to her. I loved that we knew and connected to Mimi without knowing her in a present sense.

Can't wait to read more from this author.
Michelle
2.5 - we need half stars :)
Light, predictable novel combining vintage clothes and romance. Dora has been brought up by her grandmother, who runs a vintage clothing shop in a small southern US town. Dora is aimlessly finishing her degree and working at a coffee shop on campus, where she has a crush on her flirtatious boss, when her grandmother has a stroke, Dora rushes back to her small hometown to run the store. In doing so she meets a kind man, dresses better, takes on meddling family members a
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Cristine
Light summer read. I love the concept and enjoyed the lives of the dresses. Dora's story was a little predictable, but good for a beach story. Would have liked to know more about the dresses or Dora's parents, so while I enjoyed the book, I also saw a potential for a deeper and more interesting book that had to compete with Dora's early twenty angst.
Kristen
I've been following Erin McKean's blog for several years now, and I love her writing style. Her novel does not disappoint, with a sweet story and great characters. The love story is second to the main plot, but still fulfilling and believable. This is a book I will probably read again; just for the descriptions of the clothes!
Bonnie
I stumbled upon this book and decided to take a chance on it... am sure glad I did. This was a very light hearted story that I was able to finish in a day because I was so drawn by the story. It was a bit typical of a story, sure, but the signature little touches that the author added were fantastic. Definitely worth the read.
Tina
Light, fluffy, patchy content centered around very forgettable characters. Pages and pages of mundane conversations. Unfortunately this blogger hasn't managed to construct fiction in a convincing or engaging manner. So glad to have turned the last page...
Tony
I really enjoyed this simple story of a late bloomer finding her place in the world. By the middle of the novel I wanted to go out and purchase a few vintage outfits and drop my usual t'shirt and converse look, at least for a day.
Amanda
This had lots of aspects I liked. Diverse female characters: Check. Journey about identity and family: Check. Cute love interest: Check. Great clothing: Check. But I just couldn't really get into the story. I very much sympathized with Dora's losses, longings, triumphs, but the story just didn't connect with me. McKean's characters don't jump from the page and I never found myself imagining their off-page life. The story reads quickly which is tricky to do since nothing really happens action-wis ...more
Celeste
I thought it was a cute story about a girl, Dora who has never known what she wants in life or who she really is. Dora's parents died when she was very young and she was raised by her grandmother Mimi. Her grandmother has always tried to get her to wear the vintage clothes and even goes as far as making a closet for Dora full of vintage clothes. When Mimi gets a stroke, Dora decides to go back to Forsyth. Leaving behind a guy she has had a great crush on, she meets a new man who she could fall f ...more
Amanda Rose Chavers
When I picked up this book I was looking for a light Summer read with really interesting characters and that is exactly what I found with The Secret Lives of Dresses. Dora is a lost college student unsure of her future plans when her beloved vintage clothing shop owner/grandmother, Mimi becomes ill. Dora comes home to her small town and a mixture of family drama, memories, and facing her own demons as she helps her grandmother through her sickness. Mix in a little romance and fun descriptions of ...more
Meagan
I thought that this was a really cute book. Super easy, quick read. (Sometimes I need one of those) Light hearted, and fun. Felt like something I might have read in high school. :)
Cathy S
Loved this quick read. Entertaining and though provoking. Made me miss my grandmother......
Hatz0011
Wonderful intriguing story about relationships and second chances to let your self shine through.
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“if you want someone to stop listening to you go ahead and yell. If you want them to listen to every word, whisper. -Mimi” 17 likes
“Singing when no one else is around is always good. I especially like belters. Good, loud singing is probably better medicine than half the stuff they sell in pill bottles, and it's cheaper, too. I also think people should never turn down an opportunity to hold a baby. There's something about the feel of a new baby in your arms that just fixes you.” 6 likes
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