The first romance novels I remember reading in my adolescence, or at least skimming, were Harlequin Presents. Few details stick with me now, but I still remember that getting dressed up was an important part of feminity in those novels. When the heroine was about to go on an outing, her outfit for the occasion would be described in terms like “a casual linen skirt with a trim blouse” or “sleek pumps and a crisp suit, accented with just a touch of lipstick.” So alien!
At that age, I knew nothing about “classic looks,” much less couture, so descriptions like that seemed just as alien to me as the world of jet-setting millionaires portrayed in these books. I parsed the clothing just as I parsed the appearance of alien beings in the science fiction novels I preferred, considering them part of the worldbuilding. Even today, I have a moment of pleased interest every time a heroine walks into an office in something like pleated trousers and a cashmere cardigan, because it signals to me that I’m about to enter a different world.
The illustration for this post is by artist Ashley David.