This is a sweet and heartwarming historical fiction set in England during WWII. After renowned fashion designer Cressida Westcott’s home and design business is bombed in the London Blitz, she leaves London and returns to her familial home in a small village. Hoping that her niece and nephew are more welcoming than her deceased, estranged brother, she appears on their doorstep with nothing but the clothes on her back. She wonders how she will handle living in a small village while she tries to rebuild her business and life back in London.
I loved seeing Cressida’s growth in going from a driven businesswoman working tirelessly on her business to the exclusion of friends or a love life, to opening herself up to a friendship with a group of women and even possibly love with an old acquaintance she knew as a young woman. Her growth was the biggest of the trio because she was determined to not allow circumstances, or the possibility of love, detract her from her passion for designing clothes or the hard-fought independence she earned while following her dreams and being her own person. The secret was finding balance, and allowing for the possibility that you can, in fact, have it all.
Her niece Violet is thrilled to have her aunt Cressida live with them and hopes that she will help liven up the village, and help build her trousseau, as she searches for an aristocratic husband. But just as Cressida arrives, Violet gets her conscription letter and finds herself marching off to military boot camp, and then working as a driver for a brash American officer at the new military base set up outside her home village. How is she supposed to find a proper English husband wearing a frumpy uniform surrounded by Americans? This storyline was predictable, but it was still enjoyable to see Violet grow up and learn that her sheltered, frivolous, privileged life was limiting her and that she was smarter, more capable and stronger than she ever thought she was.
Lastly, the vicar’s daughter Grace is trying to mend her mother’s wedding dress for her own wedding to an older vicar so she can settle into a dutiful, vicar’s wife, and takes the dress to the town’s sewing circle in the hopes that Cressida can provide her with some ideas and help. Before long, Cressida is helping the sewing group hone their skills and come up with creative ways give new life to old clothes. As the growing need for white wedding dresses for brides becomes apparent, the group undertakes an effort to gather donated wedding dresses, update them and loan them out to brides-to-be so that they can have a true white wedding experience. While working tirelessly toward this effort, Grace blossoms from a meek and shy wallflower to a confidant and strong woman going after what she wants in life instead of doing what’s expected.
I really enjoyed learning about the clothing shortage during WWII, which I guess I never really heard of, nor the huge lack of wedding dresses for brides. It’s based on a true story, which is crazy to believe, and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt even got in on the action. It was wonderful to read about the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the women and wonder if women today would have the strength of character to do the same.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend you read it. I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and Ballantine Books. All opinions are my own.