Harper Dupree has pinned all her hopes on a future in fashion design. But when it comes crashing down around her, she returns home to Fairhope, Alabama, and to Millie, the woman who first taught her how to sew. As Harper rethinks her own future, long-hidden secrets about Millie’s past are brought to light.
In 1946, Millie Middleton–the daughter of an Italian man and a Black woman–boarded a train and left Charleston to keep half of her heritage hidden. She carried with her two heirloom buttons and the dream of owning a dress store. She never expected to meet a charming train jumper who changed her life forever . . . and led her yet again to a heartbreaking choice about which heritage would define her future.
Now, together, Harper and Millie return to Charleston to find the man who may hold the answers they seek . . . and a chance at the dress shop they’ve both dreamed of. But it’s not until all appears lost that they see the unexpected ways to mend what frayed between the seams.
The Dress Shop on King Street by Ashley Clark is such an incredible story, a debut novel. It is a richly woven tapestry of textures and designs. Full of many things—love, racial tensions and difficulties, family ties, friendships, and much more.
Almost immediately upon beginning to read this book, I fell in love with the writing style, the characters, the setting, really, just all of it. This author may be new to me, but I will definitely be reading anything she writes!
The setting of this book takes place in several different time periods, as well as spanning across several different cities. But, it is mostly based in two different places, Charleston, SC, and Fairhope, AL. The author does an excellent job in bringing to life these two southern cities, and showing the reader what it must have been like during those long ago days. Now, for the characters. Harper, from the modern day time period, was such an intriguing heroine. Her lifelong dream of owning her own dress shop is what has kept her going. Then, when that is dream is quickly snatched away, she’s left without purpose, not knowing which way to turn.
Then there’s also Millie Middleton of the historical time period, the wearer of the red cloche. She was also an inspiring character. Millie had an unusual but difficult background. Her mother was black and married an Italian man. Because of Millie’s light skin color, she was able to pass herself off as white, but inside she still very much identified with her Gullah heritage. She found these two parts of herself at war with each other, and sometimes hardly knew who she was. Because of all these things, Millie saw some hard things in her life, and had to make some seemingly impossible choices, and all because of love.
Ashley Clark beautifully pulls these two time periods together, one intricate piece at a time, leaving you with bits and pieces of the puzzle to solve as you read.
I especially enjoyed the details about the dress shop, the vintage gowns, the fabrics and textures. I could almost hear the sounds and smell all the smells as I read.
This story is just an all-around beautiful tale, and I loved it from the beginning to the very end.
In the midst of all the hard times, there are those bursts of hope that carry the story through, and keep it moving ever onward, and when you read the last chapter, all the pieces come together to form such a lovely woven tapestry.
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