Leiden Book Club Book 4 – A Life in Frocks

A Life in Frocks Review


Kelly Doust’s memoir, A Life in Frocks, is not a book meant for the depths of a book club discussion; in fact, it’s not a book I would normally be inclined to read. And despite being a contributor for an online fashion magazine, I am not particularly fashion-minded myself (since taking long leave from my day job to open 6th Position, I have taken to getting around 24/7 in my no-name brand activewear – with pride). You’re probably wondering, given the circumstances, how on earth did A Life in Frocks get onto the Leiden Book Club list?

Well for one, the cover, with its gorgeous hand sketches of various frocks, is just too pretty to ignore. Yes, the old saying is you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it is fun to indulge our superficial fancies on the odd occasion.

Secondly, the title reminded me of our fearless leader, Leiden founder and editor, Emma Batchelor, and her regular fashion and style Instagram snaps (if you’re not already following us on Instagram, then hop to it). Now Emma is mostly definitely a woman who has shamelessly led a life in frock after fabulous frock, with every outfit oozing with her own style and pizazz.

From one frock to another, Doust takes us for a stroll through her recollections, recalling each memory by the frock or outfit that defined the moment. From her authority flouting unribbed tights in her youth (note to self: don’t mess with nuns), to her career highs and lows (from high end to frump, to woman reborn), through to her pregnancy (this may sound silly, but the association of fashion and pregnancy has never actually crossed my mind… it’s probably fairly obvious I am not yet at the child-bearing stage). Being very un-fashion orientated myself, reading A Life in Frocks has given me insight into the minds of the fashion conscious; fashion and style is to you what books (and food) are to me. Although this is Doust’s memoir, you also inevitably end up talking a walk down your own memory lane. As she reeled off the various outfits she wore in exotic and exciting locations all around the world, I remembered the food and smells from my own travels to these destinations. Cheongsams are to her what the smell of stinky tofu is when Hong Kong is mentioned and where she remembers the high end fashion stores of Soho, I recall the best pad thai I have ever eaten.

Oh, and did I mention the water colour sketches? They’re bright, cheery and throw in a dash of colour with your reading.

No, this is not a mealy book. There are no deep, underlying themes and barely an analysis of the many different cultures that make an appearance in this book. A Life in Frocks is a light-hearted read. It promises nothing more or less, and delivers exactly that – with some sound fashion advice thrown in for good measure.


Discussion Questions

  1. Though left unacknowledged and undiscussed, the fashions in A Life in Frocks point to many cultural and political tensions in the various countries Doust has lived. Discuss.
  2. What is the most cringe-worthy outfit you have ever flaunted?
  3. What obsession would guide your memoir?


Our next book is Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov


Genevieve Chan

Genevieve is a happy, go-lucky, free-spirited woman who is always on the lookout for a new adventure to whisk her away from her public servant day job. When she’s not dancing, running, walking or cycling, you’ll find her helping her husband in their courtyard vegetable garden, cooking or eating (or both) reading and – of course – writing. She’s trying to be a freelancer; search for ‘Freelance Apprentice’ on YouTube and Instagram to follow her journey.

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