Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Coco and the Little Black Dress

Coco and the Little Black Dress

Annemarie van Haeringen
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
NorthSouth, 2015   ISBN: 978-0735842397

Coco lives in an orphanage, which means that she spends a lot of her time doing chores like ironing sheets, sewing, and knitting.  Coco feels “rejected, abandoned” because her father is still alive, but he has chosen to send her to the orphanage rather than take care of her himself. Though her life in the orphanage is hard, Coco does leave the place with skills and a strong will to build a life for herself.

Coco is such an excellent seamstress that she manages to get a job plying her needle. At night Coco dances and sings in a nightclub, and she makes friends with the rich and famous patrons, who hire her to perform at their homes. Coco admires their beautiful houses, but she does not think much of the clothes that the ladies wear. Why do they wear hats with dead birds on them? Why do they wear such tight corsets that they sometimes faint? The women’s clothes are so lavish and restrictive that they can only ride a horse if they sit on the animal in a sidesaddle.

Coco thinks that jodhpurs are much more sensible clothes to wear when riding a horse, and so she sews a pair for herself, and dares to ride a horse astride. When she is invited to attend the races she is told that she will have to wear a hat. Not wanting to wear some ridiculous confection covered with fake fruit or once living animals, Coco buys some straw boaters and she tastefully and elegantly trims them herself. The genteel ladies who see her hats love them, and so Coco opens up her own hat shop.

In addition to creating hats, Coco designs dresses that allow the wearers to move around normally. She even makes cardigans for women that have pockets, “just like the ones men wear.” Women flock to Coco’s shop to buy clothes that are “easy, luxurious, and chic,” and they also come to buy Coco’s perfume.

Coco is now well off and famous, so far removed from the lonely little orphanage girl she once was, but she has more ideas up her sleeve, one of which will make her famous all around the world.

In this wonderful picture book biography, the author tells the story of a woman whose innovative fashion ideas had an enormous impact on women. Her designs freed women from having to wear clothes that prevented them from living a normal, active life, and at the same time Coco’s clothes were simple, beautiful and elegant.

The narrative in the story gives us a sense of how pioneering and brave Coco was. She was not afraid to do things her way, even if it meant flying in the face of accepted traditions.