The short story “The Little Black Dress” by Clifford Thurlow is structured around the inner struggle of Vicky, the protagonist; because she feels bored and frustrated with her life, Vicky splurges on a little black dress and decides to enjoy a night of being alone and free. However, the little black dress proves to be more than a simple item of clothing. The story has an exposition, a rising action, a climax, a falling action, and a resolution, following a traditional plot structure.


The title of the story is very straightforward and refers to the item of clothing that captures Vicky’s attention and triggers her decision to change something in her boring life:

Vicky walks through a narrow mews she has taken by accident. She is only a few minutes from the club but feels lost, miles from anywhere. She comes to a stop outside a shop and gazes up at a little black dress that is short, sleeveless, unassuming. Like me, she thinks. (ll. 1-4)

A little black dress is a name given to a simple, black evening dress and it is seen as a symbol of elegance. For Vicky, the black dress is the element that changes her and that makes her feel alive:

That’s the thing with a little black dress. You can stand in the pub supping pints for hours in an anorak and no one gives you a second glance. You run a razor over your legs, slip on a dress and the world turns with infinite possibilities. (ll. 318-321)

In the end, the little black dress seems that it might have magical powers, as it might have transported Vicky decades earlier to 1968, and placed her in a dangerous position – that of a victim who died wearing the dress. Overall, the dress is a very important symbol for Vicky’s search of identity.


The exposition of the story is quite lengthy and presents Vicky’s frustration with her life. Her attention is captured by a little black dress displayed in a shop. In the beginning, the shop’s window functions as a wake-up call for Vicky, who realises that she cannot recognise herself anymore:

As Vicky glances at her watch, she glimpses someone she doesn’t know in the window’s reflection and leans closer to make sure it’s her. She checks her hands, counts her fingers, then stares back again at the mannequin… (ll. 11-14)

We also get to know that she works as a “physical training pro” (ll. 57-58), that she is 23-years-old, and that she is married to a man named Fergus. Their relationship used to be idyllic but is now filled with boredom and frustration, as Fergus is more concerned with saving the poor than with his wife.


In the rising action, we see Vicky deciding to make a change by buying the little black dress she saw in the shop. A foreshadowing element is introduced here, and it is related to the strange way the black dress makes her feel:

Vicky slips off her clothes. Her skin tingles as she pulls the dress over 145 her head. She runs her hands down her arms, over her breasts. The world starts to spin. She finds it hard to breathe and for a second it feels as if a stranger’s fingers are reaching for her throat. She stumbles barefoot into the shop, gasping for air.” (ll. 144-148)

The reference to a stranger’s fingers on her throat foreshadows the detail revealed at the end of the short story, where Vicky discovers that a model wearing the little black dress was strangled in 1968. After buying several more items of clothing and accessories, Vicky decides to spoil herself. Because her husband is out of town, she dresses up in everything she bought and goes out to a bar. Here, another foreshadowing element is introduced, as Vicky does not seem to recognise the place:

She drifts into a place called Twist & Shout. She has never noticed it before and wouldn’t normally have gone into a theme bar without giving it some thought. Her shoes are doing the walking for her. (ll. 291-294)

Also, “Twist & Shout” is the title of a well-known pop song by The Beatles released in the 1960s, strengthening the connection to the era. In the bar, Vicky is approached by a mysterious man. His appearance seems strange and old-fashioned - another foreshadowing element in the story:

He orders drinks and she doesn’t care how many units she’s had. She stares at him through the fizz: he’s retro man in embroidered jeans, a collarless shirt, long hair. His eyes reflect the lights: blue, yellow, red, then blue again. (ll. 322-325)

Vicky decides to let events unfold naturally. She begins to get intimate with the mysterious man, who takes her to a funfair, wins her a toy, and who eventually gets her away from the crowd. The climax is reached when Vicky realises that something is wrong and when she runs away:

She smiles, turning her head to one side, looking up at him with glassy eyes. A frisson of uncertainty brushes his features. He wedges his foot in the metal bars of the gate and glances back before swinging his leg over. He knows something’s wrong but it’s too late. As he jumps down on the grass, she turns, running, and keeps running until the sounds of the night ebb to silence. (ll. 423-428)


The falling action presents Vicky after her return home. In the morning, Vicky goes to work and passes the shop where she bought the little black dress from. However, the shop is deserted, and Vicky can hardly believe it is the same place:

It’s closed, and she wouldn’t have thought it was the same shop if it wasn’t for the mannequin in the window. Her head has been removed and is lying on the floor. Her hair has gone; there are scratches on her plaster skin. (ll. 440-443)

Vicky quits her job at the fitness club and leaves the dress to Amanda, her colleague. She books a flight to Barcelona and breaks up with Fergus through a letter. Finally, some research in the library makes her realise that the funfair closed years ago and that a female model wearing a little black dress was found strangled in that area in 1968, the year her dress was made.

The resolution of the story presents Vicky rehearsing Spanish in front of the mirror in the library’s bathroom and flushing the little gonk toy that she apparently found in her jacket: “There’s a bulge in the pocket. She slides her hand in and pulls out a yellow gonk. It’s soft and furry with glass eyes and it takes three flushes 500 before it vanished down the loo.” (ll. 498-500)

As you can see, the short story contains some features that place it in the category of magical realism, meaning literature that presents magical elements as a normal part of the ordinary world.


The protagonist of the short story “The Little Black Dress” by Clifford Thurlow is Vicky, and we will focus on her characterisation. Her husband, Fergus, is an episodic character and we will briefly refer to him in Vicky’s characterisation.


The protagonist’s full name is Victoria Greenham (l. 283), and her maiden name was Victoria Page (l. 282). Her outer characterisation reveals that Vicky is 23-years-old (l. 56) and works as a “physical training pro” (ll. 57-58) at a fitness centre. She is  married to a man named Fergus, has a sister living in Barcelona, and her parents died: “I’m twenty-three, an old maid, she says, then remembers she’d married Fergus during her last year at college.” (ll. 56-57); “...the music she listened to when she was a child bringing back bittersweet memories of her parents, the fire that whipped through their cottage, leaving nothing but a pile of ash, and her sister, Rachel, sitting at her side in the crematorium...” (ll. 225-229)

Inner characterisation

Vicky’s inner characterisation indicates from the very beginning that she is a troubled woman: “She comes to a stop outside a shop and gazes up at a little black dress that is short, sleeveless, unassuming. Like me, she thinks.” (ll. 3-4)

Her attention is captured by a beautiful little black dress in a shop, an element which makes her curious and aware that she does not recognise herself anymore: “As Vicky glances at her watch, she glimpses someone she doesn’t know in the window’s reflection and leans closer to make sure it’s her. She checks her hands, counts her fingers, then stares back again at the mannequin…” (ll. 11-14)

In her relationship with her husband, Vicky is frustrated. She finds herself forgetting that she is married (ll. 56-57) and furious that she cannot gather up the courage to make Fergus aware of how she feels: “She spends a long time sitting on the loo. It would be nice to find fault with Fergus, have a good row, break something, but Vicky doesn’t have the energy.” (ll. 47-49)

For her, Fergus used to be a symbol of love and protection, but is now “the voice of calm, a steady pair of hand...

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