The Girls in Their Summer Dresses


Irwin Shaw – The Girls with Their Summer Dresses (1939)

FIFTH AVENUE WAS shining in the sun when they left the Brevoort. The sun was warm, even though it was February, and everything looked like Sunday morning—the buses and the well-dressed people walking slowly in couples and the quiet buildings with the windows closed.
       Michael held Frances’ arm tightly as they walked toward Washington Square in the sunlight. They walked lightly, almost smiling, because they had slept late and had a good breakfast and it was Sunday. Michael unbuttoned his coat and let it flap around him in the mild wind.
       “Look out,” Frances said as they crossed Eighth Street. “You’ll break your neck.” Michael laughed and Frances laughed with him.
       “She’s not so pretty,” Frances said. “Anyway, not pretty enough to take a chance of breaking your neck.”
       Michael laughed again. “How did you know I was looking at her?”
       Frances cocked her head to one side and smiled at her husband under the brim of her hat. “Mike, darling,” she said.
       “O.K.,” he said. “Excuse me.”
       Frances patted his arm lightly and pulled him along a little faster toward Washington Square. “Let’s not see anybody all day,” she said. “Let’s just hang around with each other. You and me. We’re always up to our neck in people, drinking their Scotch or drinking our Scotch; we only see each other in bed. I want to go out with my husband all day long. I want him to talk only to me and listen only to me.”
       “What’s to stop us?” Michael asked.
       “The Stevensons. They want us to drop by around one o’clock and they’ll drive us into the country.”
       “The cunning Stevensons,” Mike said. “Transparent. They can whistle. They can go driving in the country by themselves.”
       “Is it a date?”
       “It’s a date.”
       Frances leaned over and kissed him on the tip of the ear.
       “Darling,” Michael said, “this is Fifth Avenue.”
       “Let me arrange a program,” Frances said. “A planned Sunday in New York for a young couple with money to throw away.”
       “Go easy.”
       “First let’s go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Frances suggested, because Michael had said during the week he wanted to go. “I haven’t been there in three years and there’re at least ten pictures I want to see again. Then we can take the bus down to Radio City, and watch them skate. And later we’ll go down to Cavanagh’s and get a steak as big as a blacksmith’s apron, with a bottle of wine, and after that there’s a French picture at the Filmarte that everybody says—say, are you listening to me?”
       “Sure,” he said. He took his eyes off the hatless girl with the dark hair, cut dancer-style like a helmet, who was walking past him.
       “That’s the program for the day,” Frances said flatly. “Or maybe you’d just rather walk up and down Fifth Avenue.”
       “No,” Michael said. “Not at all.”
       “You always look at other women,” Frances said. “Everywhere. Every damned place we go.”
       “No, darling,” Michael said, “I look at everything. God gave me eyes and I look at women and men in subway excavations and moving pictures and the little flowers of the field. I casually inspect the universe.”
       “You ought to see the look in your eye,” Frances said, “as you casually inspect the universe on Fifth Avenue.”
       “I’m a happily married man.” Michael pressed her elbow tenderly. “Example for the whole twentieth century—Mr. and Mrs. Mike Loomis. Hey, let’s have a drink,” he said, stopping.
       “We just had breakfast.”
       “Now listen, darling,” Mike said, choosing his words with care, “it’s a nice day and we both felt good and there’s no reason why we have to break it up. Let’s have a nice Sunday.”
       “All right. I don’t know why I started this. Let’s drop it. Let’s have a good time.”
       They joined hands consciously and walked without talking among the baby carriages and the old Italian men in their Sunday clothes and the young women with Scotties in Washington Square Park.
       “At least once a year everyone should go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Frances said after a while, her tone a good imitation of the tone she had used at breakfast and at the beginning of their walk. “And it’s nice on Sunday. There’re a lot of people looking at the pictures and you get the feeling maybe Art isn’t on the decline in New York City, after all—”
       “I want to tell you something,” Michael said very seriously. “I have not touched another woman. Not once. In all the five years.”
       “All right,” Frances said.
       “You believe that, don’t you?”
       “All right.”
       They walked between the crowded benches, under the scrubby city-park trees.
       “I try not to notice it,” Frances said, “but I feel rotten inside, in my stomach, when we pass a woman and you look at her and I see that look in your eye and that’s the way you looked at me the first time. In Alice Maxwell’s house. Standing there in the living room, next to the radio, with a green hat on and all those people.”
       “I remember the hat,” Michael said.
       “The same look,” Frances said. “And it makes me feel bad. It makes me feel terrible.”
       “Sh-h-h, please, darling, sh-h-h.”
       “I think I would like a drink now,” Frances said.
       They walked over to a bar on Eighth Street, not saying anything, Michael automatically helping her over curbstones and guiding her past automobiles. They sat near a window in the bar and the sun streamed in and there was a small, cheerful fire in the fireplace. A little Japanese waiter came over and put down some pretzels and smiled happily at them.
       “What do you order after breakfast?” Michael asked.
       “Brandy, I suppose,” Frances said.
       “Courvoisier,” Michael told the waiter. “Two Courvoisiers.”
       The waiter came with the glasses and they sat drinking the brandy in the sunlight. Michael finished half his and drank a little water.
       “I look at women,” he said. “Correct. I don’t say it’s wrong or right. I look at them. If I pass them on the street and I don’t look at them, I’m fooling you, I’m fooling myself.”
       “You look at them as though you want them,” Frances said, playing with her brandy glass. “Every one of them.”
       “In a way,” Michael said, speaking softly and not to his wife, “in a way that’s true. I don’t do anything about it, but it’s true.”
       “I know it. That’s why I feel bad.”
       “Another brandy,” Michael called. “Waiter, two more brandies.”
       He sighed and closed his eyes and rubbed them gently with his fingertips. “I love the way women look. One of the things I like best about New York is the battalions of women. When I first came to New York from Ohio that was the first thing I noticed, the million wonderful women, all over the city. I walked around with my heart in my throat.”
       “A kid,” Frances said. “That’s a kid’s feeling.”
       “Guess again,” Michael said. “Guess again. I’m older now. I’m a man getting near middle age, putting on a little fat, and I still love to walk along Fifth Avenue at three o’clock on the east side of the street between Fiftieth and Fifty-seventh Streets. They’re all out then, shopping, in their furs and their crazy hats, everything all concentrated from all over the world into seven blocks—the best furs, the best clothes, the handsomest women, out to spend money and feeling good about it.”
       The Japanese waiter put the two drinks down, smiling with great happiness.
       “Everything is all right?” he asked.
       “Everything is wonderful,” Michael said.
       “If it’s just a couple of fur coats,” Frances said, “and forty-five dollar hats—”
       “It’s not the fur coats. Or the hats. That’s just the scenery for that particular kind of woman. Understand,” he said, “you don’t have to listen to this.”
       “I want to listen.”
       “I like the girls in the offices. Neat, with their eyeglasses, smart, chipper, knowing what everything is about. I like the girls on Forty-fourth Street at lunchtime, the actresses, all dressed up on nothing a week. I like the salesgirls in the stores, paying attention to you first because you’re a man, leaving lady customers waiting. I got all this stuff accumulated in me because I’ve been thinking about it for ten years and now you’ve asked for it and here it is.”
       “Go ahead,” Frances said.
       “When I think of New York City, I think of all the girls on parade in the city. I don’t know whether it’s something special with me or whether every man in the city walks around with the same feeling inside him, but I feel as though I’m at a picnic in this city. I like to sit near the women in the theatres, the famous beauties who’ve taken six hours to get ready and look it. And the young girls at the football games, with the red cheeks, and when the warm weather comes, the girls in their summer dresses.” He finished his drink. “That’s the story.”
       Frances finished her drink and swallowed two or three times extra. “You say you love me?”
       “I love you.”
       “I’m pretty, too,” Frances said. “As pretty as any of them.”
       “You’re beautiful,” Michael said.
       “I’m good for you,” Frances said, pleading. “I’ve made a good wife, a good housekeeper, a good friend. I’d do any damn thing for you.”
       “I know,” Michael said. He put his hand out and grasped hers.
       “You’d like to be free to—” Frances said.
       “Tell the truth.” She took her hand away from under his.
       Michael flicked the edge of his glass with his finger. “O.K.,” he said gently. “Sometimes I feel I would like to be free.”
       “Well,” Frances said, “any time you say.”
       “Don’t be foolish.” Michael swung his chair around to her side of the table and patted her thigh.
       She began to cry silently into her handkerchief, bent over just enough so that nobody else in the bar would notice. “Someday,” she said, crying, “you’re going to make a move.”
       Michael didn’t say anything. He sat watching the bartender slowly peel a lemon.
       “Aren’t you?” Frances asked harshly. “Come on, tell me. Talk. Aren’t you?”
       “Maybe,” Michael said. He moved his chair back again. “How the hell do I know?”
       “You know,” Frances persisted. “Don’t you know?”
       “Yes,” Michael said after a while, “I know.”
       Frances stopped crying then. Two or three snuffles into the handkerchief and she put it away and her face didn’t tell anything to anybody. “At least do me one favor,” she said.
       “Stop talking about how pretty this woman is or that one. Nice eyes, nice breasts, a pretty figure, good voice.” She mimicked his voice. “Keep it to yourself. I’m not interested.”
       Michael waved to the waiter. “I’ll keep it to myself,” he said.
       Frances flicked the corners of her eyes. “Another brandy,” she told the waiter.
       “Two,” Michael said.
       “Yes, ma’am, yes, sir,” said the waiter, backing away.
       Frances regarded Michael coolly across the table. “Do you want me to call the Stevensons?” she asked. “It’ll be nice in the country.”
       “Sure,” Michael said. “Call them.”
       She got up from the table and walked across the room toward the telephone. Michael watched her walk, thinking what a pretty girl, what nice legs.


In the story “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses,” Irwin Shaw shows us the day-to-day damage and long-term damage a man’s roving eye can do to a committed romantic relationship or marriage. Although Frances and Michael are in love, they are the kind of couple who might end up on The Dr.Phil Show. Due to his habit of looking at other women and her jealous insecurity, this middle-aged couple have alot of arguments over little things. To Michael’s credit, all he does is ogle. However, the ogling is constant, and drives his wife crazy. To add insult to injury, he keeps defending his behavior instead of trying to control it. Frances keeps bugging him and competing for his attention. It’s more than obvious that she loves him, as she keeps giving him compliments and even has them go to a football game together.

The one thing Frances and Michael are doing right is laughing together. The jokes they make help them roll with the punches, enabling them to have a good time together. Although this good time is sometimes more evocative of Seinfeld’s Jerry and Elaine friendship than passionate love, it is at the very least a working and pleasant truce. The little compliments and gestures of affection they give each other is keeping their love afloat.

Throughout the story, visual details of New York City and its inhabitants, especially women, are brightly depicted. Shaw shows brilliance in this, as men are visual creatures who enjoy a good pursuit. In fact, so much detail is given that we feel as if we are watching a movie starring a couple such as Brooke Shieldes and Tom Hanks on any given New York Sunday. The bustiling, fast-paced, noisy city is a comfortable home for the bantering couple. It is a sunny day. They are both well-rested after a night of great sex and sleeping in. It is a promising start to what turns out to be a mediocre day.

Like many men, Michael has a definite eye for beautiful women. His biggest mistake is making this eye so obvious to his wife by not only turning to look at them in front of her. but then talking about it. Worse still, he laughs. For example, when he says “Excuse me. It was the complexion. It’s not the sort of complexion you see much in New York. Excuse me.” Frances’ response is much like a dog walker jerking her dog away from that attractive bitch in his path. She gives him affection and pulls him back toward her. “Frances patted his arm lightly and pulled him along a little faster toward Washington Square.” She follows this up with verbal affection intended to stroke his ego. “When I have breakfast with you, it makes me feel good all day.” Mike should repay in kind, but instead, he basically agrees with her about how great he is. “Rolls and coffee with Mike and you’re on the alkali side, guaranteed.” Frances is not ready to give up trying for some love. She talks about the great sleep she had, again thanks to him. When he still doesn’t get the hint and give her a compliment, she insults him about his weight.

The couple decide to spend the day alone together. While Frances is describing a proposed plan, Mike is again ogling a girl. The dog is straining at the leash, and this time gets called out bluntly: “‘You always look at beautiful women’, Frances said. ‘At every damn woman in the city of New York.'” Mike starts trying to say he is “casually inspecting the universe.” The “happily married man” presses her elbow. Now Frances really gets mad. The leash tightens, and the proverbial dog starts scrambling. Michael tells her he has not touched a woman in all five years of their marriage. Francis starts elaborating on her feelings and memories of his bad behavior. Over brandies, the man makes his biggest mistake yet. He starts describing how it feels to keep seeing beautiful women all around him, and gives vivid images of the types he enjoys.

Francis is now jealous, emotional, and furious. It’s not ok that he loves her and wants other women at the same time. Is Mike truly committed to Frances? True, he does try to keep the peace. But he seems to be trying to placate her while excusing his sexual fantasies. A man needs to keep the home fire burning, and Mike is not such a fool as to pretend she doesn’t have feelings. He doesn’t want to lose his wife. Problem is, Homer Simpson meets Marge’s needs for affection better than Mike. At least the attraction is still there. “Michael watched her walk, thinking, What a pretty girl, what nice legs.”


John Gleinmeister & Nick Havinga – The Girls in Their Summer Dresses (1981)



John Springsteen – Girls in Their Summer Clothes (2007)

Well the street lights shine
Down on Blessing Avenue
Lovers they walk by
Holdin’ hands two by two

A breeze crosses the porch
Bicycle spokes spin ‘round
Jacket’s on, I’m out the door
Tonight I’m gonna burn this town down

And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by

Kid’s rubber ball smacks
Off the gutter ‘neath the lamp light
Big bank clock chimes
Off go the sleepy front porch lights

Downtown the store’s alive
As the evening’s underway
Things been a little tight
But I know they’re gonna turn my way

And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by

Frankie’s Diner’s
Over on the edge of town
Neon sign spinnin’ round
Like a cross over the lost and found

Fluorescent lights
Flicker above Bob’s Grill
Shaniqua brings a coffee and asks “fill?”
And says “penny for your thoughts now my poor Bill”

She went away
She cut me like a knife
Had a beautiful thing
Maybe you just saved my life

In just a glance
Down here on Magic Street
Love’s a fool’s dance
I ain’t got much sense but I still got my feet

And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by

And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by

La la la la, la la la la la la la
La la la la, la la la la la la la
La la la la, la la la la la la la
La la la la, la la la la la la la



The Airbone Toxic Event – The Girls In Their Summer Dresses (2007)

It’s so quiet on this wind swept day
The city’s lights
And the golden rays
Of sunlight on a subway’a tracks
Are you mad again??
If you like
I’ll take it back
They’re just your feelings
I wasn’t looking at her hands
Oh, do you mean it??

It’s so lonesome
In “this happens” stance
If you asked me?
Yes, I’d like to dance
Just show me a glove-covered hand
A perfumed dress is more than I can stand..
And you approach me with your hollow hearted hand
And you tell me:
“It’s uncivilized
It’s unfair to me
The blues, the grays, the olive greens”
I’ll take you far away from me

The girls in their summer dresses see
Though you don’t notice
They all look back at me
Is this on purpose??

Oh no, no, no..
Oh no, no, no..
Oh no, no, no..

May offer to you..
This, my olive branch??
It’s not as though they’re always so keen
And we’re both just the victims of circumstance
Do you understand,
Do you know what I mean??

Oh no, no, no..
Oh no, no, no..
Oh no, no, no..
Oh no, no, no..

I’m a husband first
I’m a childless curse
I’m a faithful man
With a face that’s blessed
I’ll stay with you
Oh please don’t sigh
I try to explain
But you would cry, and cry, and cry
And you hate me
When I asked the reason why
You’ll trade me a dollar for some sense?
But don’t blame me
I was only making sense
Oh I’m so sorry
I was only making sense



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