Lyddie gets a new dress when she arrives at Cutler's Tavern, but has to give it back when she gets fired. She buys a dress before her interview at the factory.
Lyddie wore a homespun coarse brown dress when she first got to the city. The term “homespun” means that the cloth and the dress were made by hand (not store-bought). When Lyddie leaves home, she has two dresses and a nightgown for clothes, and she has outgrown her only pair of boots.
The dress doesn’t really fit Lyddie either. It is “tight across her newly budding chest” and has a ragged, uneven hem. This is the better of her two dresses. She hasn’t had a new dress in four years. This is how she arrives at the tavern. She is also embarrassed that she has no bonnet and forgot to put her too-small boots on.
Lyddie has to be presentable as an employee, so she is given a new dress.
As it turned out, Mistress Cutler provided her with a storebought calico gown. It was softer than her rough brown homespun and fit her much better, but somehow it suited her less. How could she enjoy the garment of her servitude? She was fit with new boots as well. (Ch. 3, p. 23)
Lyddie does not admire the dress and boots, even though they fit her better. She feels like she is enslaved to Cutler’s Tavern because she is working there to pay off the family debts. She prefers going barefoot because breaking in the new boots gives her blisters.
When Lyddie is fired for leaving work without permission, Mistress Cutler complains about the dress.
"No," Lyddie said quickly. "I know I done wrong to go off when you wasn't here. I'll just collect my things and be gone, ey?
"You're wearing my dress!"
"Yes, ma'am. Shall I wash it before I go or‐?"
"Don't be impertinent!" (Ch. 6, p. 44)
Lyddie leaves the dress, which she never liked anyway, and returns to her homespun dress. Even though it does not fit, it is “like laying off a great burden” because it represents the tavern and her situation.
When Lyddie tries to get a job at the factory Mrs. Bedlow, the landlady at the boarding house, does not take kindly to her old dress or boots (especially since they are covered in mud). She tells Lyddie the “dress is only fit now to be burned” (Ch. 8, p. 54) and she will need to look better before she can go to the interview. Shopping for “a proper dress, work apron, shoes, and bonnet” takes all the money she borrowed from Triphena. The cost makes it difficult for Lyddie to enjoy them.
Lyddie's dress is symbolic of how she has to grow up fast. Her dress is fit for a girl, but she is now becoming a woman. Lyddie admires the city women in their silk dresses, but does not envy them. She feels out of place even in the store-bought cotton dresses.
Note: Editions of books will vary, but you have the chapters.