The Girls in Their Summer Dresses

by Irwin Shaw

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Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

As the story opens, Michael Loomis and his wife, Frances, walk along Fifth Avenue toward Greenwich Village on a sunny Sunday morning in November.  Frances is happy to be spending the day with her husband, but she notices him whip his head around to follow the movements of a pretty woman. She attempts to nonchalantly scoff at him, telling him he’ll break his neck if he keeps doing that. They have a brief discussion about the woman. Michael defends himself by saying she had a complexion more fit for the country, and it surprised him to see her type of beauty in New York City.

Attempting to move past her husband’s wandering eyes, Frances expresses her joy at having had a lovely morning thus far with her husband. The couple had slept in and had breakfast together. Frances is excited for the remainder of the day, telling Michael that having breakfast with her husband “makes [her] feel good all day.” Frances suggests that the two of them spend their Sunday together, just them. They are often busy seeing friends or attending social events and thus rarely have extended time alone. She begins to suggest they go see a football game, then have a steak dinner, some wine, and attend a French film at the theatre. 

Her proposal becomes derailed when she catches Michael looking at another woman as they walk along the street. She wonders if he had even heard the plan she suggested, and though he heard her, he was obviously distracted by a dancer walking past. Upset, Frances asks him if her itinerary works for him or if he would rather just walk up and down Fifth Avenue gawking at women.

During this confrontation, it is revealed that Michael stops to admire women constantly. Whether they are in a restaurant or a lecture, his eyes wander. Michael insists he is a happily married man. He relies on his wife and enjoys the life they have together. He asks if she wants a fight, and she feels poorly for starting the conversation. 

Frances tells her husband that she has not laid eyes on another man since they became attached. Again, Michael insists he is happy and faithful. They stop in a bar to drink brandy and have a candid conversation about his tendency to cast admiring glances at other women. It is made clear that Michael is approaching middle age, and Frances is concerned that his interest in other women will lead to his being unfaithful to her. Michael readily admits that he enjoys looking at women but says that he has never been unfaithful. After a couple of brandies, Frances presses Michael, and he freely admits that he sometimes thinks that he would like to be free to experience other women.

Frances cries for a few minutes, and then pulls herself together and tells him that she doesn't want to hear him say complimentary things about other women's looks. She walks away from their table to call friends with whom they will spend the day. As she walks away, Michael thinks to himself that she is a “pretty girl” whose legs look “nice.” He seems to be ogling her in the same way he did the other women. The story ends on an unresolved note: it seems that his behavior and the hurt it causes is likely to continue.

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