The Girls in Their Summer Dresses by Irwin Shaw

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Summary

As the story opens, Michael Loomis and his wife, Frances, walk along Fifth Avenue toward Greenwich Village on a sunny Sunday morning in February. Frances is happy to be spending the day with her husband, and she proposes an itinerary for them that includes a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Radio City Music Hall, a steak dinner, and a French film.

Her plans become derailed when she catches Michael looking at women as they walk along the street. She confronts him about it, and 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.

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. The matter of Michael Loomis's tendency to ogle women has been brought into open discussion, but the story ends on an unresolved note. It seems that his behavior and the hurt it causes is likely to continue and that Frances will either have to accept it or leave the marriage.

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Girls in their Summer Dresses” chronicles the origin and conclusion of a married couple’s quarrel as they walk through lower Manhattan on a Sunday morning in November. Michael and Frances Loomis have left their apartment and are proceeding along Fifth Avenue toward Washington Square. As they are walking along the crowded thoroughfare, Frances observes that Michael has turned to look at a pretty girl and remarks good-humoredly about it. Michael, who seems unaware that she has previously noticed his habitual girl-watching, also makes light of the incident. He explains that the girl’s complexion drew his attention to her, a country girl’s complexion seldom seen in New York.

The conversation, sprinkled with jokes and patter, suggests that so far they have had an enjoyable weekend. Frances expresses a need for more time with Michael and urges that they call off a previously planned country outing with friends so that the two of them can spend the day in the city together. After Michael readily agrees, she begins making plans aloud for his approval, while they continue their walk. They will attend a Giants’ football game, have a steak dinner at a famous restaurant, and go to a film.

As Frances is making her plans, selecting the activities that she knows her husband will enjoy, Michael’s eyes stray to another attractive girl, and this time Frances is unable to conceal her frustration and dismay. She intimates that because he is so interested in the girls, he might prefer to spend the day walking along the avenue. Michael’s point of view is that he takes only an occasional glance. Further, he tells Frances, there are few really attractive girls to be seen in the city. Frances dismisses this conclusion, making it clear that she considers Michael’s behavior habitual and ingrained. Indeed, she can describe not only the frequency of his girl-watching but also his manner of looking and the time he spends on each. The effect of the episodes on Frances is to increase her insecurity, and, as the story progresses, she reveals deepening anxiety and resentment. She takes no comfort from his insistence that he is happily married, for she believes that he looks at every woman who passes with the kind of look he once gave her. In reality, Michael takes pride in his wife but enjoys watching other women. To Frances this seems both contradictory and threatening.

Sensing the beginning of a quarrel that will ruin their day, Michael...

(The entire section is 1,033 words.)