Book Review: Family history meets a Fortitude Valley icon in Melissa Fagan’s What Will Be Worn: A McWhirters Story

McWhirters, a heritage listed building sitting on the corner of Brunswick and Wickham, is a Brisbane landmark, these days operating as a shopping centre, an apartment block, and a very obvious map marker for those lost in the depths of the Valley.

But, in What Will Be Worn: A McWhirters Story, the name emblazoned on the well-known block is brought back to life, and the building’s lengthy career as one of Brisbane’s finest department stores races to the fore, with author Melissa Fagan envisioning exciting window displays, the toy section at Christmas and, perhaps most importantly of all, her fashionable family browsing the store and adding fine dresses to their accounts.

Fagan tugs gently at numerous threads, bringing together family and business, and finding connections between the immediate and the long since passed. Her mother, styled as the last of the McWhirters, is the hinge on which it all hangs, a beautifully dressed and deeply personal link to the business that lasted from 1898 until a Myer buy-out in 1955. Drawing on her own memories and experiences, as well as tales garnered from the few family members still living who remember the store in any great detail, Fagan’s story is layered and intriguing, and reads more like delicate literary fiction than the heavy non-fiction one might expect.

A compelling combination of family and local history, What Will Be Worn blends anecdotes and character studies with a well-researched exploration of an iconic Fortitude Valley building. With her family’s story running side by side with that of the store, author Melissa Fagan has turned a local history project into a lyrical meditation on fashion and family, giving What Will Be Worn an appeal unexpectedly broader than might first appear. This is a book for fans of Brisbane, biography, and stories with soul.

Melissa Fagan’s What Will Be Worn is out now, available through Transit Lounge

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.
Review originally published by The AU Review on 01/11/18

View my review policies here

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