Needle, needle, dip and dart,
Thrusting up and down,
Where’s the man could ease a heart
Like a satin gown?

See the stitches curve and crawl
Round the cunning seams-
Patterns thin and sweet and small
As a lady’s dreams.

Wantons go in bright brocade;
Brides in organdie;
Gingham’s for the plighted maid;
Satin’s for the free!

Wool’s to line a miser’s chest;
Crepe’s to calm the old;
Velvet hides an empty breast
Satin’s for the bold!

Lawn is for a bishop’s yoke;
Linen’s for a nun;
Satin is for wiser folk-
Would the dress were done!

Satin glows in candlelight-
Satin’s for the proud!
They will say who watch at night,
“What a fine shroud!”

Analysis, meaning and summary of Dorothy Parker's poem The Satin Dress


  1. Jay Orin says:

    I think that satin was used to cover bodies at the time. When you read a Dorthy Parker poem, just remember that she loves giving the endings of her poems a twist. In this poem, she extoles the values of satin, that while wool is for misers, and linen for nuns, that satin is really great, for the wise and the bold. She then ends saying that people who see her in it will say “What a fine shroud!” for this was what satin was used for. She pokes fun at romantism as only a true skeptic could.

  2. Danica says:

    Declan states in her commentary that there seems to be some class discrimination throughout the poem, which I agree with. Not only is class discrimination apparent, but I also get a sense of gender-inequality issues. Kate Garber says that Parker is “a woman through and through”. From what I’ve read about Parker, this is entirely true. However, I don’t agree with a few of Garber’s ideas.

    In my opinion, the last stanza is most likely not referring to death. Though “shroud” does mean “burial garment”, I think it is meant as a symbol meaning “dress”, just a piece of clothing worth little, but significant of so much more.

    Another aspect is the main point of the poem. It may not be necessarily clothing; that’s just a generic way of speaking to describe the norms imposed on women of the time. Parker was an influential woman writer who didn’t edit her opinions through writing, even after being fired from her job with Vanity Fair. I truly admire a writer who refuses to change her writing only to better suit other people’s comfort zones. Parker can also be described as a feminist, who recognized her valuable role as a woman and remained strong through difficult circumstances in her life. In the first stanza of the poem, she asks, “Where’s the man could ease a heart like a satin gown?” and continues in the second stanza to speak metaphorically, portraying her ideal man. To her, that would be a man to “crawl round [her] cunning seams”, which would be the exact opposite of male tendencies during her male-dominated era.

    Throughout the poem, Parker stresses that satin is for the free, the bold, the wise, the proud. Sounds like the start of a women’s rights movement if I ever heard one. Her confidence, though it may very well include it, is not limited to sexual confidence. It’s the confidence of someone with her own ideas, who deserves respect for expressing them. To me, Parker was not a “reckless, sexual” creature, but someone who possessed a certain freedom that comes with her powerful nature, the greatest example of this being the power to touch others with her words.

  3. Kate Garber says:

    I would guess that in your school-life you’ve been through some of those torture/harmful english classes that make you think that there’s a social meaning behind every word in every poem. From my reading of Dorothy Parker, I would advise that you don’t read into it so much in that sense. I think that Dorothy is a woman through and through, and therefore knows that certain pieces/styles of clothing have the power to make a woman more confident. It is an undeniable truth that a woman becomes what she feels her clothing “says” in this mysterious sort of “personal fahsion-intuition” that we have. Satin, to her, is the material that will give her a sexual confidence — and so she wants this dress to be finished and perfect — to have her “perfect” night on the town. But in the last lines, it comes out that she knows that this lifestyle is going to be the end of her.
    So, the many other pieces of clothing are presented with negative connotations – they would only give her a lifestyle that would bore her to death – but those who live those lives survive in the end. She sees that this one she has chosen is the only lifestyle (the lifestyle exemplified by the satin dress representing her reckless sexuality, etc) that excites her – but realizes that, hey, it’s going to kill her in the end (whether that becomes a metaphorical/spiritual death, or a physical death from the recklessness).
    So I conclude saying that Parker is a very down-to-earth poet who talks about the basics of life (love and death) without much mystery or obscure social commentary: just clever, ironic descriptions of her experiences in life (which have been for her a compilation of ecstacy, depression, and irony).

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