Elizabeth Hoffman Ransford

Past Perfect Essay
by Elizabeth Hoffman Ransford

As a young girl, I was an ardent—some might say obsessive— reader of Nancy Drew books. My mother took me to thrift stores where we bought stacks of them for 50 cents a piece, and I devoured them: curled up on the living room couch, under the covers with a flashlight, in the corner of a gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago, whenever and wherever there was time and space to sit down.Nancy Drew was my first role model, which I guess makes sense for an only child who spent most of her time immersed in books. There were lots of things to admire about her. She was smart and serious and brave. She was independent; although I was nowhere near old enough to appreciate it at the time, she didn’t worry what boys thought about her—she was too busy solving mysteries. She was responsible, polite, and kind-hearted. She was a loving daughter, and a loyal friend to George and Bess. Nancy, I would say now, had her shit together.

When I was about seven years old, my mother made me a turquoise linen dress that I called my “Nancy Drew dress.” It was an A line dress with short capped sleeves, and a Peter Pan collar, with a few white buttons running down the front—an archetypical little girl dress. I can’t say why I bestowed the title on it, other than an instinctual association of Nancy Drew with a brilliant turquoise blue. (In the books, she often wore blue, because it complemented her “titian” colored hair.)

I don’t remember caring much about how I looked in my Nancy Drew dress. What mattered was how it made me feel. When I wore that dress, I became Nancy Drew. Intrepid, adventurous, ready for anything. I loved my Nancy Drew dress, so much so that it’s the only item of clothing from my childhood of which I really have memories. In a way, it’s the first experience I had with expressing my inner self, my identity, through clothes.

My style today, twenty-five years later, could be characterized as part vintage, part preppy, part functional. From time to time, I may go for something outrageous, just to keep things interesting, but at heart I’m a fairly conservative dresser. Although now I spend more time thinking about concept and presentation, it still comes down to how my favorite clothes make me feel. Smart, confident, classy, and, when necessary, brave. Just like Nancy Drew.

Bio Elizabeth Hoffman Ransford is a freelance writer and historian. She lived in Chicago from 2001 to 2010 and received her PhD in American History from Loyola University Chicago. Elizabeth and her husband, Charlie, moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to renovate a house built in 1880 and plant a garden; they expect their first child in February.


photo by Alix Lambert
drawing by Jamie Hayes
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