The best way that I can describe The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean is to say that it's a vanilla ice cream kind of book--pleasant while you're in the midst of it, but not special or memorable enough to make it a must read.
The story is comfortably predictable. College senior Dora Winston leads a dull and uneventful life. She dresses in boring clothes, working a boring job in a coffee shop, and is about to aimlessly float into a graduate degree in liberal arts for lack of a better plan for her future. Dora is unexpectedly forced to snap out of her bland existence when the grandmother who raised her suffers a sudden stroke. Dora rushes home to be with her and to take charge of her grandmother's vintage clothing shop. Immersed in all things vintage, Dora begins to find a new purpose in life. (Of course, she also finds a new potential romance with a young contractor in town.)
The key twist in the novel, which is hinted at in the title, comes about when Dora discovers that her grandmother has a stash of stories that go along with different dresses in the shop. Told in first person from the point of view of the dresses themselves, they describe key moments in the lives of the women who originally wore them, ranging from the beginning of an extramarital affair to a sweet moment between a mother and her children. At first, these dress stories were a nice change of pace from the main plot line. After a while, though, I started skimming, and eventually began to entirely skip over the sections of italicized text that signaled them. In theory, I liked the idea of the dress stories, but in reality they didn't add much to the book besides an unexpected twist related to them that comes at the end of the novel.
The bottom line is that the novel as a whole was much like Dora's character--kind of flat, even after it developed. If this book crosses your path for some reason, it could be worth a read. Otherwise, I don't think it's one to seek out.