What Moreta wears to the Gather which begins Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern is repeatedly mentioned. First it's that the dress is new:

The new gown lay in gold and soft, warm-brown folds...
pg. 3

Then that it gets soaked by an errant bucket of water, prompting Alessan to offer her a change of clothes:

Moreta stood, her beautiful new brown-and-gold gown plastered to her body. She tried to reassure the mortified handler that she took no offense, all the while knowing her long-awaited afternoon of racing was doomed... Alessan was holding out a clean brown shift in one hand, sandals and a pretty belt of colored cords in the other.
pg. 32

And several other times when those around her simply comment on her clothing. I assumed this was just more imagery (which goes over my head in general, so I ignore it) along with a plot device to introduce more of Alessan's family (Oma, Oklina) when Moreta goes to borrow a dress for dancing in. However, the same dress is emphasized later, when Alessan comes to return it:

He took out the carefully folded gold and brown dress and presented it to her with a courteous bow.

She managed to take it from him but her hands trembled. She thought of the racing, the dancing, her joy in a Gather as one should be, her delight in the perfection of that Gather evening as she and Oklina had made their way to the dancing square for an evening she would never forget. The pent-up frustrations, angers, suppressed griefs, the mandatory absences from Orlith that she thought of as betrayals of Impression, the whole accumulation burst the barrier of self-control and she buried her face in the dress, weeping uncontrollably.
pg. 244

The dress gets name-checked again when Alessan picks it up after their kiss and re-presents it to Moreta.

I was surprised by how much attention the narration places on this article of clothing. I would understand it bringing back memories from the Gather (though, most of the mentioned events happen after she changes out of the dress). However, she doesn't just think about that but instead appears to be overwhelmed by the litany of stressful plot events she'd been thrown between. It seems that Moreta, and the description, attaches unusual significance and care to the dress she wears to that first Gather. I can't figure out exactly what the significance is, though, or why it would be attached to this dress in particular.

What's the significance of Moreta's Gather dress?

1 Answer 1


The technology and economy of Pern in the setting of Moreta seems to be at a medieval level: in particular, there is no industrial mass-production of goods. This means that clothing is a much more valuable and important commodity to McCaffrey’s characters than it is to us, explaining why Moreta’s gown takes on such an emotional significance.

McCaffrey does not tell us how clothing is produced on Pern, but most likely it comes from the hair of animals (like wool from sheep) or from the fibres of plants (like linen from flax). We are told that Pern supports a population of herders who raise flocks of “wherries” and herds of “runner beasts”, so perhaps one of these species grows down or hair that can be used for making cloth. Prior to the industrial revolution, the process of cloth-making required an enormous amount of manual labour: animals needed to be shepherded and sheared, and the wool needed to be transported, sorted, washed, beaten, dyed, greased, carded, spun, woven, sewn and embroidered. Very likely Moreta herself carried out, or at least contributed to, the last few steps.

The description of the gown as “brown-and-gold” suggests that it is made of cloth dyed brown and decorated with goldwork, that is, with surface embroidery using threads coated with precious metals. Alternatively, metallic threads may have been woven into the cloth, or parts of the cloth, for example, as in brocade. Metallic decoration is easily damaged, and requires additional care when washing the garment.

What I imagine is something like a bliaut and mantle, since we are told that Moreta has a “cape” or “cloak” in addition to the gown:

Woman wearing a white linen wimple and gorget with a jeweled circlet. Her diapered pattern bliaut covers a white chemise. Covering all is a full mantle with contrasting lining.

Tom Tierney (1998). Medieval Fashions Coloring Book, p. 18. New York: Dover. The illustration represents a thirteenth-century English noblewoman, presumably based on a brass or effigy on a tomb, though Tierney does not give sources. Women in this place and period were required by the Catholic Church to wear a head-covering like the wimple depicted here, and although this would not apply on Pern, we are told that Moreta cuts her hair short for convenience when dragon-riding, so she might well wear some kind of decorative head-covering.

A gown thus represented a substantial investment of time and money, and wearing it in public demonstrated the wearer’s wealth, and possibly her skill at dressmaking and embroidery too. A modern equivalent might be a luxury car.

Psychologically the gown represents Moreta’s hopes and expectations for the Gather: if she wears her expensive and beautiful new gown, she imagines, then she will be admired and complimented and maybe make a romantic conquest. This is why the accident with the bucket of dirty water is so distressing: it means not only that her delicate gown is probably ruined (the grit “from the slop water, which had been used to sponge down a runner’s dusty legs” will be difficult to get out without damaging the goldwork), but that all her hopes for the Gather are dashed, or so she thinks in the moment.

As for Moreta’s fit of weeping when the gown is returned, the text is clear about why this happens: the gown reminds her of the situation at the start of the story, when her most important concern was dancing at the Gather. The contrast between past joy and present disaster is the last straw on top of her “pent-up frustrations, angers, suppressed griefs”.


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