Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Anyone who knows me (even peripherally) knows I am never far from a book. I do not have an e-reader, because I enjoy the tactile sensation of reading a real, honest-to-goodness hard-bound (or paperback) book. I love libraries and used bookstores, and I've even enjoyed big chain bookstores as a cheap date for myself; A place to replenish my collection after giving away books and then deciding I can't live without them glistening on my shelves. This blog post is about some of the fashion lessons I've learned from some of my favorite books and authors.
“Sir," she said, "you are no gentleman!" "An apt observation" he answered airily. "And you, Miss, are no lady.” -Margaret Mitchell, Gone With The Wind
Gone With The Wind: A nostalgic favorite of mine...I read the novel at age 13 when my good friend Julia loaned me her dog-eared copy. Julia gossiped with me about the characters and watched the movie with me once I was well obsessed with the Civil War era fashions and etiquette. Julia and I gushed over the story and characters and clothes...It spawned an obsession with period costume for me that has only evolved and expanded in the intervening years...I marveled at Scarlett O'Hara's 'stays' and hoop skirts, her corset lacing and her layers and layers of crinoline...Margaret Mitchell's descriptions of the clothing accessories and fabrics developed into alternate characters for me. I recall adopting a manner of walking down the halls of my middle school, posture-perfect, pretending I was corseted and wearing 3 feet of crinoline and hoop skirt around my gawky teenage legs. The visual splendor of the costumes in the film version of the novel made me "pea-green with envy" to quote the heroine. Walter Plunkett's designs and attention to historical accuracy still boggle my mind...The green sprigged muslin dress, the red velvet "Nothing modest or matronly" gown Scarlett wore to Ashley's birthday party, the corsets, stays, pantalets, and crinolines (Especially Rhett's gift of a red taffeta crinoline for Mammy)...all fascinated me more than the story itself. In the time since Margaret Mitchell's words leapt from the page and introduced me to the world of Civil War era fashion, I've been lucky enough to design and make historically accurate corsets and costumes. I've made and worn some for myself, too...the fantasy of my 13-year old self walking 'like a grown up lady' transformed into the adult-me facing the reality of two-dozen steel bones, busks, lacing cord and the welts that accompany poorly made or improperly laced corsets. I've also been able to wear (maneuver is more accurate) a hoop skirt with layers of crinoline. Sitting in all of these elements was a lesson in posture, poise and balance. One cannot simply plunk oneself down whilst corseted, skirted, and layered in crinoline. Getting up daintily is another matter entirely!
There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. -Edith Wharton
The Age of Innocence: Another novel that changed my life. The exquisitely dressed Newland Archer, his deep inner 'wrongness' and outer 'rightness', elegance and eloquence ruined me for all other men (for a while...). The Gilded Age setting of old New York that Edith Wharton depicts is breathtaking and ridiculous at the same time. The contrast of characters: Newland Archer's respected upper-class gentleman lawyer, May Welland's naïve simpering ingénue, and the unconventional forbidden object of Newland's infatuation, Ellen Olenska is stunningly written. The author depicts the fashion and etiquette of the time period in extraordinary detail. The detailed chapters referencing fashion and décor compelled me to learn more about construction and fabrics than any other influence thus far. Decorating oneself, one's living space, and projecting an outward image were the ultimate expressions of class and respectability (even in the midst of scandal, rumor and innuendo). As with Gone With The Wind, the film version (Scorsese, 1993) thrilled me and stopped me in my tracks. Daniel Day-Lewis (of course) is the physical embodiment of Newland Archer. He's simply amazing. Wynonna Ryder is May Welland, and captures the doe-eyed façade of her character impressively. Michelle Pfeiffer is Madame Ellen Olenska, and I find her to be slightly off physically from the novel, however, she is impeccable and definitely fills the role well. Gabriella Pescucci won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design (and rightly so). These costumes are absolute works of art. If I could be a fly on the wall for any film costume design workroom, it would be for this film. A lesson I learned from the novel about fashion is that what we project outwardly (perfection in Newland's case, Naïveté in May's, and free-spirited laissez-faire in Madame Olenska's case) is most often the polar opposite of what lives in our hearts and brains. It is a powerful exercise to take some stock internally and compare how you REALLY feel inside to how you present yourself to the world. It opened my world up, quite literally.
I feel like an outsider, and I always will feel like one. I've always felt that I wasn't a member of any particular group. -Anne Rice
Interview With The Vampire: (disclaimer: I will NOT be talking about the movie on this one) This novel, I read when I was 16. I had hardly any experience with vampire lore, it was 15 years before Twilight or any of that nonsense, and I was considered "odd" among my friends for reading it. I persevered and read it and all of the subsequent Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. I read her Mayfair Witches stories and her 'Sleeping Beauty' erotica novels as well. I love how Anne Rice writes. Her ability to describe what her characters see, feel and do is absolutely riveting. In Interview With The Vampire, Anne Rice draws us in with Louis, melancholy brooding dark and beautiful. Louis downplays his beauty. He is a shadow next to Lestat, but also a conflicted moralist with monochromatic tendencies...Then there is Lestat. A tall bombastic, brat-prince with golden haired bad-boy allure. Lestat is a ruffled throated dandy who will tear your jugular out while seducing you slowly. His fashion tastes are flourishes and velvet, jewel tones and anything that accentuates his best assets. He's partial to the dramatic and is the epitome of rock star chic (long flowing golden hair, tight velvet pants, fitted jackets and androgynous touches) even before electricity is invented. The fashion I picked up on in this novel started me on a trek to becoming a full fledged card carrying Goth Chick by the time I was 19. pale skin made paler by darkening my strawberry blonde hair to deep red and donning dark merlot colored lipstick. I started making Goth style clothes, first a floor length crushed velvet black dress, which I wore with a silver brocade corset and combat boots. Chain accessories and long flared coats with cinched waists, evoking 1930s vampire films were a staple for me. One of the biggest fashion inspirations that I gleaned from Anne Rice's novels was to always be beautiful, to dress how I feel and to create the image of who I wanted to be. I added fishnet stockings, chainmail, safety pins and punk styling to complete my Goth/Punk/pinup look. Torn clothes, artfully mended with metallic stitches or pins and Victorian inspired trimmings carried my Goth fashion aesthetic until my mid twenties. I still dabble in the look, and prize my porcelain skin, twenty years later. These three books are but a few of hundreds that I have read and that have influenced my personal style. I rely heavily on history and art to inspire me to create. The inspiration does not stop at the above listed genres, or even at books. I felt like sharing my inspirations in hopes that you will think about your personal style, what influences you to wear what you wear, and what makes you feel beautiful. Maybe it is not a book you read, maybe it is another experience or art form that you can tap into to develop and embrace your sense of self.

No comments:

Post a Comment