Fashion: Always a Character
Andy Warhol influenced fashion. Exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum. Photo by Maddy Ryan
We don’t often think of us “bookish types,” as connoisseurs of fashion, yet how many of us, still in our pajamas, dream about wearing Scarlett O’Hara’s dresses or donning a bonnet like Laura Ingalls Wilder? Fashion is a character in any novel that allows us to feel the satin, touch the wool or hear the swish of a skirt.
Erin McKean’s book, The Hundred Dresses: The Most Iconic Styles of Our Time, had me reminiscing about all kinds of books. McKean lists The Austen as number six most iconic
The Jane Austen dress from The Hundred Dresses: The Most Iconic Styles of Our Time
dress, “The purpose of the Austen dress is to imagine oneself as a Jane Austen heroine,” she writes. “preferably Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice…” And who can’t picture themselves in the number 13 iconic dress, The Breakfast at Tiffany’s? McKean writes “When we first see Holly Golightly in Truman Capote‘s 1958 novella, ‘it was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, and a pearl choker.'”
Another fashion book that has us reminiscing about great characters is Ilene Beckerman’s fashion classic, Love, Loss, and What I Wore. It’s a personal journal of sorts, detailing the clothing and styles she wore at important times in her life. From Brownie uniforms to dresses she wore on dates, Beckerman looks back at her life.
Love, Loss and What I Wore
One page mentions the prominence of rag curls in your hair, made by wrapping strips of torn fabric around damp hair and tying a knot at the bottom. After they would dry, they would be carefully unwound to reveal perfect curls – just like Laura Ingalls Wilder described her nemesis Nellie Oleson doing in her Little House on the Prairie series. Beckerman also writes about an ice-green flapper dress she borrowed from her aunt, who wore it when she was younger. She wore it as a costume, a definite shout out to The Great Gatsby era of glamour.
After reading any fashion book or magazine, arm chair fashion dreamers can get up and go to a few museums around the country that show off the importance of fashion in our history. The Phoenix Art Museum has an exhibition with a focus on clothing both as an art form and cultural phenomenon. The Astaire Library of Costumes (included in the Phoenix Museum’s Art Research Library) houses many rare books and prints relating to costumes, too.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City doesn’t miss out on any chances to show off their collection of “more than thirty-five thousand costumes and accessories represents five continents and seven centuries of fashionable dress, regional costumes, and accessories for men, women, and children, from the fifteenth century to the present,” according to their website.
Let the dream of those elaborate kimono and obis, party dresses, prom dresses, wedding dresses and other fashions spring to life from the pages of a book.