‘Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.’ – Virginia Woolf
have you ever wondered what your favorite protagonist would look like in reality? Sometimes, it is impossible to get rid of the initial impression and to fancy a certain character in clothing different to what they wear in the narrative. This is because authors are well-aware of the fact that the dress flawlessly adds a new level of meaning to the fictional text. In other words, fashion and words combine to create a unique relationship from which we get a deeper insight into the socio-historical context as well as the nature of characters, since it is often the case that some of the aspects of their personality are illuminated by the dresses they wear. In this text, focus will be put on some fictional characters which have become easily recognizable owing to the dresses they wear.
- The little black dress
Sometimes, film producers recognize the power of the dress while re-imagining literary works. This happened not only with the adaptations of Gatsby, to name just one out of many examples, but with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, too. It could be easily argued that the fashion’s defining moment is the opening scene of the novel, that is the movie, in which Hepburn steps out of a taxi in a floor-length, silk dress. Today, the black dress, worn by Audrey Hepburn and designed by Givenchy, is probably the most iconic piece of clothing of all time. The principal reason for this is the secret that this dress whispers to its owner. The sophistication can be achieved, you don’t have to be born with it. All you need to look effortlessly glamorous is a little black dress. However, it is not all about the looks. It’s about the need for constant need for self-improvement and with the help of a magic wand, that is the dress, you can at least start your way towards change. This reminds us of Gatsby, a self-made man, since he uses clothes in order to conjure up a vision of himself, a vision he desires for himself.
“It was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker. For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks. Her mouth was large, her nose upturned. A pair of dark glasses blotted out her eyes.”
– Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
- Miss Havisham’s wedding gown
Miss Havisham is a grim and immensely rich old lady living in seclusion. The way she is represented speaks a lot not only about her unique personality, but also about prevailing set of values she is living on, values which are fading unable to resist the course of time. She represents the inescapability of change, inability to live in seclusion, refusing to accept the rapid changes of a new era.
“She was dressed in rich materials–satins, and lace and silks — all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on — the other was on the table near her hand — her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a Prayer-book, all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass… I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone.”
– Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- The midsummer madness and yellow stockings
‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them’, says Malvolio proudly while having his in cross-gartered yellow stockings on. Olivia watches him in disbelief. The Bard here plays with Malvolio’s high ambitions and lets his other characters ridicule Malvolio’s vanity. Shakespeare is perhaps pointing out to the fact that we are often unable to recognize the limits of our possibilities and hence we become unrealistic in our demands and expectations, and this is just another target for ridicule.
Daylight and champaign discovers not more. This is
open. I will be proud, I will read politic authors,
I will baffle Sir Toby, I will wash off gross
acquaintance, I will be point-devise the very man.
I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade me;
for every reason excites to this, that my lady
loves me. She did commend my yellow stockings of
late, she did praise my leg being cross-gartered;
and in this she manifests herself to my love, and
with a kind of injunction drives me to these habits
of her liking. I thank my stars I am happy. I will
be strange, stout, in yellow stockings, and cross-
gartered, even with the swiftness of putting on.
Jove and my stars be praised!
– Twelfth Night, Act II Scene 5, by William Shakespeare
- The glam and glitter of the roaring twenties
The iconic scene of Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby” is the one where Jay Gatsby scatters his shirts all over the room. Each shirt is more lavish than the previous. Gatsby’s keen intent to show off with his shirts and Daisy’s astonishment upon seeing them reflect the spirit of the 1920s society. Back then, people were carefree and the improving financial situation enabled them to embrace rapid changes. Their occupation with the material well-being only foreshadows The Great Depression that was about to come.
“‘I’ve got a man in England who buys me clothes. He sends over a selection of things at the beginning of each season, spring and fall.’ He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher—shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange with monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily. ‘They’re such beautiful shirts,’ she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. ‘It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.”
– The Great Gatsby by F. S. Fitzgerald
by Maja Žikić
Latest posts by Maja (see all)
- Hit the road: A Walk Across Serbia – An Interview with Kevin Shannon - January 10, 2016
- Dylan Saccoccio: write what you are - November 9, 2014
- A break from collectivism: meet Dylan Saccoccio - October 5, 2014