Like almost every other girl I know who grew up reading the Babysitters Club series, I can still rattle off many of the more daring sartorial choices that Stacey McGill and Claudia Kishi made. There were scrunched socks and belts looped loosely around teenage-girl-hips and fringed white leather ankle boots and feathered earrings and barrettes shaped like birds and all of these things were put together in ways that were visually dissonant, sure, but also exciting. At least, those outfits seemed exciting at the time, although maybe that was a function of me being a 10-year-old girl who didn't really care that much about good literature, but did care very much about convincing my parents to let me get a second piercing in each ear and giant palm tree earrings to wear in said piercings. No matter! Much in the same way that meals in literature make an indelible impression on the reader, there are some outfits in literature that beg to be recreated. And so that's exactly what we're going to do. The following are ten of the most memorable moments in literary fashion, proving the notion that clothes make the man. Or, in this case, proving the notion that clothes make the character (and, for our purposes, the female character, male characters will have to take a back seat.) Luckily, recreating these outfits is an easy enough task when you've got access to the kinds of clothes carried by many of Brooklyn's best boutiques. So now you have no excuse not to dress like Nicole Diver or Lux Lisbon. Which, dressing like a character doesn't mean you have to act like her. Because while you might have no desire to meet the fate of the Lisbon sisters, there's nothing wrong with wanting to dress like them.
The Lisbon Sisters; The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
"Sometimes we caught sight of tattered knee socks rounding a corner, or came upon them doubled over, shoving books into a cubbyhole, flicking the hair out of their eyes. But it was always the same: their white faces drifting in slow motion past us, while we pretended we hadn't been looking for them at all, that we didn't know they existed...They were short, round-buttocked in denim, with roundish cheeks that recalled that same dorsal softness."
It's become somewhat impossible to separate the characters in this Jeffrey Eugenides novel from how they were portrayed in the dreamy, perfectly styled Sophia Coppola film adaptation. And that's ok, because Coppola was spot on in her vision for the lovely, languid Lisbon sisters. This look is easy enough to recreate, all you'll need are a pair of high-waisted jeans, or a long and flowing faux-wedding dress, and knee-socks. Accessorize with sparkling star bobby pins, as if you're going to the big dance and planning on spending the night staring up at the sky from the wet grass of the football field. Just don't forget to scribble the name "Trip Fontaine" in your underwear.
Bobby Pins; Star bobby pins, $18 catbirdnyc.com
Jeans; assorted vintage jeans, from $55niftythrifty.com
Faux-Wedding Dress; Brittany dress by Kordal, $195joinerynyc.com
Socks; Solmate socks, $19 hickorees.com
Underwear; Only Hearts Whisper Ruche Hipster, $35 brooklynfoxlingerie.com
Esther Greenwood; The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
I wore a black shantung sheath that cost me forty dollars. It was part of a buying spree I had with some of my scholarship money when I heard I was one of the lucky ones going to New York. The dress was cut so queerly I couldn't wear any sort of bra under it, but that didn't matter much as i was skinny as a boy and barely rippled, and I liked feeling almost naked on the hot summer nights.
Simple, yes, but this dress is notable for being elegant and spare in the way of all little black dresses, and also serves as a reminder of the fact that wearing black is never wrong. Esther's friend Doreen (all curves and sweetheart neckline and white lace and platinum bouffant) is just too obvious, you just know she's the kind of person who will only get into one kind of trouble after too many fruity drinks. Whereas if you're wearing that black dress? You'll tend to order drinks that go down "like a sword-swallower's sword" and make you "feel powerful and godlike" and who knows what kind of trouble you'll get into?
Dress; Geo Panel Dress $74 articleand.com
Sula Peace; Sula, Toni Morrison
She was dressed in a manner that was as close to a movie star as anyone would ever see. A black crepe dress splashed with pink and yellow zinnias, foxtails, a black felt hat with a veil of net lowered over one eye...Sula could wear a plain yellow dress...with a distance, an absence of relationship to clothes which emphasized everything the fabric covered.
Sula is no conventional woman, from the rose-shaped birthmark over her eye to the carefree way she lives her life, Morrison created a character who never quite fits in with her surroundings, even though she betters them just by being there. Also, she really knows how to dress. It's easy enough to find clothes evocative of late-20s/early-30s fashion, but if you really want to emulate Sula, you'll get a rose tattoo. Right over your eye, and arcing up to your brow bone. Even if it's just a temporary one, it'll do for now.
Rose Sweater; Girl. Merino Rose Intarsia Sweater, $320frenchgarmentcleaners.com
Dress; No. 6 Classic Shirt Dress, $355frenchgarmentcleaners.com
Foxtails; assorted furs, oddtwin.com
Temporary Tattoo; Cartolina Blooms, part of the Nautical Set, $15tattly.com
Weetzie Bat; Weetzie Bat, Francesca Lia Block
“Sometimes she wore Levi's with white-suede fringe sewn down the legs and a feathered Indian headdress, sometimes old fifties' taffeta dresses covered with poetry written in glitter, or dresses made of kids' sheets printed with pink piglets or Disney characters.”
Well, I would never, EVER suggest that you wear an Indian headdress, for obvious reasons. However, there is something lovely and anarchic about dressing like Weetzie Bat as an adult. It's the same kind of pleasure you'd get from trying to emulate Rayanne Graff. It's the same kind of pleasure that, like, Betsy Johnson gets every single day. So in the spirit of youth and glitter, dress like Weetzie, just without the cultural appropriation. Although if you must, get a dreamcatcher. Just stay clear of headdresses.
Camilla Macauley; The Secret History, Donna Tartt
They looked very much alike, with heavy dark-blond hair and epicene faces as clear, and cheerful and grave, as a couple of Flemish angels. And perhaps most unusual in the context of Hampden—where pseudo-intellects and teenage decadents abounded, and where black clothing was de rigueur—they liked to wear pale clothes, particularly white. In this swarm of cigarettes and dark sophistication they appeared here and there like figures from an allegory, or long-dead celebrants from some forgotten garden party.
I am not the biggest fan of The Secret History, which has caused no fewer than three friendships to go through problematic times because many people really, really like this book. However, in my opinion, its one saving grace is Camilla's fashion sense. I love the image of her and her brother floating around their Vermont campus in preppy, pale clothes. I mean, Camilla actually wears things like "a sun dress with a sailor collar, and a straw hat." Who does that? No one. But we all should, maybe.
Claudia Kishi; The Baby-Sitters Club, Ann M. Martin
"Claudia often wears her art on her sleeve - almost literally. On this, my first Monday back at the BSC, for example, she was in a little crop-top muscle shirt that she had batikked green and blue. She'd sewed a bunch of buttons up the front as if it were a vest. She also had on skinny black shorts, one blue sock and one green sock, and black Doc Martens with one blue shoelace (on the foot with the green sock) and one green shoelace (on the foot with the blue sock). Her long black hair had been gathered into a single braid. A blue ribbon with more buttons attached to it was woven into the braid. Her earrings? Buttons, naturally."
Although I definitely identified more with Stacey, Claudia was the character with the best fashion sense in the Baby-Sitters Club books. Would you want to mimic one of her outfits exactly? Sure you would, though maybe save it for the weekend. Recreating this look involves a visit to a crafts store in order to mimic the accessories appropriately, but the rest of the outfit can be sourced at normal clothing stores. And while button earrings are hard to find, I just know that Claud would have loved both the alphabet and cat face earrings available at Catbird. Ahhh...Claudia. Her
terrible creative spelling would have really worked for her on twitter, I think.
Tank; Shorty tank, $65 ingodwetrustnyc.com
Shirt; Easy Breezy top by Visantine, $110 su-juk.com
Shorts; Navy lattice shorts, $81 ingodwetrustnyc.com
Pants; Tie-Dye Slouchy Pants by Raquel Allegra, $255 shopbird.com
Earrings; Alphabet earrings, from $32 and Cat face studs, $28 catbirdnyc.com
Necklace; Button Necklace, $60 ericaweiner.com
Nicole Diver; Tender Is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Her bathing suit was pulled off her shoulders and her back, a ruddy orange brown, set off by a string of creamy pearls, shone in the sun. Her face was hard and lovely and pitiful.
Sure, this description is brief and doesn't even really give many details at all. And yet, just with those two sentences, the reader is immediately transported to the French Riviera of the 1920s...a time when elegance was a bathing suit, a strand of pearls and a tan. So while summer might be over now, it's not a bad time to start thinking of what beaches you want to spend time on next year. Or even where you'll venture this winter. Plus, it's a great time to bathing suit shop. Everything's on sale! And while pearls are lovely against a tan, the Art Deco crystal necklace from Erica Weiner is another way to shine.
Harriet Daimler; After Claude, Iris Owens
What is the proper attire in which to dine with your enemies? I dug through my wardrobe, piled high on my bentwood rocker, in search of an appropriate answer. My heart began to beat out this refrain of having nothing to wear. I opted for the mismatched effect, currently so fashionable yet ideally suited for my unconventional looks. At the bottom of the bentwood body count, I rescued a long, cotton, tie-dyed skirt that can go absolutely anywhere. I chose to complement it with, of all inspirations, a sheer green Mexican overblouse. The color combination created a meeting of nature, and not just your everyday placid meeting, but a nature of convulsion,
This? Is one of my favorite books, and has one of the great loathsome protagonists in all of fiction. Harriet is awful, but also wonderful and always terribly funny. And she dresses really well, as she should, after all, because it was New York City in the 70s. So! If there's one person on this list you should dress like, it's definitely Harriet. Maybe don't totally live like her? Because she's a sociopath? But also, maybe do. I don't know. I have no answers on how to live your life.
Brett Ashley; The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
Brett was damned good-looking. She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy's. She started all that. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey.
Who wouldn't want to look like Brett Ashley? I mean, Ava Gardner played her in the movie. Case closed. Plus, she sported the kind of classic clothes that are just as appropriate to wear now as they were almost a century ago. Even if you don't have "curves like the hull of a racing yacht," you'll do just fine.
Camilla Dickinson; Camilla, Madeleine L'Engle
I washed my face to make sure I got all the toothpaste off and went back to my room and dressed. I put on the sheer smoky stockings my mother had given me for my birthday and which I had never worn before and a dress she had bought me that is neither silver nor green, and that changes color as you move in it.
This was one of my favorite books as a child, even though I didn't really understand it when I read it. L'Engle also wrote A Wrinkle In Time, but this is not that. Not at all. This is about affairs and suicide attempts and French lovers named Jaques and husbands named Rafferty and fathers explaining to their young daughters what a sugar daddy is and it all went very much over my head. Except for the clothes. Which I loved. Particularly this dress, which I longed to have, and while I probably wouldn't want its exact replica now (too much stiff, iridescent fabric is not a good look on anyone), all of the dresses that I found that are in the spirit of this one? I want them now.
Dress; Mint Jordan Waisted Dress, $180.50 ingodwetrustnyc.com
Dress; Shrink Dress by Boessert Schorn; $221.50 joinerynyc.com
Dress; Isabel Marant Salvia Pleated Dress, shopbird.com
Shoes; Rachel Comey Bridges Shoe, $201 frenchgarmentcleaners.com
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