Style Stories: Literary heroines

Style

The fashion team share their sartorial icons from the wonderful world of fiction. From Fitzgerald to futuristic Russian poets, check out the literary heroines who have influenced our style.

Jennie Graham – Lady Dona St. Columb from Frenchman’s Creek

In many ways a rather irritating heroine, Lady Dona St. Columb in Daphne Du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek has also been a source of much sartorial inspiration, mixing corsets and cross-dressing with aplomb. This 19th century aristo-brat charmed her way into my heart during my early teenage years, teaching me how to style a pair of pirate boots long before I had even heard the name Chloé. From her mastery of the masculine I learned an early lesson about the power of a strong silhouette and she rocks a ruby earring like no one else (the removing of which makes for one of the most sexually-charged moments in a decidedly non-sexual romantic novel ever). Above all, Lady Dona made it OK to break the rules, don a pair of breeches and run off with an incredibly inappropriate man. And isn’t that the most important lesson any girl can learn?

Lisa Cave – Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby

Yes, yes, I know Daisy Buchanan is the main female character in The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald, lest we forget), but, from a fashion perspective, she just doesn’t go as far as Jordan Baker. And from a non-fashion perspective, she is also highly irritating (see her “beautiful little fool” comment for more information). Whist Daisy can undoubtedly rock the little white dress, Miss Baker, a professional golfing champ, is the one “who wore her evening dress, all her dresses, like sports clothes”. Presuming she isn’t wearing a tracksuit to a party in the Roaring Twenties, this quotation evokes the sleek silhouettes, the casual, yet smart dropped waists and neutral shades of Jordan’s evening wear, that was so natural it was as if she donned them every day (and if you’ve read The Great Gatsby, this isn’t so hard to believe). You can’t go wrong with a twenties-style dress code and Jordan’s effortless elegance when she attends the hottest party in town ensures she is far more than just a secondary female character. All hail Jordan Baker, a sartorially excellent literary heroine, who can even make golfing look cool.

Léa Caresse – Mayakovsky

It is not often that a poet is noted as a style icon, but in Mayakovsky’s case, it is definitely justified. The Russian futuristic poet from the 1920s was somewhat of a dandy, declaiming his poetry in the heart of Moscow in his signature yellow blouse and with drawings on his face. In the manner of many avant-garde artists of that period, he would also wear brightly patterned scarves and huge hats. Only occasionally would he discard his eccentric dress for an elegant top hat and waistcoat. After all, who said the Russian Revolution proletariat couldn’t be chic?

Alys Key – Francis Abernathy from The Secret History

“Angular and elegant, he was precariously thin, with nervous hands and a shrewd albino face and a short, fiery mop of the reddest hair I had ever seen.” Thus enters Francis Abernathy onto the pages of Donna Tart’s The Secret History. Smart, rich, and with an East Coast collegiate air about them, all of the novel’s characters appeal to my aesthetic sensibilities, but it is Francis whose style I find most seductive. The narrator describes his clothing in detail: “beautifully starchy shirts with French cuffs; magnificent neckties; a black greatcoat that billowed behind him as he walked and made him look like a cross between a student prince and Jack the Ripper”. And of course, who doesn’t want to look like a royal serial killer? Now I am normally one for my floral dresses, but there is something to be said for that dandy-ish rogue look, especially when it’s a rainy day and I just want to sit in the bar with a book by Camus and look edgy. Francis provides a blueprint for that, and gives me a justification for my extensive collection of dark winter coats.

Liked reading this article? Sign up to our weekly mailing list to receive a summary of our best articles each week – click here to register

Want to contribute? Join our contributors group here or email us – click here for contact details