Books have long been connected to personal style: much like you are what you eat, you are also what you wear and, of course, what you read. However, unlike what you wear or eat, others are unlikely to 1) see what book you are spending your precious time poring over and 2) care. What you wanna do is take your fiction and fashion to make a look that will leave bystanders wondering whether or not they should stop at the next bookshop. I’m not talking about taking a DIY day and turning an old hardcover into a clutch. Let me explain.
I was on the subway, reading a recently-purchased copy of Pale Fire. I was wearing an outfit that didn’t match the mood of the book at all; all black denim pants with a plaid shirt around my waist, a Kenzo eye knock-off sweater, a black beanie; Nabokov’s books were written for velvet blazers and transparent clutches containing only cigarettes, a lighter, and a roll of cash. What I was wearing would go well with Sartre’s The Wall or, perhaps, the latest installment of Maggie Stiefvater’s young adult series,The Raven Boys. Usually, everyone is pretty dead-eyed on an evening subway ride to the suburbs. They have this glazed-over look, a look that says, ‘I don’t give a damn about that kid’s choice in clothing or literature.’ But to that I say, ‘Who cares?’ I’m the one making the choices here, and I like them. And so began my penultimate odyssey to make sure every last thing down to my commute reading material matched my clothing.
Here’s where I diverge from the whimsical way in which I know dress myself to the real meat of the matter: the intersection of literary theory and theory of fashion. As a student of the former, I know a hell of a lot of useless facts concerning how to approach a work of literature in order to dissect it academically. When it comes to fashion, I’m much the same. It’s all about digging up what makes the core of the piece really come together. It was inevitable to me that books, having influenced people to the point of literally changing their lives, would have some sort of connection to fashion: and I found it by digging up a pinnacle of fashion-literature intersection that occurred a little over a year ago now.
Since Baz Luhrmann’s aesthetically stunning version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby debuted in theatres, I’ve noticed a rise in the ocean that is lit-inspired fashion. The movie’s release sparked a rise in both sales of the book itself and of corresponding articles of clothing, from flapper-style dresses to headbands to kitten heels that look as if they belonged at least eighty years in the past. Oh wait – because they did. Still, that didn’t stop the masses from purchasing the mass-produced versions of fashions from ye olde pre-Depression era, even if these reproductions were rather inaccurate. Out with the old, in with the… revamped old? Either way, the look was snapped up quicker than a dollar bill on America’s streets in 1929.
Now it’s possible to walk into any chain bookstore this month and you’ll see display after display of books with pastel-colored covers, proudly proclaiming of plots containing trips to Paris, long-lost love, and airy dreams come true. Turn the corner into a chain clothing store and you’ll be surprised by the remarkably similar color palette. Floral-print, pastel, chiffon, silk – sound familiar? Although more subtle than the Gatsby fling last spring, it’s still apparent that what we are wearing is effecting what we’re reading, and vice versa.
Of course, this kind of thing is no surprise to the nerdier side of ‘net. It is fandom culture that has redefined the phrase “wear your heart on your sleeve” by wearing everything from t-shirts to replicated costumes depicting their most beloved TV/comic/video game/anime series. This intersection, however, is a little different; this merchandise was made specifically for this purpose. Any other literary litanies when it comes to clothing are entirely free of third-party input, in most cases: the reader picks the outfit to reflect the book currently clutched in their eager hands. This practice doesn’t exclude fans or fandom merchandise – in fact, quite the opposite. It encourages this form of reverie with one’s raiment, this careful, intimate attention that purposefully expresses your thoughts, feelings, and interpretations of a piece of media onto your own visible personage. It’s pretty magical, really, to bring something usually so invisible into a line of sight.
Literature has always required visual accompaniment. From a simple cover design to a stunningly rendered 3D film, there is something about seeing ethereal words mirrored by the physical world that adds even more of a depth of feeling to the books in question. The next step in bringing the literary to life, it seems, is to let it hang off us in the form of carefully selected clothing.
One last word of advice: please don’t ever try and make a matching outfit to James Joyce’s Ulysses. I don’t want to be responsible for any fatalities, fashion-related or otherwise.