Book-Inspired Fashion: The Metamorphosis

Dark, Halloween-appropriate outfits inspired by an unforgettable novella.
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Dark, Halloween-appropriate outfits inspired by an unforgettable novella.

Fashion inspiration can be found anywhere, and books are incredible sources for style innovation. Book-Inspired Fashion explores these treasure troves, and brings them them to you with looks inspired by vibrant characters, far away lands, brilliantly woven plotlines, and more.

While I was going to cover something more contemporary this time (wait for that in November!), I couldn’t help but be inspired by one of my favorite novellas, The Metamorphosis. With Halloween is coming up and the question of identity is so central in this brilliant work - and who doesn't love a little bit of the grotesque?

One of many variant covers, via Amazon

One of many variant covers, via Amazon

Reading Between the Lines

The Metamorphosis was published in 1915 by Franz Kafka, an influential German-language writer whose works have radically shaped western literature.

It is a short text, and the premise is simple: Protagonist Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to discover that he has been transformed into a bug, though it is never made clear what exactly he has become – and this vagueness is intentional. With this change, Gregor loses his ability to speak and takes on new behaviors. These factors leave him isolated in his home, with his parents and sister gradually distancing themselves from him and eventually becoming cruel.

Themes of humanity, identity, language, family, and work are all incredibly important to the heart of this story, and the matter-of-fact way in which the transformation occurs is both baffling and fascinating.

I highly recommend that everyone read this novella. Although it's simple and succinct at just 44 pages, it hits hard emotionally and has a touching sensitivity about it. Of course, things are always lost in translation, and it’s impossible for non-German speakers to understand the beauty of the language as Kafka wrote it. Nevertheless, his artistry and skill can be appreciated – and used for fashion inspiration.

This book is split into three sections, so the three outfit sets I’ve created follow accordingly. The first will explore the transformation itself, the second will address the adjustment period, and the third will deal with the “aftermath” and will contain spoilers. Don’t read that last outfit set’s descriptions if you do not want to know Gregor’s fate!

1. The Metamorphosis

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Products: Shirt, Blouse, Pants, Shoes, Watch, Bag

The first sentence of the book explains that Gregor Samsa is just an ordinary man – albeit an overworked one – who inexplicably becomes a bug overnight. While this would terrify most people, he quickly accepts this change, thinking only of his family and his job as a traveling salesman.

I tried to emulate Gregor's nearly-absurd nonchalance in this outfit. It is neither casual nor dressy, but can easily transition into a lax workplace look, referencing how devoted Gregor is to his job and supporting his family. It also maintains a slightly youthful vibe, given that Gregor is actually quite young (likely in his 20s or 30s).

This look could easily represent those of us who have to work through Halloween weekend. It's slightly edgy, a moody take on a basic look. Think oxblood jeggings instead of jeans, edgy booties rather than heels, a loose blouse instead of a fitted one, etc.

I finished off the look with a cool, moth-print reusable bag for errand runs, and a watch with assorted butterflies because, you know, insects. 

2. Adjustment

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Products: Duster, Shirt, Jeans, Sandals, Hair Photo: ELLE.com

During this period of adjustment, Gregor takes on the habits, instincts, and behavior of a nonhuman creature. Some of his memories fade, and his family life degrades. This middle section of the novella is, in my opinion, the most distressing. Gregor realizes that he has essentially been abandoned by his family, is kept in isolation, and is nearly killed by his father when he pelts him with apples, one of which permanently lodges in his back.

The standout piece in this outfit is the shapeless, oversized duster, to represent the fact that Gregor's new nature. He is limited by his form and suffers tremendously for it. His life is a hazy blur of emotions as he fights with his new nonhuman identity, although he still retains some key aspects of humanity such as the unreciprocated compassion and love he feels for his family. 

Many people associate nonhuman beings with nature and the environment, and Gregor's transformation into a bug may indicate a return to a simpler form of living. So, I tried to use a varied color palette that was reflective of nature. And, because this is Book-Inspired Fashion, I had to add a book-inspired graphic tee.

3. The Aftermath

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Products: Dress, Vest, Shoes, Earrings, Eyeshadow, Hair Photo: ELLE.com

Spoiler alert!! After the family takes boarders in order to make ends meet (after losing Gregor’s income), there’s a poignant scene that illustrates Gregor’s humanity: he hears his sister playing the violin in the living room – as she had attended a music conservatory thanks to his financial support – and cannot help but approach the source of the music. This, of course, ends in disaster and he scrambles back to his room in despair and shame.

The family decides that they need to do something about Gregor, who unfortunately overhears this conversation. He then dies alone in his room, emaciated and covered in dust and filth.

The last third of The Metamorphosis represents the heartbreaking end to Gregor’s life that speaks to many of the fears that we may have, as readers in the 21st century, including losing our voice and identity, living in isolation, being rejected by those we know and love, and so many more.

This LBD is daring, but not altogether inappropriate. Moreover, it is incredibly feminine and exudes confidence and poise, which is so important for college-aged women. Given that Halloween is coming up, it is especially important to be comfortable and assertive in how you present yourself to the world.

The base colors are neutral, because the ending of this novella really is tragic for Gregor, who lived too much for others and not enough for himself. The accessories, however, incorporate brighter, metallic colors because the very last page of the book, oddly enough, celebrates Gregor's sister's blooming beauty and contrasts the family's freedom with Gregor's death and abandonment.

The beetle earrings probably don't need an explanation, but I did want a messy, complicated hairstyle to top off (no pun intended) the strange whirl of events following Gregor's death. 

Your Thoughts?

Are you a fan of Kafka? If not, do you have any recommendations for books you’d like to see covered? Let us know in the comments below!