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Looks from Books: Fashion Inspired by Jane Eyre


Welcome to the latest edition of Looks from Books, which aims to prove that you can look smart, while still being book-smart, too. Fashion inspiration can be found between the pages of your favorite stories, on well-designed book covers, and in your favorite characters… if you read closely enough.

This week, we’re focusing on Jane Eyre, a feminist favorite that made a hero of every plain-faced, witty girl in English class, and inspired more than one clandestine peek into the attic.

jane eyre book cover
Jane Eyre book cover via Amazon

Inside Cover: A Little Bit of Background

Jane Eyre is a Gothic romance novel, written in 1847 by Charlotte Bronte.

The story explores the personal life and emotional growth of plain, unassuming Jane Eyre, from an abused, precocious orphan, to a witty, yet subdued, new governess at the house of the mysterious Mr. Rochester. The plot thickens when she falls deeply in love with her secretive employer, only to face new struggles.

Jane Eyre was originally published with the subtitle, “An Autobiography,” which points to the parallels between Jane’s life and Bronte’s own. The work is largely based on experience: Charlotte attended a school much like Lowood, where she endured tragedy; she later worked as a teacher, and then pursued a career as a governess. Of course, Charlotte eventually became a writer, and was then able to re-imagine her experiences with an amplified sense of drama.

A Fashionable Literacy

jane eyre movie still
A still from the 2011 movie adaptation of Jane Eyre || Photo via ELLE

Jane Eyre‘s most recent film adaptation, directed by Cary Joji Fukanaga, starred Micheal Fassbender as the enigmatic lover Rochester and Mia Wasikowska as our titular heroine, Jane. The costumes adhered strictly to those of the time period, featuring coiled buns, high collars, hoop skirts, and bloomers.

Although the days of hoop skirts are long since passed, we can find aspects of Jane’s simple, structured attire in many recent runway trends. Examples include the  androgynous silhouettes and understated feminine influences seen at Celine and Chloe Spring 2013, as well as the dour menswear-inspired suits of Anne Valerie Hash’s Pre-Fall 2013 collection. These modern-day trends could easily work in a Gothic feminist heroine’s wardrobe.

How to Add Jane to Your Wardrobe

By integrating key themes and motifs from the novel, as well as Bronte’s writing style, you can try some of the season’s hottest trends and reference the intrepid heroine in your outfit choices, hopefully without enduring the same dramatic events she does.

Contrast in Gender Status

Peacoat – American Eagle, Bowler Hat – ASOS, Headband – Nordstrom, Oxford Shirt – Uniqlo, Mary Jane Heels – Forever 21, Earrings – White House Black Market, Skater Skirt – Miss Selfridge, Embellished Belt – Asos, Vest – Zara.

While Jane Eyre can be viewed through the scope of many social commentaries – including class structure and religious right – the most enduring commentary allied with the novel is that of gender status.

Throughout the book, Jane confronts many men who, in some way, attempt to subjugate her to their authority: First, there is the hypocritical clergyman and Lowood headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, followed by the cold, intelligent St. John Rivers. Finally, there is our unlikely hero, Mr. Rochester, whose allure and mystique blind Jane to some horrible truths. Only when Jane is Rochester’s equal – financially independent, confident in herself, and fully capable of doing whatever she pleases – is she able to return to him as a partner.

Allude to this contrast by mixing of masculine and feminine styles in your wardrobe. A full skirt, ultra-girly mary-jane platforms, and jewel-embellished accessories give off a traditionally feminine aesthetic. Pair them with a men’s cut oxford shirt, peacoat, vest, and bowler hat for a contrasting and balancing, dose of masculinity.

The Color Red

Jane Eyre red dress outfit
Blazer – Maurice’s, Nail polish – Deborah Lippmann, Dress – Wet Seal, Mary Jane Shoes – Charlotte Russe, Belt – Cole Haan, Clutch – Akira.

One specific motif of interest within Jane Eyre is the color red. This motif is displayed in such features as the trauma in the Red Room; the color of Grace Poole’s hair; the cloak of “Mother Bunches,” the gypsy who tells Rochester’s guests their fortunes; and, of course, in the fires set by Grace’s phantom-like ward, Bertha. Bronte uses the sharp contrast between the novel’s bleak surroundings and these bold pops of red to indicate specific turning points or areas of interest in the story, as well as danger and concealment.

Reference this motif while trying the head-to-toe monochrome trend by styling your outfit around shades of red. However, avoid going overboard by mixing shades and textures within your attire. Pair a dark burgundy blazer with a bold red dress, then get started accessorizing. Extras like suede Mary Jane heels, a patent leather belt, and chunky glitter nail polish give multi-layered monochrome a mark of distinction.

Contrast of Plain Vs. Beautiful

Houndstooth Coat – Target, Striped Shirt – Oasis, Studded Loafers – Charlotte Russe, Lace Skirt – Chicwish, Polka Dot Scarf – Mango, Leopard Belt – Forever 21, Chevron Tights – Gap

The subjective nature of what is plain vs. what is beautiful takes center stage in both the romance and writing style of Jane Eyre.

Throughout the novel, Jane’s appearance is repeatedly described as plain and unremarkable. However, Rochester sees her active wit and lively spirit, and more than once remarks upon her “ethereal” and “other-worldly” beauty. Similarly, the settings Bronte describes – stone walls, endless moors, dark and concealed pathways – may be dreary and bleak, but the elaborate and vivid prose she employs while doing so grants them an unnatural allure.

Reference this unique mindset, as well as the mixed-prints trend, by styling minimalist and muted silhouettes with conflicting patterns, emphasizing that simple can also be interesting. To mix prints like a pro, base your look around one large-printed piece, like a striped shirt, and one subtly-printed piece, like a lace skirt, both in neutral tones. For outerwear, a houndstooth coat adds a small print for contrast, and accessories add more opportunities for integrating the trend.

What do you think?

Have you ever read Jane Eyre? If so, was it for class? What do you think of the Gothic Romance genre? What did you think of Jane herself? Did you see the most recent movie? Do you like the outfits? Let me know in the comments below! 

Posted on on January 30, 2013 / Filed Under: Inspiration / Tags: , , , , ,

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15 Responses to “Looks from Books: Fashion Inspired by Jane Eyre”

  1. 1
    January 30th, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    I love that third outfit! I want that coat! And that skirt! And the scarf and tights! Possibly those shoes!!

  2. 2
    January 30th, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Love it! Someone should do another piece on “Pride and Prejudice,” since yesterday was the 200th anniversary of its publication.

  3. 3
    January 30th, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    I absolutely LOVE how you base the outfits around the themes of the novels! Everything looks so great!

  4. 4
    January 30th, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    Yay!!! This is one of my favorite books! Great job!

  5. 5
    January 30th, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    I haven’t read Jane Eyre (for shame, high school English classes!), but I LOVE these outfits! The first is my favorite (gotta love those menswear-inspired pieces), but I really like the pattern mixing in the last one.

    I also really appreciate that these outfits are based on literary themes because when I clicked through from Twitter, I was expecting period costumes. I mean, I love looking at period costumes, but these outfits are cute + wearable!

  6. 6
    January 30th, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    Annie – I’m the only Looks from Books writer on here, and unfortunately, there’s no Pride and Prejudice post in the future. However, I AM planning an Austen article soon, so that should cheer you up! How did you celebrate the 200th Anniversary? :)

    and Samantha – Welcome from Twitter! Glad to have you here, and even happier to know that you liked the post!

  7. 7
    January 30th, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    Do you watch the “lizzie bennet diaries” on youtube? It’s a modern adaptation webshow of pride and prejudice (and it’s really really good!). I’d love to see an article on the character’s style (:

  8. 8
    January 31st, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Two words: MICHAEL. FASSBENDER. <3

  9. 9
    January 31st, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Can you do Brideshead Revisted next please? Lots of interwar decadent androgynous glamour, whats not to like?

  10. 10
    January 31st, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Jane Eyre is one of my all time favorite books, so to see modern day outfits that capture simple elegance of Jane is wonderful. I really like the outfits you suggested! I might actually give the third outfit a try from clothes I already own :)

  11. 11
    January 31st, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    I love this! When I was researching my upcoming book “Death of a Dowager”, a mystery that casts Jane as an amateur sleuth, I read about “court dress” that was mandated by the King. Evidently, you couldn’t attend “court” or the “opera” dressed in anything else! Women were required to wear three white ostrich plumes in their hair, a low neckline, and no sleeves. And I agree with Samantha, these draw from the styles of the times, but aren’t so slavish that they couldn’t be worn today. BRAVO!

  12. 12
    January 31st, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    I love the third outfit! Please do an article on Dickens!

  13. 13
    January 31st, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    I completely fell in love with this story in high school, its great to see a modern take on her simplistic fashion :)

  14. 14
    February 1st, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Jane also prided herself on how “neat” her appearance was, and she resisted all of Rochester’s attempts to dress her in frills and finery. That’s another reason your choices are so “spot on.” I think all that’s missing is a small pearl broach, because her dear teacher Maria Temple gave one to Jane. It was her first and much beloved piece of jewelry.

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