Looks from Books: Fashion Inspired by Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway

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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 not just focusing on one classic story, but many, the origins of which are detailed in the book Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway: Stories of the Inspiration Behind Great Works of Literature. Let's get looking at some inspirational beginnings for our favorite classic novels!


Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway cover via Amazon

Inside Cover: A Little Bit of Background

Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway was written by book editor and writer Celia Blue Johnson, and published in 2011.

With each tale taking up no more than a few pages, Johnson examines the inspiration for works like Treasure Island, The Count of Monte Cristo, Peter Pan, and Frankenstein, with an engaging attention to the history, contexts, and personal characteristics that inspired such masterpieces. From real people and places, to the stuff of dreams and fantasy, the sources of these works captivate and amaze just as easily as their ensuing tales have done for so many years.

This book has been received favorably among literature lovers everywhere, and a second book of similar tales - centered around the habits, techniques, rituals, and quirky practices of famous authors - dubbed Odd Type Writers, was published yesterday, June 4th!

A Fashionable Literacy


A movie still from Sylvia, starring Gwenyth Paltrow as Sylvia Plath || Photo via Elle

This book isn't the first work of media to explore the genesis of famous stories and their equally famous authors. Such stories have proven to be just the right material for Hollywood adaptations:

  • Becoming Jane, which premiered in 2007, followed a young, pre-Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen - as played by the lovely Anne Hathaway - and her romantic entanglement with a young Irish lawyer, named Tom Lefroy (swoon-inducing James McAvoy).
  • The Last Station, which premiered in 2009, starred the likes of Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren, as Leo Tolstoy, author of Anna Karenina, and his dedicated wife, through the struggles brought forth by financial success.
  • Sylvia,from 2003, stars Gwenyth Paltrow as the titular Mrs. Plath, and Daniel Craig as her poet laureate husband, Ted Hughes. The film explores the complex relationship between the two poets through the dynamics of fame and family.

These films all come with their own time-specific sartorial style, but further fashion inspiration for such works can be found in past Looks from Books posts on Austen's Sense and Sensibility, Tolstoy'sAnna Karenina, and Plath's The Bell Jar!

How to Add Book Origins into Your Wardrobe

By integrating some of the stories behind favorite works of literature into your own outfits, you can build yourself a closet full of classics, while building yourself a bookshelf full of them, too!

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad


Product Information: Jacket - Dorothy Perkins, Earrings - GirlProps, Skirt - Topshop, Shirt - Aeropostale, Scarf - Mango, Shoes - Modcloth.

Joseph Conrad expertly crafted Heart of Darkness, an epic novel about the darkest parts of both the African jungle and the hearts of men, all the way back in 1899.

The novel was actually written from a place of great truth: it is almost entirely autobiographical. Down to the boyhood version of our narrator, who points to a blank space on a map and proclaims his longing to travel there, all of the people and events featured in the novel are based primarily on facts. In the end, Conrad had enough of Africa after his one ill-fated visit, and was never to return... without his own pen charting the course, of course.

Reference this adaptation by adapting both hints of the jungle - with the safari jacket and colorful, graphic-printed skirt and scarf - and Conrad's homeland - with work boots and a chambray shirt - into your wardrobe choices. Cameo earrings hearken back to the elevated society from which Conrad considered himself to belong... that is, until he found out that you can't take the jungle out of the man quite so easily.

Fascination - Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne


Product Information: Jacket - Charlotte Russe, Bag - Zara, Shirt - Modcloth, Shoes - Modcloth, Aviators - Charlotte Russe, Jeans - Macys.

Jules Verne was inspired to write Around the World in 80 Days after reading a travel advertisement in the newspaper, while frequenting his favorite cafe.

It turns out, Verne himself wasn't the only one inspired by such an idea: about fifteen years after his stories were printed, he was approached by Nellie Bly, an intrepid female news reporter, who had taken on the assignment to follow the path that Phileas Fogg traveled in the story. She had originally been overlooked for the position, until she threatened to sell the piece to a rival newspaper, and beat their writer home! Verne was so enraptured with the young woman's spunk, that he daily plotted her course on a large world map, and cheerfully informed his wife over dinner where Bly would be traveling each day.

(I wasn't the only one with Nellie on my mind this week: check out our Fashion Philosophy post on travel fashion inspired by Nellie Bly's trip.)

Whether you travel this summer by plane, train, or automobile, look suited for wandering the city or spending the day en route, with this travel-ready outfit. A utility jacket and messenger bag are reminders of the small amount of clothes Fogg packed for his journey, while aviators and sneakers provide some sensible comfort for your travels. Ombre jeans run their own journey from pink to white, while a tee tops of the look with inspiration of its own.

Inspiration - The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis


Product Information: Necklace - Juicy Couture, Tee - Nordstrom, Sandals - Zara, Earrings - Miss Selfridge, Clutch - Gap, Skirt - Uniqlo.

For C.S. Lewis, inspiration struck at age 16, with a daydream of a winter landscape, across which a busy faun hurried, carrying parcels and an umbrella through the snow. This dream didn't make its way to paper until several decades later, when he was 40 years old. At that time, he finally began to fill in the faun's back story, writing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, to be published in 1950.

Utilize this disparity in age - from when C.S. first dreamed of the land that would become Narnia, to when he actually provided passage - by integrating childish elements and pieces (like a flowery necklace and earrings, and a glittery baseball tee) into an outfit curated for a business-savvy adult (with a pencil skirt, minimalist shoes, and an envelope clutch). The glinting tones and wintry silver utilized in the shoes, necklace, and baseball tee pay reference the frosted landscape that so influenced Lewis in the very beginning.

What Do You Think?

Have you ever read Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway, or any other books about the origins of famous titles? What is your favorite origin story? What do you think about the importance the creation of a novel plays in the telling itself? What do you think of the outfits and styling tips? Let me know, in the comments below! 

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