What did you love to read growing up, and how have those books influenced the way you dress today?
Books have had a profound influence on my sense of style. From iconic characters like Anna Karenina and Holly Golightly to gender-fluid novels like Orlando, literature has given the fashion world some of its most enduring icons. Books can also broaden our worldview and give us insight into how other people live. College students in the 20th century changed fashion, as discussed in a new book, while authors use specific techniques to create their own unique styles.
A few days ago, The Cut published a short interview between actress Chloe Sevigny and perennial favorite fiction writer Judy Blume. Sevigny kicked off the conversation by sharing that she grew up dreaming about the wardrobe of one of Blume’s most beloved characters, Davey Wexler.
“There is… a simplicity in your characters’ outfits. When I was a teen, I always wanted to dress like Davey from Tiger Eyes. I had this idea of her in these perfect jeans, a white button-down, and hiking boots. It seemed so pared down. I felt like I was always forcing it with fashion, whereas your characters were always very simple.”
The interview got me thinking about the ways in which my own personal style has been influenced by the books I read while growing up, many of which were written by Blume. When I was in the tenth grade, I fell in love with Summer Sisters, one of Blume’s few novels for adults. At one point in the book, a character named Caitlin goes to Martha’s Vineyard airport in her bare feet, wearing a t-shirt that reads Simplify, Simplify, Simplify. Blume describes Caitlin as smelling of “seawater, suntan lotion, and something else.” That image has stuck with me, and for the past 10 years, I’ve harbored a secret fantasy of being a person who wanders around east coast beach towns barefoot, smelling like the ocean and wearing clothing that can only be described as “minimalist chic.”
In NYC Charter Elementary School, I was a ride-or-die fan of Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley series, and I loved poring over the detailed descriptions of what the “perfect size six” California twins wore each day. Now that I’m an adult, I know it’s bullshit to think that a particular size of clothing can be “perfect,” but I still prescribe to the Sweet Valley sense of style. Elizabeth Wakefield was a proponent of looking laid back but neat, while her twin sister Jessica wouldn’t be caught dead in anything that wasn’t short and tight. (And in case you were wondering, I’m an Elizabeth from Monday to Friday and a Jessica on the weekends–duh.)
Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club was another series that resonated with me as a kid. Anyone who read those books will undoubtedly remember that the second chapter of each one was devoted to describing the members of the club and their personal senses of style in painstaking detail. Growing up, I wore safety pins in my ears like kooky artist Claudia and asked my parents for hiking boots like the pair favored by crunchy California girl Dawn. As an adult, I have a deep respect for women who can pull off contrasting patterns like Claudia did, and I think my love of tulle skirts as streetwear comes from Jessi, the Club’s resident ballerina.
In the years that have passed since I first read Blume’s Summer Sisters, I’ve scoured dozens of second-hand stores for a shirt reminiscent of Caitlin’s “simplify” tee. I still gravitate toward fragrances that smell like the beach. Two winters ago, I bought a monogrammed fisherman’s sweater after years of dreaming about owning one like all of the Weasley children does. The main characters in my favorite book of all time, White Oleander, wear threadbare dresses they bought at the Venice beach boardwalk, so that was the first place I went during a trip to Los Angeles in 2010.
The books that I cherished in my formative years are currently gathering dust in my mother’s attic, alongside the Nancy Drew novels that inspired her as a kid (“Nancy wore ‘crisp’ and ‘smart’ clothes, so that’s how I wanted to dress too,” she said). It’s been years since I last cracked the spine on a BSC or Sweet Valley book, but the sartorial lessons I learned while reading them have stuck with me. And now I’m curious: how have books influenced your own sense of style? What did you love to read growing up, and were you interested in what the characters in those books wore? What about the books you read today? Are there any fictional characters whose sense of style you admire or emulate? Let’s talk books and style in the comments section, shall we?
(Featured image: Shutterstock)