"Vain trifles as they seem," writes Virginia Woolf in Orlando, "clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm."
Fashion, aka the art of dressing up, has always been about creating a character for ourselves and some of the best-loved literary creations are inseparable from their sense of style – from haute-couture heroines such as Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly with her “slim cool black dress, black sandals [and] pearl choker” to Patrick Bateman’s obsession with the perfect Armani suit in American Psycho.
Fashion has caused a few epic downfalls, too. Take housekeeper from hell Mrs Danvers forcing the second Mrs De Winter to commit the ultimate fashion faux pas and wear a dress just like Rebecca’s, or Emma Bovary’s addiction to “all sorts of elegant trifles” which made her shop till she literally dropped. And now, in a case of reality mimicking the art that previously took its lead from reality, fashion’s biggest names have clearly been reading up, as this season’s key trends have been inspired by some literary classics.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Say goodbye to neon brights and colour-blocking, as next season you’ll be seeing your wardrobe in black and white. And maybe grey. Quakerish governess Jane “Plain” Eyre would certainly approve of this obsession with minimalist chic. When Mr Rochester tries to dress her up in satin and lace party frocks she insists on keeping her dour grey-and-black uniform. A way of asserting her independence as well as her sense of identity, in case “I shall not be your Jane Eyre any longer, but an ape in a harlequin’s jacket – a jay in borrowed plumes”. Roland Mouret, Céline and Stella McCartney obviously agree. Their pared-down, monochrome looks for spring/summer 2013 are severe, simple and devastatingly cool. Better stick last summer’s lime-green lace dress in the attic and hope there’s an accidental fire.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
It’s ironic that Dracula’s victim Lucy Westenra should not “take sufficient interest in dress to be able to describe the new fashions”, as her transformation from the lady to a vamp makes her bang on trend this season as designers get bitten by all things gothic. See Lanvin’s chunky chokers, Christopher Kane’s leather and lace looks, and Dolce & Gabbana’s obsession with every count’s favourite accessory, the cape. But forget the teenage goth listening to the Cure in a graveyard, Gothic 2013 has all the sexiness of Dracula’s “three sisters”, with their “brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips”. Go for a high-necked, tight-waisted Victoriana look as seen at Chanel and mix it up with dark textures. You’re aiming for Lucy post her interview with a vampire – “her sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty and the purity to… wantonness”.
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Kerouac’s Beat classic beloved by teenagers, stoners and all those who just want to escape the system, maaan, is also the first hipster fashion bible. Moriarty’s teenage bride Marylou is your muse, described by Kerouac as “a pretty blonde with immense ringlets of hair like a sea of golden tresses”. She might not have the curls, or the blonde, but Kristen Stewart, who plays Marylou in Walter Salles’ cinematic adaptation (out now) has this dishevelled, beatnik look down. But you know a bohemian dream has died when it gets trademarked by Prada. Their 1950s resort collection was inspired by American road-trippers – think striped tees, high-waisted shorts and Capri pants. And for the boys? Sal’s sentimental attachment to his wool plaid shirt makes it a must-have. And if you can get your hands on a 1937 Ford Sedan, all the better.
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
The enigmatic Jay Gatsby’s gaudy “white flannel suit, silver shirt and gold-colored tie” make him the epitome of style over substance. His manufacturing of myth and the emptiness behind the glamour make The Great Gatsby both a hymn to fashion and a critique of its artifice. Daisy Buchanan weeps over Gatsby’s wardrobe like a menopausal fashion editor. “They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobs, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before.” The 1920s Art Deco trend is still roaring this autumn, ahead of Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation finally hitting screens next year, and Ralph Lauren and Tory Burch sent their models down the catwalk in drop-waisted dresses and sequinned headbands that would have had Daisy all a-flapper. Accessorise with mint juleps all round. And call everyone “old sport”.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Although Kitty might arrive at the ball trussed up as if she’d been “born in net and lace”, it is, of course, Anna Karenina who steals Count Vronksy’s heart in a “low-necked, black velvet dress which exposed her full shoulder and bosom”. It’s probably the best LBD ever. Silk, velvet and brocade were all waltzed down the autumn/winter catwalks of Balmain, Versace and MaxMara. In fact, if it looks like something you’d wear in 19th-century Russia, it’s probably just right for your Christmas party. That includes opulent fur hats (faux, obviously), tapestry bags and lots of pearls and expensive-looking bling. Preferably given to you by your illicit lover. Do mind your mink stole when you’re getting on the train, though.