Wardrobe Architect 2: Defining a Core Style

This month, we consider what lies at the core of our style. Themes as opposed to plot or events, to use a bookish metaphor. There are a few questions, and then you distill your answers into key words and images. As always, you can download the worksheet (and read the original post & comments) on the Colette site.
Wholesome Milkmaid in 1945 (Phyllis Robins)
How do you feel in your favourite clothes? I think my favourite dress, strangely enough, is one of the plainest: brown, with a faint bleach stain at bench height. But wearing it, I feel capable, adult, set up and ready to go, prepared for everything – practical. (It may help that I like the things I wear with it: my most colourful kerchief and a harmonizing belt.)

How do you feel in not-right clothes? Itchy, uncoordinated (in colour not movement), over-exposed or shapeless; constricted – either in movement or in midsection.

Who are your style icons – what appeals? This is always a difficult one for me, because so seldom do I see anyone who dresses the way I’d like to. Pretty well never, in fact. The closest? Jane Eyre comes to mind, weirdly enough. A small, neat wardrobe, with one or two items reserved for special occasions (but I’d rather not have them all in black or grey!).
The Governess by Richard Redgrave
And then perhaps Andrea Grinberg for headwear, though her wraps are sometimes larger and more elaborate than I would feel me-ish in. Occasional items worn by the Duchess of Cambridge – although mostly eveningwear, as that seems to be the only time fashion permits the longer length I like. Other than that I mostly see things I like in historical and fantasy movies.  (Who’s with me?)

Actually, the 1840s seem to have been a reasonably reasonable time in clothing, compared to many eras: dresses mostly woman-shaped and the skirts not excessively immense. Not keen on the evening drop-shoulder, though: it’s bad for duelling (and most other things you might want to do).

What are some words for styles that aren’t quite you, though you like them?
I’m not sure of the reason behind this question, since “not quite you” isn’t what you really want to be focussing on. I suppose the ladylike suited look of the 1930s appeals, but isn’t quite me. Swashbuckling, Pre-Raphaelite, early medieval… Nice places to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Brown lapin over green woolList about 15 words from last week’s answers.
long, fitted, quality, devotee, nonconformist, Melanesian, modesty, historical, kerchief, freedom [of movement], skirts, pockets, layers, waist, privacy.

Add some from this week’s answers. Neat, plain, capable, practical.

Boil down to 3-5 words.
Neat, historical, practical, quality, devotee.

And then – this is the fun bit – you go looking for 15-20 images that express these words for you. Not just images of clothing, but images generally which sum up the feel you’re looking for. You can do this online or old-school (back when cut and paste actually involved scissors and glue). I prefer old-school, but since we’re online, here’s one of mine in digital format.

Helen Allingham - Drying Clothes
Neat, historical, practical.
What words would you use to evoke your core style?

Dressing for the Evening

“Is it necessary to change my frock?”
“Yes, you had better: I always dress for the evening when Mr Rochester is here.”
This additional ceremony seemed somewhat stately; however, I repaired to my room, and, with Mrs Fairfax’s aid, replaced my black stuff dress by one of black silk; the best and the only additional one I had, except one of light grey, which, in my Lowood notions of the toilette, I thought too fine to be worn, except on first-rate occasions.
“You want a brooch,” said Mrs Fairfax. I had a single little pearl ornament which Miss Temple gave me as a parting keepsake: I put it on, and then we went downstairs.

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Seven Literary Aunts of Orphans

Have you ever noticed how often literary orphans are equipped with aunts? These aunts generally fall into two of four categories: Good, Bad, Controlling and Crazy.
[Note: since most of these aunts have been known to the world for decades if not centuries, I make no apology for spoilers. You have been warned…]
Jane Austen starts us off with Mansfield Park (1814), containing a pair of aunts – sort of. Fanny Price has two maternal aunts, but her Aunt Bertram is laid back almost to the point of nonexistence (she operates more as a plot device than a practical person). This lack is more than made up for by the virulence of Fanny’s Aunt Norris, who most definitely falls under the heading of Controlling. And as even her virtues (thrift, for example) seem to be founded on poor motivations, I personally have no qualms in classifying her as a Bad Aunt.

Charlotte Brontë had no difficulty, in 1847, in outdoing Austen’s creation with her own aunt of Gothic awfulness: Jane Eyre‘s Aunt Reed. She treats her niece as a semi-servant, allows her spoilt children to maltreat their cousin, and eventually packs her off to a typhoid-ridden school she is lucky to survive. (“Eight years! you must be tenacious of life,” as Mr Rochester subsequently remarks.) And then, still blaming Jane for the animosity she feels, she deliberately lies to separate Jane from the only relative who cares for her. Clearly, a Bad Aunt, and Controlling too.
Three years later, Charles Dickens produced Miss Betsey Trotwood, a great-aunt whose exceeding eccentricity causes her to storm out of the house on discovering her niece has produced a male of the species. On the other hand, she takes her great-nephew David Copperfield in when he becomes an unwanted orphan (feeding him “aniseed water, anchovy sauce, and salad dressing” to comfort his tears). She also gets him off to a good start in life. A Good Aunt, all things considered, but definitely heading toward the Crazy section.

1876 (the nineteenth century was well-provided with both aunts and orphans) saw an American aunt arise, from the pen of Mark Twain: Tom Sawyer‘s Aunt Polly. A stern woman, perhaps, but her heart is in the right place. One thinks of the incident of the cat and the patent medicine (see Chapter XII). Overall, a Good Aunt, albeit somewhat Controlling.
Adventures of Tom Sawyer-pg120
Jumping into the twentieth century, we meet two of the craziest aunts of all time in Joseph Kesselring‘s Arsenic and Old Lace (1939). Mortimer Brewster’s Aunt Martha and Aunt Abby are the sweetest, kindliest, gentlest homicidal maniacs imaginable. Leading lights in the Crazy category, but possibly still candidates for the Good section, depending on how you define goodness. On the one hand, very caring and hospitable. On the other hand, serial killers. I leave it to you to decide.

1961 brought us two of the nastiest aunts, from the imagination of Roald Dahl; viz James‘ Aunts Spiker and Sponge. They take Aunt Reed’s worst ideas and run with them, perpetrating what can only be classified as child abuse. Definitely Controlling, definitely Bad, and definitely high on the list of People Who Deserve to Be Fatally Flattened by Fruit.
Old woman in grey dress by I.Makarov (1871)
Last on the list is Princess Lily’s Aunt Hortensia (ETA 2018) who illustrates the principle that meaning well is not always the same as doing well. She is undeniably Controlling (Young Ladies Do Not Argue is one of her favourite maxims) but on the other hand, she has her reasons. Over the years, I have come to feel rather sorry for Aunt Hortensia. I’m sure she’s a lovely lady deep down, but years of fear and denying herself for Duty have had their effect on her. I shall be bold, however, and claim for her a place among the Good Aunts.

Who are your favourite – or most-loathed – aunts of orphans? Share in the comments!