‘You may have three halfpence in your pocket and not a prospect in the world… but in your new clothes you can stand on a street corner, indulging in a private daydream of yourself as Clark Gable or Greta Garbo’. So wrote George Orwell in 1937 novel The Road to Wigan Pier, and I think he was onto something. What we wear each day is a performative act, part of the aesthetic we present to the world that reveals – or conceals – so much about ourselves. Whether power dressing or wearing a carefree maxi dress, our outfits have the power to construct and deconstruct certain aspects of our identity as the world perceives it.
We see this reflected in literature too: Daisy Buchanan’s diaphanous dresses mirroring the decadent façade of her existence; Miss Brodie’s scandalous clothing echoing her unconventional teaching methods in a conservative school; Jane Eyre’s embracing of plain grey governess dresses resisting Rochester’s attempts to make her the trophy wife. And it’s not just classic literature; we learn to interpret others’ dress from an early age, whether it’s the wicked witch dressed all in black or the mortal danger attracted by Little Red Riding Hood’s cape.
So many of my own style icons are literary, and some of my most powerful inspirations find their origins in children’s literature – Milly-Molly-Mandy’s candy-striped dress, Bobbie Waterbury’s coat and Maisie MacKenzie’s kilt. Strong female characters with a strong sense of self, as well as style. One of my all-time favourite children’s – and Scottish – literary style icons is Katie Morag. Mairi Hederwick’s fictional creation is never spotted without signature Fair Isle knit, kilt and wellies and unruly red curls. Her style perfectly matches the rugged landscape of Struay but also her feisty, independent nature and sense of humour.
As soon as I spotted this Fair Isle cardigan in Brora’s autumn/winter collection, the headstrong Katie Morag immediately sprang to mind. I was musing aloud about the colours of the land and a certain Scottish heroine of mine at the recent Brora event, when head knitwear designer Gillian revealed that Katie Morag’s attire was indeed one of her sources of inspiration. She took me straight to the childrenswear section, where she showed me this mannequin clad in knitwear and kilt complete with pink mesh underskirt – a contemporary, city-dwelling Katie Morag! You can imagine how delighted I was to learn this, and we blethered all evening about Katie Morag and our other children’s lit style icons.
There was no doubt in my mind as to which piece I would be spending my voucher on (alas, the kilt with tutu does not come in grown-up sizes). It’s the perfect shade of mottled bottle green with a gorgeous traditional pattern in complementary colours, complete with mother-of-pearl buttons. The cardi is made from mohair but is surprising un-itchy. It was love at first wear: paired with this vintage checked skirt I felt like a more grown-up version of a certain red-headed heroine of mine. Every time I wear it now, I think of Katie Morag and hope to channel even just a wee bit of her feisty, independent nature.
Who are your style icons, literary or otherwise? What are you coveting from Brora’s latest collection?
What I’m wearing: cardigan, partially c/o Brora; vintage skirt and bag; Clarks boots.