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Gift Guide: Heroine Chic

Gift Guide: Heroine Chic

From history’s most famous fairy to a Hemingway femme fatale, we’ve imagined what six iconic literary characters would wear were they around today—and, you know, real.
By Jessica Bumpus. Illustrated by Jenny Mörtsell


It’s hard not to fall for the charm of a Dickens classic. Today, his work is as relevant as ever: A faithful film adaptation of his novel Great Expectations was recently released in the U.K., with Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham and Holliday Grainger as her adopted daughter, Estella. Estella is a character who, in spite of a cold and icy heart, can’t help but win our affection when it comes to her wardrobe; her porcelain beauty and grace come packaged in the finest of extravagance. But it’s a look tainted with darkness and melancholy—a gothic romance indicative of how she’s held captive by her adoptive mother. Our modern-day Estella, however, is all about a good time: party dresses in rich velvet, faux-fur stoles, and leather trousers all amplify the drama. The best or nothing? The choice is easy.

Not all heroines have to be glamourous. Take country bumpkin Bathsheba Everdene—the proud, strong, passionate protagonist of Thomas Hardy’s novel Far from the Madding Crowd, which is set against the backdrop of 19th-century English rural life. But that’s not to say this shepherdess has any trouble raising a few eyebrows and capturing a few hearts. Bathsheba’s look is understated and practical, all the better for living the outdoor life. There’s no place for extravagance when you’re a woman at work in the country, but there is need for warm and wearable separates (very much in keeping with this season’s fashion mood). Layer up and find warmth in an oversized, cozy, knitted jumper, beanie hat, and fingerless gloves. Gathered waists on skirts and trousers suggest homespun charm, as does a chunky knit cardigan or toggle duffel coat. A neutral palette of browns, creams, and greys will help you tap even further into that English countryside sensibility.

Out of all the Lisbon sisters in Jeffrey Eugenides' cult novel The Virgin Suicides, Lux Lisbon—played by Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s 1999 film adaptation—was the one you most wanted to be. Why? Because despite the fact that she’s been brought up in a strict religious family, she’s undeniably rebellious and romantic to her core—she ends up getting together with the high school heartthrob Trip Fontaine. So, to balance her surroundings with her true nature, we’ve picked out a wardrobe made up of two halves. The first is seemingly innocent, fragile, pure, and virginal: white lace, silky skirts, pretty pastels and botantical prints, and simple, flowing shapes—all safe nods to the '70s suburban world in which Lux and her sisters live. But hanging next to these outfits, you’ll find some downright sultry lingerie, for when Lux is bored of being nice.

There’s a time in every girl’s life when she dreams of being a fairy, complete with a magic wand and the power to fly. And Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie’s creation Tinker Bell is the feistiest and most iconic of them all. As straight-talking as she is sassy, Tinker Bell’s personality translates to a modern-day wardrobe that’s just as practical as it is glamourous. For the more pragmatic side, think a warm-hooded coat to cover up that sparkle when you need to; but when you want to shine, try an easy-to-wear dress with a sequin print diffusing down from the neckline or perhaps a jacquard mini-skirt, a shimmering tank, or a glittery jacket. Green, of course, is Tink’s signature colour: Opt for deep and dark verdant tones for grown-up moments, and switch to brighter grass-green variations for escapes to Neverland.

Femme fatale Lady Brett Ashley of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises would have been in her element this season, given the trend toward trouser suits and masculine tailoring and the embrace of androgyny and minimalism. Embodying the liberated new woman of the 1920s, Brett is bestowed with a sexual confidence (which gets the better of a few men, including a 19-year old matador) and a sense of rebellion and insouciance. Tailored shirts, blazers, jackets, and a subtle sweater or tunic top are her staples—it’s all about creating sleek lines and an air of simple sophistication. Single-breasted is best, and shirts should have piping detail to accentuate length and modern lines. Trousers will forever be the benchmark of women’s sartorial emancipation; wear them with a matching suit jacket to make your point all the more powerful. Though, despite her androgyny, we’re sure Brett had a skirt or two hiding in her wardrobe, too.

It’s good to establish a strong sense of style early in life. Which is exactly what Pippi Longstocking, the protagonist of Swedish author Astrid Lindgren’s children’s books, does. The pigtailed redhead’s clothes are a pretty clear indication that she’s a tomboy. If you’re going to model your wardrobe after Pippi’s, a backpack is key—you never know when and where your next adventure might take you—and you absolutely must have a good warm coat, socks, and gloves. But that doesn’t mean your outfit has to be utilitarian—think bright colours, stripes, and fun patterns. Team a dainty floral dress with a casual hooded jacket, and wear your hiking socks as far up to the knee as possible (she wasn’t called Pippi Longstocking for nothing, after all). Break the rules. It’s about mixing and matching with a youthful ease and charm. But most of all, it’s about having fun.