Did you leave Little Women yearning for a voluminous white blouse? Join the club.
One of the most delightful and moving films released recently, Greta Gerwig’s long-anticipated adaptation of Little Women explores the nuanced nature of familial relationships and the economic inequalities tied to gender during the Civil War era. Just as impactful as the subject matter and characterisation, the movie’s sumptuous costumes have us reaching for our nearest blouse and dreaming of Victorian frocks.
From the romantic prairie style dresses in the early years of the story, to the more sober outfits later on, Little Women’s costumes are a richly layered delight. There are big beautiful sleeves, trim waistcoats, sweeping skirts, lustrous silks and pragmatic plaids – all of which, though period-appropriate, resonate with fashion’s modest, nostalgic mood.
Not just a parade of gowns (though the glamorous debutante ball scene certainly provides a dash of that) most of the costumes are an assortment of separate pieces – billowing blouses, shirt-waisters, knitted sontag shawls, waistcoats and jackets
To outfit the cast and realise her somewhat revisionist version of Louisa May Alcott’s novel, originally published in 1868 and adapted for the screen numerous times before this, director Greta Gerwig turned to Jacqueline Durran – the Oscar and BAFTA Award costume designer behind the acclaimed films Pride and Prejudice, Atonement and Anna Karenina.
Jacqueline drew inspiration from radical women in the Victorian era and Impressionist paintings to costume the socially progressive, middle-class March family.
Though a tightly knit clan, the March sisters all have their own distinct personalities and aspirations, which their costumes reflect. Colour palettes play a key role, and only some of the sisters – like Amy and Meg, played by Frances Pugh and Emma Watson – wear corsets.
Clothing in the film is also used to communicate each sister’s aspirations, be it the literary ambitions of Jo (played by Saoirse Ronan), Meg’s yearning for the stability of marriage and children, or Amy’s dreams of high society. For homebody Beth, played by Eliza Scanlen, her simple wardrobe represents her limited world.
The costumes worn by Theodore “Laurie” Lawrence, played by the always captivating Timothée Chalamet, are just as appealing as the March’s, with his rakish, bohemian suits and romantic sleeves.
Eagle-eyed viewers may notice Jo and Laurie sharing some garments – an intentional choice by Jacqueline to convey their close relationship. It also serves to bring a layer of softness and sensitivity to Timothée’s lovelorn character, while Jo’s menswear-inspired look reflects her rejection of the era’s gender roles and frustration with the status quo.
The film’s release is particularly timely, as Little Women’s costumes are in sync with several recent fashion trends, speaking to its aesthetic and cultural relevance.
Prairie-inspired dresses have been a key trend for the past few seasons, and the look shows no sign of waning. Taking inspiration from Little Women, the trend shifts to a more restrained look – with less of bosom-y wench-core of recent years, and more progressive practicality.
Modesty too is a movement that continues to endure, with sleeved dresses and long hems being embraced by women everywhere.
Waistcoats are a burgeoning trend that we love, seen on the runway numerous times last year, and are a surprisingly easy wardrobe addition – adding a layer of interest and warmth that endures across the seasons, and are a charmingly traditional touch to any outfit.
For those looking to channel the look of the film, vintage is naturally the perfect place to start. Designers locally and internationally have also tapped into the current historical mood sweeping fashion.
If a full period look is too full-on for you, consider wearing a billowing blouse with a simple column skirt, or a chintzy floral print with jeans.
We’ve put together a gallery of March-inspired fashion to inspire and delight – scroll down.
Words: Emma Gleason
Photos: Sony Pictures, IMDB
WATCH: Little Women Trailer