How the fashion of Little Women perfectly fits a 21st-century aesthetic
Bringing the Victorian tale bang up to date with a perfect contemporary twist, costume designer Jacqueline Durran has helped revolutionise the image of Little Women and reassess its role within our literary canon.
If anyone needed further proof that Greta Gerwig’s vision for the 2019 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was utterly inspired, look no further than its costumes. Bringing the Victorian tale bang up to date with a perfect contemporary twist, costume designer Jacqueline Durran has helped revolutionise the image of the story and reassess its role within our literary canon.
In the lives of four sisters, fashion inevitably plays a major role in the narrative of Little Women, and it would be churlish for any adaptation to overlook that fact.
The sisters are repeatedly shown helping one another with their hair and clothes, each with their own unique style: Jo is unmistakably a tomboy, the only character to be seen without a corset at any point throughout the film; Meg takes real pleasures in the joys of dressing up, with one of the film’s earliest scenes showing her being pressured into buying a stunning piece of fabric despite serious financial pressures; Amy gets to wear a couture wardrobe on her trip to Paris, seen wearing jewel-encrusted jackets and neat little hats; while Beth shows the most continuity in style, most often wearing varying shades of pinks and browns, with her bright ginger hair flowing over either shoulder. Beth’s lack of variation is a reminder that we rarely see her out of the family home: throughout the film, she is the solid symbol of family and home life, which makes her death all the more tragic.
The 2019 film’s costume designer Jacqueline Durran had a clear vision for the sisters’ costumes: ‘What I did was to create historically accurate pieces,’ she says, ‘but let them be worn in a way that the girls were comfortable with’. Durran’s decidedly contemporary aesthetic brings the film and its subject matter firmly into the 21st century, with a wardrobe more reminiscent of a TOAST autumn/winter lookbook than a classic period drama.
With lace-up boots, tiered skirts, flashes of velvet, plaid waistcoats and broderie anglaise shirts with statement collars and billowing sleeves, the Little Women aesthetic has got everyone talking. You can already find internet pages dedicated to recreating the looks seen in the film. The Farrow & Ball colour palates and loose wavy hair are about as Instagrammable as you could imagine a film about four sisters in Massachusetts in the mid-1800s could be. The costumes the girls don in the drama club scenes are more characterful still, with gender norms under question throughout. Jo March — played by Saoirse Ronan — wears a military-style jacket whenever she writes, as a nod to both the civil war backdrop of the narrative and the gender subversion that has to take place in order for her writing to be successfully published in such a male-dominated society.
Whether it’s Jo’s bowler hat or Beth’s knitted crossover that takes your fancy, we have no doubt you’ll soon be able to hunt down whatever Little Women look you’ve got your eye on. You wait. Ruffled collars and neat knitted cardigans atop heavy tweed pleated full-length skirts will be on every catwalk and ripped off in every high-street store before you can say ‘Jo March’.