The Best Dressed Fictional Heroines

This fascination with FANTASY FASHION is inherent in the female psyche and one of the reasons that women love to scrutinise how fictional heroines dress …

The recent TV series Killing Eve, captured the zeitgeist with its amoral and stylish femme fatale, Villanelle, who despatched hapless victims with the same singular efficiency she applied to her fashion choices. Villanelle boasted a covetable designer wardrobe that featured luxury brands Dries Van Noten, Chloe, Burberry, Miu Miu and Molly Goddard.  She was literally dressed to kill. While the success of the series was due to the sharp script by Phoebe Waller Bridge and the refreshingly un-clichéd portrayal of the central nemeses, Villanelle and Eve, the stunning wardrobe sported by Villanelle was also a major attraction.

Many of the most loved fictional heroines, who have captured both hearts and minds, have similarly defined themselves through their style of dress. Heroines of film, TV and literary fiction who have inspired stylish women and influenced how they dress can assume roles of intense importance to their devotees, see the ardent affection expressed for Villanelle in online communities. Distinctive characters who have inspired designers and doppelganger devotion include leopard print wearing Mrs Robinson of The Graduate (Anne Bancroft), the icily elegant, Elvira Hancock of Scarface (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the stylish but impoverished Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Audrey Hepburn). At a glance, their choice of clothes reveals not only their social status but also their character’s aspirations, emotions and motivation.

There is a visual shorthand expressed in how a character dresses that leads us into an understanding of their heart and soul: Mrs Robinson adopts leopard print to symbolise her predatory pursuit of a younger lover, Elvira Hancock’s slinky dresses and tailored, linear suits evoke her glamorous yet restricted life as a trophy-status consort while Holly Golightly’s LBDs epitomise her modern, metropolitan, Manhattan lifestyle.

Bonnie Parker’s beret, curve hugging knits and pencil skirts, worn by Faye Dunaway while robbing banks in Bonnie and Clyde, Catherine Tramell’s dazzling white dress and coat worn sans underwear, by Sharon Stone in the interrogation scene from Basic Instinct and Frances Steven’s (Grace Kelly’s) impeccable vivid blue, Grecian draped gown worn to meet Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief would all have graced any shortlist of fashionable fictional femmes but also serve to inform the narrative and define the women they adorn.

On the page, detailed descriptions of a character’s clothing while not as immediate as a screen image, can stimulate a mental picture of the person that will accompany us throughout the book. Literary heroines who have captured popular imagination with their wardrobes include Daisy Buchanan of The Great Gatsby, the titular Madame Bovary and Sayuri of The Last Geisha. For these women, their clothes defined their role in life and helped them forge a sense of self in male-dominated societies. Daisy Buchanan is portrayed in Gatsby first dressed in ethereal white and is associated throughout with the colour. This literary device suggests Daisy’s cool detachment and aloofness. Flaubert, for whom fashion played a defining role in Madame Bovary, wrote to his mistress: “Styles must always say something – they must embody, to the greatest extent possible, the soul of the wearer.” This idea of a person’s style personifying their inner soul is what makes our fascination with fictional heroines so vivid. As Yves Saint Laurent stated: “What is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it.”

Rose-Mary Roche

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