When I was young, I had the impression that smart girls were too good for fashion. Clothes and style were something that only the dumb, spoiled girls were interested in, and smart girls rejected all that stuff because they realized there were things in the world that were more important, like books. I loved books, and I thought that meant that I had to eschew frivolous things like hair ornaments and dresses that twirled, until I read one book that changed all that: Anne of Green Gables.
Anne Shirley was smart, and she read a lot. At 11 years old she asks to be called Cordelia, the name of the heroine of King Lear, and she nearly drowns herself trying to reenact The Lady of Shalott, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. But she had a deep appreciation and desire for style. If she can’t be called “Cordelia,” she asks that “Anne” at least be spelled with an e at the end, because she thinks “Ann” is less pretty than “Anne.”
Her love of style includes fashion. At one point, she very badly wants a dress with puffed sleeves, which were the height of fashion at the time. Serious, conservative Marilla Cuthbert refuses to make a dress with puffed sleeves, because she says it is frivolous and a waste of fabric. Marilla’s seriousness and practicality might be “smart,” but it’s no fun. And Anne is smart, but she’s also romantic and imaginative and fun. She can be smart and wear puffed sleeves, even if this is what “puffed sleeves” looked like in the end.
You rock on with your puffed sleeves, Anne.
After Marilla’s brother, Matthew, gets her best frenemy Rachel Lynde to make Anne a dress with puffed sleeves, Marilla makes a point of making all Anne’s dresses in whatever style is most fashionable so that Matthew won’t go to Rachel for more dresses. I’ve always imagined Marilla had fun with that. Back when she was making Anne’s dresses in plain, dark colors from the same pattern, it must have been very boring and just a regular chore for her. But once she started making Anne fashionable things, she would get to pick out different fabrics and learn about ruffles and read magazines for patterns. At that point sewing goes from a chore to a hobby, and Marilla did not seem to have many hobbies other than making currant wine and entertaining the parson. Just because something needs to be done doesn’t mean it needs to be joyless.
Anne’s love of style is not at odds with her bookishness, it is a part of it. Anne reads everything, and she internalizes the aesthetic of her books and wants to do things like name herself after Shakespeare heroines and float herself down a river and dress herself in frilly, lacy gowns like the characters in the books she reads. This is what happens when imaginative people read a lot of books. In the end, Anne becomes a teacher and a writer, and she still dresses really, really well.
Anne Shirley is a testament to the fact that smart girls can have fun with fashion if they want to, and it does not lessen them at all. Also she is testament to the fact that one should never use cheap hair dye, because you might wind up turning your red hair green and that would be a disaster.
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