The book has been adapted into film numerous times, with the 1994 version starring Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder garnering accolades from the Academy, including a nod to best costume design.
But it’s hard to ignore the hype surrounding Greta Gerwig’s forthcoming adaptation. From award nominations to wild praise over costume design, it seems like this version of “Little Women” will also find its way into fans’ hearts — and closets.
While the trend of dressing in 19th-century fashion isn’t necessarily new, it’ll likely be reborn ― or at least refreshed ― thanks to this year’s “Little Women.” Steeped in thoughtful costume design, the movie shows how various characters take on femininity.
And frankly, the so-called prairie girl trend (a bit of a misnomer for the March sisters, who live in New England during the Civil War, and not the frontier) might be so refreshing in 2020 in part because it embraces a definition of femininity that shuns cleavage, tight-fitting clothes and uncomfortably short hemlines. In prairie girl fashion, comfort comes first, necklines are often high and knees are hidden.
Fans of fashion brands Dôen or The Vampire’s Wife know the trend well: The brands feature whimsical dresses that are easy to wear for breastfeeding moms or metallic dresses that actresses like Maya Rudolph wear on red carpets.
To learn a little more about this trend and how you can dress like a modern-day version of the March sisters, we talked to Catherine Newell-Hanson, the style director of Zappos. Formerly a fashion editor-at-large at Marie Claire, Newell-Hanson has styled for brands like Net-a-Porter, Louis Vuitton, H&M, Madewell, Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein Jeans.
The trend’s popularity seems to be a counter-reaction, claims the stylist. “To me, it feels like a natural counter swing to the rise of athleisure and streetwear. Every movement, every trend in fashion, will always have a natural opposite. It’s romantic where streetwear is practical, it’s loose and airy where athleisure is form-fitting. It’s a perfect combination of escapist fantasy and modest practicality.”
Seeking comfort seems to be one of the most desirable factors when it comes to the prairie trend. “It’s comfortable: I love the freedom of a loose dress paired with a practical boot,” Newell-Hanson said. “It can also be flattering: a loose silhouette with some structure at the waist, and not much anywhere else, can give shape whilst being forgiving. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s mine!”
She added: “I sometimes feel there’s a lot of cultural pressure around diet and exercise, super-stylish workout clothes on Instagram which seem to require a barre-perfect body. I want to revolt against that and tramp through a muddy field in a long dress and lace-up boots like a March sister.”
“There have always been designers who have beautifully incorporated historic silhouettes and period details into their collections,” Newell-Hanson said. “Sarah Burton at McQueen is unparalleled at this. And Alessandro Michele at Gucci has done something special with his madcap mash-up of decades. But I think recently this trend hit the zeitgeist in a new way. I think Raf Simon’s tenure at Calvin, which was a real foray in Americana, led to a lot of dust-bowl and pioneer-girl dresses, similarly Stuart Vevers at Coach. And with the recent huge success of a newer brand like Batsheva, this trend has really gotten some mainstream attention.”
This trend can be daunting, and emulating the March sisters isn’t necessarily an easy feat. Most careers or jobs might not lend themselves to dressing in whimsical floor-length outfits, or you might feel overwhelmed with translating fashion from the big screen to your closet. But Newell-Hanson has some styling tips.
“I love the juxtaposition of a pretty dress with a tough boot. In ‘Little Women,’ the girls have flat lace-up boots, which lend an edge of practicality to their wardrobes. I love that a tough boot stops the look from getting too precious, and I like adding a grungy edge. It feels like a modern way to balance out the softness of a romantic dress.”
Newell-Hanson suggests lace-up, lug-sole and hiker-style boots, a pretty blouse with a high neck and a long, puffed sleeve, both paired with a great high-waist, classic blue jean. “It helps modernize the look, and add a touch of tomboy cool,” she suggested.
Newell-Hanson says if you’re scared off by full-body fabric coverage or exaggerated volume, look instead for “pieces with a touch of romantic Victorian or prairie detail, such as a high-neck, ruffle or lace/crochet detail, but in a more modern, form-fitting silhouette.”
Modernizing the look doesn’t mean you’re stripping away evidence of a March sister — “I think styling pairings are key. I love how Prada and Gucci take historic silhouettes and details and give them a fresh context by pairing them with a modern and unexpected shoe, like a chunky sneaker or hybrid hiking-boot, and by updating the volumes and proportions,” she said.
And if you’re ready to dive right into a prairie dress, there are many brands to choose from. “Doen! Everything fits so beautifully, and the fabrics are gorgeous,” Newell-Hanson said. “It’s romantic but never feels costume-y. I also love Batsheva, Free People, Loveshackfancy, Ulla Jonson, The Vampire’s Wife, and Merlette. I also want to look on eBay for some ’70s Laura Ashley!”
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