Reading is, admittedly, not a particularly visual pastime. But occasionally, a character in a novel just jumps off the page and embeds itself in pop culture. What often makes these characters so indelible is their memorable fashion sense. After all, British writer Virginia Woolf once declared that clothes have “more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.” That rings true for fictional characters, too. Below are several of my favorite novels with highly stylish characters who have influenced readers’ own closets.
Along with giving the mystery genre a breath of fresh air, Lisbeth Salander also reinvigorated punk fashion for the twenty-first century. From her pale face and dyed black hair to her multiple piercings and propensity for leather, Lisbeth is an icon for anyone who loves strong women who just happen to be able to help solve decades-old crimes. Suspenseful and gripping, this novel and its heroine will sink their teeth into you.
Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist, and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander team up to investigate the 40 year disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden's wealthiest families. Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO combines murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue into one satisfyingly complex and entertainingly atmospheric novel.
Has any character done more for women's fashion than Holly Golightly. . . and with just one dress? Audrey Hepburn may have personified Holly with her movie portrayal, but it's in Truman Capote's novella that we first meet her wearing "a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker." The fascinating and wistful story of a call girl and the bemused man who befriends her, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S is a masterpiece.
There's an aphorism that claims "A well-tailored suit is to women what lingerie is to men," and no man wears a suit better than 007. When James Bond first appeared in 1953's CASINO ROYALE, assigned to confront the villainous Le Chiffre in a high-stakes poker game, menswear became a crucial character trait. A tense, breathless novel of duplicity and blackmail, it will make you want your own bespoke suit.
In the novel that introduced James Bond to the world, Ian Fleming’s agent 007 is dispatched to a French casino in Royale-les-Eaux. His mission? Bankrupt a ruthless Russian agent who’s been on a bad luck streak at the baccarat table.
Say the phrase "boss from hell" to someone and it's pretty much guaranteed that they'll think of Miranda Priestly. With her signature white Hermès scarf and calculating manner, Miranda is a fabulous villain. A fun and frothy novel for anyone who's been the office gopher, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA unveils the darker side of the glitz and glamor of the fashion industry.
Lauren Weisberger’s bestselling novel was a higher-profile literary work than Bushnell’s Sex and the City, and the movie version a closer adaptation. But what an adaptation it is: the book set the bar high, it was smart and fun, but the movie was a romp that brought romantic comedy to new heights. Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, and Stanley Tucci all created unforgettable characters, but Meryl Streep’s performance as the Prada-wearing devil herself, Miranda Priestly, is one for the ages.
How often does fashion help foment revolution? In the Hunger Games series, the breathtaking and remarkable designs by Katniss's stylist, Cinna, do just that, from her Girl on Fire dress to her Mockingjay uniform. And with his own effortless and subdued style—except for his enviable gold eyeliner—Cinna is a major reason why this tale of post-apocalyptic corruption and the struggle to survive is so memorable.
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games," a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.
Patrick Bateman may or may not be a bloodthirsty serial killer, but he is a sartorial icon. Fond of interrupting his disturbing stream-of-consciousness rants with descriptions of his Valentino suits and Louis Vuitton accessories, Patrick's expensive fashion sense is as memorable as his violence. An ambiguous and shocking depiction of capitalism, 1980s New York, and insanity, AMERICAN PSYCHO will haunt you long after you finish it.
Call them unreliable, odd, or downright nuts: there’s nothing more addictive than being behind the wheel with a protagonist who’s not entirely there. You might not want to be their friend, but these eight books feature narrators who you’d be crazy to miss.
There's no tomboy more beloved than Scout Finch. With skinned knees, overalls, and a deep hatred of dresses, Scout's personal style is a striking aspect of this beloved narrator. In this coming-of-age tale of racial injustice and loss of innocence, Scout offers her uniquely original perspective and demonstrates how your childhood can thoroughly affect the rest of your life.
Wendy’s Fictional Dinner Party Guest: Atticus Finch
Perhaps it’s a cliché to want to have dinner with Atticus Finch—lawyer, father, all-around good man. Atticus is known for his conscience, grace, compassion, and morality. I suspect that his words would be full of insight and wisdom, and challenge me to sit straighter in my chair.
For horror fans that prefer their supernatural creatures immaculately dressed, there's Anne Rice's famous vampire. In the novel depicting his long life from French nobleman to roguish vampire, you follow along on his many adventures and discover the dark world of the undead. . . but get ready for Lestat to repeatedly inform you how fabulous he looks.
How does a young woman not only survive but thrive in modern-day Manhattan? If you're Ani FaNelli in LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE, you maintain the illusion of a perfect life. From expensive restaurants to the highest of fashion, Ani clothes herself in a persona to hide from a traumatic experience in her past. Will it all unravel or can she maintain her "perfect" life—and at what cost?
Ani FaNelli is the epitome of young, modern women. And that’s not a good thing. Image-obsessed, cruel, and deceptive, Ani isn’t crazy so much as extraordinarily damaged from two traumatic high school events that are expertly revealed, piece by piece, in this masterful debut. I loved the anger in this political, well-observed novel, made more powerful by the reveal that Knoll’s own sexual assault contributed to its creation. Contemporary and timely: believe the hype.
Crazy like: Carrie Bradshaw with a cleaver.
Best crazy moment: Ani’s choice of porn. (Ouch.)
There has never been a supernatural villain with a look more iconic than Pennywise the Dancing Clown. With his silver suit, red pom-poms, and sharp-toothed grin, Pennywise has inspired countless nightmares and Halloween costumes (and possibly that rash of clown sightings in 2016). In Stephen King's masterpiece of modern horror, he haunts a group of children (and later as adults) in a deadly game of good versus evil.
For fans of “Stranger Things”
Teeming with the best kind of ‘80s nostalgia, the perfect follow-up read to this summer’s Netflix hit “Stranger Things” is Stephen King’s classic thriller IT. Seven adults are forced to revisit the horrors they once experienced when they were teens, battling an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. With the town’s terrible history repeating, they must once again face the evil monster.