How to Dress Like You're In Costalegre
How To Dress Like Your Novel is a series in which we explore what Creative Director Raquel calls “the pursuit of literary aesthetic coordination.” In this edition, Olivia Gündüz-Willemin and Raquel Reyes look to the recently released Costalegre, exploring its themes of environment, art, and mother-daughter relationships, each interpreting these through their own lens.
I have a very soft spot in my heart for Peggy Guggenheim. Learning art and fashion history at university, she, as well as her personal style, was most certainly a part of my curriculum. My favorite images show her immaculately dressed, custom sunglasses and sitting in her own personal gondola (the last of those privately owned in Venice). When enrolling in art school, the major belief is that all, if not most of us study our chosen areas with the final goal of making art, however I don't doubt there wasn’t a healthy size of us also secretly enamoured with the idea of a life spent collecting it. We even went so far as to barter and gift each other with work when possible to encourage each other’s growing collections.
As a nurturing figure in art history who rebelled against her own family’s notions of what art was, and pursuing that which she trusted with her own taste, it is only natural that many of us saw Guggenheim as a fairy godmother from time to time. I will admit however, that I knew very little of her daughter Pegeen, save for the fact that she was her mother’s child and although not a collector, an artist in her own right. I thank Costalegre for presenting me with a glimpse of what may have been, inspired by what was. In her novel, Maum translates Pegeen to Lara, a young girl I felt an immediate kinship with, thinking of my own teenage years struggling to find a way in the world.
Practically boiling with a sort of emotional urgency that makes one feel as though she could bring down an entire artist commune with a single scream, Lara reminds me of many women of that time I have also admired, surrealist feminists such as Leonora Carrington, Lee Miller, and Dorothea Tanning — women who rebelled against an entire movement and made it their own. Guggenheim celebrated these women, even hosting the first show in New York filled entirely with works by female artists in 1943.
In a more tangible aspect, when I think of rebellious women, I also think of my very own mother. Growing up at the side of a fascinating woman is an interesting feat, and being named after her (for those who don't know this about me) carries its own trappings and reputation to live up to. Watching her throughout my upbringing, I was always intrigued by the way she not only carried herself in graceful moments, but very much additionally in the ways she asserted her independence as a woman. She has always dressed as she pleases, gone where she wanted, and filled her time with the activities she chooses. Leaving home at a young age, I’m sure my own spirit of independence comes from her; whatever glimpses of extroversion I posses, and confidence in my own abilities have all been fostered by her, and possibly most important of all, my sense of dress.
Reading Costalegre, I noticed how Lara doesn’t mention her own sense of style, but denotes what those around her are wearing. She describes her mother’s lavish dresses, the writer Charlotte’s quintessential 30s silhouette of feminine yet minimal button downs and simple skirts, and even sculptor Jack’s striped shirts and jodhpurs, ready to mount a horse at any moment. Like their art and actions influence her words and work, I imagine they all swirl around and influence her style too — assuming her mother may have provided her wardrobe I picture it full of similarly lavish pieces, however I can imagine Lara taking things and wearing them not as intended, or even not at all. Like the female surrealists of the 30s who adopted a tomboy nature, taking the 20s flapper one step beyond corset-free dresses into the masculine realm of shirts and trousers, I can easily imagine Lara much more into a utilitarian wardrobe.
I take this idea with my own approach to the way I learned dressing from my mother and how I would dress in the world of Costalegre — how I interpret the feminine elements she has bestowed upon me... floral prints, a love of color, pleated skirts... and aggressively make them my own, either by virtue of dramatic proportions deemed more artistic than flattering, or in complete reverse, a utilitarian interpretation, involving men’s pieces I’ve pilfered from Goodwill or a wide leg trouser of any sort.
I think the 30s captured all of these styles, successfully. I’ve been leaning more towards its fashion myself lately, and so it wasn’t hard to see ways in which favorite pieces from my wardrobe could be combined anew. Thinking of Peggy’s style, I layer a boxy silk jacket over my favorite dramatic red dress, topping all with a more wearable jewel from my own art collection: a surreal necklace made of sparkling gold matchsticks. A bit much perhaps but I’d certainly host a dinner party in it…
Thinking of Lara, and more of my everyday self, I find comfort in button down blouses that have volume enough to hide in but can just as easily be tucked in for a moment of confidence.
These wide leg trousers are probably the most sturdy thing I own, of which I’d expect no less for exploring the subtropical wilderness I currently live surrounded by, and that gives my city soul both peace and bewilderment (no tigers here, although plenty of other critters). A recent vintage find, this crinkle pleated skirt gives me an air of Fortuny — a love of both mine and the Madame Guggenheim — but also harkens the dozens of printed, pleated, and flowing skirts lining my mother’s wardrobe, which I will never hesitate to beg, borrow, or steal on visits home.
Like Raquel, what spoke to me most in Costalegre was the combination of 1930s rebellious glamour, inspired by the art world that Peggy Guggenheim represented, and the mother-daughter feelings reading about Lara and her mother evoked. Growing up, I always lived in my mother’s shadow, in the best ways possible, following her around to cocktail parties, gallery openings, and even the occasional lounge, where I made friends with cocktail olives and alternated between reading whatever book I’d brought along and playing the role of the precocious child, happily listening and contributing to the stories the adults around me told. Dressing for these events was always a highlight for me, excuses to pull out velvet party dresses my mom herself wore as a child in the 60s.
As I got older and struggled to establish my own sense of self and my own aesthetic, my mother’s and perhaps more importantly, my grandmother’s clothes followed me. I quickly learned that the pieces that they’d collected over the years were almost always preferable to whatever was being peddled on the fashion scene at the moment. Fashion’s always played an important role in our family, whether our influences have come from New York, Istanbul, or wherever we’re currently living. I learned to collect and curate my wardrobe, figuring out what worked best for me, and I integrated piece after piece from them. I still do the same thing today, having adapted my needs as I’ve gotten older but also accepted that while I always like to dress nicely, I also live a more laid back lifestyle than my mother ever did.
Consequently, a big part of adapting clothes I’ve adopted from her is dressing them down – wearing chiffon trousers with woven loafers to brunch on a sunny day rather than with heels to a cocktail party, for instance. Wide-legged trousers are a plenty in our family wardrobe and have always been one of my favorite trends to aspire to from the 1930s. Flowing pant legs, perfectly manicured red nails, loads of accessories. Consequently, this was one of the first outfits that came to mind when I read Costalegre, marrying my favorite glamorous and practical elements of women’s fashion from the era. My mother’s old (but well-preserved) chiffon trousers, my favorite eyelet blazer, and lots of my mother (and grandmother, and great-grandmother)’s turquoise jewelry from Turkey — an element of my heritage I’ve embraced this summer.
My other favorite fashion piece of the 1930s is the long slip dress. Costalegre proved to be my favorite kind of summer read — the period piece that evokes art and creation and identity, but that also makes you want to lounge somewhere beautiful and finally embrace the season, inspired but sleepy. Consequently, I often pictured myself lounging under the sun (but in the shade), wearing my favorite dark floral dress while reading the novel, and so it was my second choice to style for this piece, especially thinking of my favorite photo of Peggy Guggenheim. The dress is not a vintage one, nor is it one from my mother, but it is a favorite style that allows me to embrace that glamorous daytime look. With it, I’m wearing more jewelry from my mother, a way I get to take her and her strength with me into the world, and my favorite headband of the year in what has always been my favorite accent color.
Courtney Maum's Costalegre is available now from Tin House and to celebrate we have partnered with them for a giveaway! For a chance to win your own copy see our previous post here. If you'd like to order on IndieBound and support The Attic On Eighth, you may use our affiliate link here. This post is not sponsored and all clothing is each writer’s own, however we were gifted an advance copy. Thank you once again to Tin House!
Olivia Gündüz-Willemin is Editor-in-Chief of The Attic on Eighth. She has multiple literature degrees and is dedicated to reading her way through the world while trying to stay as calm as possible.
Raquel Reyes is Creative Director at The Attic on Eighth. She enjoys styling photo shoots, dramatic hair accessories, and old fashioned cocktails.