Caped crusaders: how Little Women lost the Oscars – but won fashion
Stealing a March: Little Women-influenced street style at Paris fashion week (left and second left); Saoirse Ronan as Jo March (centre); and Alexa Chung (second from right) and the Man Repeller founder Leandra Medine (right) get the look. Composite: Guardian Design Team
The film’s unexpectedly appealing style – crisp collars, sturdy boots, drummer-boy jackets – is next season’s biggest trend
by Jess Cartner-Morley
Wed 12 Feb 2020 11.00 GMT
In the end – after six nominations, and a controversial omission for Greta Gerwig in the director category – the only Oscar that Little Women took home was awarded to Jacqueline Durran for best costume design. Not a truly happy ending to the story of Gerwig’s project, but perhaps an appropriate one nonetheless. Because the story of this film was that Little Women lost the awards season, but it won fashion.
I am writing this from New York fashion week, where the spirit of the March sisters is alive and kicking both in the autumn collections on the catwalks and among the fashionista finery being showcased on the front row. That scene in Little Women, where the sisters stroll arm in arm in wool capes over long dresses, with crisp pie-crust collars and sturdy lace-up boots? That is the exact look that you will find striding over the crosswalks of Hudson Yards or Chelsea to the show venues, five minutes before showtime, at any point this week. (Give or take the odd Starbucks takeout coffee cup, and a few Bottega Veneta bags, obviously. Hey, I’m not in charge of continuity here, OK?) And on the catwalk, capes are already making a strong bid for next autumn’s wishlist.
At Adam Lippes, the capes were soft and romantic – a floor-length claret wool version was layered over a calico dress in washed-out peach, with a frilled collar – while at Carolina Herrera, they looked crisp and urban in camel paired with white. This dual identity is precisely what makes Little Women dressing such an unexpectedly appealing trend.
These are clothes that have a dreamy, dress-up quality but translate remarkably easily into a 21st-century wardrobe. Spotted on one British fashion editor here at NYFW who is already working the trend is the oversized Scarlett boyfriend blazer, £180, by the Kentish Town-based London brand Palones, the wide sleeves of which convert to a cape style with a row of buttons. A practical touch of which I feel sure Jo March would approve.
Gerwig’s take on Little Women painted Amy, the most fashion-loving and apparently frivolous of the March sisters, in a sympathetic light. That Florence Pugh as Amy was the only actor to receive an acting nomination at the Oscars is another signpost of how fashion-friendly this interpretation of Louisa May Alcott’s book is. Amy March gives her more famous sister Jo a run for her money in the contest to be fashion’s current muse. Several looks from the Florence-Pugh-as-Amy wardrobe created by Durran have made their way on to fashion’s most influential new-season moodboards. The ornate, V-shaped bodice of the blouse and pinafore that Amy wears in the scene where she smartly schools Timothée Chalamet in the economic realities of marriage from a woman’s perspective echoed through the catwalks this week. At Adam Lippes, there were yoke-shaped frills on an oatmeal sweater with a lace collar; on the Tory Burch catwalk, Natalia Vodianova wore a black blouse with a V-shaped front panel edged in white piping, tied in a neat bow at the throat, paired with a long skirt over boots.
The outfit worn by Amy in the film’s beach scene has also made a serious impression on fashion. A mididress fastened with a long row of covered buttons from collarbone to waist, paired with sturdy boots, is a front-row go-to look right now. For next season, Kate Spade’s new collection, shown this week, featured a lemon yellow dress with a pretty row of tiny buttons. The new New York show by Brock Collection, designed by Laura Vassar and Kris Brock, gave excellent contemporary Little Women vibes throughout, particularly with the long tiered day dresses in the kind of sheeny fabric that makes a lovely, rustly sound effect when you walk, which was teamed with flat riding boots.
As for the sturdy boots – at this point, dear reader, if you will allow me to break off from the Little Women narrative for one moment – I would like to share with you a public service announcement. I have found the absolutely perfect, sublimely comfortable just-enough-of-a-heel block heel lace-up ankle boots, in Marks & Spencer for £65. They come in stone- and black-coloured leather or tan suede. You won’t regret it.
Where were we? Ah, yes, the eyelet collar, of course. The white lace contrast collar – think Peter Pan, but a little bit extra – is incoming on style from all directions, being not only a Little Women staple but also the star of last month’s super-chic Chanel haute couture show. Leandra Medine, the founder of the Man Repeller site-cum-brand and all-round modern media mogul, wore a super-sheer, dinner-plate-sized white lace Chloé collar over an olive green sweater and a camel coat to attend the Tory Burch show. Medine was seated right next to Gabi Butler and Lexi Brumback, real-life cheerleading champions and the stars of Netflix’s cult documentary Cheer, who are very much the NYFW attendees everyone is falling over themselves to sit with.
Little Women dressing is the new power dressing, it seems. At the beautiful Zimmermann show, the morning after the Oscars, a delicate scalloped ivory lace collar sat in face-framing contrast over a rich purple velvet waistcoat.
The litmus test for the power of Little Women will be whether the ubiquitous boxy blazer can be usurped by the drummer-boy style jackets favoured by Jo in the film. Slightly shrunken jackets nipped at the waist have made the first stage of the transition, from screen to catwalk, elegant in black velvet with a peaked shoulder at the Tory Burch show. If they win over fashion audiences, they could be a box-office hit. Little Women may not have been the toast of Hollywood on Sunday night, but it has New York fashion week cheering in the aisles.