Velvet And (faux)Fur: Dressing Like Anna Karenina
It’s time to turn your household pet into a fur hat, as we’re heading to Russia! Not actually, because that would be expensive and I don’t know you well enough to travel with you. You may want to murder me and then hide my remains in the snowy woods, and then keep my fur hat because it’s better than yours. Because I don’t want this to happen, we’ll be journeying through literature instead, picking up some handy fashion tips as we go along.
I admittedly know very little about Dostoyevsky and Goncharov and all that crew, mainly because I prefer my books to weigh less than a baby elephant. When I tried to read Crime and Punishment I learnt a very important lesson: never read a book if it’s bigger than you’re head. I did give War and Peace a go, but the war went on too long and my peace of mind started to deteriorate.
You’d have thought that I’d just leave Russian Literature alone at this point, but no. I pursued the genre due to my violent desire to impress my acquaintances, which I do by namedropping impressive sounding books during dinner parties. When I saw Anna Karenina at my local bookstore, I believed that it would be perfect for my cause. The blurb led me to believe it would be like Pride and Prejudice, only with more vodka. This was misleading, as what I actually got was barrels of misery and a lesson on farming. But, as is the nature of Russian Literature, it also got me to consider some fundamental questions about life. If, for example, I decided to have an extramarital affair, what necklace would I wear? When picking out a ballgown, should I embrace or avoid ruffles?
I used the magical powers of my imagination to take the leap from reading the descriptions of clothes to actually visualising them in my head, but I’m aware that some people find such mental activity exhausting. I know what the youth of today are like. Always choosing the screen over the page, the Keira Knightly over the Leo Tolstoy. I blame Mitt Romney. I don’t know why, I just do. Anyway, my point is that there happens to be a film out that you can see if you don’t fancy ploughing through 864 pages. Even if you do go for Hollywood instead of the novel, you still may be unsure on how to do Keira’s costumes in a casual day-to-day manner. Never fear, I’m hear to help.
The first ball Anna attends is an important one, because this is when she entices Vronsky, thus beginning the whole doomed affair. What could she possibly have worn to make her so irresistible? Black velvet, of course! As the well-known fashionista Tolstoy points out, a woman’s outfit should frame her rather than outshine her. Please don’t make me find the actual quote. Now, I’ve always loved black velvet, ever since I heard the Alannah Myles song. It’s mysterious and gothic and also quite slimming. If I was in a pretentious mood, I would say that Anna chose to wear such a colour because of her unconscious awareness of her inevitable fate. She was mourning her future before it even arrived. Luckily, I’m not in that mood, so all I’ll say is wear black velvet and bag yourself a moustached hottie!
Anna Karenina is set in Moscow, which is a very chilly part of the world. It is therefore imperative that the characters don furs when leaving their manors. Anna’s furs may have been a little too warm for her own good, as they melted her heart to the wrong man. Avoid such heartache by getting an appropriately warm fake fur. Fur is my fashion kryptonite, and I’m proud to say I own three faux furs and one real beaver coat. Before you get all uppity about the beaver and try to throw animal blood on me, let me say that it is a family heirloom and if we threw it away my grandfather would rise from his grave and haunt us. Besides, it’s useful for when I want to dress up as Henry the 8th. To make your own fur as Anna Karenina as possible, wear it dark and down to your toes. Accessorise with a constant expression of pain on your little powdered face.
I don’t want to treat you like a nitwit so I won’t go into detail about what a high society 1800s dress looks like. You’ve seen them on every period drama that ever graced the BBC. Tight bodice, full skirt, a bit of sleeve and the world is your oyster! I asked a fashionable friend why we no longer wear such beautiful dresses and she told me they were impractical. Then she teetered off in platforms and a pencil skirt and fell into a dustbin. Practicality is only an issue if you’re a gym freak with a tendency to overachieve. If you’re such a person, then get out. You’re making me feel inadequate. If you’re not, then I advise buying one of these dresses from your local vintage shop. It won’t be a cheap, but it will last a lifetime and should provide plenty of comedy value. If you can’t find any black velvet then go for a crimson silk that really displays your adulteress tendencies. The wide skirt is useful for hiding that illegitimate baby!
Finally, you absolutely must accessorise. Pearls are the number one decadent symbol of high society, and should be draped around your neck at every given moment. Wear yours heavy and excessively long to reflect the nature of Russian literature. The weight will also help you adopt a facial expression of constant angst. Gloves are, of course, mandatory. White gloves may be classy, but they’re also hard to keep clean. I’d advise updating your outfit with a royal blue silk. These will keep your hands soft and delicate, and imply that you keep a maid to do all your dirty work.
Mastering the outfit is all well and good, but you will never achieve Russian angst until you get into the appropriate mindset. Tragedy must seep out of every one of your perfect pores. You must know how to make your eyes well up with tears at any given moment. I don’t advise wearing a corset because I care about your innards, but do learn how to speak with a certain breathlessness that implies that you’re going to fall into a faint at any second. And then, when it all gets a bit to serious, SNAP OUT OF IT. Perhaps your lover isn’t taking you seriously, and is dismissing your feminist concerns over women’s education. Perhaps he has run off to see his mother when he should be sorting out that big old fight you just had. What do you do in such a situation? Don’t throw yourself under a train, of course, but throw your lover under a train! Whip off those pearls, close the Russian book and put on some Beyonce. There’s only so much angst a woman can handle in this day and age before she needs to let loose.
Written by Phoebe Eccles