[Alternative Muses] Writerly Style: Dressing for the Four Seasons with Sylvia Plath

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”-Orson Welles

Sylvia Plath is best remembered for the sharp-edged precision of her poetry: word-vessels that are hard, clear, and passionate examples of literature’s trickiest form. Her style, although of minor importance to both literary historians and laypersons, remains fresh and appealing fifty years after her death. The timeless quality of Sylvia’s wardrobe is easy to emulate, and personalize.

Four Seasons, Five Photographs, Forever Stylish:

Sylvia Plath: Spring

Sylvia Plath: Spring

 A crisp white tee, corset belt, and floaty high-waisted skirt is the perfect outfit for the windy days of spring. She finishes it off simply with lipstick and a hairpin. Typewriter: optional. [This is my favourite photograph of a writer caught in the act of writing. I’ve always envied the imagined comforts of working in a garden setting. Sun-on-skin; light, earth-tainted breeze; a lounge chair to sink wearily into for moments of reflection; a glass of lemonade nearby–just out of frame; birds in trees. Sylvia kicks that fantasy up a few rungs by being so perfectly attired, and so full of creative concentration.]

Sylvia Plath Summer

Sylvia Plath: Summer

The architectural details at the top make this bathing suit a gem. Clean lines and a good fit can turn a basic, sporty garment into something unforgettably elegant. If I had one of these in every colour, I would live at the beach. Wouldn’t you? [It’s funny how certain summer days are inexpressibly golden, when words fall off of tongues unspoken and melt on the air like dissolving grains of sand. The whole of the world, for a split second, seems beautiful and warm. Contentment emerges, as fleeting as a skittering crab. Sylvia’s expression here is surely one of those moments captured and entombed by a photograph. Serenity is the best adornment.]

Sylvia Plath: Autumn

Sylvia Plath: Autumn

There are a few reasons that trench coats are always fashionable: they look good on everyone; they can (usually) be worn year-round; and they come in a variety of colours and lengths. Bonus Point Number One? They give you an air of sophisticated mystery. Bonus Point Number Two? Trench coats are the lazy person’s best friend. It doesn’t matter what you are wearing, just plop a trench coat over it, belt it, and your slothful sins are covered by a veneer of undeniable style. If you are clad in a classic sweater-and-skirt combo like Sylvia is here, then naturally you have nothing to hide. A patterned headband gives this perennially on-trend outfit a bit of whimsy. [Sylvia looks like she is ready to take on the world. I wonder, did she write any poetry-on-the-fly that day? Are there scraps of paper, saturated by rivulets of ink, stuffed in those coat pockets? Did she smile at passing strangers, only to go home and write about their mannerisms, their smiles, their wrinkled hands and rank breath? Did they see her, or see right through her as city people usually do, ignorant that a fiery, felling poet was in their midst?]

Sylvia Plath: Winter

Sylvia Plath: Winter

Cuddly soft sweaters almost make winter bearable. The unusual neckline of this cold-weather staple is chic and eye-catching. The wide v makes jewelry unnecessary, which is practical for the chilliest of days.The lesson? Slightly tricked-out basics are your best friend, especially during bouts of extreme weather. [Frosted fingertips and red cheeks defy our notions of comfort and beauty. Can winter really be poetic in such circumstances? Sloshing through a whirl of snow and windy bitterness, mummified under scarves, boots covered with barnacles of salt? Are the season’s charms best articulated later, when we are warm and free? Perhaps a wardrobe of nice sweaters is the best coping tool, after all.]

Sylvia Plath: All Seasons

Sylvia Plath: All Seasons

 If you are desperately seeking the fashion math that will leave zero room for your descendants to look back and mock your personal aesthetic, look no farther: black + white + a pattern with some colour=timeless. This photo is also proof that layering never goes out of style. In most places, it will take you ’round the calendar year. [This photo dates to the last months of Sylvia’s life. She is sporting a new hairstyle, as women often do during turbulent times. Clothing as armor, hair as fortress. How we dress and groom ourselves is a psychological and emotional response to the world around, and within, us. It is frivolous and political and self-nurturing. It preserves and it defies. It is everything and it is nothing, and countless gradations in between. They do not, cannot, cancel each other out. To care about style does not lessen intelligence, compromise integrity, or gut creativity.] 

I hope you enjoyed this poetic ramble through the seasons! Here’s a cheat sheet of what we learned from looking at some old photos of Sylvia Plath:

  • Simple silhouettes can make big statements, as long as your clothes fit properly.
  • Tailoring is everything. Clothes should fit you, and fit you well. Seriously. This one is important.
  • One architectural detail is enough to take a garment from plain to fashion-forward (and from fashion-forward to timeless). Slightly tricked-out basics are your best friend, indeed.
  • Headbands are a great accessory.
  • Buying a few great pieces in different colours/patterns/materials can take you around the world and back, and will work in every facet of your life.
  • A great coat will hide all of your lazy-day sins.
  • The best outfits give you confidence, yet can be put on and forgotten.
  • Adornments do not have to be over the top to be chic and effective. Lipstick + a hairpin= instantly put together.
  • Layering never goes out of style.
  • Fashion is everything, and fashion is nothing.
  • Your personality is more important than any article of clothing, and is greater than anything on this list.

Why can’t I try on different lives, like dresses, to see which fits best and is more becoming?”-Sylvia Plath


27 thoughts on “[Alternative Muses] Writerly Style: Dressing for the Four Seasons with Sylvia Plath

  1. Really well-written and interesting, maedez. I think about clothes a lot and know that I look best in simple, structured clothes. Plath was very stylish and I think sometimes it is an innate talent. On my book list to buy: “Women in Cothes” by Hetl, Julavits and Shapton, published this year.


    • Thank you!

      I think it can be innate, and Plath certainly knew how to wear clothes. (Of course, she was tall and slim, which never hurt anyone in the clothing department). It also helps that the clothing of the 1950s was so well-tailored.

      I’ve not heard of that book, but I will go look it up on Amazon!

      How are you doing these days, Judy? I’ve forgotten what part of the country you reside in during this time of year…


      • Maedez, you are so good to take such an interest in your readers. I am well and always look forward to Daily Digest to see what new thing you are sharing. I am in Tucson now, enjoying a desert fall and just tore apart my studio and completely reorganized it. Also taking a Literary Road Trip to San Franciso: last week was Mark Twain, this week Charlotte Perkins Gilman who was out of print until the 1970’s and revived due to the women’s movement. So much to learn! I have been working with paper a lot and just had two collages accepted into a show in Phoenix. There is no excuse to be bored in life.


      • Aw, my readers make my blog go ’round! Of course I care!

        Ah, reorganizing one’s studio is always such a large and important job. I need to do that, too. If you can, I can, too. No excuses. Doesn’t it always feel so much better when you have a shiny “new” workplace, though? It is so worth the effort. Your class always sounds like so much fun. I totally understand why the women’s movement embraced Charlotte Perkins Gilman. “The Yellow Wallpaper” alone would do it, let alone the example of her life…

        Congrats on your collages! That is wonderful. I am so happy for you.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks!

      I’m glad that you see exactly what I was going for! Her life was not one unmitigated tragedy after another, nor did she spend all of her waking moments being a literary genius. She was a real person, and a very stylish one at that. During her life, it was definitely part of her allure. I also agree that her style holds up as well as her poetry.


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