{Inspired by} Virginia Woolf in The Hours

In honour of the day of Virginia Woolf’s tragic suicide, I want to pay homage to one of the most beautiful adaptations of her style and legacy. Ever since I saw the first promotional photos from the movie The Hours by Stephen Daldry (2002) based on the novel by Michael Cunningham, I have had Virginia Woolf as a style icon. A bit surpricing maybe but if you have read her novels, fashion and attire is very important, especially in Mrs Dalloway, which of course is the novel The Hours centers around. Why of course? Why Mrs Dalloway was originally called ‘The Hours’ by Woolf while she worked on it, and the bell strokes throughout the novel marks the progress of that single day and Dalloway’s whole life.

The Liberty print dress, the amber jewellery, and hair toussled by wind and literature have all been style staples I wish I had in my closet. Alas I have not been able to find the exact print used in the costume so superbly designed by legendary costume designer Ann Roth. But I have found other Liberty fabrics which come close and would fit the loose 1920s dress style very well. Take this beautiful print below called ‘Pointilism’ like the art style echoing the French Impressionist painter Georges Seurat. Looks like ripples on a river with the trees and flowers on the riverbed casting shadows and colours.

 The costume’s actual print is made of small flowers, mostly white with smaller red flowers on a dusty blue background. The closest I have come in my research on Liberty London’s website is this fabric called ‘Mitsi Tana Lawn’ in brown. Sadly it is a tad too dark and in the lightest colour it is too light *sigh*. However, both fabrics echo the atmosphere of the movie perfectly and both are prints I would love to have dresses in. Of course, any cheaper fabrics with floral prints in blue and grey hues would work just as well. I am just very partial to the beautiful Liberty prints.

The dress style of the early 1920s is not the short, flapper dresses with art deco motifs and beaded hems. The look is much more loose-fitting but the dropped waist have emerged but cary a lot of the war-time aesthetics and make-do despite Virginia Woolf coming from a well-off family. As you can tell from the fashion plates, the cuts are very simple and they would be easy to recreate even for beginners in sewing. Just lay the fabric double from the neck down and make the desired neckline on the fold. Sew up the sides and add trims to your liking. No sweat with figuring out form-fitting cuts or pleats. If you prefer some shape add a belt or some heavier scarfs and long necklaces. But really, these are not needed much if you choose a print like the ones above as this style really enchances good prints and good fabrics.

Later in the movie Nicole Kidman wears another beautiful outfit with emphasis on the hat, showing again the transition from war-time look to the cloche hats of the 1920s. This calls for simple hair styles to match the easy feel of the dress and not be ruined by the close-fitting hats. Low buns, chignons, or what I prefer, the style called the ‘Gibson tuck’, make easy and stylish everyday hair-dos in stead of just having your hair loose (gets in the way of writing and drips in the ink and it is a mess!). For a slightly more 1920s vibe you could add some finger waves in the front to frame your face.

The lady behind the best tutorials for vintage hair-dos for long hair is Emily behind the blog Freckled Fox. She is phenomenal and I have close to religiously studied her tutorials whenever I wanted a little help and inspiration for my hair. For shorter haired girls, there are several authentic tutorials on Pinterest but since I have almost as long hair as Emily I have struggled with the vintage vibes for my hair style and wanted to include her here. The easiest place to channel your inner Virginia Woolf and that of The Hours is through accessories and I still consider finding the perfect drop amber earrings one of my best vintage finds ever.

The jewellery is not quite art deco but carries a lot of influence of the arts and crafts movement with the filigree silver or metal and natural gemstones in stead of glittering diamonds and rubies. So think amber, jade, corals, oxyx, and moonstone as you can see in the movie stills. Other great vintage accents are gloves (Mrs Dalloway loves gloves!) and shawls… and books (preferably Woolf’s own works). My personal Woolf inspired collection is growing at a slow pace but incidently they are all some of my favourite pieces to wear even when I am not channeling the great lady herself.

Not all of these pieces are vintage, to me it does not matter whether they are original, reproductions, or whatever as long as they envoke the look and aesthetic I am after. Sadly, I don’t know what kind of perfume Woolf wore, if any, but some of the most popular of the day were simple floral scents like lavender, lily-of-the-valley, violet, or perfumes from the house of Guerlain which were much more exotic and heavier. I can imagine both types of scents with Woolf so I leave that up to you but I prefer the heavier and more sultry ones personally. If it says ‘wood’ or ‘bois’ something, I am on it! Along with gardenia, vanilla, and tobacco. The last is a bit funny since I hate the stench of smokers but love the scent of tobacco in perfumes.

Last but not least, Woolf’s most important accessory was pens, ink, and nibs. Probably along stained finger tips. There is such a grace and care over your writing when you work with pens and ink, and if you have never tried I urge you to. At least to be able to sign your christmas cards in this manner makes the cost of stamps worth it. I love these vintage desk and stationery items as much as the fashion, but I am still on the look for an ink blotter after having sadly missed out on a Blue Fluted one due to not enough money. The world of vintage can be a tough place. Luckily Virginia Woolf still fascinates us and her books and books about her still come out regularly. My personal favourite so far is To the Lighthouse. This year I plan to read Orlando since I really liked the movie adaptation with Tilda Swinton in the title role. I hope to one day have her works in the original editions designed by her sister, Vanessa Bell. They are so beautiful and I am green with envy with anyone lucky enough to own one or all.

{photo credits: 1, 2, 3, 4+5 (my edit), 6, 7, 8+9 my own}


En inspirations post til ære for den store forfatterinde, Virginia Woolf på denne dag hvor hun i 1941 desværre begik selvmord. Hendes liv og værker har været inspiration for mange, men for mig har filmen baseret på The Hours været én af mine største inspirationskilder til min egen tøjstil lige siden jeg første gang så den i 2002. Jeg har drømt om ravøreringe og småblomstret stof lige siden. En dag håber jeg at have råd til rigtigt Liberty London stof og så kunne sy en kjole ligesom den i filmen. Indtil videre må jeg nøjes med smykker og bøgerne, men der føler man sig jo også nemt rig som en pave i Woolfs selvskab.

About Ann-Cathrine 39 Articles
Established 1987 in Aarhus, Denmark. MA degree in English and Art History from Aarhus University, Denmark. Loves books, art, writing, coffee, dandelions, paper dolls, and haute couture.