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Ghost of Authors Past:
How to Dress as 13 Famous (But Dead) Writers This Halloween

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This year, ditch the dull duds and get gussied up in an outfit that you’ll be proud to wear. This list of literary icons provides adequate inspiration to get you in the spirit, and all the pieces can be found in your closet, online, or in a costume or thrift shop. Now there’s absolutely no excuse to look lame… again. Time to get litty with it.

Columns, Homepage Sub, Living Indie  •  Oct 26, 2012

 

Think back to last Halloween. What did you dress as – a superhero, vampire, sexy kitten? There are so many words to sum up those costume choices, but boring will suffice.

This year, ditch the dull duds and get gussied up in an outfit that you’ll be proud to wear. This list of literary icons provides adequate inspiration to get you in the spirit, and all the pieces can be found in your closet, online, or in a costume or thrift shop. Now there’s absolutely no excuse to look lame… again. Time to get litty with it.

1. Charles Dickens

Widely regarding as one of the greatest English novelists of all time, Charles Dickens brought life to such iconic characters as Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, and Ebenezer Scrooge. Born on Great Britain’s Portsea Island in 1812, Dickens died of a stroke in mid-1870 and was laid to rest in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. To conjure up the spirit of Dickens this Halloween you’ll need to hunt down Victorian-era style essentials, which include a collared-shirt, cravat (a silk patterned scarf will suffice), waistcoat, high-waisted trousers, suspenders (no belt!), gloves, a top hat or bowler, dark socks, period shoes or boots, and an overcoat. A pocket watch with a chain and a walking stick will add authenticity to your dapper Dickensian ensemble.

2. Lord Byron

Born George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron, in 1788 London, Lord Byron was a leading figure of the Romantic movement, one of the best-known works from which is Byron’s satiric poem Don Juan. The noble’s cause of death is still unclear, but it’s suspected that he developed sepsis from unsterilized bloodletting (at the time considered a therapeutic remedy to many ailments), which led to a violent fever from which he never recovered; he died in Greece, then part of the Ottoman Empire, in April 1824. To achieve Lord Byron’s signature ladies’-man look, sport a lavish shawl-collared velvet robe over crisp lounge pants and a flowing collared shirt fastened at the top with a large gemstone brooch. Enhance this fresh-from-the-bedroom fashion statement with a pair of LB-monogrammed slippers.

3. Rumi

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (or simply Rumi to lazy laymen) was a Muslim poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic whose major work, the Maṭnawīye Ma’nawī, is a six-volume poem regarded by some Sufis as the Persian-language equivalent of the Qur’an. He was born in 1207 C.E. in what is now Tajikistan and perished in present-day Turkey in 1273 C.E. To pull off Rumi’s Persian aesthetic of the High Middle Ages, search for libas (puffy pants also known as harem pants or MC Hammer pants); a brightly colored tunic with sash; color-coordinated lace-up ankle boots; a fur-lined, floor-length shawl or cape; and a traditional headdress, which you can make at home using an overturned wooden basket wrapped in a silk scarf at its mouth.

4. Jane Austen

Author of romantic-fiction classics like Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen was born into a landed gentry family in 1775. Several illnesses have been attributed to her 1817 death over the years, including Addison’s disease, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bovine tuberculosis, and Brill-Zinsser disease, but Austen made light of her declining state even as she lay on her death bed to which she was confined for three months before her untimely passing. To attend this year’s soirees as “good quiet Aunt Jane,” track down a Regency gown with an Empire waist and subtle train, and a pair of lacey gloves; adorn your neck with stacked pearls; and sweep your hair into a shabby-chic updo with wispy hanging tendrils. To keep your feet in character, slip on an unassuming pair of coordinating flats.

5. Du Fu

Recognized as the “poet historian” since the period of China’s Song Dynasty, Du Fu was born in 712 in an unknown location near Luoyang, Henan province. Immediately prior to his 770 death in Tanzhou, Du Fu experienced a creative resurgence, writing 400 dense, stylistic poems in his last fours years, one of which, To My Retired Friend Wei, focused on the recurring theme of a long absence between friends. For a convincing Du Fu costume, the academic dress of ancient China is appropriate. Articles include a round-collar, long-sleeved robe called a panling lanshan and a black curved-wing cap called a putou. Du Fu also kept distinctive facial hair, which can be applied using a fake beard and mustache found at a costume retailer online.

6. Miguel de Cervantes

Father of the first modern European novel – the influential Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes entered the world in 1574 in Alcalá de Henares, a Spanish city about 15 miles outside Madrid. Cervantes died in 1616, around the same time as Shakespeare, and buried according to his will in a convent of Trinitarian nuns, one member of which was Cervantes’ daughter; where he rests today, however, nobody knows. To party down as the man who dreamt up the Man of La Mancha, assemble an outfit of Elizabethan proportions, which should include a shirt, stockings, codpiece, and corset as underclothes, and a doublet, separate sleeves, breeches, belt, ruff, cloak, shoes, and hat as the exterior ensemble.

7. Geoffrey Chaucer

Best known for The Canterbury Tales in which he legitimized Middle English, Chaucer was born in London in 1343, though the exact date and location is unknown. It’s speculated that enemies of Richard II, for whom Chaucer served as an envoy, murdered the poet in 1400, while others surmise that Henry IV may have played a role in his demise. Like Charles Dickens, Chaucer is buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey, with the distinction of being the first writer interred there. To step out as the “father of English poetry” on All Hallow’s Eve, you’ll need a dark, calf-length tunic; white turtleneck; headpiece similar to a nun’s habit; black tights; and black or brown flats or boots, the DIY instructions for most of which you can find on eHow. Complete the costume with a rosary wrapped around your wrist.

8. Agatha Christie

British crime writer Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie was born into a wealthy upper middle-class family in South West England in 1890. Best remembered for her expansive repertoire of detective novels (66 in total) and short stories, Agatha died of natural causes in 1976 and was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary’s, Cholsey, a parish close to the home in which she faded away. A 1960s Agatha Christie is perhaps the most elegant, and to bring her understated Swinging London style back to life you’ll need a wool dress suit with blazer; stately, chunky heels; lapel pin, double strand of pearls, fur shawl, and a pair of vintage cat-style eyeglasses of the era.

9. Zora Neale Hurston

The youngest writer on this list – edging out Agatha Christie by less than four months – American folklorist and novelist Zora Neale Hurston, celebrated for her 1937 literary triumph Their Eyes Were Watching God, was born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891. After spending her life living in various parts of the East Coast, including a stint in New Jersey in the 1930s where Langston Hughes was among her neighbors, Hurston died of hypertensive heart disease in Fort Pierce, Florida, in 1960. Channel fashion-forward Harlem Renaissance Hurston with a dazzling flapper-style cocktail dress adorned with sparkling rhinestones; silk gloves; high heels; a coordinating hat, slightly tilted to the side; and a vintage cigarette holder that you can find on eBay.

10. Walt Whitman

American poet, essayist, and journalist Walt Whitman was born on Long Island, New York, in 1819, to parents with Quaker ideals. After a long life often steeped in controversy – thanks in most part to his poetry collection Leaves of Grass, which was described as obscene for its robust sexual themes – the sensitive scribe died from complications of pneumonia in Camden, New Jersey, in 1892. Hitting the Halloween scene as Whitman is made simple with help from Poets.org. The site provides details on what you’ll need to recreate Whitman’s unkempt look, including a collared shirt, rustic pants, a floppy brown hat, and a beard with butterflies tucked inside – the latter of which paying homage to Spanish poet Federico García Lorca’s Ode to Walt Whitman.

11. Oscar Wilde

Born in Dublin in 1854, Oscar Wilde’s full name – Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde – was as flamboyant as the Irish writer and poet himself. Before succumbing to cerebral meningitis in 1900, he was imprisoned for gross indecency and subsequently exiled, but not before he completed and staged his masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest, a satire of society with subtle homosexual subtext. Dandify yourself the Wilde way this Halloween with a velvet notch-lapel blazer, pressed trousers, wing-tip shoes, a silk scarf tied in a bow around your neck, a swishy cape, and a top hat. Any other flashy accessories – like a vibrant boutonniere – will add to the fey effect.

12. Homer

The proverbial granddaddy of all the dead authors on this list, Homer lived so long ago that historians aren’t exactly sure when he existed. Herodotus, himself an ancient born in 484 B.C, estimates that the author of the epic poems the Iliad and its sequel the Odyssey made his mark on the world round about 850 B.C., while other sources maintain that Homer was a product of the Trojan War generation in the early 12th century B.C. Modern researchers, however, seemed to have settled on sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries B.C. To invoke the spirit of the Greek literary legend, wrap yourself in toga made from a light-colored bed sheet, put on a pair of strappy leather sandals, glue a white faux beard to your face, and crown your head with a fresh laurel wreath.

13. Cyrano de Bergerac

Hercule-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, born in Paris in 1619, was a successful playwright in his own right, but his contemporary and lasting fame is owed largely to Edmond Rostand who made the French solider the title character of his own 1897 play. Like many other authors of the period, Cyrano de Bergerac’s death is mired in inconclusive evidence; some suggest that he died of injuries sustained from a falling wooden beam while others, like author Ishbel Addyman, say he died from tertiary syphilis in an asylum in 1655. Because Cyrano de Bergerac is an oft-portrayed character on stage, costumes aren’t hard to find online. Pieces include a tricorn hat, cape, sword, and, of course, that unforgettable nose. TheaterMania even offers this DIY tutorial on how to properly dress the part.