“Dear me, let us be elegant or die” is the narrator’s eye-rollingly sardonic verdict on fashion, in the 1868 classic novel Little Women. As the March sisters dress for a party, author Louisa May Alcott places writerly emphasis firmly on the downsides of glamour: Jo with her 19 hairpins “all seemed stuck straight into her head, which was not exactly comfortable” and Meg’s high heels were “very tight and hurt her”.
But as the sixth feature film adaptation arrives in cinemas, fashion has claimed the March sisters as its own. With their puff-sleeve cotton blouses and velvet party dresses, lace-up ankle boots and long braids, Greta Gerwig’s quartet of actors – Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen – have an Instagram-friendly aesthetic that is decidedly contemporary. 150 years after their birth, Alcott’s heroines have become fashion influencers.