How to Dress like Mary Shelley Black

Courtesy US National Library of Medicine and The Marlin Company, Wallingford, Connecticut

Courtesy US National Library of Medicine and The Marlin Company, Wallingford, Connecticut

I stepped inside the railroad car, and three dozen pairs of eyes peered my way. Gauze masks concealed the passengers’ mouths and noses. In the Shadow of Blackbirds, opening lines

1918 was not a glamorous year. The lethal Spanish flu forced people around the globe to hide their faces behind surgical masks to try to protect themselves from germs. American chemists were scrambling to figure out how to keep clothing bright and colorful when World War I led to a ban on the importation of German dyes.

BlackbirdsCoverFinal_SmMary Shelley Black, my In the Shadow of Blackbirds protagonist, isn’t at all thrilled with the grim appearances of everyone around her. Yet despite the gauze and dreary colors, she manages to create her own unique style.

Here is your official guide to dressing like Mary Shelley Black in 1918 America.

The hair:

In 1918, some girls are starting to bob their locks, but Mary Shelley is keeping her chestnut-brown tresses long for now. To look like her, pull your hair into a low ponytail at the base of your neck and secure it with a big early-twentieth-century bow.

The mask:

If you don’t wear a flu mask in the fall of 1918, you’re at risk of being called a slacker. In late-November 1918, you’re even at risk of going to jail in San Diego, California. Mary Shelley begrudgingly wears her mask, as well as a variety of foul-smelling folk remedies believed to ward off germs. To achieve Mary Shelley’s flu-savvy appearance, tie a surgical mask around your face so that only your eyes are visible. And wear a pouch filled with pungent mothballs, the smellier the better.

The accessories:

Here’s where Mary Shelley gets a chance to keep some of her individuality. To achieve the true look of this character, wear a pair of goggles or a clock gear necklace around your neck. Scientific devices and technological contraptions are her good luck charms.


The dresses:

Although Mary Shelley is a modern-minded, highly educated girl, she’s not one of those historical fiction protagonists who can’t stand wearing skirts. Find a dark-colored, calf-length dress with a V-neck collar and a belted waist, and you’re on your way to completing your Mary Shelley Black wardrobe.

The boots:

Because of her father’s potentially traitorous activities during the war, Mary Shelley feels the need to wear shoes that would allow her to run at a moment’s notice. She’s chosen a sturdy pair of Herman’s Boy Scout boots, a shoe also worn by the U.S. Army. As the final touch of your own Mary Shelley ensemble, find a pair of boots that make a good, solid clomping sound when you walk; boots with a reinforced sole that will help you bolt down the street—if needed.


That completes your 1918 Mary Shelley Black fashion guide. If anyone does end up trying out a Mary Shelley style after reading In the Shadow of Blackbirds, definitely send me a photo.

Cat Winters is the author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, a WWI-era ghost tale coming April 2, 2013, from Amulet Books/ABRAMS. Visit her online at, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

About Cat Winters

Cat Winters’s critically acclaimed debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, was named a 2014 Morris Award Finalist, a 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults pick, a 2013 Bram Stoker Award Nominee, and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2013. Her second novel, THE CURE FOR DREAMING, is a 2015 Amelia Bloomer Project Nominee and a 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominee. Her upcoming books include THE UNINVITED (William Morrow/2015) and THE STEEP AND THORNY WAY (Amulet Books/2016), and she’s a contributor to the 2015 YA horror anthology SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS. Cat lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at

10 thoughts on “How to Dress like Mary Shelley Black

  1. This is so fun, Cat! The boots sound fantastic and I’m actually working on making clockwork/gears-and-such jewelry, so it’s really cool to hear that it actually fits with Mary’s look! 🙂

    • catwinters says:

      Oh, cool, Jessica! You’re on your way to the Mary Shelley Black look!

      A little secret I hinted at on Twitter earlier today: my sister makes jewelry, and she’s currently creating custom-made IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS bracelets, using charms like clock gears and other items related to the plot and characters. I’m going to use them for giveaways, and she’s planning to eventually sell some through Etsy.

      • That sounds amazing! I love jewelry like that and to have it custom-made so it works perfectly with the book is a great touch. I will definitely keep my eye out for those 🙂 The one she made for you was gorgeous so I have no doubt these ones will be equally impressive!

  2. catwinters says:

    They’ll be very similar to the one she made me, with a few tweaks. I can’t wait to share more about them.

  3. Faith Hough says:

    Ooh, now I really can’t wait to read it! I do love a good strong heroine who isn’t ashamed of wearing a skirt. 🙂

  4. Elisabeth says:

    I love this style! Especially the clomping boots.

  5. jennmcgowan says:

    The boots are amazing! And I love her goggles. It’s possibly my favorite thing about your cover (in addition to the GHOST, of course!)

    Thank you for this fascinating post!

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