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.
Mary 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.catwinters.com, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.