Deciding on the right thing to do in a situation is a bit like deciding on the right thing to wear to a party… It might seem right to wear a navy blue suit, for instance, but when you arrive there could be several other people wearing the same thing, and you could end up being handcuffed due to a case of mistaken identity. It might seem right to wear your favorite pair of shoes, but there could be a sudden flood at the party, and your shoes would be ruined… The truth is that you can never be sure if you have decided on the right thing until the party is over, and by then it is too late to go back and change your mind, which is why the world is filled with people doing terrible things and wearing ugly clothing. — Lemony Snicket
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The original publication of A Series of Unfortunate Events ran from 1999 – 2006, a key time for precocious young readers to learn by example that verbosity can only be charming and not obnoxious when there’s actually something to be said. The dark and dangerous world created by Lemony Snicket, known to some as Daniel Handler, was one of few contemporary examples in Young Adult literature that supported children wearing double-breasted coats, crewneck sweaters, and loafers. This was also a sartorial period from which very few emerged unscathed. Following a trio of well mannered, clever orphans pursued by a distant relation for their family wealth, younger Ivy Style readers may have identified with A Series of Unfortunate Events, even if they had never been in such peril.
Unlike the semi-gothic, quasi-steampunk, pseudo-haute couture production designs of Nickelodeon’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) and the ongoing Netflix series (2017 – ) of the same title, Brett Helquist’s original graphite illustrations recall nineteenth and early twentieth century bookplates. Like Snicket’s writing, their drama and detail leave room for mystery in a heavily film noir atmosphere. The author himself remained anonymous for years, appearing only from behind wearing an overcoat and single vent sack suit, carrying an English-made umbrella or battered leather satchel, topped with a classic fedora. True to form, the series promotes the use of stationery and monograms, and is decidedly vague about its possibly fictional secret society.
Snicket was also instructive in etiquette, deportment, and what not to wear. Within A Series of Unfortunate Events are hundreds of outfits and disguises, each more ridiculous than the next. The most outlandishly dressed are overwhelmingly the most wicked, and the reader never quite knows who is a friend and who is not. Count Olaf, the villain of the series, is the ultimate example. A true boogeyman, Olaf hunts the children down with the express intent to murder them all in increasingly creative ways Despite his supposed aristocracy and extensive wardrobe of trad staples, nothing can cover the eye tattoo on his ankle that always gives him away. Nor can it absolve him of his ultimate sin: wearing dress shoes without socks. — ZG BURNETT