Saturday’s snowstorm meant my Sunday paper did not arrive until late Sunday afternoon, which curtailed my usual Sunday morning habit of curling up with the Sunday Times and a pot of coffee. I decided this was a fabulous opportunity to work through the rather ambitious stack of books I had grabbed on my last visit to the local library.
I sat down with “Women in Clothes” which had been sitting in a browsing cart by the new releases on my last visit. I had flipped through it briefly, was intrigued and checked it out. I’ve since seen a few references to it here and there on various forms of social media, intriguing me even more. I’m usually behind the trends on books, so for once, I felt rather with it.
Billed as a conversation among hundreds of women (639 plus the three editors) on the subject of clothing, the introduction among the three women who helmed this project, Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Sharpton, starts off with the transcript of Skype meeting last January in which new haircuts are discussed. What follows are a few more transcripts and emails among the three women over the course of that project that vacillate between their ideas of a survey on the subject of how women approach dressing and fashion and rather mundane conversations amongst themselves about fashion that scream for an editor. I started off quite excited about the prospect of what this book was going to offer and by the end of the introduction, I felt it was an opportunity wasted.
This did not stop me from reading the book – oh no. I’ve sat down and read roughly the half the book while waiting on my Sunday paper to arrive – 245 pages out of 500 or so by 3 pm. Like the introduction, the book skips around and is a bit of a mish-mash of interviews, responses to the survey the women put together, images and more. The survey itself is a list of questions that was ever-evolving of which there are far too many of for me to list – it’s rather ambitious, maybe too much so. As I read the book, I’m struck that most of the women surveyed fall into a rather narrow category of being employed as some sort of artist or writer, are primarily white, live in a urban areas and under the age of 40. While there are exceptions to that -conversations with transsexuals as well as garment workers from Cambodia stand out – I am mostly disappointed with the (mostly) lack of diversity in the six hundred plus women included in this book.
Despite the fact that I openly admit to wearing what is mostly referred to as a uniform (black, demin, clogs or boots), I am fascinated by clothing and fashion. I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they present themselves – and I’m not talking about the logos or brand names they dress themselves in. I tend to look more at how the clothes themselves fit – I think you can tell how comfortable a person is in their own skin by how their clothes fit and by the care they put into their presentation. A threadbare tweed jacket can be just as elegant as a brand new Armani suit – maybe even more so depending on the wearer. I’m fascinated by statement pieces – I have a few in my closet, mostly self created, which seem to be the ones that work best on me. Whenever I do step out of my style comfort zone, it tends to be for something that was given to me – there are a few people whose sartorial judgement I trust that are influential to me.
One of the aspects I do like about this book is the discussion of influence of mothers and girlfriends on one’s clothing choices. I definitely have a few girlfriends that influence my closet – and certainly my daughter’s. While I am clearly having a lot of feels about this book – ignoring my long awaited Sunday paper to sit here and write about it -it’s obvious “Women in Clothes” is a book meant to start a conversation among women about how they dress themselves. That much I definitely like about it. I suspect I’ll be having feels about this book for some time to come.