Women in Clothes: The literature of adornment

I initially borrowed this book from my local library, spying it from afar I picked it up, checked it out, and took it home. This goes to prove my theory that one can undoubtedly judge a book by it’s cover. 35 pages in (incidentally a page about boobs) I realized this was a book I needed keep.

Women in Clothes is a conversation between 642 women – 643 if you want to count yourself. Which you should, it is written in a way that I feel as if I’m in dialogue with these women, as they open up about their clothing, their decisions and revisions, I feel like I know them.

The famous and the unknown all have a relationship with clothing. Every day we are making decisions about what we wear and when, how our clothing will portray us, and what we’re in the mood to wear. The book’s skeleton is a questionnaire. Simple. A questionnaire that the editors (Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, & Leanne Shapton) formed and then distributed to women from all ages, cultures, and backgrounds. It is then fleshed out with conversations, photographic collections, poems, projects, and other snippets to make up and beautiful book examining how and why we wear what we do.

Clothes have a transformative power: this book is the literature of adornment, of presentation, of feminism, and of identity.

From a conversation with Kim Gordon, to judging a person by the smell on their coats, to a color taxonomy by Tavi Gevinson, this book charmed me. My favourite chapter (if you can call it that) was Sarah Nicole Prickett’s sporadic diary of what she wore to fall in Love: how clothes were with her on those sticky New York nights, at the parties, in the bedroom, and on the train as she was falling in love.

The Women in Clothes site has all the interview questions for you to browse and think about and maybe actually answer. But for now, here are some of the questions that I liked, and my answers.

When do you feel at your most attractive?
Saturday morning, in bed, after a long sleep, and he has made me a cup of coffee.

Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style has been passed down to you, or not?
Before my mother had children, when she was my age, her body was almost exactly the same shape as mine – when I see photos of her at that time I realize how similar I dress to how she did back then. Nice fabrics, menswear, low backs, high waists, and mid-length skirts. But now, she dresses completely different. I wonder if I will dress like her in 30 years. I hope I still dress like I do now. I like my clothes and my style now. 

Is there anything political about the way you dress?
In my daily life, I don’t wear make-up. I will often be asked “why aren’t you wearing make-up?” but no one ever asks my brother that, or any other boys for that matter. Why should women be expected to wear make-up and men be forbidden from it?
I have also begun to become really aware of how clothing is made, my shopping choices are now based on ethics. I don’t buy from places that use slavery or have terrible working conditions. This cuts a lot of stores out, and is more expensive, but the clothes that I do end up buying are always made with care and from good fabrics. 

Please describe your body.
I am a tiny person but tall-ish. This means one drink is all I need and going braless is my world.

Please describe your mind.
Never-ending loop of ideas.

What are you trying to achieve when you dress?
I like to feel like my personality is visualized in my clothing, that people can see a snippet of who I am before they speak to me. As a Christian (who works with young people who are easily influenced), I also want to show the world that not all Christians wear boring cardigans and beige – that Christians can be cool too. 

If you had to wear a ‘uniform’ what would it be?
A t-shirt and a mid-length skirt. 

What is your favourite piece of clothing that you own?
It changes all the time, a few moths ago it was some great pants with a fern print, but now I’m loving my live forever t-shirt and a velvet skirt. I wear my grey coat every day in winter, when I first got it people said I look like I was from Lord of the Rings, I liked that. 

Are there any figures from culture, past or present, whose style you admire or have drawn from?
I have noticed that I am really influenced by the books I am reading. When I read campus novels, I’ll be drawn to wearing shirts and pants, wool and silks; when I read a lot of fantasy I find myself wearing draped dark clothing and my star earrings; and when I read young adult fiction, I’ll constantly wear jeans and a t-shirt with converse. 

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