Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Review: Women In Clothes
Women in Clothes
Blue Rider Press / Penguin Group (USA)
Published September 4, 2014
Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton
These three women, youngish at 37, 46 and 41 respectively, all established writers beyond the fashion industry, all with their own serious professional chops, got together and devised over 100 questions, organized them into a questionnaire, and compiled the responses of 639 of the women who answered them. Then they made a huge book of it all, plus additional conversations, photography and illustrations.
Beyond those specifics, it's not an easy book to describe. A few famous names that I recognized offered their opinions, and quite a number of highly accomplished women that I'd never heard of but probably should have recognized. But for the most part, the women who responded were from almost everywhere, from very rich to the very poor. A few very young girls spoke, a few very old women, but mostly from twenty, thirty and forty-somethings. What they all had in common was that they all had worn clothing for their whole lives and were happy to talk about the impact all these clothes had on those lives. " Women in Clothes" makes a wonderfully rich compendium of little story-snippets, each reflecting the sometimes life-altering impact what we choose to put on our backs can have.
In her review that appeared in the September 25th edition of The New Yorker, Judith Therman described the book as "a communal dressing room in book form." That was a pretty apt and concise description. (In fact, I recommend her review as a very good read all in itself... you can find it HERE .) Expanding on her analogy, I'd ask you imagine the biggest football stadium you can think of, and imagine the field packed with hundreds of dressing room cubicles; nice ones, crummy ones, all sizes. Then imagine them all crowded with hundreds of women; all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, all ages and all trying on clothes. Talking about clothes, looking at clothes, critiquing the garments of their own and others. Imagine you can hear snippets of conversation, but never the whole of one, then imagine someone organized it all for you and made it readable. That's what the book was like for me.
Below are just a few of the questions that grabbed me. Since I am a chronic button-hole gazer, you can see why these subjects were right up my alley. You can see the whole list at the book website HERE , and answer them all for yourself. It seems that the editors are posting these responses as sort of a DIY online addenda to the book. I was completely charmed with this idea that allows the reader to join in after the fact.
What are some rules about dressing you follow, but you wouldn't necessarily recommend to others?
What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion or style?
Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?
Please describe your body.
Please describe your mind.
Please describe your emotions.
With whom do you talk about clothes?
How do institutions affect the way you dress?
Did anyone every say anything to you hat made you see yourself differently, on a physical and especially sartorial level?
Weighing in at 518 pages, this is a fabulous book to download onto your tablet. It's ideal for toting around this way, and the editors have broken it down into bite sized segments that make it easy to enjoy in spare moments or when you can settle in for a deep read. Between these segments, the editors have interspersed photographic "Collections" of items belonging to their respondents. Many of them are what one would expect; one woman's collection of cashmere sweaters, another's fedoras, or another's collection of vintage three-inch heels. It was less clear to me the value of presenting collections of one woman's earplugs, a collection of identical dental-floss sticks, a collection of a week's worth of one woman's cigarette butts, and another of someone's collection of individual bobby-pins. Quirky. Certainly they added an element of artsy-fartsy charm, but I can get behind even that when judiciously presented.
Another section belonged to photographic "Projects". One of the most memorable was "Poses from Fashion Media" featuring actress Zosia Mamet clad in a plain black leotard against a white background, aping the essential silliness of each famous magazine pose. You'll instantly remember looking at heavily editorial fashion pages and ads, wondering what the magazine pros were thinking by using such improbable and unlikely arrangements of a woman's body to show how clothes could look. Cute commentary, but since there were 50 of them, and I'd gotten the point very quickly ... certainly by about the third one, and was ready to move on after the 15th one ... I felt more editing might have yielded a less-is-more effect. Overall, though, the sometimes silly but more often poignant visuals in the book jived beautifully with the very basic and very personal conversation about how we feel about what we wear and carry and conceal. One certainly gets the impression that nothing important was edited out and lost for lack of space.
When time permits, and I'll make time soon, I'm going back to the site the editors have provided and join the other women who have submitted their survey responses. I'd like to hear from any of you that decide to do likewise ... let me know and I'll be delighted to read what you have to say. In fact, a visit to the site and a look at the questions will tell you whether or not you'll enjoy the book itself. If you're reading this, and you bother to blog yourself, I'll bet you will.
WIW in to the Big City on the hot, humid Sunday afternoon. My attempt to suggest fall-ishness with with oxblood and get one more wearing out of my favorite summery crop top.
Got a lovely compliment from a 20 something, hipsterish guy out with his girlfriend. "Love your outfit," he said with a charming smile for us as we entered the restaurant. Nice. Very nice.
Checking in late but repentant at the always forgiving Patti at her Visible Monday link-up. Come see what everyone is wearing!