Women in Clothes - Blue Rider Press

Posted by Susan Liane, The Smuggler's Daughter on 7/22/2015 to Book Reports
Women in Clothes is a book that is unlike any other I have ever read. The authors are listed as Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leah Shapton & 639 others.  Yes, that is 639 other women including writers, activists and artists.  Women in Clothes is based on a survey of more than 50 questions that was designed to provoke thought and discussion about some of the deeper reasoning and the broader impact of the clothing we choose to wear everyday.  The answers reveal the complexity of style decisions and demonstrate how even our most basic clothing choices are the tools we use to re-create ourselves and the way others see us.

Here are just a few of the questions:
  • What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion and style?
  • How do you conform to or rebel against the expectations of the workplace?
  • Tell us something in your closet that you keep but never wear.  Why?
  • Do you address anything political in the way you dress?
  • Do you think you look like your mother?
  • Was there a time in your life when your style changed dramatically?

And the answers are often surprising.  An Indian woman who talks about the discomfort of wearing western clothes instead of saris in India.  "Mandates of Place" that explain why clogs are cool in one place and dowdy in another. Declarations about shopping.  Putting on perfume to prepare for a Skype session. And statements like, "sometimes I want to be invisible."

Women in Clothes is essentially a conversation among hundreds of women, of all ages and nationalities, various occupations, religions and ages.  It is patched together in interviews, photographs and brief essays about choices of presentation - and how those choices make them and the people around them feel and behave.

I was wondering why this book drew my attention.  Of course, I have always had my own issues and beliefs around clothing.  I've had a lifelong aversion to bust darts to avoid looking like my mother.  But of course, I'm told that I look a lot like my mother.

I was thinking about a couple of other women I know.  One friend, a recovering alcoholic with many years of sobriety told me about her clothing choice for whenever she made amends with someone she had wronged- part of her 9th step.  If she knew that she did not want to continue a relationship with the person, she wore a business suit.  If she thought they could be friends after making amends, she dressed casually.

Another friend recently was called into the Human Resources office in the company where she has worked for many years. This lady is tall, beautiful and artistic, in addition to doing important community service work.  The HR rep told her that her management has a concern about her appearance, that she seems to have become unprofessional in her work attire.  I was astounded when she told me this, as was she, because she always looks like someone who dresses each day as though it is an art project.  She wears lovely original garments, sometimes made by fiber artists, and chooses color combinations that are surprising and pleasing to the eye.  And I couldn't help but wonder if someone is jealous.

Stories about clothing and appearances are a part of the female experience.  Read Women in Clothes and enjoy the stories.  And perhaps take the survey and write down some stories of your own.  Here is a link to some of the stories http://www.wnyc.org/story/women-clothes/

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