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Book Review: Women in Clothes

women in clothes

For the first time in my life, I have a style bible. What I find amazing about this book, is that I believe it can be every woman’s style bible. Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton, & 639 others is a gem of a book and unlike anything else I have read. Most books on fashion or style are all about what you should do – how to dress for your particular age or figure, or how to emulate a specific person or designer, and rarely do I find one that rings true to me. Those “shoulds” are exactly what this book is not. Women in Clothes is a conversation with hundreds of women about their relationship with the clothes they wear. There are no “shoulds”, there are no judgements, there is simply an exploration. There are conversations with an amazing diversity of women – including women of color, queer women, hasidic women, women who wear burkas, immigrant women, transgender women, women young and old, women with and without money, famous women, invisible women, the list goes on and on… And in compiling such a huge exploration, the unspoken subtext is that each and every way of dressing, of relating to clothing, is valid.

I don’t think there’s any way to really synopsize this book in a way that does it justice, but I thought I’d say that I initially checked out the book from the library and have since bought it so that I could have it and highlight and annotate it. Just a few snippets of conversation that really spoke to me are below, but I bet that, no matter who/where/what you are, you’ll find your own collection of passages that speak to you.

women in clothes - a map of my floor

Arev Dinkjian – For the past few summers, I worked at an Armenian Youth Federation camp. My outfits consisted of gym shorts, a dirty T-shirt, old tennis shoes, a mess bun, and a face with no makeup. It’s less than glamorous, yet I leave each year with more confidence than ever. I’m surrounded by girls who look up to me, who mimic my every move, who want to look and be just like me. They tell me every day that I’m beautiful and ask me to do their hair and pick out their dresses for the dances. I feel at my best because they look up to me in my most natural state. And I find them just as beautiful.

Leopoldine Core –  I wish women would stop fetishizing notions of perfection. Look at American Vogue – it’s so safe. We are ashamed of our excess and that is the saddest thing in the world. It’s why women keep getting nose jobs. They take the most beautiful thing about themselves and lop it off so they look like everyone else. In fashion it’s the same. Anyone who gets an outfit perfectly right turns me off. Or I don’t even notice them. It’s “offness” that is key in fashion, I think.

I hate when people say that don’t care about clothes, because it’s a lie. It’s like when writers say they don’t care about plot. Lie. We are always asking for something when we get dressed. Asking to be loved, to be f***ed, to be admired, to be left alone, to make people laugh, to scare people, to look wealthy, to say I’m poor, I love myself. It’s the quiet poem in the waiting room, on the subway, in the movie of our lives. It’s a big f***ing deal.

women in clothes - emily shur prescription sunglasses

Poppy Toland – My friend Emily and I were traveling in southern China. We went to a village, Shidong. The girls showed us these beautiful embroidered belts and waistcoats they’d spend days and days making and were incredibly proud of, and their silver jewelry and headdresses. Before, I’d always thought being overly interested in fashion and spending a lot of time, money, and effort on looking good was frivolous and to be avoided. After that visit, Emily and I decided that dressing up was an essential, human, female behavior and that it turned life into a celebration.

Umm Adam – I also have the confidence that God has created me – and every woman and man – beautiful. We are all beautiful, internally and externally, in our own special way. We don’t need to do anything to our body to make it look beautiful. It already is. As you may have guessed, I do not wear makeup. I have nothing to make up for. You make up for mistakes, for something that is deficient. God made no mistakes when he made me. He made me perfect. Sorry if I sound arrogant or overconfident, but I am confident about my appearance. Why wouldn’t I be? I was created by the most perfect – my Lord – in perfection, and I don’t need any man, clothing designer, or makeup artist to tell me what is perfect.

women in clothes - posturing with zosia mamet

Karima Cammell – So many psychological problems fell away when I started tailoring my clothes to my body instead of the other way around.

Sheila Heti – Sometimes all a woman needs to look stylish is to be standing in front of some beautiful flowers.

Christine Muhlke – At a certain point I realized it was more punk to dress like a “normal” person and infiltrate the world from the inside than to have everyone treat you like a freak. Now I’m just a bougie mom with an Hermes bag who talks about how she had a nose ring in 1987.

Natasha Hunt – If you want to play into the sh***iest and most irritating of racial stereotypes, I’m the token black girl. I’ve usually been one of a few brown kids in whatever circles I run in, so I tend to stand out. I think I wanted some semblance of control over my own feelings of belonging, of being the only one and occasionally gawped at. If you dress yourself as the “misfit,” it becomes safer to interact in a world that has arbitrarily placed you as an outsider.

women in clothes - sarah brubacher handmade dresses

Christen Clifford – Becoming less feminine isn’t a decision. It’s happening. I see it. I feel it. I will never be as good at yoga as I was at twenty-eight, my chin has flesh under it, that deep crack between my eyees only goes away after a nap. It’s not a decision to not be pretty. I’m not pretty. Aging is real. I am entering my Artsy Lady phase. I buy asymmetrical clothes in good fabrics that I can wear forever.

Lucy BirleyWhat do you think gives people the motivation to dress to their own standards? I think it’s part of being a creative person. I think you have to have the imagination and the vision and be able to visualize stuff. I think that a lot of people don’t. Not everyone is artistic or creative or thinks in that way. It’s easier for them to be told what to wear, and that’s fine, it doesn’t matter.

Have you read this book? Did it speak to you in the same way? Have you encountered anything similar that you would recommend?

Comments 2

  1. Oh wow!!!! This book looks amazing! On my wish list, nothing more inspiring than hearing from women.

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