Mini Book Review: Women in Clothes

Every now and then, we need a little bit of motivation when it comes to wanting to care for our clothes. It’s all well and good me telling you why you should in the 5 Reasons Why You Should Care For Your Clothes blog post, but sometimes you need more than ‘it’s good for the environment’ or ‘it saves you money’ – which is why I thought it might be helpful if I start writing some recommendations for things that you can do, read or watch which might make you feel a little more inclined to go that extra mile for your wardrobe. And here’s the first one!

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What is the book about?

The book‘s introduction, written in the form of a Skype meeting and following between the three editors, gives an insight into how Women In Clothes came to be – essentially, these three ladies (Sheila Heti,  Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton) started sending out an ever-growing list of questions to “…regular women, not only the most fashionable. People who aren’t that fashionable may be quite smart, nevertheless, about what they have on.” They ended up deciding to send the survey out “to whoever [they were] curious about and inspired to learn about and hear from.” The final survey is actually included in the book (and ended up being really very long) so that if you as a reader, fancy doing a little introspection on your fashion sense, how it came to be and what your clothes mean to you, you can do so.

That being said, this isn’t a book about how to dress. It’s about why we as individuals wear what we do and how our clothes make us feel in general – whether they’re on us, or other people. Hundreds of women contributed to the writing of this book (to be precise, 639 – as well as the three editors), with some snippets from men too, so there’s a really diverse collection of stories and influences to read about.

It’s not a book that you’re going to need to read from cover to cover – it’s pretty hefty. Don’t let yourself be put off by the fact that it’s over 500 pages though, the tone of the writing is informal and very conversational, which means that you can dip in and out of it as you please, finding the formats or topics that you find the most interesting in the contents. The layout varies – there are ‘projects’, which are all completely different, there are certain questions from the survey with around 20 responses from various women, there are conversations, essays, journal entries, poems and photos to name a few. The tone of the book is very formal and conversational, so doThere’s no set order to read it in, and definitely no need to read every page. Saying that though, I’m on a mission to read it all!

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How is the book relevant to clothing care?

Like I said at the top of this blog post, we all have a tendency to lose a bit of that desire to look after our clothes every now and then, which is why this book is so great. Hearing (well, reading) hundreds of women’s stories and opinions on clothes and how they dress is inspiring – my personal favourites are the survey responses. You might be reading this and thinking that it sounds like it could be superficial, but in my opinion it’s far from it. I found almost everything in there thought provoking, and I’ve even started going through highlighting and marking parts that I particularly liked, found interesting or agreed with – and now there’s some sort of annotation on almost every page! I really can’t recommend it highly enough, and I’d definitely say that there’s no requirement to be ‘actively’ interested in fashion for you to enjoy it.

My favourite pages were those where you heard the stories behind sentimental items of clothing or jewellery, and the stories women told about the clothes that made them feel protected, confident, happy or triggered certain memories. Before I gave this a read, I was one of those people who thought that how I dressed wasn’t important and didn’t make an awful lot of difference to how I went about my day, but now I feel the opposite. I know what to wear to make me happy, and I put a lot more thought into my outfits and, as an indirect result, how I look after what’s inside my wardrobe.


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The Questions

Here are some of the questions in the front survey of the book, to give you a (very little) taste of what’s inside:

  • Did your parents teach you things about clothing, care for your clothing, dressing or style? What lessons do you remember?
  • Did you ever buy an item of clothing or jewellery certain that it would be meaningful to you, but it wasn’t at all?
  • This isn’t a question, but there’s an interview with human rights journalist Mat McClelland about the fashion industry’s problem with ethics and sustainability, which I thought you might be interested in.
  • What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?
  • Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice?
  • Do you think you have style or taste? Which is more important?
  • Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body or style has been passed down to you or not?
  • Is there an article of clothing, some makeup, or an accessory that you carry with you or wear every day?
  • How do you conform to or rebel agains the dress expectations at your workplace?
  • What are some things you need to do to your body or clothes to feel presentable?
  • What are you trying to achieve when you dress?
  • Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?

Some other reviews

If you don’t trust my review, I thought I’d include a few others as a part of this post so that you can find out a little bit more about the book before you decide to commit to buying it (or not). It’s a little bit of an investment (£25 in the UK), but in my opinion, totally worth treating yourself to or popping onto a Christmas list:

New York Times – Sunday Book Review

The Telegraph – Women In Clothes (they call it ‘refreshingly unbossy’, which made me laugh)

NPR – For Women In Clothes It’s Not What You Wear, It’s Why You Wear It

Anuschka Rees – Book Recommendation: Women In Clothes

Rebecca Frost – Women in Clothes Book Review

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