Women In Clothes is a book unlike any other. It is essentially a conversation among hundreds of women of all nationalities – famous, anonymous, religious, secular, married, single, young, old – on the subject of clothing, and how the garments we put on every day define and shape our lives.
Those are the first words that you see when you open Women in Clothes (well, it is for the UK version!) and is the summary as written by the three ladies behind the idea -Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton. They, along with 639 others, are the writers and contributors.
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, they just started sending out an ever-growing list of questions to send 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 we’re 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 and how it came to be, 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 we feel about clothes in general – whether they’re on us, or other people.
Here are some of my personal favourites that are included in the survey… maybe, if you fancy it, I could answer them myself in a video or blog post some time?
- Did you ever buy an item of clothing or jewellery certain that it would be meaningful to you, but it wasn’t at all?
- Is there an article of clothing, some makeup, or an accessory that you carry with you or wear every day?
- Did your parents teach you things about clothing, care for your clothing, dressing or style? What lessons do you remember?
- 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?
There are loads of other questions (like, over 100 kind of loads) and all of them are wonderful in my opinion. Some are simple, some are funny, lots could even be considered philosophical; but they’re all about clothes. The book‘s presented in a really easy-to-read format, so you can just open it to any page you fancy and start reading. I haven’t read every single article, pored over every collection or pondered every project yet, but I’ve read enough to make a judgement – it’s very snazzy.
Despite what the very long survey might make you assume, the book is by no means just every single interview piled together and then bound up. Far from it; some of the interviews remain in full (these are generally the ones that are with the more ‘well-known’ women that appear), but the majority of the time, it’s, as this review says, ‘a chorus of voices responding to one question.’
There are so many things in here that I really can’t express to you adequately what it’s like without you having seen the book itself. As with anything concerning fashion, there are lots of cool full-colour pictures that take the form of projects or collections, such as where six women wear each other’s favourite outfits (below), Annie McDonald’s clogs, and a watercolour spread of the stains that different people have on their clothes (above). A lot of what’s written is truly lovely- there are sections about compliments that have been given/ received, photocopied hands of office workers that explain the stories behind the rings that they wear, and chats about different ladies’ most cherished items of clothing. Other ideas are so unique and clever that you can’t help but smile (such as when a smell scientist sniffs the coats checked in a New York restaurant and describes what their owners might be like).
As you can tell, I’ve really enjoyed reading it and will continue to do so until I’ve finished, at which point I’ll probably just keep picking it up and revisiting random articles. Every time I’ve sat down with it, I’ve made sure that I have little arrow post-its and a pencil on hand so that I can mark the pages that I really like and colour in particular excerpts that have stuck with me.
I’ve genuinely loved what I’ve read so far of this book, and would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone and everyone. You don’t have to be ‘into’ fashion to love it – I mean, I can barely figure out what goes together and look at how I’ve been harping on! It is a little bit pricey (£25 in the UK – although it it is over 500 pages) but I think it’s worth every penny. Goodness knows that I’ve picked up plenty of inspiration and ideas that I’ll be trying out myself from at least 500 of these 642 people – and all of them have broadened my way of thinking about how I dress.
A few other reviews of the book
I read these before I put Women In Clothes on my Christmas list – I wanted to be sure that it was going to be worth the money!
The Telegraph – Women In Clothes (they call it ‘refreshingly unbossy’, which made me laugh)