26 September 2014

woman in clothes

Fashion, like religion, is easy to disparage, in part, surely, because a majority of the devout tend to be women. A style of dress, like a creed, may be freely chosen, or cruelly enforced. The design world has its mystics and charlatans, its tyrants and liberators. History and emotion are vested in the clothes we wear, and they shape our identities, individual and collective, even if we profess indifference to them. (Atheism, according to James, is its own form of religion.) “Women in Clothes” might be called, at least by a serious person defending it to herself, “The Varieties of Sartorial Experience.”
from "Caring About Clothes" by Judith Thurman

I'm not sure if it's because I'm on the cusp of forty, or if it's because I've felt like I've been on the verge of tears for months, but reading the New Yorker review of Women in Clothes made cry. The last line did it, and I wish I knew why.

A few months ago (was it a year? or more? time has moved at a strange paces for me lately), someone sent me the survey to fill out for this book. I was excited. I knew Sheila Heti was involved with the project and she is always interesting. I also love clothes. You may not be able to tell if you ran into me picking my kids up from school, but I love fashion. I love well made clothes, interesting designs, fine fabrics. I'm also sentimental about clothes. I have a dirndl I wore as a child that's waiting for my youngest to get big enough to wear. I have dresses I wore in my 20s that I'll never giveaway, nor will ever wear again.

I started the survey and was quickly overwhelmed. There were many questions, but it was more than that. My answers were long and very earnest. It was like therapy answering them, and I didn't always appreciate where they took me. I was afraid that I was revealing too much about myself and so I abandoned the survey.

Of course, I now wish I hadn't. Not because I want the world to know about my deepest feelings and shames about clothes and appearance, but because there is something powerful about being part of something greater than oneself, especially when it's a group of women.

Last night I had a conversation with a woman who is heavy into the rockabilly scene. She lamented how the scene was once about the music and being counterculture, but now it's so much about the clothes, and specifically how catty some can be, disparaging those whose cuffs aren't the right width or whose dress isn't the right brand. It's interesting, yet not surprising that there are those whose rules of dress become so rigid that they use it to shun, even in, or perhaps especially in, subcultures. We all have our uniforms. We all have a desire to belong. And we all, I believe, like to feel at times like we don't.

I haven't seen a copy of Women in Clothes yet, but I am looking forward to reading it because, even if I'm not part of it, I am.

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