Women in Clothes
I’m one of the 639 other authors of Women in Clothes, and this means a few slivers of my opinion on this complicated topic can be found inside this lovely book. It’s based on a survey that was open to anyone to fill in, with questions like “Do you remember a time in your life when you dressed quite differently from how you do now?” and “What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had with someone on the subject of fashion or style?” The survey is, indeed, still open if you’re the kind of person who, like me, enjoys a good questionnaire.
One of the things I do with my time is teach writing, and one of the things I often say to my students, when they can’t think of what to write, is: think of a time when you really wanted to read something about a particular topic, and you couldn’t find anything. Then write that story. Good stories, I continue, often start their lives as a question. In the introduction to Women in Clothes Sheila Heti writes of the moment when she came up with the idea for Women in Clothes, and it was through a similar desire. She’d decided, after a lifetime of not thinking very much about clothes, to figure out how to dress. She rode her bike to a bookstore to look for the book that was about what women thought as they dressed and shopped. There was no such book.
Now this book exists, and it’s full of stories in all their candour and strangeness. Some stories I can relate to, such as Sadie Stein’s tale of transformative clothes that, whenever you wear them, something changes. I’d met a few powerful dresses in my time, an evil wig, a squirrel brooch with magical powers. Other stories make me think what utterly different creatures other humans can be. There’s photos of collections of unworn necklaces and striped shirts, navy blazers and lipstick blots. It is a little like sitting in a new friend’s bedroom, cross-legged on the bed, while they show you outfits from their wardrobe, trying to decide what to wear. Your eyes roam around the room, taking in everything.
After reading the book I got to thinking what I might have written about clothes in the past. I’ve written plenty about op shopping but the one story that came to mind was this story about dresses and kisses. 50 shades of polyester… here is some of the story, originally from I am a Camera #11, from 2007, a long time ago.