Books! About Clothes!

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The world’s most fabulous pink squirrel sweater. I want one.

Yesterday I took my 11 year old niece shopping for clothes (more on that in a future post :) ) It got me thinking about these three books read last month, and how the illuminate different aspects of how clothing has/does/continues to influence our lives. They’re entirely different from each other, and I loved different things about them:

WornStories_cover_4Worn Stories by Emily Spivack (August 26)

How brilliant is the idea of telling the story behind your favorite piece of clothing? This collection of essays is like the world’s best dinner party, where people find commonality and fabulous conversation through sharing this one aspect of their lives. I had many favorites, but one that stands out is by Dustin Yellin, owner of the SPECTACULAR  pink squirrel sweater featured at the top of this post. Dustin says, “When I found this sweater in a junk shop in England, I was drawn to it, not just because I was an outcast kid growing up in Colorado who had squirrels as friends but, more importantly, because the brand was Avocado. See, in my youth I was a peddler of avocados…”  I mean, isn’t that the start of an INTERESTING conversation? I want to meet him, and sort of feel like I did. Each of the essays unfolds like this – quick, fun, captivating. A unusual read.

FC9781400069521Madamoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick (September 30)

This biography of fashion icon Coco Chanel grabbed my attention because while I know much about her style, I knew very little about her. Wow, was this a bumpy ride! This is the portrayal of a supreme narcissist whose brilliance was tinged by misery for her and (it seems) most everyone around her. As the introduction warns: “The key to her global importance lies in [her] intimate relationships. Chanel approached those closest to her with a uniquely ferocious hunger, and nearly vampiric desire to swallow whole and  incorporate whatever appeared most delicious in them–their social status, athletic grace, talent, or style. Her fierce desire to absorb the desirable attributes of others–to borrow front hem to enhance herself–sustained her through her early years. But it is also precisely the quality she understood best and appealed to in her own customers.”  This book made me think about how most of us do this to some extent, “borrowing” the best thoughts, styles, comments, and perspectives from other people as we do the daily work of putting together ourselves. Interesting stuff for a book club meeting (with lots of wine and friends who have a sense of humor!)

9780871404855How To Be A Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman (October)

This book isn’t just about clothes, although it opens with how Victorians handled hygiene in the early morning and then follows with a detailed analysis of each item of clothing they put on from there, so that’s why I’m including it. This is the behind the scenes book I didn’t know I wanted. It gets into every gritty detail of Victorian life and makes things both less and more romantic. Anyone who has ever read a novel from this period has wondered how they’d survive, and this book tells you: everything from how workmen woke up in time for their shifts in an age where most could not afford a watch or clock (they hired a “knocker-upper”–which is not at all the job I thought it was–a man with a watch who used a long stick to knock on certain windows to wake up customers at appointed hours); to what it’s like to wear a corset (less awful than I would have thought).  Perhaps my favorite chapter is the one on leisure, because it was such an unusual occurrence for many people of this time. The book describes the advent of cricket, football, and rugby (for the boys) and archery and croquet as the first socially acceptable sports for girls.  This book is packed with answers to questions you might not have thought to ask.

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