A quirky anthology exploring the meaning of clothes.
Forget Anna Wintour, Tim Gunn and the fashion mavens on What Not to Wear. Believer editor Heti (How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life, 2012, etc.), Believer founding editor Julavits (Writing/Columbia Univ.; The Vanishers, 2013, etc.) and Shapton (Swimming Studies, 2012, etc.) are interested not in what women wear, but why. To that end, they sent “an ever-evolving” survey to hundreds of women, asking a variety of questions—e.g., “What’s your process of getting dressed in the morning?”; “Do you ever wish you were a man or could dress like a man or had a man’s body?”; “How and when do you shop for clothes?” Respondents include artists, writers, scholars, critics, nurses and doctors, mothers and grandmothers, actors, businesswomen, athletes and others from all over the world. Some are famous: New York Times fashion critic Alexandra Jacobs, restaurant critic Ruth Reichl, actor Molly Ringwald and novelist Kiran Desai, who reveals the time-consuming process of wearing a sari. Some flaunt attention-getting fashion choices: wearing silver Doc Martens; coloring their hair bright blue; buying a “florescent and hooker-ish” dress; altering a winter coat by trimming it with lace. One woman removes all tags and labels. “In some superstitious way,” she writes, “I feel like this allows the clothes to become more fully themselves….” Another uses clothes “as a way to cast a spell over myself, so that I might feel special.” Poems, interviews, pieces that read like diary or journal entries—all these responses help the editors fulfill their aims: to liberate readers from the idea that women have to fit a certain image or ideal, to show the connection between dress and “habits of mind,” and to offer readers “a new way of interpreting their outsides.”
“What are my values?” one woman asks. “What do I want to express?” Those questions inform the multitude of eclectic responses gathered in this delightfully idiosyncratic book.