Women in Clothes
October 16, 2014 12:16 PM   Subscribe

Through original interviews, conversations, surveys, projects, diagrams and drawings from over six hundred contributors – including Miranda July, Cindy Sherman, Elif Batuman, Mac McClelland, Lena Dunham, Molly Ringwald, Tavi Gevinson, Rachel Kushner, Roxane Gay and Sarah Nicole PrickettWomen in Clothes explores the wide range of motives that inform how women present themselves through clothes, and what style really means.
Feeling inspired? Answer the book's inaugural survey here. A selection of completed surveys, sorted by author or by question, can be found at the Women in Clothes website.

Amy Feltman interviews Women in Clothes editors Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton for The Rumpus:
Rumpus: Are there any pieces or styles that you absolutely will not wear?

Heti: I personally don't really like revealing my body. I don't feel like that's what I want to do in the world. I don't feel like that's what I want people to interact with when they interact with me. I like interacting with people with my face rather than with my figure. But that's just my own shit.

Julavits: Thongs. I don't like interacting with people through my thongs.
Elisabeth Donnelly interviews the editors for Flavorwire:
What kinds of conversations did you and the contributors have about how pain plays into women's relationships with clothing — be it money, class, weight, etc.?

SH: I think the most pain came from people who were in unhappy economic situations. This was most apparent in the interviews Julia Wallace did with Cambodian garment workers, one of whom speaks of holding a bra in front of her — a bra she is sewing in a factory, unable to imagine the woman who will one day wear it, thinking how beautiful she would be if she could wear it. But certain American respondents experienced this pain, too. One woman tells of trying on clothes in a department store that she'd never be able to afford, and how great and professional they made her feel, but that ultimately it was this “little fantasy."
Sasha Weiss reviews Women in Clothes for the New York Times Sunday Book Review:
The book began as a survey consisting of an "ever-evolving" list of questions that the editors sent out to more than 600 women. A small sample: Do you think you have taste or style? Can you say a bit about how your mother's body and style has been passed down to you? Are there any dressing rules you'd want to convey to other women? Do you ever wish you were a man or could dress like a man or had a man's body?

The questions are provocative and psychological. They suggest that a closet is an archive of emotion. (As one of the women interviewed puts it, already wise at 28: "We are always asking for something when we get dressed. Asking to be loved, [...] to be admired, to be left alone, to make people laugh, to scare people, to look wealthy, to say I'm poor, I love myself.") The questions also resist the idea, commonly held, that paying too much attention to dress is frivolous. For most of the women interviewed here, dress is a tool they learn to deploy around the same time they are taught to use a knife and fork, and it is just as essential for their social survival.
More reviews, interviews, and features:
• New Yorker: In the Communal Dressing Room
• NPR: For 'Women In Clothes,' It's Not What You Wear, It's Why You Wear It
• The Rumpus: Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton & 639 Others
• Style: The "Women in Clothes" Editors Talk Style, Identity, and the Outfits That Made Them Cry
• T Magazine: A Conversation With the Editors Behind the Book "Women in Clothes" [video]
posted by divined by radio (20 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
This is neat and I just clicked over and ordered the book. Thanks for posting.
posted by phunniemee at 12:40 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I looked at the linked survey and, well, just UGH. I couldn't even imagine answering a question like "what kind of women do you notice and admire?" (based only on the fact that they are passing me on the street) with any kind of seriousness. But it's absolutely correct that those of us who are poor have problematic relationships with clothing. I'm job hunting right now and a few nice pieces and some good shoes would really boost my chances, instead of the selection of hand-me-downs and not-quite-right things I do have. However, I personally try very hard not to judge people on what they choose to cover their bodies with and wish more people would do the same.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 12:47 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I looked at the linked survey and, well, just UGH. I couldn't even imagine answering a question like "what kind of women do you notice and admire?"

I dunno, that seems like a completely legit question to me. Every once in a while, like about every other month or so, I get on a train with this woman. I love her so much. She is so fucking cool. I see her and I think damn, I want to be that lady. I want to be as cool as that lady when I'm as old as however old she is. She is rejecting so many rules of adulthood and is my on-the-street sartorial hero. I don't know anything about her except that she always fucking brings it, and seeing this woman, and noticing this woman, and admiring this woman's choices in style and attitude have definitely informed a lot of the choices I've made in deciding how I want to present myself to the world.
posted by phunniemee at 1:03 PM on October 16, 2014 [20 favorites]

I unabashedly love clothes despite generally dressing extremely badly, and ordered the book as soon as I read this excerpt in the Globe and Mail. If style magazines had articles like that, that were about clothes rather than fashion and inadequacy, I might read more of them.
posted by Erasmouse at 1:13 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

How long is the survey? I started it twice after seeing it on gofugyourself, but had brain fry after a few questions and couldn't stick it out.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:24 PM on October 16, 2014

I have really been wanting to read this book because it's extremely relevant to my interests.
posted by sweetkid at 1:37 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had never heard of this book, but this post alone was enough to make me put it on my wish list.
posted by immlass at 1:56 PM on October 16, 2014

Leanne Shapton! I was wondering what she had been up to. She put out this book a few years ago (Important Artifacts And a bunch of other words in a really long title I can't remember comprising a fake auction catalog blah blah), which set out to tell a story entirely through the display of personal possessions acquired over the course of a relationship. There were lots and lots of clothes in there, but also playing cards, wine bottles, kitschy kitchenware -- anything that combined utility with style-conscious choices -- objects which in some way send a message, at least to/from the sort of image-conscious hipsters that the book's about. This new project seems like a perfect fit for her.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:58 PM on October 16, 2014

This is really, really cool. I love the questions. I love the answers. Clothing is so complicated in terms of what it means and implies and working through all of the layers can be amazing.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:01 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just bought this for my sister and I kind of want a copy for myself.

I hate it when a book is so good that you don't want to give it away.
posted by Fizz at 2:57 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

How can I search out the contributions from Cindy Sherman? It would be fascinating to read her take on the impact of clothes as appearance, observation, and identity have been such strong themes in her work.
posted by helmutdog at 4:03 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm on a William Gibson refresher right now and I'm obsessed with his oh so tasteful clothing descriptions. They make me itch to shop, but only in stores that sell perfect nameless things. Better to read this instead.
posted by stray at 4:12 PM on October 16, 2014

Full disclosure: I am mostly dying to read this because I love that Lena Dunham wears whatever and doesn't give a fuck.

Re number of questions, scrolling down reveals that there are about 80 numbered questions and a bunch of "general info" questions after those questions. So, yeah, the survey seems more like the work of an afternoon than one of those Buzzfeed things.
posted by Sara C. at 5:11 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

It took me soooooooooo long to fill out the survey. But it was interesting. I think I'm the sort of person they'd want in that book!
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:32 PM on October 16, 2014

I'm kind of confused. Why is this not sexist? I ask in all honesty. I really don't understand why one article or discussion about how "women" do things like THIS, is different from another. Either the line of discussion is sexist, or it's not.
posted by Goofyy at 8:59 PM on October 16, 2014

To the question-

"What are you trying to achieve when you dress?"

I was very excited to read an answer that stated perfectly what I felt.
Then I realised I'd misread it.

Her answer was not: Comfort and an appropriate level of COURAGE.

It was: Comfort and an appropriate level of coverage.

I prefer courage. :-(
posted by taff at 9:00 PM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

Goofyy, it's the specific thoughts of specific women. People took the survey, and various answers are published in book form.

I suppose it could be considered "sexist" because it's a book about women's thoughts about all this stuff and no men were consulted. But, look, if you want equal attention paid to how men feel about clothing and style, write your own damn book.
posted by Sara C. at 9:49 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

I really don't understand why one article or discussion about how "women" do things like THIS, is different from another.

There is about 14,000 miles of difference between "women do things like this" and "I am a woman and this is how I do things."

This appears to be a collection of the latter.
posted by phunniemee at 4:37 AM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

There is about 14,000 miles of difference between "women do things like this" and "I am a woman and this is how I do things."

Yeah I'm bewildered about how a collection of women talking about their experience with fashion could be sexist. Who is being the sexist? Toward whom?
posted by sweetkid at 8:30 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Museums really should do more exhibits on clothes. It's one of the few times I've gotten a better grasp and/or appreciation of fashion.
posted by typecloud at 10:11 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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