Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What I'm Reading: Women in Clothes

I hope everyone had a great Christmas! Lots of traveling in my neck of the woods, I'm happy to be home!

For the life of me, I cannot remember where I first read about the book I'm reviewing today. I thought it was either the Coletterie or the Closet Case Files blog, but I can't find the link to confirm. All I recall is that as soon as I read the summary, I reserved the book at my library. MONTHS went by before it was my turn to read it, but it was definitely worth the wait!

It's hard to explain exactly what this book is "about". At the root of Women in Clothes is a survey that was sent to hundreds of women about their style, clothing choices, and, well, everything under the sun that has to do with clothing! 

Just a sample of the survey questions!

The result is a fascinating peek into how women view clothing and its purpose in their lives. There are essays, artwork, poems, interviews, and of course survey answers. The book is combination sociology and fashion, a mix that I personally found fascinating. Women from around the world took part in the survey, so it was not specifically American. I was enthralled with the stories from women from other countries and their views on clothing. 

Even more interesting than reading about differences was realizing that so many of us think alike. Women watch women, women dress for other women. We all have insecurities. Parts of the book would give a survey question and then list a paragraph of answers from different people, who all said essentially the same thing.

In my opinion, at the root of a passion for garment making is a passion for clothing. Sewists take it a step further than most by creating their own wardrobes, a skill that I find empowering and likely would empower many women who feel controlled by clothing. Reading the book through that lens made me even more grateful that I can make my own clothes!

There were two places in the book that hit me particularly hard. The first was a series of interviews with women who work in garment factories, asking them about the clothes THEY wear. Not surprisingly, none of them could afford to buy the items they made. Most of their own clothing was cheap, bottom of the barrel stuff discarded by the Western world. One woman was asked about the tshirt she was wearing, a simple one with the brand name Chanel on it.

Heartbreakingly, she responds that she can't read, and didn't know that Chanel meant anything at all. Two years ago, I gave up buying new clothing for myself as much as I possibly can. I buy used or I make what I need. After two years of this, I had kind of slipped mentally and forgotten all the reasons I made that decision in the first place. 

As if the "I can't read" quote wasn't enough to drive home the message, towards the end of the book there was an interview with a garment worker who survived the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh.

If this portion had been at the beginning of the book, I may not have even been able to finish it. I do love clothes. I am cheap. I am just one of a million reasons why this woman spent days trapped in the rubble of a factory, literally dying of thirst and watching her coworkers die around her, because she worked in a place that made those cheap clothes I used to love buying. For what? Are those $8 tshirts really worth it?

There is far more to this book than an examination of unfair labor practices, in fact it's only discussed a few times. But it is an important topic when there are hundreds of pages devoted to this thing that we tend to love very much: clothing. If you are a woman, and you like clothes, this book is like nothing you've read before and worth a look.


  1. I struggle with the guilt of being super - thrifty and garment living, too. This week, I bought my first new clothes in 18 months! Thanks for sharing this book review. I'm off to track it down.


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