A couple weeks ago, my friend was kind enough to send me the link to this NPR segment on the new book "Women in Clothes". The brick, weighing in at 515 pages, is a collection of essays and images about, well, women and their clothes. The authors asked subjects to fill out questionnaires about their clothes to understand why garments are more than just things that protect us from the elements.
Plenty of people don't believe clothes are actually that important, or ashamed that they do find them important. Writes Jacki Lyden for NPR, "Fashion critic Kennedy Fraser once wrote in The New Yorker that the act of donning a garment can seem almost furtive or trivial, something beneath debate or intellectual content." That's so true and that idea is a little sexist. I believe I read on the amazing blog Threadbared a couple years ago that it's problematic for fashion to be written off as frivolous and empty when it's largely the province of women; it's like saying women and their interests are just not important.
More about the book:
"The book's submissions come from a chorus of voices from around the world. Its stories are about clothing as intimacy, emotion and memory. One woman talks about emigrating as a child from Vietnam only to see her family labor day and night at a home sweatshop producing ties and cummerbunds. Another is a weeklong diary of a woman's compulsive purchases. And another, by artist Miranda July, photographs six strangers in one another's favorite outfits...
And as this book attests, it's about the life of the mind and the heart."
I think this last idea resonates with me most, especially as it pertains to vintage. My heart feels good when a long circle skirt swishes delicately below my knees, when my vintage-inspired heels are just the right height to add a gentle sway to the hips, but still allow me to walk quickly or dance. It seems to me for vintage collectors maybe more than anyone else, our clothes are memories we wear. I can't count the number of times I've complimented a woman on a vintage item she was wearing, only for her to tell me about getting it from her grandmother, who did such and such a thing as a young woman. There's also the thrill of the chase when you finally track down that item you've been wanting in just the right condition and just the right price. And you remember where you bought just such a circle dress or blouse and how much, you remember the obsessive checking on eBay.
As for the life of the mind, vintage piques my curiosity because there's so much to learn. The armchair cultural historian in me loves digging into what these clothes mean. It's fascinating to me that khakis became acceptable civilian wear after veterans attending school on the GI Bill wore the pants from their uniforms on college campuses (learned that one from the amazing Ivy Style exhibit at FIT). It's so interesting to me how, in the 50s B-movie "High School Hellcats" has the bad girls in the gang wearing slacks (slacks! How quaint that seems now!) as first an initiation for the new girl and then as open rebellion against teachers and parents.
Lyden ends by saying finding that incredible garment is "about transformation", and I think the transformation clothes can bring seems all the more pronounced in this little "vintage community". For Bunny, her switch to midcentury styles and later a flirtation with pinup modeling gave her the courage to show her leg braces.
I went to visit my cousins in L.A. this spring. I had on exercise clothes for the morning and later changed into one of my favorite 50s shirtwaists. I got out of the car in my dress and cousin told me, "You walk differently when you're wearing a dress." That never occurred to me but it makes sense--I felt great so why wouldn't it show?
How do your clothes transform you? How do they make you feel?