Book recommendation: "Women in Clothes"


A few days ago I posted about this book that I am currently re-reading on Instagram, and many of you commented to say you loved it or that it's one of your all-time favourite books. I'm not surprised!

"Women in Clothes", written by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton and 639 others (really!), is a truly special, meaningful read for anyone who cares about, thinks about or worries about their clothes. For today's post (the first ever book review on this blog) I wanted to tell you a little about what makes this book so great, and my favourite parts and quotes.

Have you read "Women in Clothes" yet? What did you think?


What this book is about

Women in Clothes is about "how the garments we put on every day shape and define our lives."

"I don't check out men on the street. I check out women. I am always checking out women because I love stories, and women in clothes tell stories."

from Clothing Garden p6

It's a pretty thick book, over 500 pages, full of interviews, essays, poems, journal entries, photos and interview responses that the three main authors collected from 639 women. Some of the interviewees are celebrities or artists (like Miranda July, Lena Dunham and Cindy Sherman), others are just regular non-famous women from all walks of life. Here are some examples of the types of question they were asked for the interview:

  • Do you think you have style or taste? Which is more important?
  • Can you say a bit about how your mother's body or style has been passed down to you or not?
  • How do you conform to or rebel agains the dress expectations at your workplace?
  • If there was one country, culture or era you had to live in, fashion-wise, what would it be?
  • What are some things you need to do to your body or clothes to feel presentable?
  • Do you ever wished you were a man or could dress like a man?
  • What are you trying to achieve when you dress?
  • Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?

The full list of questions is included in the book, so you can go through them for yourself if you enjoy a little soul-searching.

The tone of Women in Clothes is very conversational which makes it an easy read, but at the same time I wouldn't consider it "light" reading material. There are definitely lots of funny parts, but the book also deals with more serious themes like body image, gender norms and cultural identity, so be prepared to experience a whole range of emotions while reading.


Why I love it

So many reasons! It's thought-provoking and entertaining, but above all it's ridiculously relatable.

"I prefer heels. Last week I wore Birkenstocks and at the end of the day I just felt so bad about myself. Like, Okay, my feet don't hurt, but my morale is really low. I think I'd rather have feet that hurt a little but a higher morale."

from I'm always on the floor and working p31

Much of the book is written in a stream-of-consciousness style which makes it feel like you are really there listening in on a conversation between best friends who tell each other everything without censoring the gritty, unglamorous parts. Unlike otherfashion media, the book shows the complex relationship many of us have with clothes in an honest, unfiltered way, and manages to put all those rollercoaster emotions into words. When I read Women in Clothes last week there were so many moments when I wanted to shout "Yes, exactly!" because I felt like the authors had just taken my exact thought process and put it on paper.

I also love the basic premise of the book, which is something I try to convey in my book and on this blog as well: That thinking about the cothes you wear isn't vain and it isn't trivial. Our clothes reflect our past, our memories, and our hopes for the future. They say a lot about who we are and who we want to be, and that's ok.

The entire book is set up in a pretty unique way too, with lots of different features and bite-sized chapters. It's not the type of book you have to read from front to back. I would often just open it up randomly and dive straight in.


Some of my favourite parts

  • The "Mothers as Others" feature: Women talk about a photo of their mother from before she had children.
  • The part where six strangers wear another's outfits and how you can instantly tell by her expression and body language when a women is wearing her own favourite.
  • The interview with human rights journalist Mat McClelland about the fashion industry's problem with ethics and sustainability.
  • The bit where Zosia Mamet recreates poses from different fashion magazines. It's hilarious but also super engrossing because you'll quicky notice patterns.
  • The "What I Spend" diaries: detailed chronicles of every single clothing and beauty item different women bought, considered buying, regretted buying or returned, and the thought process behind it all.
  • The conversation with Juliet Landau-Pope, a declutter coach, about the fears, memories and multiple identities that are living in our closets.

More quotes

"I'd always assumed the well-dressed just happened to be that way - not that it was an area of life that people excelled in because they applied thought, attention, and care to it. Living with my boyfriend, I began to see that dressing was like everything else: those who dress well do so because they spend some time thinking about it."

from Clothing Garden p3

"Recently, I've started to consciously dress in a more "professional" manner when I attend prenatal appointments. I noticed that when I was dressed in my usual casual summer style, I was treated like a helpless teen mother. [...] I've sinde made the switch to dressing as though I'm coming from an office, and I find that I'm spoken to more directly and as though I have done my research. I resent having to do this."

from Dress for Success p134

"I used to steal a lot of clothes when I was fat. I was convinced I was entitled to the few things that looked good on me."

from Economics of Style p74

"I used to wear beautiful dresses my mom made for me. When I grew breasts, I stopped wearing them. Part of the reason was that they didn't fit anymore and showed too much. I started to wear sweatshirts or big sweaters to cover my breasts after that. Then, when I got married, I wore less of those big sweaters because I felt safe and like I didn't have to be the only one protecting myself."

"I try not to dress in something that would be more important to me than having a good time. I wouldn't want to stop doing something for fear that my outfit would get ruined or weird-looking in the act of having fun."

from Worn p147

"At a certain point I realized it was more punk to dress like a "normal" person and infiltrate the world from the inside than to have everyone treat you like a freak. Now I'm just a bougie mom with an Hermès bag who talks about how she had a nose ring in 1987."

from 40's p263

"I hate to see myself in photographs because I think I'm prettier and more charming in real life. [...] In a photograph, I think my cheeks are really big, like I am hoarding nuts for the winter, and I am always scowling and looking unfriendly or sad. [...] I'm loyal and warm and funny, and a photograph never catches that."

from Souvankham Thammavongsa's survey p320

"A problem I've always had with fashion magazines is that women are encouraged to copy other women. [...] It's almost as if fashion magazines don't understand what a woman wants. I think she wants to be unique among women, a creature unlike any other."

from Clothing Garden p9

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