Friday, 4 April 2014

Thoughts on The Thoughtful Dresser, by Linda Grant

I have come late to this book, but then I rarely read books when they are newly released.   I am always interested in social history, psychology, and in issues that are often associated with women and yet also have a visceral reaction to how women, so much more than men, are judged by their clothing.  I am tired of female politicians and celebrities having to contend so much with interest in what they are wearing (or criticism of it) rather than on their thoughts, deeds, talents and the brain that is carried around by that clothed body.  On the other hand I see the validity of clothing having something to say about who we are, our times, our culture and even having a connection to those supposedly manly and more important things like politics and war.

Grant argues that how we dress ourselves is important, means something, tells something about us and our time, and she frequently returns to the moving story of Catherine Hill, a Jewish, post-war immigrant to Canada turned high end fashion purveyor,  who sees her own experiences of both horrors and happiness as having a strong tie to clothing. Many of the ideas in this book are ones I can relate to, however I cannot relate to buying high end designers and spending thousands or even merely hundreds of dollars on one item.  I do not have the budget for that and even if it were doable by only buying one great item a year, that approach would not appeal to me.

 Having grown up with a mother who sewed very well contributed much to my understanding of a well constructed and fitted garment and I do indeed seek and recognise quality when I am shopping but I also seek to get as much as I can for my money and to have fun.  Wherever I shop, I seek quality, value for my money and something that suits my personal style.  Grant seems to suggest a certain superiority in those who only buy designer clothing, and a pity for those who don't know any better. Whether or not this is her intention, she makes the point that it is unavoidable,  even if I do not buy designer clothes, much of what I buy will have been influenced buy them

The book does contain insights into what clothing means to many of us as a form of self expression, a morale booster and a marker of where and who we are in this life, a way of fitting in or a way of standing out, whichever is needed at the time.   I personally related to the idea of clothing as a form of self care, that taking pleasure in clothing was healthy, not frivolous and could even be a form of defiantly carrying on against the obstacles. 

Overall I enjoyed this book, which is really a collection of essays.  I have read better writing and I've read worse but writing is not as easy to do well as it is to criticise.   Various reviews and reactions to this book cover a wide range of perspecties as is usually the case with reviews.  Some gag on it, finding it shallow and condescending.  Others feel someone has finally articulated what they have felt all along.  I may be somewhere in the middle.  Grant wanders sometimes into designer clothes worship which can be a bit off-putting.  I think her own personal style preferences are slightly obscuring otherwise good points.  We do notice what other people are wearing and we make a quick assessment of who we think they are based on how they present themselves. Whether or not we judge them only on that varies depending on who we are and what our life experiences are.

This book isn't a manual of how to dress or how to have good taste, but one woman's observations and thoughts, supported by some stories she has gathered from others, building up her thesis: clothes matter.  While I am inclined to agree, I am not yet sure how to reconcile this with the next time I am annoyed that a woman's mind is overlooked in order to pay attention to what she is wearing. 

                             http://www.lindagrant.co.uk/books/the-thoughtful-dresser/


12 comments:

  1. I'm responsible for that book, I sent it to Curtise who passed it on to Jan and its become a bit of a blogger read. I found it annoying in places, especially the "mutton dressed as lamb" nonsense but enjoyed it nonetheless.
    I agree with you, humans are inclined to make snap decisions based on how people are dressed but that is only a superficial impression and its easy to change our minds once we initiate a conversation . x

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well it's still the sort of socio/cultural sort of topic that I enjoy so I'm glad I read it and thanks for getting it going. Yes, it's a bit preachy in some places but she isn't the only one touting such rules. There are always situations where we may be obliged to follow some of those rules and unfortunately many opportunities for changing minds and impressions are probably missed, but anyone who matters in our lives should be able to see more to us than our clothes. Now, I'm off to search my closet for something lambish; it is spring after all! ;-)
    xo

    ReplyDelete
  3. when i was a little girl there were adults (family members and teachers) who denied my intelligence because I was pretty and wore a nice dress...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's so sad. I hope you were able to rise above that. I have read of psychological studies that show a pretty woman, who does demonstrate intelligence is often then believed to be more intelligent than she actually is. It's like people are saying wow, this is so unexpected, a pretty woman who is smart.

      Delete
  4. What an interesting read! I think this is kind of similar to all of the "norm-core" business that is going around, people making a giant effort to avoid being "fashionable", to look average. But, by doing so, aren't they not putting in effort to be that way? And then why is it frowned upon to care about how we dress? A conundrum indeed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with you, Sarah. Everyone with the money and ability to buy and/or select their own clothes puts some sort of thought into the way they dress even if they are dressing down. Normcores seems to me just another form of what hipster originally was. The whole point of hipster was to wear ugly thrift shop clothes as a sort of statement of not caring about fashion except then the hipster look became a fashion trend. People who are legit normcore might get upset that their anti-fashion statement if being turned into an actual style. LOL

      Delete
  5. Interesting. I like your review. I think I would go as far to say that people may think the same way about men, but it's just not as vocally expressed. If Obama showed up in sweats and a tee we might all have something to say about that. I tend to agree with what you are saying. It's a great form of expression, but shouldn't be the sole basis of what we judge women on.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yes, we expect certain things of people for certain situations although even that is changing. Not everyone feels the need to dress up for a wedding or a funeral anymore but usually they will shock most people by that choice. We see some forms of dressing as a way of showing respect, and we would expect our leaders to show respect for the role by dressing well, however we are more likely to hear criticism of Hilary Clinton based on what she wore than we are of Obama. He will be criticised for his ideas and perhaps his behaviour, while Hilary will be called frumpy. And even if nothing negative is said, you can be what she wore will be described in any report of her speeches or activities. They do not write what a male politician wore or how his hair was styled. I object to that.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I enjoyed the book (I see Vix has explained its pathway!) but like you, found the writer to be in thrall to designers and labels and expensive luxury items, and that doesn't sit well with me. I liked the stories of the women she featured, and some of her own history was interesting. Yes, what we wears communicates something, it means something, and it's good to have that acknowledged as a valid topic for intelligent discussion. xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, I liked the stories of the women and the different perspectives. I was able to just take her own love of designers and labels as just her own personal bias or style. I would love to have a conversation with her about it, but it's still a valid perspective as anyone's style is.
      xo

      Delete
  8. As one who wore male clothing exclusively for a while, I can attest to the fact that it is pretty predictable, mundane and hard to get wrong...unlike the vast array of women's clothes and styling. Maybe that is another reason men aren't being assessed by their clothing and women are. I haven't read this book. As a person who loves op shopping for the thrill of the chase , the bargains and the originality of design, I would find it hard to identify with it. But I do love quality fabrics and interesting design which you often have to pay for. Unless you find treasure at the secondhand store! As an artist I feel my clothing is an extension of my artistic expression. I like to feel I'm wearing a painting(one reason I returned to women's clothes ). Thanks for your visit and comment on my blog :-)

    ReplyDelete
  9. As a mother who had a son and thus bought boy's clothing, I do have some experience of shopping for male clothes instead of female and it is definitely a bit dull and predictable. I love that thrill of the hunt too and most of my wardrobe is from second hand shops but I can't say for sure that if I had the money to do so I wouldn't buy pricey designer clothing but it would have to be one who produced velvet and brocade dresses. :-)

    ReplyDelete

I love visitors and I love comments. I will try my best to respond to everyone! Thanks for stopping by.