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.