Book Review: “Women in Clothes”

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“We are always asking for something when we get dressed. Asking to be loved, . . . to be admired, to be left alone, to make people laugh, to scare people, to look wealthy, to say I’m poor, I love myself.” — 28 year old participant

 

This book is not at all what you expect it will be. When my friend, Harriet, gave me this book I immediately thought “fashion book” which meant, to me, how to dress either for the (upwardly mobile) working world or the fashion world or, maybe, how to dress like one of those many Housewives of Whatever City from those (so-called) “reality” shows. But when I began thumbing through it I saw that the book didn’t appear to be any of those things. It looked quite interesting. And it is.

‘Women in Clothes,’ by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton and over 600 participating women of diverse nationalities and ages is a collaborative wonderland exploring every attitude, judgement, or question about clothes and our relationships to them that you can think of and some you can’t . The book is 514 pages that passed through my fingers rather quickly because almost everything written in it is fascinating. Some of the content is the result of surveys completed by all kinds of women: artists, writers, mothers, activists, students, garment-workers, soldiers, transgendered women, religious women, and many others. You’ll find essays, interviews, poetry, visual collections, snippets of street conversation, and all kinds of other media. I really feel inadequate trying to describe this book so I’ll share some of the chapters and some quotes I flagged while reading it. That should give you an idea of what’s inside this book.

Mothers As Others, Parts 1 & 2 – Participants share a photo of their mother before she had children and tell us what they see. I loved this chapter.

I Do Care About Your Party by Um Adam – Um talks about her clothing style which is wearing a jilbab (loose pants and a long,very loose shirt) and hijab. She talks about what dressing like this means to her in terms of respect for her body and her religion. She says, “God made no mistakes when He made me. He made me perfect. Sorry if I sound arrogant or overconfident, but I am confident about my appearance. Why wouldn’t I be? I was created by the most perfect – my Lord- in perfection, and I don’t need any man, clothing designer, or makeup artist to tell me what is perfect.”

If Nothing Else, I Have an Ethical Garter – Interview with Mac McCelland, Human Rights Journalist – She talks about the textile industry, warehouse and factory workers, and how her work influences her choice of clothing. She also talks about how she doesn’t like to own much stuff. She says, “Then I have some weird disaster issues, like I lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. To me, things that you have are just things you will lose or could lose, so don’t get attached to them.”

Handmade – Participants talk about making their own clothes or re-purposing clothes. Also about women in their families who sewed their own clothing and that of their families’. I liked this comment by Rachel Kushner (author of “The Flamethrowers”, a book I really liked) especially: “My  mother is a southern Protestant beatnik who wove see-through tank tops on her loom and wore homemade pleather hot pants. No bra, never shaved her legs. She has waist-length bright red hair. DIY was instilled in me, I guess.”

This Person Is a Robot – “A smell scientist sniffs coats in a busy New York City restaurant’s coat-check closet.”  Hilarious!

The Pant Suit Rotation – Interview with Alex Wagner, Journalist and TV Anchor – On the disparity between how men on TV dress and how women on TV are expected to dress.

The Mom Coat by Amy Fusselman – Well, I’m not a mom but I found this essay so interesting and insightful into a world I’ve never inhabited. She says, “The Mom Coat is a sleeping bag you walk around in. It turns you into a pod. I almost cease to be human when I wear it: I am just a shroud with pockets. And, of course, because I have kids, my pockets are always stuffed with Kleenex, hair clips, Goldfish, et cetera. The Mom Coat is like a minivan in that way. You are inside and piloting a receptacle for your kids’ stuff.”

In between essays, there will be chapters dedicated to answers from the survey questions such as “Women Looking at Women”, “Protection”, “Sisters”, and “Do You Consider Yourself Photogenic?” The myriad answers entertained, educated, and surprised me.

There are pages dedicated to a series of items (collections) belonging to individual women such as “Gwen Smith’s concert tee shirts”, “Tara Washington’s knitted hats”, and “Tift Merritt’s handmade guitar straps”. Some of the collections are kind of lame (“floss sticks used over the course of a week” – really?) but most are interesting.

I love that there is no striving for perfection in this book. Every woman is allowed to be herself, to express her own unique style and personality in her own way without apology in this eclectic and satisfyingly original book. It’s like having a conversationn with 639 different women and never getting bored.

“Rompers are not ever going to be on my body.” — Roxane Gay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hollywood Car Wash by Lori Culwell

Lori Culwell was doing a giveaway of Hollywood Car Wash on Twitter. I missed the actual giveaway, but when I read the description of the book, I wanted to read it. So, I wrote her and asked her if she’d still send me one to review. And, she did, so that was extremely cool of her. Here’s the description that made me want to read the book:

From college student to Hollywood star in less than one year, Amy Spencer is living every girl’s dream. But will she survive the Hollywood Car Wash?

I was intrigued because of my background in movie production, primarily because I don’t have a lot of experience with the acting side of things. I thought it would be an interesting and fun read.

First, Hollywood Car Wash looks like (and is) light “chick lit” reading. The kind of book best suited for a beach or for carrying you away on boring plane trips. It’s so easy to get sucked into the story and care about Amy immediately that the pages will just fly by.

But, this book is also sneaky and really smart. During Amy’s transformation from an insecure, grieving theater major to a successful (but still insecure) lead actress, there is an actual physical transformation that might haunt you at night, like it haunted me. Think the Miss Congeniality sequence in the big airplane hanger mixed with any sequence from any SAW or Final Destination movie. Amy’s being pushed toward a “perfection” that can be measured by ratings and opinion polls but which demands bigger and bigger emotional and physical sacrifices. Leading up to and during the scenes at the dentist’s office, I was screaming for Amy to run just like I would during any horror movie.

This book made me think a lot about the price of fame and success (especially for women), but was wrapped up in humorous, scandalous pleasure reading.

My only complaint is that because there’s a romance (of course), I wish it had been developed a bit more. Part of me kinda likes that Amy and her Hollywood transformation/burnout are the main focuses of the story, but because the romance was there, I wanted more. Even as slightly underdeveloped as it is, it’s still believable, which is a big plus.

Originally self-published in 2007, Hollywood Car Wash won “Project Publish” and was re-released in 2009 by Simon & Schuster. It might be turned into a t.v. show (ironically). You can visit Lori Culwell, who also founded an Internet consulting firm, at her website.