From Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton and 639 others

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“I usually wear what’s on the chair from the day before. It’s been tested already, and I feel good in clothes I know the effect of.” Rachel Kushner

Lately I have been unable to lose myself in a book. I pick one up, make it about 50 pages and then give up. Then I stumbled on Women in Clothes and I was hooked for the whole weekend. It was so freeing just to open it up serendipitously and read that conversation, essay or interview. One one level it was a pleasant distraction and on a deeper level it was a intriguing look at why and how we wear what we do.

Here then is my own attempt at answering some of their questions.

 

Do you remember the first time you were conscious of what you were wearing?

When I was about 13 years old, I had several pairs of the same style of sneakers, but in different colors. I distinctly remember walking through the halls of junior high wearing two different colors at the same time. It was a style choice, though I don’t remember how well received it was at the time. I was more outsider than fashion role model.

What are you trying to do when you dress up?

Dressing up happens less and less and here in Vermont, and truthfully our standard might be different than in a city. For me it’s all about curves and lines how something flows movement as opposed to a formal, uptight rigidity.

What are your dressing rules?

None really. The outfit is a manifestation of my mood, given the constraints of the day. That could be weather, or lifting boxes at work. Figuring out what to wear is like a puzzle, I try not to repeat any outfit until a fair amount of time has passed. Not that I think anyone is keeping track, but I went to school with a girl who wouldn’t repeat an outfit in a month and she kept meticulous notes on a calendar. I guess some of that rubbed off on me.

When do you feel most attractive?

When I’m wearing a twirly skirt or a short skirt and tall boots. And anytime I can add a scarf to the outfit I do.

In what way is this stuff important, if at all?

I guess in one way it seems pretty shallow to put such importance on clothes. And for me that would be more about caring which name brand you were sporting rather than investing in the quality of the clothes. As much as I would look to a person’s bookshelves to see find out more about them, what they wear and how they wear it speaks volumes too. Your clothes can say so much about your mood and state of well-being. I work in a small office and I am often amazed at how often a majority of us have the same color on, on any given day. We call that “getting the memo.”

Was there a time in your life when your style changed dramatically.

When I was pregnant I was working in the World Trade Center as a manger of a bookstore. It spanned three levels so you needed to carry a phone with you when you were the Manager on Duty. My shift usually started at 6 in the morning, so at 4 AM my challenge was often to find something semi-professional, comfortable enough for my ever-expanding belly and with at least one pocket to hold the phone. And if I could not look overtly pregnant, then all the better.

What’s your process getting dressed in the morning?

I try to get up and do all my tasks first, washing up, teeth brushing, packing a lunch, packing my bags and all the while a slide show is running through my head until I come upon the right combination for the day.

How does money fit into all of this?

I’d say at least 85% of what I own is bought secondhand. When I leave the house I sometimes do a little tally in my head and if what I’m wearing—excluding shoes and undergarments—comes in at under $25 then it feels like a success.

Tell us about something you keep in your closet but never wear?

I still have the dress that I wore on the day M and I met over 20 years ago, I also have the outfit I wore on our first date. Ironically they were both striped though I wasn’t nearly as smitten with stripes as I am now.

Are there clothing items you have in multiple?

Stripes in most every color you could imagine. I also own a wide variety of checkered shirts. But I don’t think I have several of anything, mostly due to the fact that I buy most everything second hand. Except maybe the boyfriend cardigan from Lands End, they were on clearance and I couldn’t decide between grey and blue. I’m glad I bought both, as I wear them all the time.

Is there an item of clothing you once owned but no longer own and still think about?

Holidays were very important when I was growing up. After church I would go to Gram’s house, those outfits stick in my head because of the posing and photographs. I did have this peach ruffled shirt with a tiny floral pattern. It was a birthday present from my godfather and I adored it.

If you had to throw out all of your clothes but keep one thing what would it be?

There is a certain red sweatshirt that used to belong to my husband, but I insist the ownership is in dispute. Barring that there is a red roll neck sweater that M gave to me shortly after we started dating, I would never part with it.

What sort of women do you admire?

I admire a timeless classic style, I am drawn to stripes, checks, or maybe dots as an accent. If I see someone wearing a collared shirt under sweater, untucked, maybe with a scarf, I feel a certain kinship with them. I admire a touch of Parisian style and wish I could pull this off. Whenever I see pictures that Megan Mayhew Bergman posts of her outfits that make her feel original, or comfortable or solid in her identity, I try and emulate that confidence in my own way of dressing.

Can you recall sometimes when you dressed a particular way to calm yourself or gain a sense of control over a situation?

Winter is my preferred season because I get to wear a scarf. At home I have many layers on most evenings; scarves, sometimes a hat, they are my comfort clothes. I change when I get home and sometimes sleep in them. That to me is the sign of being a grown up, getting to decide when and how I wear my clothes. I used to get in trouble when I was little for not taking off my school clothes, as if I would damage them some how. I was not the type of kid to get grass stains.

Who do you talk to about clothes?

*I talk to SW about sewing clothes and how to DIY. The last time we were together we talked about pants, and the need to buy multiple colors when you find a pair that fits. We both think corduroys are at least good for 3 seasons around here.

*SS and I go thrifting together. We chart the seasons by the rummage sales we visit annually. We look for well-made sweaters, especially ones from brands that we trust. Handknits can be the holy grail.

*SA is my style guru. She loves to mix patterns and colors and I feel inspired everytime I see what she’s wearing.

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