We spend our lives in garments that silently speak for us, so don’t be surprised when the clothing gets loud …
O yes indeed, our clothing has a story to tell, our stories filtered or magnified through their singularly intimate perspective as protector, communicator, identifier and town crier of our desires.
Our adventures and emotions experienced while within them can imbue the garments with meaning and associations of all stripes: memories and nostalgia, self-consciousness and embarrassment, pride and accomplishment, joy and love, contentment and comfort. Our clothing tells beautifully inexpressible truths, yet also lie if we let them. They never leave us and so they witness everything, holding their own secrets and ghostwriting our autobiographies.
Every day, getting dressed provides rich fodder for anecdotes and tales, profound or silly, that can all turn certain clothing items worn by ourselves or other people into important symbols worthy of examination and explanation. It seems natural and human to do this. One more way that we smart, special apes are able to find meaning in the mundane and clarity from confusion to transform our everyday into art.
All wardrobes can reveal a Narnia; what tales are in your closet? Does your ancient flannel shirt sound like Waylon Jennings narrating the “Dukes of Hazzard”? Can a dress conjure a story so profound it has rendered itself unwearable? Has a secondhand top revealed to you some of its own secret history? Did a garment go rogue and pull you into a situation you’d never have entered without it? Let’s ask the residents of our closets and bureaus some questions, see what they really remember and what they would have us know about ourselves.
Style Fetish has found two books for excellent stories, essays and musings about our clothing and the wordy weight it can carry.
Emily Spivak’s book “Worn Stories” has collected essays from over 60 different writers and notables. The fact of clothing as “a rich and universal storytelling device” inspired Spivak to compile and edit the book over a four-year period. Spivak was “curious about our garments’ histories and wanted to create a place to record and preserve these stories.”
The contributors include several men; I appreciated this egalitarian inclusion and the specifically-male opinions and perspectives put forth on this normally lady-centric subject.
The stories are lovely, poignant musings on the things worn during impressionable and memorable moments, as well as stories of the garments themselves that were responsible in myriad ways for changing the course of a life.
“Women In Clothes,” by Sheila Heti and Heidi Julavits is another book about the stories clothing can tell. The authors present their book in intriguingly-named chapters called Surveys, Conversations, Poems, Projects, Collection, Wear Areas and Compliments. Much of the book is presented in a conversational format between women, an effective device to tell these intimate stories and opinions. “Women In Clothes” also delves deeply into the Why’s of style, the reasons we are drawn to or repelled from certain garments and the personal and unlikely places and people from which women get fashion inspiration.
The authors began their research for the book by asking “women worldwide” a huge list of thoughtful questions about their garments and style. I answered them myself and enjoyed the realizations and new awareness that came from doing so. The book also contains simple and striking photographs of certain clothing collections like fedora hats, dress sets and gray sweatshirts.
Let’s lend an ear to our chatty shirts, gossipy dresses, wise boots and experienced denim. They may know more about our motivations, fears and deepest desires than we do, and will share their insight if only we listen.
Heather Narwid owns Sideshow, a vintage and modern clothing store for men and women – where all the clothing has a fascinating tale to tell. Sideshow is now located in Durango off Florida Road at 208 County Road 250 (at 32nd Street). Sideshow is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m.