I rarely quote at length from print publications, but a full-page article in the Financial Times, 8/30/14, struck a chord with me. In this piece, the paper’s style editor, Jo Ellison, explores why fashion is important – no matter who you are or what you do.
Let’s Look at Some of the Highlights
AN UNUSUAL SURVEY: In 2012, Sheila Heti, a writer living in Toronto, wrote a series of questions about clothes and sent them to her friends and colleagues in order to canvas opinions about what they wore and why.
This questionnaire reached Heidi Julavits, an editor, who says, “I was sitting in a hotel room in Texas, filling out the questionnaire and I was amazed how these questions made me think about what I wear”.
A SECOND SURVEY: At the same time, writer Emily Spivak in New York started a project called “Sentimental Stories”. She asked participants to “tell me a story, connected to a piece of clothing that you still have in your possession in which something unusual happened”.
THE RESULTS OF BOTH STUDIES are now being published, namely: Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and illustrator Leanne Shapton -- Worn Stories by Emily Spivak. The first book has incorporated 639 voices to create an exhaustive study of how women dress. The collection of experiences is broad and unfiltered.
The second book has more modest ambitions, but it provides interesting insights into why even inconsequential garments become of prime importance to the wearer.
WHAT THESE BOOKS TELL US: They state that clothes matter – even if we don’t care to admit it. Clothes are an expression of our self-worth or status. “Editorially, we wanted to stay away from statements made by people like Coco Chanel or Diane von Furstenberg,” explains Heti.
THE RESULTS ARE FASCINATING: Ellison notes that, “As a fashion editor I was surprised at how few women respond to fashion shows or the glossy photos that appear in magazines such as Vogue or Bazaar. Both seem to have little influence over their selection of clothes”.
Neither book is anti-fashion although Julavits estimates that 10% of the women they approached refused to participate in the survey. Ellison is not surprised and concludes by saying, “In my previous job at Vogue, I would approach female professionals – only to be met with withering rejection – as though an association with us would somehow negate one’s intellectual credibility”.
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