The concept is astonishingly simple and deliciously complex: a book about our relationship to clothes, as experienced by 642 women, including Lena Dunham, Cindy Sherman, Tavi Gevinson, and two FIT faculty members, Sara Freeman and Dale Megan Healey. In the hands of editors Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton, the result is Women in Clothes, a clever, surprising, encyclopedic portrait of beauty, insecurity, and family. And it reads like the most delicious issue of O magazine.
On October 23, the English and Speech Department invited Julavits and Shapton to read from and discuss the book. Julavits read about accompanying a smell scientist to the coatroom of a New York restaurant to judge the wearers of the coats. (“It’s a very nice scent,” the scientist said after sniffing the armpit of one coat. “I think she’s with the wrong guy.”) Shapton read a first-person account from a garment worker in Cambodia who sews bras too expensive for her to afford.
No detail of the book’s design was overlooked. Shapton wanted it to be softcover to be more welcoming. They didn’t want pictures of the women so that readers wouldn’t form judgments based on their looks. They wanted a gridlike design, broken up by images every few pages. They went back and forth about which cover to use.
Toward the end, someone asked them whether the book had made them more conscious about what they put on each morning. “I think, ‘What am I feeling inside, and how do I want to express that in some manner?’” Julavits said, then amended her answer slightly. “Today I’m wearing this book. That’s what you should be looking at to understand me, not what I’m wearing right now.”
Hue thinks she wears it well.