Tiffany Gibert reveals why the collaborative book Women in Clothes will change the way you think about your dress sense – and everyone else’s.
Our digital age makes artistic collaboration easier than ever, and Women in Clothes is one of its great outcomes. Authors Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton conceptualised the book as an exploration of style and, through the internet, invited others to participate; a total of 639 women contributed essays, poems and images and responded to a survey about their wardrobes. The final product is a true tome of culture and sociology that attempts to unravel the complexity of garment choices, what emotions result from those decisions and, yes, the allure of the selfie. Let us break down why the project is so unique:
1 The contributors
There are famous ones, of course, (Lena Dunham, Tavi Gevinson, Molly Ringwald), but what makes the collection so valuable are all the contributors who aren’t: from a radiation therapist in Australia to a five-year-old in Los Angeles.
2 The surveys
Between essays and interviews, the editors peppered the book with thematically grouped survey responses. Focusing on subjects such as ‘Women Looking at Women’ and ‘Breasts’, these short, personal insights illustrate the intricate ties between what we wear and how we feel.
3 The photos
These are not fashion magazine images. More than 50 photographic ‘collections’ give us an intimate view of the items others obsess over: one woman’s 16 unworn necklaces, another’s 13 navy blazers. In another section, ‘Mothers as Others’, contributors address photos of their mothers (before they were mothers), touching on ageless topics such as the subjectivity of beauty, physical dissatisfaction and everyone’s quest for happiness.
4 The advice
It appears throughout the book, ranging from the logical (‘No synthetics. They are treacherous’) to the slightly offbeat (‘My mother told me to stay away from plaids based in white’) to the utterly personal (‘If the outfit’s not working, add an apron’).
5 The launch event
‘We wanted people at our event to have an experience similar to the one we had editing the book,’ Julavits says. ‘To use clothing to connect with other women but not in the usual consumerist way.’ So the event featured a clothing swap in NYC where readers brought up to five pieces from their own wardrobe.