Women in Clothes - Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton

I am not really sure what to make of this book. I was proud of myself for getting through it – all 528 pages of it, when I wasn’t sure at times that I would finish. It was a truly mixed bag for me, part brilliant commentary, but equal parts tremendous slog. I read it first on my kindle, as an ARC that was not formatted for the kindle, which, unfortunately took me a while to figure out – wow, those were photos!... and columns of type! I am guessing they fixed that in time for publication. Finally switched to the adobe digital editions version and like magic it was formatted, albeit more like a magazine than a book. Which led me to wonder who this was for, and what it really was. I chose this title originally because Heidi Julavits was attached to it, and I enjoyed her book, The Vanishers. I did not really choose it because it was about fashion, per se, but more because it was about how clothes make people feel and why they wear certain things, and that topic interests me. I liked the survey the authors created, though it seemed unnecessarily long and unwieldy, and I didn’t like the fact that they listed questions, but captioned it as an “ever-evolving” list – were they still changing it after they printed the book?


This book was a rambling rant of a book – a coffee table book that I read on a tablet, which just seems odd. It took me long to read it, mostly because the book was so chopped up into bite-size stories that I never felt guilty putting it down. I was a little put off by the use of many of the survey participants’ names, written with a sort of insider’s attitude, i.e. nobody was identified as anything more than an artist, author, etc., and I spent a lot of time not feeling like a hipster, and resentful that I had to look these people up if I wanted to know who was giving the information and why I should listen to them. After I looked up several of the article authors or interviewees, I just stopped. If their story was terrific, maybe I would look them up, maybe not. But the irony was, at least for me, the only person I found myself looking for was Heidi Julavits. Her stories, sprinkled throughout the book, were far better than anything else – the mitten story was a highlight for me, with the perfect combination of neuroses and hilarity. Her writing shines throughout this book, and she comes across unaffected and honest, which, unfortunately, is not true of many others who offer their opinions in these pages.


For a while, I liked the pages that showed people’s collections of things, but after a while I started to question whether these people really did have eight very similar raincoats, or 20 tote bags; but later, I just appreciated the break from a lot of self-absorbed talk about precious objects.


The parts I did enjoy spoke to the meaning behind the clothes, the memories created while wearing them, or the significance of certain purchases, who made them and why. There is a lot here to capture the imagination, a lot of beautiful and also equally sad stories, but for me, it was just a little more than I needed.