Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I finally finished this book.
It took me several months to make my way through it; this was not, for me, a pick-it-up-and-finish-it-in-one-go kind of book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I have a lot of books in the slow-read category that I work my way through in bits and pieces over the long haul, sometimes years.
But in the case of Women in Clothes, it wasn’t necessarily a good thing, either.
It aims to legitimize the concerns about dress–what to wear, when, why, and what that clothing communicates–that specifically women have as something that it is possible for serious, intellectual and successful women to think about. It certainly makes the case that women largely do think about this whether they should be or not, and that women put a fair bit of thought into what their clothing says about them, their lifestyles, their aspirations, and so on.
But the sheer variety of voices somewhat undercuts the success of this central message: one of the things that is most inescapable to conclude after reading Women in Clothes is that different women attach different meanings to the same clothing, so we’re not all speaking the same language. It raises the question, what’s the point?
Unfortunately this question–and others raised by the book–is never answered.
The book is a (very large) collection of completed surveys (you can find it here) by about 640 women, as well as essays, photo essays, stories, conversations and interviews with women about clothes. I’ll be posting my own answers to some of the survey questions, for no reason at all really since I’m sure it won’t be interesting, in a couple of days.
Given the variety, there’s sure to be something in Women in Clothes that interests and resonates with you. Unfortunately, there isn’t a conclusion, or any kind of unifying discussion. I’m sure that was their point, but it was also a drawback.
The book would have been vastly improved if it were cut by half and organized in some fashion–by theme, perhaps, or socio-economic group. It’s an interesting book (in parts, anyway) but it could have been a lot better.
I do have some sewing projects ready to post. I just need a weather-cooperative day off, and in the case of one or two garments, some hemming time.
5 thoughts on “Review: Women in Clothes”
An interesting idea for a book, although it sounds like it failed in the execution. Given the limited choices out there, it always amazes me that we don’t all dress the same but there is such a range that there must be some meaning behind it.
Oh, definitely, and I would have really enjoyed a more analytical book on the subject. There are a ton of people giving it 5 star reviews on GR so clearly there is something there. Just not what I was looking for.
I just received this as a birthday gift! I’ll be using your review as a lens through which to view it when I dig into it (if I ever get through the honking huge Woolf bio I’ve been slow-reading). I think a lot of compilations can fall prey to a lack of focus. Have you ever read Gig? It’s a compilation of interviews of Americans talking about their jobs. It’s been awhile but I remember the range of people felt like a strength.
I hope you like it. The range, I think, was a good thing; the different perspectives were really interesting and there were a lot of women and responses in the book I enjoyed. It’s just that it was not organized at all, so for me, the real takeaway from the book was, “Wow, we all sure have different opinions about this stuff.” But that was a point that could have been made in 100 pages.
Anyway, I hope you post a review as well, or tell me what you think, particularly if you disagree.
A Woolf bio sounds amazing. She’s so fascinating. Which one are you reading?
I’m reading Hermione Lee’s. It seems very well-researched and so far, I think it does a good job of illustrating her genius without being too dewy-eyed about her as a person, as well as illuminating the connections of her life to her writing.