Book Review: You Are What You Wear

This I Wear | Book Review: You Are What You Wear

I realize it is now the middle of September, and I’m just getting through the first book on my summer reading list: Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner’s “You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You.” But better late than never. And well, I have another confession: I made it to page 120…out of 233 pages. So let’s be honest, this is not a full book review, but merely a chance for me to say that given the title and the subject matter (clothing meets psychology), I was extremely excited about this book. In fact, I thought this might even solve some of my own wardrobe dilemmas or help me to understand those of others so I could be more helpful. But the excitement was short-lived.

Here’s where I totally agree with Dr. Baumgartner: Our closets reveal a lot about who we are, for better or worse. After reading on page one that she believes “clothing is an extension of who we are,” I thought we were going to be best friends as we obviously think alike.

In each of the chapters, Dr. Baumgartner focuses on a case study of a “closet therapy” client whom she helped to dig deeper into personal issues that were revealed through wardrobe shortcomings. From the woman who spends beyond her means and doesn’t wear the nice things she buys to the women who reveal too much or cover up entirely to hide themselves, the case studies are of real women with real issues. And it’s pretty clear that they are wearing their weaknesses.

The chapter that may most closely resemble my own problems might be the “Somnambulist” chapter, but as I am anything but bored with my life (only my clothes), even that example didn’t make sense for me. Yet it was enough that I started to wonder what story I’ve been telling lately with my clothing choices. Probably tired. Maybe confused or in transition.

But I totally lost interest in the author’s theories as her strategies for overcoming these closet (and personal) ills became apparent. I am possibly exaggerating but chapter after chapter, I felt like she kept encouraging her clients to throw out everything (where are the strategies for donating or making sure your clothes are given away responsibly?) and continually shop! At a certain point, though she wasn’t advocating for indulging in trends, all I heard was shopping, shopping, shopping.

I wanted it to be more personal. And going to the mall doesn’t feel personal anymore.

So while the book was made up of a fantastic introduction followed by a disappointing episode of “What Not To Wear” hosted by a therapist, I had hoped it would be something different. I wanted her to pull out the personalities of the people she focused on. To Sarah with the stagnated life and wardrobe, I didn’t want her wardrobe just to be freshened up so she could create space for new things to happen in her life. I wanted her wardrobe to become a biography of sorts (“I’m Sarah. I’m from Vermont and I like book clubs.” Or whatever she’s into…). I wanted to learn how to share the positive stories of who we are through our wardrobes.

To wrap things up, I don’t know that I’m recommending you read the book, though there is definite value in the overall theory as well as the “Wardrobe Analysis” section that helps each reader look at her own closet with new perspective.

But that said, it has inspired me to ask myself how the person I want to become would dress – a good question for anyone similarly going through a big transition. Why? Because we truly do get to decide what story is told through our clothes, and that is where me and Dr. Baumgartner are on the same page.

Find yourself telling an unintentional story with what you’re wearing? Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share your story.

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  1. Kristian

    So someone was asking if I found any good blogs out of Alt and when describing yours, these book reviews were one of the things I mentioned. I think to people who don’t know about how to live a life with sustainable clothing choices, books seem an obvious answer. But they can be overwhelming in number and occasionally too negative or make the idea seem harder than it is. These really help navigate one to the best of these types of books.

    Speaking of closet-as-symtom-of-bigger-issue type of books, wha tyou read Stacy London’s (of What Not To Wear fame) latest book “The Truth About Style?” I felt it was a very interesting take on clothing.

    • Rebecca

      Kristian, thanks for the kind comments and the helpful feedback! I haven’t read Stacy’s book but I was always a “What Not to Wear” fan. I might just have to check it out. If you have any other book suggestions, I hope you’ll share!


  2. Victoria | Oh So Pretty

    That’s disappointing that the book didn’t turn out the way you expected / or I expected for that matter. As I was reading your introduction to the book, I was getting really interested, until you stated that the therapist just makes clients throw out their clothes and go shopping…… :-/

    But I’m glad it still was able to inspire you in some way! :)

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