Tagged: book review

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.

A Summer of Fashionable Reading

This I Wear | A Summer of Fashionable Reading
Vacation booked? Check. Bathing suit? Check. Beach reads? Well, these sort of work for whatever your plans are – whether it’s a poolside lounge chair or a park bench. I take summer reading pretty seriously, and just in case you do too, I thought I’d share my picks.

Below are a few I’ve read (and there’s more here) and a few I hope to read, all focused on various aspects of style and sustainability. I hope you’ll share your recommendations too.

What I’ve Read
DV by Diana Vreeland – The autobiography of an eccentric woman who made a big impact on the fashion industry, eventually running Vogue magazine. Best part: great one-liners from a woman who saw it all and knew everyone.

The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli – This book traces a t-shirt from its origins on a cotton farm to all the possibilities of where it could end up. My favorite chapter is on the secondhand clothing trade in Africa. If you can’t travel this summer, at least you can hear the adventures your clothing has had and will have!

What I’m Reading
You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You by Dr. Jennifer Baumgauter – A psychologist’s take on what your closet says about you. Totally at the top of my list, and I can’t tell if it’s because I’m being nosy about other people’s clothing hang-ups or because I’m looking to self-diagnose.

Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finley – A little history lesson on where our colors come from, whether in our paintings or dyed in the fabrics we wear. This one seems to be the perfect mix of science, history and storytelling.

The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability – Designing for Abundance by William McDonough and Michael Braungart – Calling all design thinking geeks, environmentalists, and people who think most things could be done better, this book by the authors of Crade to Cradle wonders, what if the things we made didn’t just avoid harming our world, but in fact, improved it? Cue mind explosion. I’m psyched and ready for the challenge.

And just in case the gents were feeling left out, my resident menswear guru recommends checking out F**k Yeah Menswear, which may be best read when you need a good laugh or when you catch yourself buying one too many brands your grandfather would’ve worn or another pair of pants with a menagerie of animals embroidered on them.

Happy reading!

Book Review: Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion

This I Wear | Book Review: Overdressed
The biggest perk of a public transit commute is the opportunity to read more than you ever thought possible. And I have been speed-walking to the train and reading about anything and everything but fashion, because, to be candid, I needed a little fashion break.

But I found that the more I didn’t read about fashion, the more I saw it pop up in the most unexpected places (which reminds me of another book). At the risk of you judging my reading list, I recently finished “The Lady’s Maid: My Life in Service” and couldn’t help but focus on how Lady Astor would wear and re-wear and re-fashion clothes into something fresh all the time, even with endless amounts of money, mostly because that’s just what people did at that time. And as I read Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project,” I became surprisingly interested to learn about her own shopping and closet clearing habits and how she believes they affect her (and everyone’s) happiness.

But to really delve into understanding what our culture’s current relationship is to its clothes and to shopping, “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion” by Elizabeth Cline is a must-read. I literally have pages and pages of notes I took from this book, because I was blown away by the knowledge she was laying down.

Here’s a few jaw-dropping statistics directly from the book:

  • “The United States now makes 2% of the clothing its consumers purchase, down from about 50% in 1990.”
  • As recently as 1995, “apparel importers were often able to get their labor costs down to less than 1% of the retail price of their clothes.”
  • “Every year, Americans throw away 12.7 millions tons, or 68 pounds of textiles per person…1.6 million tons of this waste could be recycled or reused.”
  • “The natural resources that go into fiber production every year now demand approximately 145 million tons of coal and somewhere between 1.5 trillion and 2 trillion gallons of water.”
  • “By one estimate, used clothing is now the United States’ number one export by volume.”
  • China has “more than 40,000 clothing manufacturers and 15 million garment industry jobs. Compare that to the 1.45 million garment and textile industry jobs the United States had at peak employment some 40 years ago.”

Cline isn’t writing for the educated ethical fashion consumer. She writes for people who like her have struggled with overflowing closets, the thrill of a sale, and a limited budget. And I appreciate that she shares her own struggle in the book. In some ways, “Overdressed” is Cline’s own Happiness Project: an attempt to clean up her closet, find clothing that made her feel good, and bring some meaning to her wardrobe.

So who should read this book? The reader who identifies with Cline’s quest:

  • “I owned more clothing than I did anything else and probably knew the least about it of anything I bought.”
  • “If I wanted to buy well-made, fashionable, moderately priced clothing, I wasn’t sure where to look.”
  • “I intentionally avoid buying plastic products such as bottled water because they are oil-dependent and not biodegradable, yet here I was with a closet full of the stuff.” (i.e. polyester)
  • “When we entirely gave up homemade and custom clothing, we lost a lot of variation, quality, and detail in our wardrobes, and the right fit along with it.”

So please read it, if only because I really want to talk about it more and I need someone to talk with about it.

What are you reading lately? Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share your current reads.

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