Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Book Review: Through the Wardrobe

In doing research for my Memories of a Dress Project, I came across this book which is a compilation of articles on the relationships that women have with their clothes. Edited by Ali Guy, Eileen Green and Maura Banim, the book Through the Wardrobe: Women's Relationships with their Clothes is organized into three sections:

In Part I, Consuming Images: Shopping Around for Identities,  researchers address how women shop for clothes. The experiences of young women, plus-size women, brides and women who use personal shoppers are considered in these chapters. "Shopping for clothes becomes an opportunity to create and transform themselves through playing with the image on offer" (page 11).

In Part II, Constructing Images: Presenting Status and Identities in Public explores how women attempt to discover and present different aspects of themselves through clothing. In particular, the challenges of dressing by women academics to convey power without looking "stuffy" are considered. As well, the issues surrounding ethic inspired clothing, accessories and jewellery by black women is also addressed. The creation of identity and the reconciliation of the public self and the secret self is considered in a chapter on women and body art.

In Part III, Personal Images: Revealing and Concealing Private Selves, chapters consider how women reveal and conceal parts of their identity as they select clothes from their wardrobe to develop a personal look. The impact of breast cancer and mastectomy on a woman's sense of self and identity through her clothing choices is explored in two chapters within this section. The presentation of a lesbian or queer identity through clothing is also considered. Of most importance to me was the chapter called "Discontinued Selves: Why do Women Keep Clothes They No Longer Wear?". (This is worthy of a separate post so stay tuned).

This book is a scholarly work but it is not only for academics. Well-organized and thoughtfully presented, most chapters are well-written and readable. Some of the most fascinating tidbits can be found in the sections called "Unpicking the Seams" which are presented at the end of each chapter in which the researchers discuss their motives and conduct of their research in an informal manner. And although the research seemed to lean somewhat towards the not-so-ordinary woman (ie., plus-size, breast cancer survivors, lesbian, women with body art, women academics, brides etc), the book provides thought-provoking analyses of the evolving relationships that women have with their clothes.

Title: Through the Wardrobe, Women's Relationships with Their Clothes
Edited by: Ali Guy, Eileen Green and Maura Ranim
Publisher: Berg, an imprint of Oxford International Publishers Ltd., New York 2001
Category: Non-fiction - Dress, Body, Culture
Number of Pages: 286