Look, Book: Women in Clothes at the Powerhouse Arena

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Welcome to the first installment of Look, Book, our weekly (or so) column on the literary happenings of Brooklyn. 

What was it? 

A launch for Women in Clothes, the 500-page-plus collection of observations, notes, photographs, surveys, and musings on women’s relationship to clothing, edited by n + 1 darling Sheila Heti and Believer editors/darlings Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton. The event, at the Powerhouse arena in Dumbo, also doubled as a clothing swap for the attendees. It was a fitting antidote to the hustle of Fashion Week on the other side of the bridge, since the book, if not exactly anti-fashion, was more concerned about the ways that women talk to each other about their daily clothing rituals and garment selection criteria than what things are so hot right now.

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Who was there? 

Many, many women.The book had some 639 contributors, culled from friends, friends of friends, and strangers whose outfit impressed one of the book editors. Not all of them were there, of course, but it was a decent showing. And the audience was certainly predominantly female. There were women in chic printed floral tops and women in slouchy overalls and women in chunky platform heels. The clothing swap was arranged on one side of the space, rows of clothing racks behind a table where the editors requested that you write a little something about the garment that you were donating, Some of the tags were matter-of-fact: “Too small” or “Never worn.” Others, particularly those donated by the editors, had more of a sentimental tinge:

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What was the best thing that happened?

I met a lovely grad school friend who was swapping a blue top (“My stepmother gave it to me. I thought it was cute, but never wore it. Underlying psychic influences?”) and, as I had forgotten to bring an item to trade, went on the hunt with her. As she was trying on a black velvet Eileen Fisher top (“Never Worn”), an elderly woman came up to her. “I think that’s my top!” she said. “How could you give it away?” my friend asked. “Ah, I got older and my boobs dropped.” It seemed like exactly the kind of micro-exchange that Heti, Shapton, and Julavits were trying to capture.

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What was the best thing someone said?

Unlike most book events, this one lacked a reading portion, presumably thanks to the sheer scale of the book and its somewhat fragmented nature. Heti told the story of the book, which was that she had been attempting to educate herself about clothes thanks to her relationship with a man who took great care in his dressing. What she found out about clothing is “I don’t have to care more than I care.” It’s a refreshing message, given the relentless hail of fashion advice offered to women, interested in it or not.  But the best comment of the night went to Julavits during the Q & A session of the event.

“This book really wasn’t about clothes. It’s about women’s bodies, about going out into the world and preparing your body for that event. When you’re dressing, you’re anticipating what’s happening next. So in a way, clothing is all about the future you’re anticipating.”

That’s the interesting part of the endeavor, there. When women talk to each other about their clothes, they’re talking about themselves in a way that’s been traditionally socially discouraged, being open about their bodies and the ways that they use them to navigate the world.

Follow Margaret Eby on Twitter @margaretebyGot a tip for Look, Book? Email margaret@northsidemedia.com.

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