Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fashion and Nourishment

The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant explores both the dark side and the light side of clothing and fashion. In many ways she makes the point that the attraction of fashion and beautiful clothing is not rational, but is based on pleasure. She says: "... we do not choose to eat, say, a chocolate eclair, with the aim of fulfilling our daily calorie quota." Grant compares the pleasures of food and clothing, and various attacks on those who enjoy them:
"We fall victim to a cake because it is delicious. Interestingly the angry rages against unnecessary clothes are seldom replicated in moral campaigns against flambeed cherries or steak au poivre. No one pickets restaurants or rails against the conspicuous waste of unnecessary calories in a three-course meal.... It is pointless fashion, not pointless cuisine, that gets the moralists's goat, and you would have to be pretty dim not to sniff the stench of misogyny that surrounds their outrage." (p. 99)
Do you think you have no interest in clothing and fashion? Linda Grant will show you that there is much more involved than you might guess. All people wear clothes almost every moment of their lives, and make some type of choices of what those clothes are. Clothes, she demonstrates, are never without meaning. She describes how the victims of some of the twentieth century's most horrifying outrages managed their pain by enjoying the beauty of well-made clothing: we can't have depths, she points out, without surfaces. One subject of the book is a woman named Catherine Hill, who survived Auschwitz and became a leader in bringing European high-level fashion to Canada. The depths and surfaces of this woman provide insights into what Grant is saying about the meaning of clothing.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the author's mother, who loved shopping and good clothing. It contrasted so much with my memories of my own mother, who hated shopping and would gladly wear hand-me-downs if she could avoid going to a department store to buy something new. Grant's interest in owning designer clothing and shoes contrasts enormously to my approach. I sit here wearing L.L.Bean jeans, sweater, and turtleneck; Birkenstocks, and cheap socks from Target. I never wear high heels and never have. She wouldn't approve of me at all. But I approve of her: she offers a view of what makes so many people what they are.

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

This sounds fascinating -- it reminds me of the moment in "The Devil Wears Prada" when Meryl Streep tells Anne Hathaway, "Don't think you don't have anything to do with fashion -- " and then goes on to explain how it all connects. (They didn't talk food, though!)

Like you, I'm not a heel person -- that's because of the heel spurs and the orthotics that make my feet bearable don't work well in heels (I do have a pair on one-inchers that look like tap shoes I pull our for absolutely necessary occasions!). Even at work, I'm in cords and feel lucky I only have to "dress" sometimes. But I appreciate it all -- this sounds like another great one to add to the list!