I love to read books about fashion. And this week, I’ve been re-reading, in fits and starts, my absolute favourite book about fashion, The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant. I love that book. I’ve written about it here on the blog before. About how, when I read it the first time, I felt as if I had found a kindred spirit in Linda Grant, so much so that I speculated maybe Ms. Grant awoke one morning and thought, “I think I’ll write a book for Sue B.” In fact, back when I was still teaching, I used to bring the book to school and read passages aloud to my lunch companions. Some of whom were even interested. Ha.

Then I somehow lost track of the book. Undoubtedly because I zealously pressed it upon one friend too many, and now I can’t remember who borrowed it last. So, a couple of weeks ago, with my Indigo Christmas gift card, I bought myself a new copy.

And today as I finished the book, yet again, I was struck by these two sentences in the acknowledgements. Ms. Grant says:

I am indebted to the many readers of my blog, “The Thoughtful Dresser,” which I established as a means of thinking aloud about clothes in November 2007. Across the world, in the Nevada desert, in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Australia, Oslo, and many other places, there are intelligent women who are interested in clothes.

I love that line “thinking aloud about clothes.” I love to think aloud about clothes. But until I started reading blogs, and then writing my own, I never knew there were so many intelligent women out there, outside of the fashion industry, who wanted to think aloud about clothes too. I had found my “tribe,” as they say. And all this thinking and talking is not just about what we are shopping for, or have purchased, although I love to talk about that as well. But about the power clothes have in our lives.

That’s what entrances me about Grant’s book. The importance she places on clothes and fashion. The neverending search for a coat that is just right, for instance:

You see a coat, you ask for it in your size. Not that coat, this coat and no other. And when they bring it to you, everyone turns around and looks, because the right coat, the right dress, the right hat is like a sneeze or an orgasm– there’s no mistaking what has just happened. 
“Wow,” says your critical friend. “Wow!”

Oh, I know that feeling, Linda. Of pulling on the perfect coat, or sweater, that can make you sigh. Knowing that this pair of jeans, not those ones, are right for you because they make you feel like you. Your best self. That they are, as Grant puts it, “life enhancing.”

Don’t you love a woman who can say that a new coat or pair of jeans might be “life enhancing?” With not a hint of irony, or a shade of apology for being so shallow as to imbue a piece of clothing with so much power? Sigh. She’s my kind of woman.

I was thinking about the power that clothes play in our lives when I was writing a post a few days ago. About spring and spring rituals, including the ritual of turning one’s closet from winter to spring. And then the extended discussion of “liberty bodices” initiated by Wendy in the comments had me chuckling and thinking how visceral were the feelings we had as kids for the clothes we loved… and hated. And when I read Alayne’s comment on that same post about new Easter outfits… straw hats and patent leather shoes… well, I was hiving off down memory lane. As I am wont to do.

Nana Knowles with my brother Terry, and sisters Carolyn and Connie. And me. 1959, I think.

That’s me, above, with my sisters and brother, and one of my grandmothers. I had three, you know, but that’s a whole other story. We’re all gussied up for Easter. My sisters in their Easter bonnets.  I loved Easter hats as a child. White straw with bows and ribbons. I don’t know why I’m not wearing one here. I must remember to ask Mum if she knows. Actually from the look on my face, I’m not impressed with the fact that I don’t have my hat on for the picture. That’s clearly my sarcastic look. Ha. Some things never change about us, eh?

I do remember yearning for my sister Connie’s matching blouse and skirt, though. I loved the wide collar with the tie, and the crinoline. I remember my anticipation each spring to see if I had finally grown into that outfit. It seems I always wanted what my big sisters had.

Clothes and the memories they conjure, that has to be my specialist subject, I think. That’s what I love to write about most. Memories, clothes, and memories triggered by clothes. And I especially love that through blogging I’ve discovered a community of intelligent women who love clothes and talking about clothes as much as I do. And who don’t think that intelligence and love of clothes are mutually exclusive traits. Ha. As if.

I never realized until today that Linda Grant had a blog of the same name before she wrote her book The Thoughtful Dresser. I’m sorry I didn’t read her blog when she was writing it, but back in 2007 I’d never even heard of blogs. I’m happy that it can still be found on the web, to be perused at length, a bit at a time. I don’t want to eat it up all at once, since there will be no second helpings. It hasn’t been updated in years. You can find it here, if you’re interested.

So those are my thoughts about clothes for today, folks. And my thoughts about thinking aloud about clothes.

Any thoughts you might have are, as always, most welcome. Any thoughts on the power of clothes, on thinking and talking about clothes? Or on clothes themselves… like Easter outfits, for instance? Have at it, my friends. We’re listening.


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19 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud About Clothes”

  1. I love that photo of you – that is the cutest little face. xoxox.

    And I think I essentially psychoanalyzed a whole swath of my being writing about clothes, so, yes, I'm with you.

  2. You were such a lovely baby,sweet ,with those beautiful eyes,but one could see the personality and the will-maybe you didn't like the bonnets for the Easter in question?-and this light green with your hair….
    What a treat-her blog still waiting to read (for me)
    I've read the book,on your recommendation,and liked it very much indeed (and still have to read the book about Dior dress-Mrs. Harris go to Paris by Paul Gallico,did you read it?) and liked it,as well as talk about clothes,real talk (it could be a psychoanalize as well :-)),not only about buying and prices, but about the beauty of materials and cut and craft and combinations,memories,looking for the right things,to wear,cherish and care of……
    It is not unimportant and trivial,as well as the way we make our homes,the food we eat,the garden we tend (inside and outside :-))….

    1. Oh my gosh! I read those Mrs. Harris Goes to. . . books in my mid teens. They were such fun, and just that title brings back happy memories of chuckling about her charwoman antics and expressions with my mother, some fifty years ago!! Thank you for that xo

    2. Thanks, Dottoressa. Although I remember that I loved my Easter hats. Probably because my sisters had them. I'm going to check if the library has that book. Sounds lovely.

  3. I did enjoy her blog & was really sorry when it came to an end , must try find my copy of the book & have a reread . As you say there’s a rush of ‘ passion ‘ when finding the perfect item . I know from friends & family that not everyone feels that way & it is more a matter of looking presentable . Like you , there are memories of favourite childhood outfits – the dark green wool coat with brown furry Pom poms tied at the neck – the dress that had two little bunches of cherries which clacked as I walked . They are such happy memories – quite the opposite of the trauma of the liberty bodice .
    I can understand an addiction to the shopping rush too , though can’t imagine paying more than the notional value for money figure I have in my head . And these love affairs don’t always last , I can be fickle & lose interest . I don’t understand that .
    Wendy in York
    PS Love the way your family photos have you holding each other with protective hands – or was it a vice like grip ? You do look ready for off .

    1. It seems I was the last person to know about that blog. I'm imagining your dress with the clacking cherries. Funny how these things stay with us.
      Once I experience the sigh of the perfect wardrobe piece I am very constant in my enduring love. Until wear and tear and changing body shape make it impossible. Then I mourn. I still miss the emerald green angora knit mini-dress I had in the eighties. My midsection would turn it into a top now. A not very flattering top.

    2. Hi Wendy, I’m not sure if you’ll see this but all the discussions about liberty bodices made me smile. A couple of my friends had them and I was really jealous! Always asked my mum why they had these fitted, pink ( although more flesh coloured!) liberty bodices and I had to wear a plain white vest!! Guess you’d have been happier with a vest!

    3. Take it from me Rosie – you should count your blessings . Some of the ones on the net look quite soft & feminine but ours were like straight-jackets . I’m starting to sound paranoid now 🙂

  4. Hi Sue,
    I am going to read this book. I that fashion is an art form, and that clothes are a way to express yourself and communicate with others.
    I remember when most dressing was far more formal – dresses and hats for church, white gloves to go shopping in the city, no jeans in the shopping mall, etc. I like much of today's more relaxed fashion, but lament some of the extremes – torn jeans, yoga pants worn everywhere, and décolletage to the naval. I just don't understand these trends. Wearing clean, modest, well-made, occasion-appropriate clothes displays a respect for yourself, as well as regard for others.
    My sisters and I wore uniforms to school and each received a small clothing allowance that was meant to cover everything else – from underwear to coats and shoes. It forced us to plan our wardrobes and think very carefully before buying anything. (It also resulted in the acceptance of lots of baby-sitting jobs, so we could earn enough to buy a special item.)
    In my opinion, the cheap clothes of fast fashion have resulted in the tendency of many to purchase far more clothes than they need, and yet often look sloppy and under-dressed. I think it's hard to look elegant or dignified in such ill-made clothes.
    Enough pontificating. Thank you for telling us about this book. I look forward to reading it.

    1. Shopping for a spring coat yesterday, I saw a couple in a good store priced moderately, good quality, lined etc. Then in Zara… a light trench for $49.00. Really? I couldn't believe that they can sell a coat for that little. Mind you it was super-super light. I imagine it would probably puff up around you when you walk. Like a cloud. And look wrinkly and messy after a couple of wears and fall apart after one season. Like you, I'll stick with the quality coats, thanks.

  5. Hi Sue, I’ll definitely have a look for this blog and book … The family picture is gorgeous… although I agree with Wendy you do look as though you’re about to run away … maybe that’s why you don’t have your bonnet on … perhaps you weren’t keen on posing at that time! 🙂
    Also like Wendy, I can be quite fickle in my love affair with clothes. With some I reamain constant but with others I can feel amazing in them then a little time later, think I look ghastly! Guess it’s all about perception really, and perhaps how we’re feeling that particular day. Also in the last ten years or so I find fluctuations in my weight have a major effect. At a certain weight everything seems to work … a few lbs on and I’m not so happy, as obviously clothes don’t fit as well. Like others here I have such happy memories of my childhood dresses, usually made by by mum, often with matching bonnets! This changed somewhat in my teens when she was still enthusiastic for me to wear dresses and I wanted “catsuits” and trouser suits, keen to wear the tunic top as a dress!!
    The line “It seems I always wanted what my big sisters had” really resonated with me. Also being the youngest, but with three older brothers, I always wanted the life my brothers had … it seemed so much fun and exciting to be in their “gang of three” … they were much older, so I was always protected and looked after! Not included in their adventures, as many of them had happened before I was born! 🙂

  6. Experiencing that moment in a somewhat harshly lit dressing room when a garment of my choosing hits a home run is lovely….too often what looks like a possibility on the hanger does little for me when worn. I 'bond' with much of my clothing and miss these items once they are passed their prime…I still remember with great fondness a dress with a pastel butterfly print worn when much, much younger. It was the greatest dress for twirling (think I was the age you are in the lovely Easter family photo you have shared!) Clothing is still a love and I enjoy shopping for special pieces to complete each season's wardrobe. My one dislike is jeans…(my apologies to everyone that loves theirs) but I have very rarely looked at a person wearing jeans and said "Beautiful and well put together". When I do wear jeans they are black and worn with leather boots…no matter what their price tag ripped, wrinkled, worn jeans just don't cut it with me. Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris was a fun book to read and brings back memories of talking about it with my grandmother who always looked like she stepped out of a Paris clothing establishment. Looking forward to reading The Thoughtful Dresser and thank you for sharing where to locate Linda's blog entries….always enjoy your blog too! Cheers, Alayne

    1. I remember dresses with crinolines that were perfect for "twirling."
      I've ordered "Mrs. Harris…" from the library. Looking forward to it since it has had three positive comments.

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