Don’t we all have a friend who, when you arrive at her place, always needs, “Just five minutes!” to be ready? And the five minutes is never really five, but always ten? “Love, Loss and What I Wore” by Ilene Beckerman is the book these friends need on their coffee table. Guests waiting will actually enjoy their time with this little gem of a pictorial autobiography to read and, on future visits, re-read.
I was wearing this yellow dress when I fell of a pier, age 2.
With cartoon illustrations on one side and text on the other, Beckerman takes us though her life, garment by garment. At some point, you realize, you’re not sure if Beckerman is chronicling the events in her life with her clothing or the clothing in her life with the events.
My dad wore this same ‘travel suit’ for at least a decade, though he won’t admit it. We were in Greece where we’d gone to see a specialist about my eyes. I wore clear pink glasses, briefly, with a Paddington bear sticker over one eye to strengthen the other. I had that red Canada bag for years, carrying little toys in it wherever I went. Funnily enough, my diaper bag for my daughter was similar: a dark red and ivory leather bowling bag.
And it doesn’t matter, you conclude, because your own version of this book would be similar: some items or outfits that simply held great fascination for you would be included, and others that were tied to an emotional event.
My mother sewed outfits for me and my twin brother. I was always eager for her to be done so that I could see how the cloth and trimming she had purchased had turned into something wearable.
Bits of fashion history are interspersed within the stories – each story spanning a decade from the 1940’s to the 1990’s. More time is spent describing garments or hairstyles than any event in Beckerman’s life – even a death. The lack of detail serves to make the losses more poignant.
There is humor.
There is endurance.
There is a granddaughter.
In reports from ballet school my hair was always mentioned – for it not being neat enough in buns. My mother had no interest in bobby pins. If it had been up to me I’d have just danced and drawn, but my brother always wanted to play games. (You won’t be surprised to hear that these rugs always became “The Gates of Hell” in our games, or that may parents also had matching orange leather couches.)
“Love, Loss and What I Wore” made me realize that while I spend much of my time thinking about which colors and which styles are going to bring a woman “to life”, I forget about her ACTUAL life. I don’t mean the practicalities of the styles that I’m suggesting. No, I bear that in mind. Rather, I forget that I don’t really know this woman. I feel like I do: I feel like I’ve spent hours getting to know her skin, her eyes and her hair: I’ve spent time assessing styles that flatter and styles that don’t: we’ve messaged or emailed a lot if we haven’t chatted face to face. But there is a rich life behind each and every client and this book reminded me that I am looking at clothing in only one context: what works best – what brings them into the most visible state of harmony. I don’t know anything of the clothes that tell the stories of their life.
I love connecting with my clients – even if it’s primarily about the direction they will be going with their wardrobe. So much of our world is depersonalized. To share what makes us unique is amazing.
So tell me, what item or outfit first comes to mind when you think about the most important clothing in your life? I’d love to know.
PS Nora and Delia Ephron have turned this book into a play. I’d love to see it!