Browsing books, I never start at the beginning. I want to know if the entire book will fascinate me not just the first page. Can I be drawn in from reading a snippet here and there? Is what I am reading so compelling that I will want to cancel my plans for the day? (Assume it’s a good day, not one I already wanted to avoid.) If yes, I buy the book. Occasionally I find a book so different and so captivating I want to clear from a few days to a week off my calendar. And then I blog about it. But, let’s go back to the bookstore:
First of all, I was in the Style section of the bookstore and LAUGHING. That hasn’t happened before. I’d opened the book to:
“…wearing linen implies a relationship with an iron that I just don’t have.”
Next I was being asked questions I’ve never thought to ask my clients or even myself:
“What sounds do your clothes make? What cloth sounds do you like best?”
I reflected. I only knew clothing sounds I disliked (velcro! high heels!). Then I realized I loved the sound of beaded garments where the beads are free to sway with movement, as in two of my Halloween costumes from the past. Yet I’d never thought to look for that experience in pieces I’d wear more often.
What other delights have I been missing from my wardrobe?, I wondered, How else can I understand the beauty?
On the third random page I turned to, I was moved by a dialogue between clothing and owner (in the form of the author’s body) . When asked “What do you want to wear?” the body replies, “Well, there’s this. I like protection from unkind eyes, I like to hide behind pillars of clothes. I am not safe in this world, I am hunted and lusted for, I inspire extremes of emotion. I do not feel safe. And I do not know how to see and find safety. So what I need is protection. Clothes that reveal nothing, clothes that obscure, clothes that dissemble my shape, my femaleness. I need to look like a modern eunuch. I need protection from hard eyes. This female needs a break from her intensity.”
I cannot even begin to find a photograph to illustrate that…but you can see why i bought the book! It’s called Open and Clothed (Amazon link) and it’s written by Andrea Siegel.
I love the amusing quips and the great quotes scattered through out the book for the instant gratification they offer. “You must think of your clothes as if they were people. You introduce them to each other. If there is no bond between them, they simply won’t mix. “ Margaretta Byers
I appreciate the practical tips for actually being based on reality not theory : “Every clothing book I’ve seen provides a list of what to buy…so that four garments can provide you with 756 outfits. Don’t make yourself nuts trying to make everything into six different outfits. Finish unfinished outfits you love. Satisfy yourself.” Furthermore, she is so thorough with advice: Test a fabric you’re not sure about for comfort by holding it to your neck for five minutes; cover a window in a closet so that clothing isn’t bleached by the sun; test new shoes out walking fast on hard surfaces. (Agreed. By law, all shoe stores should have some hard flooring!)
I thought I was up on eco-fashion but I learned about naturally colored cotton from her book.
However, it is the many anecdotes offering different mindsets, the deeper questions posed and writing exercises suggested that will cause me to revisit this book time and time again. In particular, the book will help me with “stuck” clients: Clients that are scared to go try on clothes or scared to scared to buy them. Clients that hoard or shop compulsively. Clients that never feel beautiful. (And of course if you relate to any of those, get this book for yourself!) If my client is armed with color and style information, has time and money to shop and they’re not enjoying clothing more, then I want a better understanding of why.
And it might not be emotional support they need. It may be these clients want their clothes to work a different kind of magic than color and style harmony – from subtlety different to very different. Thinking in terms of magic helps me understand a lot (thanks, Andrea!) though I still have lot to learn. My own personal conclusions thus far are:
Magic might be passed along genetically. (Or be imposed on the very young, as above.)
Magical powers exist for us all in varying degrees.
And, magical powers may grow stronger with age.
When I told Andrea her ‘Rate My Professor’ online reviews helped me find her (she teaches sociology these days) and that I saw her students ADORE her, she replied:
” I tell my students that I wrote all those rave reviews. They give me a look of bafflement. Actually, periodically I try to get Rate My Professor to delete all that stuff. Students expect me to be hilarious, easy and nice. I’d much rather they start out a little afraid of me.”
Her other job is to “turn the inside of an inner city Community College into an educational art museum. Toward that end we have acquired over 500 works of art in the past three years. Many of the students have never seen art before, and they feel what comes from something new and wonderful. This has inspired people to broaden their lives and their interests, and live with greater awareness. This gives them what’s called Cultural Capital, which is knowledge of a broader culture which will support them as they want to grow in their lives and careers.”
“I’ve always been interested in joy,” she says. This hit home. Yes, of course. In her chapter Body Acceptance she writes: “The portion of this book is to help you escape the obsessive rut of feeling fat or yearning to be thin. Learn an alternative: feeling alive and good in your own skin. The goal is not “burning away fat”; the goal is uncovering your essence.” “OOooooh,” I can hear you say. “Mmmmmmm,” you hear me reply. It’s all about our essence. Even the reason to exercise. Essence and joy. Essence and joy. Essence and joy. What a winning combination, even if it takes some exploration to be found.
Andrea’s masters thesis was about the Social History of Discount Shopping(!). She taught Textiles and Fashion Buying at a college level and added, “I really should not have been teaching Fashion Buying simply because that isn’t an area of expertise, but when they said, “Teach it or else,” I chose to teach it.” How can you not LOVE this woman?!?
In addition, to teaching and curating, she continues to write. She’s on books number 4 and 5 now. One is a romantic comedy destined for Broadway or Hollywood (in my opinion) and the other is a nonfiction book to help children afraid of water learn to swim. I’m ready to buy both. I admire her Renaissance woman approach to doing it all. Did I mention she is also a lifeguard?
A bit more about Open and Clothed: There is a chapter called Help! My Body Keeps Changing! (Told you she was practical.) My favorite chapter is What Makes You Feel Beautiful? because the answers have much less to do with clothes than you’d think. This is not a how-to-get-dressed book, though her work would help those torn between different advice and get newbies off to the most interesting start. This is a how-to-rethink-getting-dressed book. It is funny, it is serious, it is historical, it is current, it is sad in places and bizarre in others, but mostly, I am writing this because it is eye-opening.
What does Andrea like to wear? “Mostly jeans, pearls, black shoes, and sweaters, and sometimes a hat that makes me feel like Holden Caulfield. But as a curator I can get away with anything: they expect quirky. I don’t disappoint,” and “one of the great things about being a teacher is they expect you to have bad hair and be, as one colleague put it, “endearingly disheveled.””
if you’ve enjoyed this book review with words from the author, check out my post about Joan Callaway, and her book The Color Connection, here and also my post about mother daughter team Arielle and Joanne Eckstut and their book the The Secret Language of Color, here. The only list of ten items I think every woman should own is here. I think Andrea would approve, with exceptions made for those performing acts of magic.
If you’d like a signed new but but slightly discolored with age copy of her book (isn’t it comforting that books age too?) or want to thank Andrea for helping us think outside the box, you can email her at ASiegel@hccc.edu. Note: she only checks this email every few days AND (see comment following) she insists we buy copies we can find online cheaply first (and a bouquet of flowers with what’s left over!). If copies online sell out she has more for $24 plus shipping.
EDITED 4/4/14 TO ADD: 1) Wow, copies have sky rocketd in price on Amazon. Andrea will put copies on ebay as she can/is asked. 2) There is now a Facebook “Open and Clothed Book Discussion” group (which you can find here) should you wish to join in the conversation! (Thank you, kind Polly, for setting that group up!)