Women in Clothes: my pick for summer reading

Did you know that Australians only read when the weather is hot? Lately it seems every newspaper supplement has a list of “summer’s best reads” or “books to read on the beach”, whereas I’ve never seen a list of “winter’s top novels” or “what to read snuggled up in bed with the cat” (hmm, maybe that’s a blog post for later this year). Personally, I do most of my reading during lengthy public transport commutes: you can get through an awful lot when it takes nearly two hours each way to get to work. My latest read – and the book I’m going to recommend in this post – is called Women in Clothes.


Although it’s apparently a New York Times bestseller, I certainly didn’t go looking for it, but I’m glad to have stumbled on it at my local library recently. It is a collection of surveys, conversations, stories, email exchanges and photos from more than 600 women (including Lena Dunham, Kim Gordon and Tavi Gevinson) about clothing, fashion and style which authors Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton put together when they realised there was no book about what women (or those who identify as women) think when they get dressed and/or shop for clothing.


As it isn’t one long story, it’s easy to dip in and out of, much as you’d dip in and out of the water at the beach while wearing a bikini over summer, which is what I did during a few days at Sorrento recently (no pics of me in said swimwear, but some shots of the sea and a prickly local here). But if you’re valiantly struggling through a list of summer’s top reads, you could always save it for later in the year and read it while wearing a coat and boots and waiting for the bus… or in your dressing gown as you cook your porridge… or dressed to the nines before a hot date… you get the picture.

Being just a little bit interested in clothing and fashion, I’ve really been enjoying finding out about other women’s thought processes, attitudes and approaches to fashion, so decided to answer three of the survey questions:

What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?

I admire women who look really sleek and groomed yet still natural and effortless, with not too much foundation or overdone hair but strong lipstick or eyes. I always feel like my hair lets me down or a bit of my eyeliner is smudged under my eye once I leave the house, so I admire anyone who can manage to hold it all together at a fancy event. On the other hand I also admire women who can look cool in sneakers and jeans or active wear as I don’t feel comfortable wearing casual gear like that in public.

What is your process getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?

There are soooo many factors that determine what I wear! Am I going to the office, and if so am I coming straight home or going to an event afterwards? Will I be driving part of the way or walking 20 minutes to get to the bus stop (and then travelling on three modes of public transport for a total of at least one and a half hours)? Will it get hot later in the day? Will it rain or get really cold? Is it very windy or might it be later? Should I take a larger bag than the one I really want to use so that I can fit my lunch box/spare flat shoes/heels for later in the day/jacket/jumper/coat? (Can you tell I live in Melbourne when I have to consider all these weather factors in the one day!?) Who am I meeting during the day? Am I feeling colourful or would a more neutral outfit better suit my mood? Do these shoes go with these pants/this skirt/this dress AND will they be comfortable for the entire day? Does my hair look OK down today or will the wind stuff it up/would it look better tied back if I want to wear those particular earrings/should I wear a headscarf to balance out the outfit and keep my hair off my face because I didn’t wash it the night before etc etc etc…. (it’s kind of amazing that I ever even leave the house given that these are just some of the things I have to think about every time I go out!)

Do you remember a time in your life when you dressed quite differently from how you do now? Can you describe it and what was it all about for you?

Before I went to work in Tokyo in 1998 my life was all about school and then uni, and most of my fashion ideas came from Dolly magazine, which I bought every month (I used to borrow Vogue and L’Officiel from the local library too). At uni, for some reason I tried to dress like the law students did at the time (even though I was doing arts!) in a semi-uniform of Levis 501s or bootcut jeans with Blundstone-type boots (mine were suede though) and a striped rugby shirt or a turtleneck jumper in the winter and a T-shirt in summer. Grunge had a bit of an influence on me too as I remember thinking beige cords and a pale blue fluffy cardigan from the opshop worn with a daisy-print T-shirt was pretty much the ultimate look! I also had a red knitted jacket that had been part of a twinset and I got it for $1 from a market and nipped in at the waist. I thought it was really cute but it probably just made me look like an old lady. That was probably when I really started customising my clothes though – it coincided with grunge making it OK to shop in opshops. Also fashion in Melbourne was so different back then, people were a lot more conservative and I don’t remember them wearing much colour or print, or maybe I just didn’t have the money to buy much that was interesting unless it was from opshops. Anyway until I got to Tokyo and started working in the fashion industry I don’t even know if I could say I had much of a sense of style, but I had enough to see that Australia was behind the times when it came to fashion. Every time I came home and told my friends what was trending they would laugh – but on my next visit a year later I’d see people wearing those trends in Australia. Although I never slavishly followed the trends, keeping up to date with catwalk looks was part of my job so it no doubt influenced me, but rather than walking into designer boutiques to buy new things every season I got more and more interested in making my own things and adapting what I found at markets and opshops. So I suppose Tokyo’s markets and opshops have had the biggest influence on shaping my style.

That’s more than I intended to write but once I started I couldn’t stop! If you’re interested in more of this kind of thing, you can read what other women have said (and you can even fill out a survey yourself if you like!) on the Women in Clothes site. Happy reading, at any time of year!