Clothes… and things that matter by Alexandra Shulman
The clothes that we own can bring back memories of past events, times in our lives, places we wore them. When that includes handbags, underwear, shoes, hats and even jewellery, there are so many memories. In addition they may make us think of the bigger picture, what certain items symbolise in the fashion trends, the nature of society and women’s relationship with what they choose to wear. Not all of us are that interested, clothes do not dominate our lives, we may even struggle to remember certain items. That is not the case with the author of this book. She was the editor of British Vogue for some years, and worked with the most significant designers in Britain and beyond. Her work with many people, including royalty, revolved around dressing for effect at many special and newsworthy events.
In this book Shulman opens with a list of the contents of her wardrobe and cupboards. It is an extensive list, at least by my standards, which includes twenty-two coats, thirty-five dresses, and thirty-seven handbags. She then looks at some of the sections of clothes and items which dominate her thoughts. With the aid of specific memories of wearing clothes, the influences that made the style significant and well placed photographs, Shulman tells tales of clothes and more over her life time. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this special book.
The Preface acknowledges that the recent months have been very different in our relationship with clothes. Working from home, staying inside and the cancellation of events has led to a reduction in the number and variety of clothes that we have chosen. Throughout the book Shulman expands on how particular items of clothing had a significance at a specific time. I think it would be fair to say that she has enjoyed a privileged lifestyle living in an expensive part of London. An early chapter recalls how she would be taken to Harrods for her school shoes, which she then expands to a look at shoes generally, and how certain shoes have had psycological effect on the wearer. The red shoes of the chapter title are seen as an important lift to the spirits. A particular jumper, oversized and relaxing, brings back memories of a potentially dangerous situation for her teenage self. Her section on handbags is not only informative on how they became desirable and fashionable objects, but also how they represented the discovery of freedom for women from the home in past centuries. Her section on “Rags and Feathers” introduces the topic of second hand clothing, but does not really expand on how it is important to enviromental issues that clothing is worn and reworn, passed on and not carelessly disposed of, maybe even given a second life with a new owner. Having said that, she does suggest that many of her clothes have been worn a lot, sometimes beyond the particular time for which they were chosen. She does tend towards to name drop designers and celebrities that she has met in the course of her working and social life. She is honest about mistakes, and how she has bought clothes because of some unachievable concept of how they will make her feel and look.
This is a wide ranging book which reveals much about the clothes that the author owns and remembers throughout her life. She is honest in that she is not a model, and that some clothes have not worked for her. She also notes that her relationships have not always been easy or happy, but that she has tried hard to fulfil expectations. This is a fascinating book in many ways, full of details of clothes, fashions, influences and social movements. Anyone who has ever looked at the clothes they have worn over the years and wondered why they were are popular will find much to interest them in this book.