Linda Grant, she who made the Booker short list with her novel, The Clothes on Their Backs, has a new, nonfiction book, The Thoughtful Dresser: The Act of Adornment, the Pleasures of Shopping, and Why Clothes Matter. This isn't a guide to how to dress or a humor piece on the shallowness of the fashion industry. It's a serious essay on the role of clothes in the building and sustaining of personality, especially for women. Here's an anecdote from WW II:
The Comtesse de Mauduit, an American who had hidden Allied airmen in her Brittany chateau, was denounced by her maid and deported to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. Returning to Paris after the liberation, she arrived still in her striped uniform but looking oddly elegant, for she had come across another inmate in the camp, a forewoman from the prewar house of Schiaparelli, who had remodeled the striped suit for her.
This is amusing but it tells us how vital looking good and wearing attractive clothes is to the self-image of women. Even in a situation as desperate as that of a concentration camp women will take time for adornment in the midst of the struggle just to stay alive.
Grant addresses what makes clothes sexy, the problem of invisibility facing women in their 50s and older, the reason modern shoes have 5-inch heels that make them excruciatingly painful and almost impossible to walk in. She illustrates her points about the importance of clothes with the story of a Canadian woman, Catherine Hill, whose dress shop was at one time the only place to buy high-end clothes in Toronto.
Grant's book is delightful but thought-provoking and I recommend it to any woman (or man) who cares in the least about fashion and the meaning it gives to the lives of most women, whether they recognize it or not.