The Thought­ful Dress­er: The Art of Adorn­ment, the Plea­sures of Shop­ping, and Why Clothes Matter

Lin­da Grant
  • Review
By – August 25, 2011

Lin­da Grant’s book is an attempt to prove that the pre­oc­cu­pa­tion and plea­sure women take in clothes is not a friv­o­lous pur­suit. She uses anec­dotes to explain how women’s inter­est in clothes is life assert­ing and affirm­ing and also his­tor­i­cal, insight­ful, and an impor­tant win­dow into the per­son. She begins pow­er­ful­ly by describ­ing a pair of red shoes” dis­played in the muse­um at Auschwitz and the con­tem­pla­tion that the jux­ta­po­si­tion of this set­ting cre­ates. And she ends her trea­tise with the won­der­ful affir­ma­tion of Cather­ine Hill, a sur­vivor who set­tles in Cana­da and through her inter­est, knowl­edge, and fash­ion skills is able to rein­vent her­self as a suc­cess­ful, respect­ed, and cel­e­brat­ed fash­ion authority.

Grant describes her own obses­sion with dif­fer­ent fash­ion styles through her life and how they reflect her men­tal and phys­i­cal state at the time. In more inter­est­ing chap­ters, she gives a his­tor­i­cal analy­sis of shop­ping begin­ning with the lib­er­a­tion of women from house­work to the cre­ation of mass man­u­fac­tur­ing and depart­ment stores. The depri­va­tion of World War I brought with it the cre­ation of com­fort dress­ing and lip­stick was giv­en to Bergen Belsen sur­vivors by the Red Cross to restore human­i­ty to women who had become mere num­bers. She also describes the great fash­ion hous­es such as Chanel and Dior.

And while Grant men­tions a woman for whom the acqui­si­tion of dress­es, shoes, hand­bags is an addic­tion, a nar­cis­sis­tic sub­sti­tute, feel­ing lone­ly with­out girl­friends,” Grant prefers to view clothes as a con­stant in our lives that give adorn­ment and plea­sure and sig­nal our place in the world as they send out high­ly impor­tant mes­sages about ourselves.

Karen J. Hauser received a B.A. in art his­to­ry from Stan­ford. She has worked at var­i­ous muse­ums and at Sothe­by’s and cur­rent­ly does com­mu­nal vol­un­teer work.

Discussion Questions