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.