"Women in Clothes" & Strawberry-Blackberry Turnovers
I was originally drawn to Women in Clothes because one of my best friends moonlights as a professional stylist. She devotes an incredible amount of time, analysis and energy into how she helps people dress like their best selves. I bought this book thinking I’d send my galpal this copy as soon as I was “done” with it. But after reading: no way! I’ll order her a copy of her own — this little lady is staying with me.
Women in Clothes isn’t something you hit and quit.
Don’t be discouraged by the forced, self-aware introduction by the authors (Spoiler alert: it’s a transcribed video chat in which authors Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton talk about themselves and their project. Oof.). What you’ll find in the following pages is modern ethnography meets conversations with your best girlfriends after a few glasses of wine meets The New Yorker. Like a killer outfit, this book’s composition is what makes it great. It samples a smattering of forms: surveys, conversations, poems, projects, essays on dressing, collections (photos of garments), wear areas (maps of what individuals think about their bodies), and compliments.
The authors engage a wide swath of women in this work — we hear from some fashion “experts,” but for the most part the women who respond to surveys and projects are normal (albeit artistic-skewing) people from all over the world. They weigh in on everything from thoughts on breasts to how smell affects their attire. This is not a book about dressing “right.” Even the experts seem totally non-judgmental. In one conversation, fashion designer Mona Kowalska is quoted:
“Rarely do I give advice like ‘You should wear this with this,’ because I don’t know. I don’t know what people should wear. You don’t know about people’s lives.”
Revelations here range from serious and self-reflective to quirky and light-hearted. One prompt asks women to send in pictures of their mothers and describe what they see in that photo. We learn things like how one mother wouldn’t dress her daughter in chartreuse because it reminded her of the vomit she experienced when she worked as a stewardess. On the other hand, we read many regrets that mothers didn’t stay as optimistic and unburdened as their were in their youths.
The lighter details and the heavier ones all ladder up to some real, nuanced insights about female behavior. What we wear matters — whether it’s from Urban Outfitters or our grandmothers’ jewelry boxes — because it encapsulates part of who we are and who we want to be. It’s impossible not to think about your own wardrobe, history and quirks while reading Women in Clothes — I thought about my inflexible philosophy that underwear should be crazy colors, I wondered why some t-shirts are crafted so much better than others, I recalled the floral print I wore the first time I met my dude, and that later that same evening it was complimented by a Playboy bunny. I even got a little teary. I’m telling ya, this is a great book.
In one survey a woman describes meeting some girls in China who spent days upon days embroidering gorgeous belts and coats. She notes,
“Before, I’d always thought being overly interested in fashion and spending a lot of time, money, and effort on looking good was frivolous and to be avoided. After that…I decided that dressing up was an essential, human, female behavior and that it turned life into a celebration.”
Amen to that!
At 514 pages and about 225 pieces of individual content, this is not a book you need to read cover to cover or even linearly. Just peek in and you’ll enjoy a sampling of prose as diverse and beautiful as a street full of storied, unique women.
For Women in Clothes, I decided it would be appropriate to “outfit” a beautiful canvas. My boyfriend Dan and I visited our favorite famers’ market this weekend and got quite a haul. One highlight included the season’s last blackberries. They are delightful but need to dress sweetly to complement their extreme tartness. Here we’re softening them up with some other berries and wrapping them in a luxurious, flattering pie crust.
Makes 4 turnovers
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 1/2 cups strawberries
- 1/8 cup sugar (perhaps a bit more depending on your sweet tooth)
- 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
- pinch salt
- 1/2 cup blackberries
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 refrigerated pie crust (store-bought or you can make your own!)
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add strawberries and cook until soft, then mash up a bit with a fork or potato masher.
In a little bowl, mix together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt.
Add the blackberries, lemon juice, and sugar mixture to the skillet. Bring to a gentle boil. Stir slowly and consistently for about three minutes, until the juices have thickened. Feel free to give your blackberries a slight mash.
Take piping-hot fruit mixture off the heat and pour it on a plate. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Cut pie crust into quarters.
Divide fruit mixture evenly, placing about 2 tablespoons into the center of each pie-crust quarter. Fold the crust in half over the filling. Seal the edges with a fork.
Arrange turnovers on an ungreased baking sheet, then brush the top of each with a little bit of beaten egg. Slice a 1-inch slit (you can get creative if you like — lightning rods or x’s) in each.
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Let cool a few minutes (not optional — ouch!), then serve with ice cream (optional but encouraged).