Jenny Diski’s Shoes
But it isn’t really fashion that has such a hold on me. It is (like the ultimate book in my head, which is storyless, characterless and perfect) an image, without any detail, of the perfect outfit, the one that slips over my frame and drapes itself around my contours in a way that finally defines me — look, this is what I am — just as my flesh defines the boundaries between myself and the world. And it’s a private thing essentially, not primarily about being seen in or envied for a fashionable look: indeed, I generally imagine wearing these incomparable outfits in the privacy of my own home. It’s stuff to sit on the sofa with that I’m after first of all; then it’s OK to go out and flaunt the frocks. Fashion statements and identity statements are much of a muchness as far as I’m concerned. To look like, to feel like and to be like are as close as flesh and bone.
After reading this interview with Jenny Diski in The Guardian yesterday, I fell down a bit of a Jenny Diski rabbit hole; is there any other kind? Her 2002 essay on fashion as art, as a practicality, as an identity, and even as a kind of unwanted charity, is the kind of fashion writing I live for.
Last month I was doing a kind of personal inventory on the fashion books that have come out this year, and I suppose the most notable (besides the book I worked on, lol hi guys) was Women in Clothes, a book I and many other women contributed to. 639 women, according to the cover! The book is long, and dense, and not really meant to be read in one sitting; it’s intended to be, I think, a collective journal, something you can pick up and flip through and read one small piece before putting it down until next time.
A frequent compliment I’ve heard is that Women in Clothes is a book “not for fashion people.” That “anyone can love it.” It’s not a pretentious coffee table book, designed for looks. I know that part of the inspiration was the lack of smart, accessible, inquisitive fashion writing that takes as its main subject the universality of clothes; the fact that, no matter how you feel about Fashion with a capital F, you will have to get dressed if you want to go outside and tell people those feelings.
I really love the idea of expanding our understanding of what fashion writing has to be, of who an appropriate fashion writer is; less so the idea that fashion is a medium best served not by experts or those most excited by it, because those people infuse it with too much meaning, too much love, too much respect. I disagree, obviously!! The best fashion writing is the best writing that takes fashion as its primary inspiration, full stop. We all get dressed; we all put some level of thought and care into how we get dressed, especially the people who say “I don’t think about clothes at all,” because that’s a conscious choice as well; and we’re all caught on this same conscious/subconscious loop that builds connections between fabrics and feelings whether we want them or not. Here’s the sweater I wore when this happened, here’s the skirt I took off when that happened, etc. etc. Here are the shoes that a twelve-year-old Jenny Diski refused to wear because she just couldn’t. Here’s a piece of writing that takes clothing as its primary subject and uses fashion to discuss so much more. Why are you even still reading this? Here’s what you should be reading.
But then come back and tell me if you have a story about refusing to wear an ugly pair of shoes, ok?