The Thoughtful Dresser, Linda Grant

| 20 January , 2010 | Reply

Guest Editor, Jane Rowley

You hear his key in the door and frantically look around for somewhere to stash the carrier bag.  “Damm that seductive shop with its ‘fifty percent off\’ sign.”  You know it\’s more than being a fashion industry pawn. When you see the perfect shoes or dress or coat, when you hold them and wear them, they define you.  Otherwise loving partners don\’t understand and their reactions range from a sneer to a raging inquisition.  They don\’t understand that clothes are a summary of yourself in this time and place and they are a portent of your future self.  But from now on you have ammunition; you can defend yourself against those that believe a love of clothes reveals a shallow, vain person with a moribund intellect.  Linda Grant author of The Thoughtful Dresser has the literary and intellectual clout to reinforce your pitiful, pleading, “&but I just had to have them.”

Books about fashion don\’t usually inspire nor do they touch our souls but Linda Grant has written a beautiful, lively book that celebrates fashion.  This is not fashion in the sense of haute couture and the details of rich and powerful fashionistas, rather it\’s a book about how fashion has transformed and even saved the lives of countless ordinary women.  Central to the book is the story of Catherine Hill, a paragon of fashion, who for years owned one of the best ‘dress shops\’ in Canada.  Catherine\’s story is one of triumph despite terrible abuse and ill-treatment: she is a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Her story is rich and beautiful.  Catherine\’s love of fashion has made her a standout all her life, even in ‘the camp\’.  Personally, I fell in love with Catherine the minute she said “never wear black.”  Black; the excuse those who can\’t be bothered use for being ‘well dressed\’!

Linda Grant swoops and dives around Catherine\’s story using it to illustrate wider themes. The time-line of Catherine\’s life provides more opportunities to light upon new or related topics; provided of course, that they\’re all about fashion.  From fashion history to what makes an outfit sexy, how department stores liberated women and fashion in the wake of 9/11, Grant covers a lot of ground. There\’s a whole chapter on handbags and the final chapter entitled “The Red Shoe” is a poignant and haunting finale. (It always seems red shoes become our requiem – the red shoes in Hans Christian Andersen\’s fairytale of the girl desperate to dance, the Wicked Witch of the East\’s red shoes in the Wizard of Oz or the impractical high heeled red shoes who\’s story Grant tells.)

Grant has been a fashion watcher, participator and celebrator since she was a child. In fact, she is the author of the popular blog,  She is also an award winning journalist and novelist.  She was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2008 for her novel The Clothes on Their Backs.  The Man Booker celebrates the “very best fiction book every year in the Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland.”  She also holds a Masters in English.  Now, you may be tempted to think all this would have gone to her head and therefore The Thoughtful Dresser will be a turgid intellectual piece that you wade through between head-snapping episodes of boredom induced sleep. It\’s not.  It\’s more like having a great coffee with a girlfriend who\’s passionate about her subject and who shares all the most interesting tit-bits. Grant also provides many well reasoned arguments for fashion and our abiding interest in clothes.  So, if your partner is anything like mine and regards your interest in fashion and clothes a frippery; bone up now.  Next time don\’t hide the carrier bag, hit him with your smarts and defend your love of fashion.  Linda Grant has your back.

Available now: Hachette RRP$32.99


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