Writing about clothes from the London Review of Books
‘I don’t know when I’ll be going, but at least now I know what I’ll be wearing.’ – Elaine Showalter
Virginia Woolf coined the phrase ‘frock consciousness’ in January 1925. Speculating in her diary about women and their clothes, she wrote: ‘my love of clothes interests me profoundly only it is not love; and what it is I must discover.’ As a subject, dress and its meanings has come and gone over the years, and it took history a long time to catch up with Woolf’s insights. In the 1980s, binary opposites – left and right, modernism and postmodernism – had yet to lose their grip, and a subject as delicate as the meaning of clothes could not easily get a purchase; ‘Nobody who feels superior to fashion can write well about it,’ observed Angela Carter in the LRB in 1985. Eventually, the brakes came off and the chorus became, instead, ‘yes, but is it art?’ It is, is this collections’ conclusion – but it’s also much more interesting than that.
Featuring: Joanna Biggs, Anita Brookner, Angela Carter, Jenny Diski, Rosemary Hill, Anne Hollander, Kevin Kopelson, David Nasaw, Elaine Showalter, Alice Spawls and E.S. Turner.