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Our Lives Amongst Clothes
Eanna Morrison Barrs joins the Wearers Festival book club to discuss their latest pick, 'Patch Work: A Life Amongst Clothes' by Claire Wilcox.
In September, I joined the Wearers Festival book club session to discuss their latest pick: Patch Work: A Life Amongst Clothes by Claire Wilcox. This was the first event of a series, followed by a conversation with the author, and a creative writing workshop. The co-founders of Wearers Festival, Nao Zaragoza and Nessa Recine, moderated an intimate and friendly session for us to reflect upon the book and the significance of our lives amongst clothes.
Patch Work is an intimate memoir that puts worn clothing at the centre of each chapter. Wilcox shares her life story with sensorial observations of what she and the people around her wore. As Curator of Fashion at the V&A, Wilcox’s life is particularly bound to clothing and her observations about dress are particularly acute. As such, it was the perfect springboard to consider the personal memories imbued in what we wear.
Do you have any vivid memories of the clothes you have worn during your life?
I thought of my black leather jacket. It was made from soft lambskin and had quilted red lining. Purchasing it had been a momentous moment for me. It was a significant day in my life, as it was when I had decided to move to Stockholm. Everyone in Scandinavian needed a black leather jacket, I had thought. I had worn it during my first outings in the city. It had kept me warm as dark, cold nights set in. Now the lining was frayed, the leather softer.
What are your memories of working with clothes?
One of the reoccurring themes in Patch Work was the relationship between clothes and work. Wilcox describes several instances before joining the V&A when she washed and ironed clothes, packed lingerie, counted threads, and mended linens. It was as though these jobs prepared for the role she would later take on, enhancing her skills as a curator.
One women reflected on her work at a lingerie shop. She spoke of the valuable experience of seeing people act out the ritual of dressing and undressing, and the imposed intimacy she shared with customers.
Does travel inspire you to dress in a different way or to bring something back?
Yes. Just as my black leather jacket was suited to Stockholm, so was my Barbour to the English countryside. My Lululemon leggings were expected in Vancouver, but I wouldn’t dare venture out in them in Munich. Instead, formal blazers were being worn on rotation. All were impossible to let go of, as memories were trapped in the clothes I had worn. Memories of the person who had worn them.
Do you associate certain clothing with people in your life?
My mother’s vintage Chanel sunglasses came to mind. She was never without them. So did my ex-boyfriend’s holey cardigan, that I had been desperate to mend, but was never allowed.
Beyond these questions, further journeys into our memories of clothing were conducted throughout the session. Our free-flowing discussion was a testament to Wilcox’s ability to provoke deeper thought on the role of clothing in our lives. Her book encapsulates the relevance of dress, as something that is relatable to all humans. She shows that memories and meanings lie between the wear and tear of cloth.
Following the discussion of the book, I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in exploring memories through what they have worn. With these questions as prompts as you read, think about your life amongst clothes. What stories can you pull out of your wardrobe?
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