A dedicated follower of fatuousness

Linda Grant has written a book about clothes. The only problem is, it's awful. What on earth was going on in her head as she wrote it?
May 3, 2009
"A correct view of the new machine for winding up the ladies," anon, circa 1830
The Thoughtful Dresser
By Linda Grant (Virago, £11.99)

Hello. My name is Linda Grant and I've been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. I remember getting ready for the announcement of the 2008 Man Booker Prize. For which I was shortlisted. The only woman. I took a sea-green dress and high heels along to a designer friend of mind and he was like, Linda, are you sure? And it really got me thinking. Now, I've written a book about clothes, books, and other matters.

(1) Sometimes I wake up knowing I have to buy a red scarf. That's the best thing about being a writer: you can splurge off-peak. But all of life is like that if you think about it. Mystical. Full of memories and sadness. Lovers, and brave people in death camps who tied ribbons into their hair to look nice. The bravest woman I ever met survived Auschwitz then opened a boutique in Toronto. Gianfranco Ferré visited and sat sketching for hours over a brioche. Knowing how to put together a chic look in sportswear outstrips death. It takes the pain away.

(2) I'm all for modern and totally agree that rappers have the edge when it comes to glamour, but I find myself having most of my thoughts about the past. I used to be thin and had hennaed hair. I lived on an island in the middle of the Thames wearing a pair of pink wedges. God I loved those shoes. When they died it was exactly like losing a lover. I also had a turquoise jumper that used to ride up and show my midriff when I stretched. I've still got it. It's not really all that to look at, it's not cashmere or anything. I keep my cashmere in zippered plastic bags because of the moths. Such pests! I love my jumpers. I miss my tummy.

article body image

(3) Oh, clothes, clothes. Clothes have been a constant in our lives since we lost our fur. They are a means of expressing what we want to be. If a man is drunk on the street we ignore him, but if he is naked he gets arrested. It's funny. I could write my whole autobiography in terms of analysing my clothes from birth to present, but I won't because I'm not that interested in myself.

(4) I'm not attempting to offer a theory of fashion or anything—we're just chatting here—but sometimes I do get quite dicked off, particularly with people who say that fashion is frivolous. Did Roland Barthes think it was frivolous? Did Denis Diderot? He loved his dressing gown!

(5) In some ways fashion is more political than politics. To be honest, my own response to the news of the attacks on America was a stunned uncomprehending incredulity. Seven years later, I went online and asked what people over there were wearing. Amazing how fashionable people can be when they are being murdered. Another time I went to a Vogue sample sale in aid of the relief of the Turkish earthquake and Alexandra Schulman told me to buy a blood red Luella bag. Another favourite bag was ruined by the rain in Budapest and I had to throw it away. That was sad. Time passing is so sad. Clothes mark out periods in our lives. There are unfulfillable dreams. It's mystical.

(6) When I was writing this book I found that paragraphs starting with "The Old Testament holds many fascinating accounts of what Bronze Age peoples wore" were particularly calming to write because I do so want to be useful. Because fashion is so confusing, and the word "peoples" has tremendous authority.

(7) "Classic Levi 501's are indeed both modern and classic." God fashion is complicated. But simple too. It's weird. Catherine Deneuve can look ravishingly beautiful in a sack whereas Victoria Beckham wouldn't ever. At the end of the day I guess it's not the dress that's sexy, it is the person in the dress. The trick is to always make an effort and project fabulous. Speaking of fabulous, if you go onto my blog you can see a photograph of the Fowey waterfront where I am going to write my new novel, and it's completely gorgeous.

(8) Why did the woman in that book I've just read have to have a Dior dress even though she was a cleaner and had no money? Is fashion a capitalist plot? The answers may be more metaphysical than psychological. They may even be existential. I'll have a think when I go to Fowey and keep you posted. Oh, it's been such a lucky life! But I just so want to be helpful to the peoples.

* This text has been modified from the version that appeared in print *