Ten years ago Linda Grant wrote a book called The Thoughtful Dresser, The Art of Adornment, the Pleasures of Shopping, and Why Clothes Matter, which gives us permission to enjoy being fashionable without being burdened by the guilt and sin of vanity. Grant’s book was recommended by Sue Burpee in her High Heels in the Wilderness fashion blog which is an excellent resource for baby boomer women. Grant, who grew up in Liverpool, and received her university education at Canada’s McGill in Montreal and Simon Fraser in Vancouver has given me a fresh perspective on loving fashion and what we wear. Significantly, she is of our generation, a baby boomer. Her observations, experiences, and tastes are highly relatable. According to Grant, “You should not look to me for a lesson in style and taste. I am more interested in how clothes and fashion make us feel.” I like that.
What also attracted me to this book when I read about it on Sue Burpee’s blog is that it dedicates considerable print space to the late Catherine Hill who passed away recently in Toronto. Ms. Hill was an Auschwitz survivor and with her innate fashion instincts built her successful Chez Catherine retail business in Toronto’s carriage trade destination, Hazelton Lanes, and Palm Beach, Florida which she oversaw for thirty years. Ms. Hill introduced Armani, Ferré, Versace, and other world-class European designers to the Canadian market. Coincidently, my brother dated her daughter Stefanie for a couple of years when they both attended the University of Toronto in the seventies. I only met Catherine Hill once, walking on Bloor Street with Stefanie, and, sadly, the luxuries offered in her shop were beyond my budget.
I highly recommend reading Linda Grant’s book. I loved her philosophy about the importance of enjoying fashion and affirming its importance in our sense of self-esteem and well-being. I read it the first time in such a hurry that I didn’t even take time to use Post-Its to mark multiple pages that spoke to me. I turned down the corners as I went along, which is a huge no-no for purist book lovers. Grant describes her own journey into loving fashion and you’ll enjoy the humorous references to her early missteps and mistakes. Living in London in the swinging sixties she was one of the first in line to get the new five-point Sassoon haircut, to make a skirt out of a tie-dyed Indian bedspread, and to avail herself of all the delights offered in the trendy Biba store.
I’m not going to divulge everything she says in the book but here are a few of her observations that I particularly liked:
- Clothes matter: we care about what we wear, and not caring is usually a sign of depression, madness, or the resignation to our imminent death.
- Shopping is (well, it used to be before COVID) a meditation, a frame of mind, a therapy, a balm for the troubled soul . . . it is akin to spending an hour or so in The National Gallery, wandering from room to room and educating one’s eye.
- On dressing ‘sexy’. It’s like following a mime script, one written by a middle-aged man. Not real.
- We often become emotionally attached to certain items of clothing and parting with them is like an amputation. She recalls a pair of pink suede wedge shoes she bought in the seventies that have retained a special place forever in her heart.
Grant likens a love of fashion with a love of pleasure, “and pleasure is not rational, for we do not choose to eat, say, a chocolate éclair with the aim of fulfilling our daily calorie quota.” I particularly liked her statement, “It is pointless fashion, not pointless cuisine, that gets the moralist’s goat, and you would have to be pretty dim not to sniff the stench of misogyny that surrounds their outrage.” Go, Linda. Make it a feminist issue. She addresses the invisibility we feel as ageing boomers and encourages us to ignore the ignorers and step out looking and feeling magnificent. I enjoyed her wise quote from ancient Epictetus who died in 55 A.D. “Know first who you are; then adorn yourself accordingly.”
One of the challenges of dressing as baby boomer women is the invisibility factor. The fashion industry ignores us. People on the street ignore us. But that doesn’t mean we do not care about how we present ourselves. In fact, it’s perhaps more important now that we no longer have youth on our side that we indulge our love of fashion with colour, style and flair unique to each of us. Dressing to feel spectacular is uplifting and joyful. Just trot out in a dynamite new pair of shoes and you’ll understand the feeling. By the way, like Grant, I’m not a fan of ballerina flats. She finds the thin-soled shoes without arch supports send shockwaves up her spine and I agree.
It’s a tough slog trying to find clothing that matches our diverse yet specific needs, wants and tastes, but perseverance pays off. I’ve listed a few of my favourite fashion inspiration sites in the “My Favourite Things – Fashion” section of my blog and “Links I Like” accessible in the menu at the top of the page. Be sure to add comments about particular brands or fashion designers you like at the bottom of this posting. Let’s share.
The Thoughtful Dresser is not a “How To” book. She does not tell us how to dress for our body type not does she try to denigrate our individual taste in fashion in any way. She endorses our individual love of fashion and the clothes we chose to wear and helps us see our way through the good, the bad, and the ugly of our fashion choices. Whether we shop in charity shops, consignment shops, online, high street chain stores, or elite high fashion design houses, we’re all entitled to love what we wear and feel magnificent. It’s kind of an anthropological study of clothing and fashion over the last seventy years. There are just so many things I loved about this book and I’m glad I bought the hard copy. I’ve already started reading it again, flagging and annotating pages with my yellow highlighter pen as I go. This book is a keeper.
If The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant is not available at your local bookstore or library, you can order it for only $16.83 Cdn from Amazon by clicking on the image of the book.
Disclosure: If you order from this link I may receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thanks for your support.