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Autobiography of a Wardrobe
Synopses & Reviews
The wholly original story of a woman's life told from her wardrobe's point of view, in the wardrobe's own savvy, vibrant voice--a feat of the imagination as emotionally subtle and stirring as it is dazzlingly particular.
We first meet B., the wardrobe's owner, as a child in the buttoned-up Midwest of the 1950s, when "a vision of a saddle shoe" comes into her head and she discovers the urgency of all clothing dreams. We follow B. through her awkward, pudgy stage ("Here I must write about the stomach"); the indignity of camp shorts; her "adult figure arriv[ing] suddenly in 1963." The 1960s bring even bigger changes when B. goes off to Harvard, discards her girdle, and discovers... Marimekko! Miniskirts! Bell-bottoms!
Elizabeth Kendall's native intelligence and gift for storytelling entrance the reader, as the wardrobe charts the most important events in B.'s life and the outfits she assembles for each. We watch as B. copes with the untimely death of her mother; makes a go of magazine work--and glamour--in New York; and, after the inevitable false starts and wrong moves (including, of course, in her choice of clothing), finally comes into her own.
Part memoir, part fashion and cultural history of the last five decades, Autobiography of a Wardrobe is an exploration of the clothes each generation has embraced, the smallest details in which we are able to seek comfort and meaning, and the places and things--sometimes odd or unexpected--in which we store our memories.
"Having written a family memoir (American Daughter) and a study of women in screwball comedy (The Runaway Bride), Kendall now retells her own life — from the perspective of her omniscient wardrobe. 'Soundless and mute, but extremely expressive,' the wardrobe calls the author 'B,' for body: 'I am B.'s wardrobe, her ever-evolving second-skin.' Wardrobe opens by remembering a pair of red corduroy overalls B. loved as a toddler and continues with descriptions of B.'s Midwestern-girlhood clothes, followed by the outfits B. chose when she left home for Radcliffe. Finally, B. comes to know her place in the world and breaks through into self-confident dressing. Women of a certain age will recognize B.'s brand names (Lanz, Marimekko, Charivari) and styles (saddle shoes, bell bottoms, ponchos). Wardrobe's musings reveal how changing attitudes toward women's roles (needing makeup and heels to use the Harvard Library, the shunning of seductive clothing in feminist circles) kept women's closets bulging with outfits, while its asides on fashion history are often quite insightful. Still, this first-person narration by a collection of clothing can be annoying and affected. Ilene Beckerman's Love, Loss, and What I Wore, with its sparer prose and fetching illustrations, is a more successful memoir-through-clothing." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Autobiography of a Wardrobe is an entirely original story of a woman's life told from her wardrobe's point of view, in the wardrobe's own exquisitely controlled, savvy, slightly bitchy but always vibrant voice.
About the Author
Elizabeth Kendall is the author of Where She Dances, The Runaway Bride, and American Daughter, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker and The New York TImes, among other periodicals. In 2004-2005 she was a fellow at the Cullman Center of the New York Public Library, and in 2006 she received a Fulbright grant to do research in St. Petersburg, Russia. She lives in New York City.
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