cover image Autobiography of a Wardrobe

Autobiography of a Wardrobe

Elizabeth Kendall, . . Pantheon, $20 (223pp) ISBN 978-0-375-42500-4

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. (May)