'Fear and Clothing' unbuckles US fashion 1 belt at a time

AP News
Posted: Sep 08, 2015 10:33 AM
'Fear and Clothing' unbuckles US fashion 1 belt at a time

"Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style" (W.W. Norton and Co.), by Cintra Wilson

Author Cintra Wilson takes a studious peek under the veil (or pinstriped suit, as it were) to expose the implications beneath the clothes we wear in "Fear and Clothing." While traveling across mountains, cornfields, shorelines and cities, Wilson explores America's belts: cotton, rust, Bible, sun, frost, corn and gun, unbuckling them one by one.

In a jaunt through Utah she likens women's headbands to halos. While rubbing elbows with the wealthy at the Kentucky Derby, she unpacks the correlation between seat prices and dress choices (the cheaper the seats, the tighter the garb). In Washington, D.C., we learn the deeper meaning behind why a group of female protesters wearing tutus are frequently ignored (they unfortunately resemble little girls interrupting daddy at work). With each city, Wilson encounters new trends to decode and characters to critique.

Interwoven throughout the text is the author's own fashion journey. She takes us along the streets of San Francisco where meth, club kids and drag queens influence her wardrobe choices, to a yearlong stint in Los Angeles, where the City of Angels sinks its claws into the writer's closet. Finally, after moving to New York and sporting an emphatically wrong ensemble one fateful night while going out with new friends to hear a band, everything goes black. Thus ensues a half-hearted quest to give her sinister, spiked and zippered wardrobe a break, prompting Wilson to seek advice from the stylish folks she meets across the country.

Finally, we are left with a thoughtful commentary regarding the apparent standstill in which fashion currently finds itself. Gone are the days of sharp new trends changing the look of a generation. Replacing them are the styles we've seen recycled for decades, only void of the political provocation that originally produced them.

With biting prose and keen insight into the psychology of dress, "Fear and Clothing" will inspire some readers to cautiously open their closet doors and examine what's inside. Think your clothes express general competency mixed with a hint of unique personality? Unless you're the Wyoming cowboy that Wilson spies in a secondhand apparel shop donning rubber work boots and a silk kerchief held in place by an antler, think again. Your clothes are telling; make sure they're telling the right story.