Dressed: The Secret Life of Clothes by Shahidha Bari - review by Lucy Moore

Lucy Moore

You Are What You Wear

Dressed: The Secret Life of Clothes


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A telling French phrase to describe a girl who has lost her virginity is elle a vu le loup (‘she has seen the wolf’). This is just one of the many delectable facts waiting to be discovered in Shahidha Bari’s Dressed. It comes as part of a discussion about Little Red Riding Hood in a chapter entitled ‘Fur, Feathers and Skin’. To give a sense of Bari’s cultural range, her other reference points include Anna Karenina’s fur cloak, Rubens’s sexy Helena Fourment in a Fur Wrap (with asides on how Titian and El Greco handled similar subjects), Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, the 1925 film Joyless Street, in which the young Greta Garbo is caught between poverty and prostitution, and Angela Carter’s dark and glittering fairy tales. (I was sorry there was no mention of Meret Oppenheim’s erotically surrealist fur cup and saucer, or of Roald Dahl’s bewitching reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood as an avaricious prepubescent assassin.)

In Dressed, Bari, a cultural historian, tackles an immense subject: the clothes we choose to wear and why and how we wear them. As she puts it in her introduction, ‘Clothes tell our stories, some that we would rather not tell, others that we hardly know ourselves.’ The book is

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