Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style

Image of Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style
Release Date: 
June 20, 2015
W. W. Norton & Company
Reviewed by: 

What should occur to the more savvy reader is that Cintra Wilson has a very “Vreelandesque” way of looking at style and fashion and how they can be defined and explained. The realization happens even before you get to the meat of the book as she really explains herself within the introduction. In essence the groundwork is set up almost immediately.

“Style can liberate you or enslave you. . . . style has no rules . . . style is the collision point between our fantasies of who we are and the way we are perceived.”

Wilson is a bit more intellectual and personal in her approach but no less engaging than Mrs. Vreeland’s highly exaggerated hyperbolic opinions and observations on the subject. In a way Wilson’s appraisals are possibly more modern or more 21st century, for lack of a better descriptor. One of the wisest and most definitively astute statements comes out of this unbelievably well written introduction: “Fashion only turns you into a victim when it bullies, conceals, and exploits you.”

After this build up, one would think that here is an epic “tale” of fashion and style. It is not so! Wilson is a hugely skilled writer and storyteller who seemingly cannot decide whether or not this is the story of her life or a treatise on dressing well or how one goes about building a personal style. There are times when the reader might feel this is a case of TMI or too much information and a lot it too personal for the topic. Frankly, the “story” is rife with tangents of all sorts.

Wilson’s accounting on the backgrounds in what or how influences our clothing choices and style becomes part sociological, psychological, personal, anthropological, historical, and quite opinionated.  Sometimes these thoughts are complete with sweeping generalities and possible misconceptions about people and their behavioral patterns. The reader might find some of this to be quite offputting given a bit of the author’s personal reactions and definitions when it pertains to a certain type of person i.e. the ex-military turned executive.

Without pressing the point too much further, Wilson clearly needs to get her facts straight when it comes to speaking or writing of fashion. Yes, she has the resume, but no one of this generation has even used these two words linked together: gown store!  Really? Small things like this are most annoying and then there is the swooning she indulges in when discussing Maxfield in Los Angeles. Yes, the store belongs to Tommy Perse; yes, he was a retail pioneer; but no, he has not functioned as a buyer for many years; and no, the store is no longer an oasis of only niche brands. The takeaway is simply get it right or don’t bother.

Rather than going on and on, the feeling is that the title and/or introduction is extremely misleading. The book is entertaining but not necessarily because it is devoted to fashion and style. Fear and Clothing reads more like a journal based on the author’s travels with a fashion tangent. Wilson seems to have this need to analyze and dissect her observations as if they were etched in stone or are original thoughts—and that’s where the book goes wrong.