One of my favourite books about clothes is Emily Spivack’s Worn Stories.
Spivack, an artist, curator and university teacher, became interested in used clothes after she took students to a thrift store warehouse in Brooklyn. As she and her class watched some of the truckloads of second-hand clothes variously sorted and priced, stored or sent away to be compressed into thousand-pound cubes of waste, she wondered: Who had worn the garment before it was donated? Where had it been? What was the previous owner like?
Her wonderings led on to further thinking about the clothes that were never given away. Some clothes in particular store memories and meanings. We are reluctant to part with these old but significant garments. They hang in wardrobes, shoved to the back of drawers and are packed in boxes and stored away.
Spivack asked friends and people she admired to tell her about a favourite piece of clothing. Her instructions were simple:
Select a piece of clothing still in your possession with a compelling story behind it, whether something unexpected, spectacular, weird or wonderful or momentous happened while you were wearing it. And share what you remember. (p. 6)
I wondered about this exercise and decided to do it.
I noticed immediately that I have none of my school leader clothes left. Not a one. I was just like Marie Stubbs who gleefully sent her headteacher clothes off to the charity shop when she retired. I also got rid of my headteacher jackets and heels as soon as I could.
However, I have kept some school t-shirts and windcheaters from the schools where I worked. Perhaps the most precious of these, and the one I’d have chosen for Spivack, is a t-shirt from my first headship, an alternative community school. I designed and silkscreened the t-shirts myself with the kids.
The t-shirt is a bit stained and remarkably small – I am sure it has shrunk a lot. I’ve carried it with me for many years, never worn it since leaving the school and I really don’t know what to do with it. I just can’t bear to part with it. The t-shirt is, just as Spivack said, associated with a particular time in my life, in a way that official leader clothes could never be.
But I’m curious, do other people have school or leadership clothes that they would never give away? And could Amanda and I produce a book like Worn Stories about a wardrobe associated leadership memory where something unexpected, spectacular, weird or wonderful or momentous happened while you were wearing ‘it’?
What do you think? Would you read a book about worn clothes associated with leading?
PS. If you are interested in Spivack’s work find her on wornstories.com