How what we wear tells us about who we are

What are you wearing right now? Yes! It’s a personal question…but no, I don’t think this will all end up getting too risqué, unless of course, you want it to. 

Ok, I’ll go first – I’m wearing a black polo neck and black skinny jeans. The jeans I customised immediately by chopping off the ends - all very 2017-  but I still adore them, then the zipper broke, so in the spirit of all those rebel youths  who customised their denim in the sixties and my 2018 promise to myself, to not buy quite as many clothes, I just added a few more holes and latticed up the zipper with a simple black ribbon, voila!

In ‘An archive of everything worn to MoMA from November 1, 2017, to January 28, 2018’, artist, writer and editor Emily Spivack who has an ongoing fascination with how people wear, experience and recollect their lives through clothing - invited visitors to send a text message listing the clothing that they or their companions were wearing during their visit. I immediately liked this one from a fellow broken zipper sufferer…

4:43 PM JAN 28 2018
Red full length Uniqlo coat- I overdressed for the weather today. Black Uniqlo heat tech turtleneck - Winter uniform essential. Earth tone & indigo spectrum tribal/triangular/chevron print fanny pack - Zipper broke! Must fix. Cornfield camo pants - Rare pair. An excellent harlem street find. Wheat Timbs Sleek model, with thin sole. The NYC staple, remixed. Adulting.

Like a psychological experiment, you very quickly start to see patterns of similarity and differences. There’s the intriguing…

3:59 PM JAN 26 2018
My grandmother's jeans, black wool turtleneck tucked into them. A puffy black coat. White reeboks. Red lipstick and a black toque.

Grandma’s jeans!? And the more knowing types…

3:33 PM JAN 13 2018

As well as the candid…

6:46 PM JAN 12 2018
Brown and white, vertically striped, button up, long-sleeved shirt, brown/tan pants, plain grey sweatshirt (no words or logos), black scarf, blue hat that says "New York" because of course I am, I'm a tourist…

Emily Spivack has spent the last seven years interviewing people talking about their stuff. She asks people to ‘select a piece of clothing still in your possession with a compelling story behind it, whether something spectacular, unexpected, weird, wonderful or momentous happened while you were wearing it. And share what you remember.’ The Worn Stories project started as a website in 2010 where Spivack curated and published contributions from friends and strangers and from which she eventually developed her first book, published in 2014. 


Worn Stories are a shortcut to the personal, the poignant and the political. In the first edition there's an esteemed academic, Margaret D.Stetz who lectures in bunny ears, Ariel Schrag who bought a t-shirt, loved it, wore it, donated it to charity, and then comes across her friend Matt Wolf wearing it years later, ‘I felt stoned because he was wearing my shirt. It had been out of my life for a decade or two, but I knew it instantly.’ Or Greta Gerwig’s writing shirt, a soft button-down shirt, from an actor called David that she had had a crush on when she was 18 over a summer at a Vermont theatre and that she wears because “maybe wearing this shirt connects me with a part of my younger self that was incredibly emotional and vivid, and those feelings, combined with that sense of having a secret, is how I like to feel when I write.”

Spivack’s latest edition, Worn in New York, sets out to be a “contemporary cultural history of New York.” Here, clothing becomes a catalyst to explore personal stories within bigger New York narratives. Benjamin Liu, once Andy Warhol’s studio assistant, recalls how in his favourite Vivienne Westwood tank top and shorts, he’d head to Area nightclub:When I’d arrive at Area, I’d go straight to the bathroom — the place’s real VIP lounge…One night, Andy decided to set up a Polaroid studio in the women’s bathroom to shoot the most interesting, creative people in New York — not celebrities. One of the people I pulled for Andy was Stephen Gan, the co-creator of Visionaire. He was wearing a Gaultier man-skirt, and his look was brilliant. “Come with me,” I said. I pointed to Andy. “You’re going to be photographed by him.”  And then there’s the miraculous tale of Ben Bostic a passenger on Flight 1549: “I had been prepared to die, bracing for impact, knowing the plane was going to crash. I got real calm. The scariest part had been watching the left engine burn and waiting for the outcome. After we landed on the Hudson, I remember flipping my hands over, wiggling my fingers, and looking down at my feet. I was shocked that I was still in one piece. When the water started coming in, I noticed it almost immediately. We were tilted backward, which meant that water was filling up the back of the plane. My boots were already soaked. It was up to my ankles…”

This collective wardrobe of stories works too as a microcosm in which to view the idiosyncrasies of human nature. Film producer Alicia Van Couvering reflects on a childhood faze of shoplifting, through a stolen jumper, and the moment where she realised the harsh realities of how different people are discriminated against and criminalised more than others. And then, there’s a charming account of life from novelist Gay Talese, who endures and loves the things around him: ‘I’m a working writer, eighty-four, and my wife is a working editor, eighty-two. Our life together hasn’t changed. Why? Because I don’t want it to change. Because I like the way we did it originally and I like that I made the right decisions, even if nobody knows it or agrees with me. I have had to make certain concessions. But never did I sell out the suits, never did I sell out the car, never did I sell out the wife, never did I sell out the brownstone. When we first bought the building, we fixed it up like I fix up jackets, like this one, with only slight alterations from when I first bought them. It’s a locked-in love affair, a lifetime love affair with people, objects, and locations, and a memory that goes back for more than half a century with familiarity, satisfaction, and enduring commitment.”