Yes, I did clean out my closet immediately after reading this book, but not because the author advised me to get rid of anything I haven’t worn in a year. You won’t find ubiquitous tips like that one in this book! What Dr. Baumgartner offers is a new way of looking at your wardrobe with an eye toward figuring out what the heck is going on inside that makes you hold on to that silk turquoise wrap skirt that you haven’t worn since 1996. (My closet is almost bare now and I have the perfect outfit for any occasion—unlike before I read the book, when clothes were jammed in so tightly I couldn't get a blouse off the rack without causing an avalanche, and yet I never had anything to wear!)
The author does offer a quick start with her Twenty Small Steps for Cleaning Out Yourself and Your Closet, but again—these aren’t the standard bits of advice that we find in magazines. Baumgartner breaks it down into baby steps, giving us lots of not-too-difficult things to think about as we go. A practicing clinical psychologist and wardrobe consultant, Baumgartner doesn’t sneer at our fashion flubs; her tone throughout the book is respectful, sympathetic, and nurturing.
“Most wardrobe mistakes,” Baumgartner explains, “have nothing to do with clothes but are almost always a symptom of a deeper issue.” Using case studies to illustrate her point, Baumgartner analyzes the reasons that we keep clinging to our wardrobe stash as well as the reasons that we keep dressing the same (and often inappropriate) way, no matter the changes in our age or lifestyle. Do we stick to jeans or sweats because we’re comfortable with that and too apathetic to try something new? Are we showing just a little too much, and if so—why? Are we sharing clothes with our teenage daughters? Are we swathing ourselves in designer labels?
Maybe you’re not sure whether you’re doing any of those things, but if you are, You Are What You Wear will make it perfectly clear to you. The profiles and explanations the author provides explain it in terms we can all understand, but if you want more in-depth analysis, there are also a number of citations for further study. There are as many reasons behind our clothing choices and missteps as there are individuals roaming the malls, but even that minor problem is covered; in Baumgartner’s appendix, you’ll find a Do-it-yourself Wardrobe Analysis—a five-step guide to sorting through whatever issues you have with your apparel and some gentle guidance for working through those issues.
In the grand scheme of things, baggy clothes may seem a terribly shallow concern. What Baumgartner helps us to understand, however, is that clothing is an outward manifestation of some inner turmoil. Getting to know ourselves better almost always makes us happier and better people. A year of non-stop meditation on a mountain top is one way to get there, but making peace with our closets is a fine first step. Why not let You Are What You Wear be your tour guide on the first part of the journey to self-acceptance?