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Autobiography of a Wardrobe Hardcover – April 29, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Having written a family memoir (American Daughter) and a study of women in screwball comedy (The Runaway Bride), Kendall now retells her own life—from the perspective of her omniscient wardrobe. Soundless and mute, but extremely expressive, the wardrobe calls the author B, for body: I am B.'s wardrobe, her ever-evolving second-skin. Wardrobe opens by remembering a pair of red corduroy overalls B. loved as a toddler and continues with descriptions of B.'s Midwestern-girlhood clothes, followed by the outfits B. chose when she left home for Radcliffe. Finally, B. comes to know her place in the world and breaks through into self-confident dressing. Women of a certain age will recognize B.'s brand names (Lanz, Marimekko, Charivari) and styles (saddle shoes, bell bottoms, ponchos). Wardrobe's musings reveal how changing attitudes toward women's roles (needing makeup and heels to use the Harvard Library, the shunning of seductive clothing in feminist circles) kept women's closets bulging with outfits, while its asides on fashion history are often quite insightful. Still, this first-person narration by a collection of clothing can be annoying and affected. Ilene Beckerman's Love, Loss, and What I Wore, with its sparer prose and fetching illustrations, is a more successful memoir-through-clothing. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"This is a book to devour with great pleasure, as it brings back our own reactions to youth's wardrobe: saddle shoe lust and, for me, in Brooklyn rather than in the Midwest, a decade earlier, bobby socks and penny loafers. But the passion is the same in every period: no one has gotten at the intense importance of these issues in the feminine bildungsroman. Kendall has given us something wonderful."
--Linda Nochlin, author of Bather, Bodies, Beauty

"A writer of deep and delicious gifts, Elizabeth Kendall now gives us a subtle, original riff on the clothes we wear. Clothes may not make the man or woman, but they certainly make this book. It is at once whimsical and profound."
--Catharine Stimpson, University Professor and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science, New York University

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375425004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375425004
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,511,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm a Non-Fiction writer, who's explored several genres of this interestingly catchall category: narrative history, research-based memoir and a more fanciful kind of memoir. My fifth and newest book, BALANCHINE AND THE LOST MUSE, is maybe my favorite. It sent me deep into Russian archives, to find out how the great dance-maker Balanchine discovered his art, during the crazy years of the Russian revolution. And to find out if his young, gifted ballerina friend was murdered, and of so, why. I grew up in St. Louis. I live in New York City. I teach literature and writing to the very interesting students of Eugene Lang College of New School -in Greenwich Village.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on July 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
If your wardrobe could talk, what would it say about you? Author Elizabeth Kendall tells the story of B., her evolving self, by creating a delightful narrator--Wardrobe.

In the first chapter, "How I Was Born," Wardrobe says: "I came into being in the last moments of that two-centuries-old institution called Childhood, in which everything was ironed: collars, sashes, sailor suits. Nowadays it's different."

Elizabeth Kendall rebelled against the Country Club look her parents loved. At twelve, she saw in a store window a new kind of dress. It was sleeveless red coral with a dropped waist and white piping, just like the dress she'd seen in Mouseketeer Magazine!

Wardrobe's report of the incident: "The only problem: the mother recoiled from the red coral dress. 'It's brassy,' she said. 'It's not,' said B. 'It's...modern. And if I don't get it, I can't be myself.'"

And so the story goes. Kendall gives us vivid descriptions of her various careers--fashion designer, dancer, writer, Parisian bohemian--and the way they were reflected in her clothing, all through the voice of Wardrobe. It is clever writing, and for someone like me who spends far too much time searching for "the right look" for every occasion, it was a delightful read that made me laugh at myself.

I also enjoyed the book as a study of a unique way to write about one's life. My own writing may have improved a notch or two from having observed Kendall's skillful style.

by Donna Van Straten Remmert
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on May 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Autobiography of a Wardrobe is just that-"a tale told from the point of view of one woman's Wardrobe, as if it were a person (hence the logic of capitalizing the word Wardrobe through out this review). Wardrobe imparts to the reader the story B, of her owner, with all of her hand-me-down and retail mishaps, as well as successes, recorded for posterity.

Most women will easily relate to the confusion in our early fashion lives as we were dressed by those who nurtured and cared for us. From Wardrobe's descriptions, you sense that B was at the hands of well-meaning relatives who wanted to imprint their style onto a young B, without consideration for her desires.

Wardrobe describes B's teen years as a hit-and-miss proposition, although she purchases her first true classic, a raw silk dress and tiny gold earrings. It is a hint of the woman emerging from the cocoon of childhood.

As B matures, Wardrobe describes her life as continuing to be a haphazard fashion free-for-all, but a chance purchase of a sweater-jacket gives B a polished look that gets her a job with Conde Nast. It is the beginning of B's career as a writer, which will take her around the world in both words and fashion. A love of dance brings B to her true passion as a writer, and Wardrobe is soon filled with pieces that reflect a tribute to dancers both past and present.

The book goes quickly but feels a bit rushed at the end, as if Wardrobe suddenly missed the peace and quiet of a dark calm space in which to "hang" out.

For fashionistas, or anyone whose ever searched through the racks at Bloomingdales for the perfect little black dress, this is a must read.

Armchair Interviews says: Fun chick lit all will enjoy.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Heather A. Teysko VINE VOICE on October 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Reading this book was a wonderful experience, especially for someone who religiously saves clothes - as well as makeup and lotions - as a diary of what was going on in my life at the time I wore it. I loved the descriptions, I loved the idea, I basically loved the whole thing. Original idea, and wonderful writing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Bullington on June 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I loved how this book looked at a person's history from a unique point of view: i.e. that person's wardrobe. It was a really interesting way of detailing how, from childhood on, what women wear can affect and reflect how they feel about themselves and how they are at a certain point of time. The woman's wardrobe isn't the same generation as mine, but I could still relate to all kinds of examples in the book, from a well-loved childhood outfit to a rebellious dress bought as an adult during an assertion of independence.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Catherine Smith on December 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The author's unique contribution to literature is to tell the story of an interesting, vulnerable, artistic woman from the point of her constant companion: her wardrobe. I am about 10 years younger than the writer but from a similar Midwestern upbringing, and East Coast college experience and I thought she captured some really classic tales that many of us experienced. I couldn't put this book down. It was a moving and engaging story that made me laugh and cry and smile.
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