Sunday, March 5, 2023

Weekend Review: Worn


Worn: A People's History of Clothing / Sofi Thanhauser
NY: Pantheon, c2022.
304 p.

When I recently read and reviewed The Fabric of Civilization recently (which I enjoyed) I also asked readers for suggestions for a similar book that would cover more than European history. Reader M-C recommended this title, and they were spot on with this one. I loved this fascinating book! 

The book is also a history of textiles, but focused more on how textiles both influenced and were influenced by fashion & the norms of varied civilizations. It is sorted into five general sections, organized as: Linen, Cotton, Silk, Synthetics, Wool. In each of these areas, Thanhauser delves into the history of each as a fibre, and then moves on to discuss the effects of each on social structures. She talks about colonialism, trade, environmental issues, slavery, poverty, exploitation, and many areas that might not seem obvious at first glance. It feels like she was determined to explore as many of the threads of these stories as possible. 

It was well told, too -- the narrative was easy to follow and compelling to read. She is a writer and essayist, and a professor of writing, so the style and the actual writing are smooth, letting the story shine. She knows how to develop a scene, with memorable detail and lots of human interest. I never felt that I was reading a dry history, but more one that affects us every day, and she is able to show that through the details she highlights. 

And she brings this right up to the present - the exploitation and damage done by many of these textile industries is still going on, from Uyghur slavery to produce cotton in China to laissez-faire use of pesticides affecting migrant workers in Texas. And we all know about the flaws in the fast fashion system. 

This is a great read. It will inform you, and engage you, and you'll learn a lot from it no matter how many of these kinds of books you've already read. I liked the balanced approach, and the wide spread of content covering experiences in all areas of the world. Definitely a great choice for this subject area. 


  1. Are there images in the book? Just wondering if I should try to get the hard copy or just borrow the digital e-reader copy.


    1. I listened to the audiobook so I don't know! But as far as I can tell from what others have said, images aren't really mentioned as part of this one.


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