Clothing Choices

I just read a book that made me laugh. That made me cry. That made me email fellow readers and tell them that I was glad I got a copy of the book before someone inevitably slaps a big ole medal on the cover. And I have full confidence in saying this, despite its January 11 release. (Of course, I thought this about Wintergirls, too.) If I were to say it had a flaw – and it does – because let’s face it, no book is perfect – it’s the sin of name-dropping.

Heretofore this amazingly gifted author has avoided naming the brands of clothing characters have worn. But also heretofore, this author has only ever written boy characters. Now that he has gone girl, so has some of his prose. It felt like I needed at least two hands (and that’s several fingers too many) to count the number of times the character referenced her Chuck Taylors. And I would forgive the slight of name-checking Forever 21 in re The Date Dress if there had been mention of the BFF, whose characterization was such that such things are Important, or if such choices were organic in Girl’s own character. But alas, there was not.

To me, Chuck Taylors have become the Manolo Bhlaniks or Jimmy Choos of middle class YA fiction. It became such that I would just read over the name and say…okay…she’s that girl, without ever really needing to know what a Chuck Taylor sneaker looked like. So I finally looked them up. So that’s what they are. Okay. Why do I need to know she wears these things? She, like her boyfriend, is unprecedented.

In this book’s case, I think I know what happened. The author even hinted at it. He fielded a question about the difference in writing boys vs. girls and said one main difficulty was getting the clothes right. Women in his life (spouse, editor, etc.) read the thing and their one negative comment – 16-year-old girls did not wear what he initially robed them in (flower dresses and some sort of offbeat shoe, IIRC), but they were what he remembered 16-year-old girls wearing. In 1997. So her wardrobe changed. And I, persnickety reader, am disappointed, for the character is just so “inimitable,” that the original clothing choices actually make more sense and would endear her even more to me. If that were possible.

Writers of girls: what do we do with what they wear? Is it Important? Will it date the text too much? I like it when name-dropping serves a point: satire, cultural commentary, identifier of flat characters (Gucci will always sound expensive). I hate it when it is the sole identifier of characters who are supposed to be round and when its name (or the store’s) does not signify anything some kid 20 years from now will “get.”

Is this a Gender Thing? Has anyone read a book inside a boy’s head in which he dons a Brooks Brothers for The Date Shirt when fashion is not an intrinsic part of his life? Or am I just being a crotchety old woman because I stayed up past my bedtime thinking about this book, and the clothes do not matter so much because the characters do matter to the universe and do exist beyond the oblivion of the last page?