Dress, Memory is my pick of memoirs for the spring. I loved, loved, loved it! Vashti has been toiling away as a freelance writer and editor for years so it is no surprise she spins a great yarn.
Go get a copy now and get one for your girlfriends. It would be a great memoir for book clubs and reading groups because there is so much to discuss:
Did you have a dream of doing something creative, how did that turn out?
What is your definition of success? How do you know when you have achieved it?
If you had a motif through your twenties, what would it be?
Dress, Memory is an elegant and witty memoir but make no mistake: the dresses are not just a clever literary device.
The 12 dresses unlock the key to Vashti's identity. This is made clear in the opening lines where she is in the throes of a panic attack with her GP and concentrating on the hem of her 'Mintie' Dress to find focus and calm. Years later she heads out to her university graduation in a deconstructed 'pink satin eighties bridesmaid's dress' when 'Everything seemed pink and rosy'. Seeking her first publishing job interview, Vashti donned an oh-so-serious 'bottle green wool dress' her mother made, wearing it backwards to hide a small moth-eaten hole. Scroll down for the extract ... then scoot and get this book!
The Blurb: Lorelei Vashti, Dress Memory, Allen & Unwin
As we grow older, how do we know what to let go of and what to keep?
Lorelei started collecting dresses in her twenties and found that every time she wore one it became more significant to her. From falling in love for the first time to playing in a band, from starting a career to moving overseas, every dress soon had a memory stitched into it, and she became as attached to each one as if they were the events and people themselves.
But what happens when the wardrobe gets full? Should you let go of the dresses you've outgrown, or try to hold on to them forever?
Dress, Memory is about a decade in dresses. Perceptive and poignant, humorous and heartwarming, it's the story of growing up and growing into yourself. It's about trying things on until you find the perfect fit.
Extract: Lorelei Vashti, Dress, Memory: A Memoir of My Twenties in Dresses, Allen & Unwin, RRP $27.99. Available Now.
When I was twenty my heart started beating so loudly it terrified me. I went to a doctor and she told me I was having a panic attack and that I should try to breathe either more or less, I can’t remember which. Then, in a whimsical offhand way, and in a tone of voice that wasn’t medical, she added that next time I was freaking out maybe I could try focusing my attention on something other than the distorted white noise of my own mind: why not try—say, for example—focusing on the hem of my dress?
That day I was wearing what my friend Beck used to call my Mintie dress—green and white—which I’d chopped off and re-hemmed myself, tacking it in a clumsy schoolgirl Home Ec way. As I sat and concentrated on the wonky stitching, I did calm down. Years later, I understand how this tactic can helpfully disembody oneself from one’s addled brain, but back then neither I nor the doctor could have known that her excellent advice would encourage me to go and build an entire pharmacy full of hems over the next ten years: one which—to my great pride and absolute shame—now fills five wardrobes across two states.
I work as a freelance writer and editor, which means I hardly need to leave the house if I don’t want to. Still, putting on a particular outfit can mean the difference between being able to focus on the work or sitting there, helplessly grappling with my thoughts for hours. I have tried to throw dresses out, give them away or otherwise let go of them, but whenever I do I go through such an overdramatic grieving process for a particular dress and its associated memory. The dresses stayed.
It seems obvious to state that clothing has some power over our emotions. Most of us can relate to the idea that dressing smartly for a job interview helps us feel more confident; we have all heard stories of actors preparing for a role by dressing in the clothes their character would wear. I recently read a study that discovered people score more highly on cognitive exercises when they’re wearing a white lab coat—apparently the brain makes a connection between the item of clothing and the reputation doctors and scientists have for being careful and rigorous, and they take on those characteristics themselves. On the other hand, if you’re told the coat belongs to a painter—a less ‘intellectual’ profession—you won’t score any better, because the power of a piece of clothing depends on the symbolic meaning you give to it. However, I still think the best way to observe the influence clothes have over our own psychological state is to wake up every morning and just get dressed.
The popular line goes that wearing something fabulous can make you feel like a new person, but as someone who collects dresses, most mornings my goal is the opposite: I want to feel like an old person, or rather, be reminded of the old person who used to be me. Even as I move away from her towards the safer harbour of the future, these flashes of my old selves, relentless and repetitive, illuminate my way. Memory, like a lighthouse, shines the most vivid moments back to us, over and over, and these stories, often unexpectedly chosen by our memories for us to return to again and again, become the myths we stitch together and inhabit every time we try to answer the question, ‘Who am I?’
In the same way that each word of a writer’s story is carefully chosen to tell a particular tale, the twelve dresses that make up this book capture the most exceptional moments of many stories—of shock, betrayal and love—that altogether made up my twenties. It was a period I was expecting certain things to happen in a certain way—romance, career, intoxicating new friendships and travel to exotic places—but often it wasn’t according to plan.
That Mintie dress has been re-hemmed many times over the years: only once on a sewing machine properly, by my ex-boyfriend’s mum, when we visited her out in the middle of Queensland. I am still reminded of her when I wear it, as well as that first doctor in Brisbane who suspected I was tumbling into a years-long blackout before I could see it myself. The dress also makes me recall the kindness of the Qantas air hostess who offered me tissue after tissue as I wore it and wept for the entire flight on my first move to Melbourne in 2003; also, the man who skilfully disunited me from it years later in his bedroom above the New York bar where, moments earlier, we had been drinking White Russians.
Some people remember stages of their lives through the smells of certain places or the music they were listening to during that time. I remember them through my clothes. The dresses are precious because they mean something to me. Things become more valuable once you know the story behind them, and here is mine.
I was sent a copy of Dress, Memory from Allen & Unwin, however all opinions are my own.