Cut on the Bias edited by Stephanie Tillotson
22nd Sep 2010
A collection of stories about women and the clothes they wear, the book features 26 authors, each with their own distinctive voice and original interpretation on the ways women use clothing, and what those clothes can symbolise and signify.
In our media-saturated society, women are assaulted by images and advertising on an hourly basis, all insinuating that a paradisiacal life (and, of course, the associated fame, fortune, killer body and scorching sex life) can all easily be attained by the simple purchase of the right outfit, accessories, or shoes. For those with the time, cash and inclination to embrace that, the conveyor belt of fashion can be a fascinating cabaret, but for many women, it can breed dissatisfaction, confusion and resentment, not only with the industry but with themselves too.
In Cut on the Bias, though, it was the stories that recognised the omnipresence, power and influence of the media and major fashion brands, which seemed the weakest. Hilary Cooper’s Dear Joanna and On the Run from the Fashion Police by Lorraine Jenkin are playful and bold in their pacing and format, but for me they didn’t resonate past the last page.
For all the media’s incessant interference with what we choose to wear each day, for me the strongest stories in this collection were the ones that focused on the personal impact clothing can have for women. Whether used as uniform, protective armour, a security blanket with its associations of comfort, warmth and safety, or as a way of concealing or stating identity, women and clothes have complex relationships.
Eloise Williams‘ Ed, a green cardigan used as a comforter by a young girl with learning difficulties and abandoned when it’s no longer needed, is poignant in its innocent sincerity, whilst the muted melancholy and resilience in Jenny Henn’s Clothes and Black Cherries by Lindsay Ashford beautifully capture the way clothes that in childhood were evocative of possibility and excitement can later become tainted by memory and emotion.
Other highlights were Sarah Taylor’s Plumage and A Handbag to Die For by Stephanie Tillotson, who also edited the collection. Both of these are dark and powerful tales, using carefully-crafted pace and language to bring beauty to the destructive and sinister sides of women’s relationships with clothes and self-image.
Throughout the collection, the recurring themes are the ways clothes can transform, comfort, protect and strengthen the women who wear them, but with a cautionary warning on how over-dependence on the resulting attention and validation can be intoxicating, but ultimately destructive. For your fix of fashion-themed fiction, you can buy Cut on the Bias from Amazon for £8.09.
Post by Jane Bradley