Worn: A People’s History of Clothing by Sofi Thanhauser

Opening Line: I like clothes.

Worn: A People's History by Sofi Thanhauser

I concur with the beginning line of Worn: A People’s History. Anyone who comes into the library has undoubtedly seen my collection of dresses that changes throughout the year. I think of them as part of my personality. It’s taken years to amass such a collection, but at the end of the day, I just like clothes.

Clothing is so present in our lives, but like much of our food, we are extremely far removed from the production of it. I get asked all the time, did you make your dress? I always respond with, no, I’m not that talented, and while it’s the truth, it’s a response I’ve become less and less satisfied with.

It’s not that I don’t want to learn. Sewing has just never been part of my life other than seeing my mother do it. I’ve always liked crocheting, and always have a blanket in the works, but working with cloth has always been just out of my reach. But I guess that’s kind of the point. I don’t have to think about it, so anything I make is purely for fun. This book discusses the notion of clothing making becoming a hobby and discusses the globalization of clothing in general.

Sofi Thanhauser
Sofi Thanhauser by Beowulf Sheehan, taken from sofithanhauser.com


This book covered a lot of different interesting subject matter. It discussed the invention of rayon, and the history of cotton production. I enjoyed how well researched this book was and did a lot of flipping back to the notes, bibliography, and index in the back. Despite this, the overall structure of the book was confusing. In particular chapter 5, Drought, was all over the place. It presented a lot of really interesting information, but never seemed to find a theme.

That being said, there was a lot of extensive research done into globalization. Thanhauser traveled to a lot of different locations and gathered firsthand interviews about lost clothing production in America. She traveled to factories in Honduras, the plains of Wyoming, and the Yangtze Delta region all to collect information.

There was a really interesting chapter on advertisements, and it made me think of not only Mad Men, but also a documentary called White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch. There’s nothing particularly notable in it, but then again, there’s nothing notable about A&F clothing. But it does a good job of documenting how effective the advertising campaigns were for the store.

Another notable chapter would be the one covering the Loray Mill Strike in Gastonia North Carolina, and headed up by Ella May Wiggins, who was shot and killed because of her involvement. I knew all about the triangle shirt factory but had to do some more digging into who Wiggins was.

Overall, this book was very interesting. I won’t say it was fun to read, as the state of clothing globalization means every year more cultural heritage through fabric is lost. Some of this book was confusing, since Thanhauser opted to follow both chronological order and subject. I do wish the history was a little more in-depth and didn’t cut off when the new fabric was introduced. For example, I have a hard time believing the history of rayon ends promptly as nylon begins. That being said, it was highly informative, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the clothes on their backs.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Review by Catherine Nevin

This book is available to Friend Memorial Library patrons.

Goodreads – Worn: A People’s History of Clothing

Goodreads – Sofi Thanhauser

Cover photo taken from goodreads.com