Disrobed: How Clothing Predicts Economic Cycles, Saves Lives, and Determines the Future
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (2017)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (07/2022)
In “Disrobed: How Clothing Predicts Economic Cycles, Saves Lives, and Determines the Future,” Syl Tang has asked readers to considering a thought provoking and highly overlooked question: “What do my clothing choices say about my individual identity, the culture I belong to, or the future I want to make for myself?” Evaluating everything from the burkini and the male desire to control women’s clothing choices; how frequently we likely encounter fake Pradas, Armani’s, etc.; how the materials used in our clothes could save or doom our planet; and how advancing technology coupled with new innovations in clothing might even help save our lives in emergencies or natural disasters, Tang’s analyses and evaluations, written in a simple yet pervasive tone, captivate effortlessly and enlightens readers on how their individual choices can actually have impacts across the world.
“Disrobed” is not the type of book I would usually gravitate toward. I am not well versed in economic trends, or high fashion trends, even, but from the first chapter, something about Tang’s theme hooked me. Maybe I don’t have much experience (or desire to experience) what it’s like to wear clothing that costs several hundred, or several thousand, dollars, but like most modern American women I am a frequent victim of boredom-browsing and my full-to-bursting closet is feeling the consequences. Now, in the back of my mind there will always be a question: What would buying this item mean for the future, both mine and the world? What fabric is it made of, and how is the use of that fabric causing harm to our environment? Am I purchasing this new dress that I might only wear one or two times because I actually want to? Or am I purchasing it because of pressure from our modern Western society to “keep up” with trends and beauty standards? For example, I will be attending a wedding in a couple of weeks. Do I, and all the other women who will be attending, feel the need and desire to buy a special new dress because we genuinely want to add another unnecessary $150 dress to our wardrobes? Or do we approach wedding and formal attire out of deference to social cues and beauty standards that might consider it tacky or cheap to re-wear an old garment?
“Disrobed” is a highly accessible book that you do not need to have prior, expert knowledge of fashion, sociocultural wars, or economics to understand and enjoy its messages. Tang’s book, in the alternative, asks questions that the common, everyday reader typically should not have much trouble considering or understanding. I would personally be very interested to know what Tang thinks about other questions, such as the plus-size movement or how certain items of clothing are either labeled as masculine or feminine, and wearing the “wrong” gender’s clothing can be license for others to abuse or ridicule us. “Disrobed” was a captivating book that constantly had me considering new questions and learning new things about the clothing industry that I know will stick subconsciously in the back of my head when I dress in the morning, go shopping or even just observe and take note of what those around me are wearing. Even if a reader might at first glance think “No, that’s not a read I’m interested in,” I would implore that reader to read the first chapter. By stepping outside our comfort zones, we can not only broaden our knowledge and love for literature but also learn valuable lessons about the world we live in and how our choices do, indeed, impact the world around us.