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Amy Schumer, and a long winter nap.
October 30, 2014
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Book Club: Target Underwear and a Vera Wang Gown
Just try not to cringe "Oh honey, no!" at the book

The Business of Fashion posted an article today about Man Repeller‘s Leandra Medine and her upcoming book filled with semi-autobiographical essays about (what else?) fashion. She told them:

“It’s based on the notion that the female memory is so driven by fashion. I can tell you exactly what I was wearing when I met my husband, when he first broke up with me, when we got back together.”


One of my favourite memoirs follows the same formula. Target Underwear and a Vera Wang Gown is a light and fun book where 30-something Adena Halpern chronicles her life (starting with a childhood that she maintains was developed in change rooms) through the most important pieces of clothing she’s placed on her body. Published in 2006, the book weaves seamlessly through Halpern’s biggest style moments that include creating her own prom dress, starting a widespread trend, and discovering a style ‘spirit animal’ in Madonna. Readers are treated to feeling everything Halpern felt at the moment she wore each and every garment from a rebound dress (the aforementioned $4,000 Wang gown) to a Prada frock that won a compliment from her idol. 

Halpern, a Philadelphia native, based the memoir on a collection of popular essays she wrote for the back page of Marie Claire. Since then she has written three novels about topics ranging from death, marriage, and becoming 29 again. Target is her only foray so far into biographical works. 

From childhood, Halpern has always put most of her energy into her wardrobe. She rehashes the horrors of flat feet, short stature, and mean stylists for the entertainment of her readers. But feel happy in knowing her’s is no Babe Walker lifestyle. You don’t have to endure chapters about affording the best of everything and drop-dead gorgeous boyfriends who are perfect in every way. Just like the rest of us, Halpern spent adolescence mooning over the latest trends and feeling the backlash when she didn’t get them. The Vera Wang gown meets its own demise in a ‘Kind Exchange’-type shop over a few pages that will have you feeling for Halpern and her bank account.

Before you start to think it’s all about Halpern’s wardrobe, it’s not. She begins the memoir by listing all the garments that make her think of the people most important to her. A doctor’s coat for her father, a timeless tailored suit for her mother, a mink coat and faux pearls for her grandmother. In fact, an entire chapter is dedicated to her college boyfriend’s leather 8-ball jacket. Don’t worry, I too was shuddering with thoughts of Seinfeld’s Puddy dancing around in my head.

Suffice to say that if I were to write an autobiography, this is exactly the road I would take. No matter age, race or gender, we can all identify with memories brought on by items in our closets we can’t seem to bring ourselves to part with. The title summarizes the two extremes between which Halpern’s closet exists. Her casual writing approach feels like the two of you are gabbing over coffee about her best and worst sartorial schemes to the point that you’ll have to stop yourself from cringing “Oh honey, no!” at the book. 

____

Bianca Teixeira writes about style for Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter at @BeeLauraTee.

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