Autobiography of a Wardrobe
by Elizabeth Kendall

Pantheon, 2008. ISBN 0375425004.
Reviewed by Donna Van Straten Remmert
Posted on 06/20/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir

If your wardrobe could talk, what would it say about you? Author Elizabeth Kendall tells the story of B., her evolving self, by creating a delightful narrator—Wardrobe.

In the first chapter, "How I Was Born," Wardrobe says: "I came into being in the last moments of that two-centuries-old institution called Childhood, in which everything was ironed: collars, sashes, sailor suits. Nowadays it's different."

Elizabeth Kendall rebelled against the Country Club look her parents loved. At twelve, she saw in a store window a new kind of dress. It was sleeveless red coral with a dropped waist and white piping, just like the dress she'd seen in Mouseketeer Magazine!

Wardrobe's report of the incident: "The only problem: the mother recoiled from the red coral dress. 'It's brassy,' she said. 'It's not,' said B. 'It's...modern. And if I don't get it, I can't be myself.'"

And so the story goes. Kendall gives us vivid descriptions of her various careers—fashion designer, dancer, writer, Parisian bohemian—and the way they were reflected in her clothing, all through the voice of Wardrobe. It is clever writing, and for someone like me who spends far too much time searching for "the right look" for every occasion, it was a delightful read that made me laugh at myself.

I also enjoyed the book as a study of a unique way to write about one's life. My own writing may have improved a notch or two from having observed Kendall's skillful style.

Elizabeth Kendall is the author of Where She Danced, The Runaway Bride, and American Daughter. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Times, among other periodicals. She lives in New York. Visit her blog.

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