Patchwork: A Life Amongst Clothes

As a well-worn corset interior reveals the dips and curves of the original owner’s body, so a moment reveals impressions of a life. A curator examines a fragment, an object accessioned, and follows the fracture lines to time, place, use, inhabitant, radiating inquiry into the content of context.

Similarly, Wilcox examines her remembrances of life moments that are attached to clothes as if they are objects in a collection, turning them over carefully to reveal hints only of what else was going on at the time.

Each brief chapter of one to two pages is poetic in the use of sparse glimpses to suggest a larger story. A moment polishing small red shoes never to be worn again causes the reader to wonder why. Each diorama invites puzzling out how it fits into the larger whole of a life. It’s worth going back to the title of each chapter and section to make more sense of the collection.

Reading Wilcox is good for expanding your vocabulary. She uses special words from clothing (chatelaine, fichu, chasuble, rills, wadding, tambouring, crinoline, back-stays, drab (noun), Wales (machair), moths (tineola bisselliella and other kinds), and birds (phalarope, corncrake, moorhen, tufted ducks).

Patchwork: A Life Amongst Clothes was written by the Senior Curator of Fashion at the V & A since 2004, Claire Wilcox, and published in 2020.