Cover Image: Worn


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Member Reviews

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

A very interesting read! The author walks you through the history and use of linen, cotton, silk, synthetics, and wool for clothing, detailing how such garments were made in the past and are being made currently, with a lot of focus on the push for sustainable, locally made clothing by smaller artisans in comparison to mass producers. As a knitter, the wool chapter was the most interesting for me, and made me want to get into spinning my own yarn. This book was somewhat similar to Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas, though with more of a focus on the materials than the industries themselves, so if you like one you will probably enjoy the other as well.

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I really did not know what to expect from this book. However, I will say that it is one of the most fascinating social histories that I have read in recent memory.

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This was supposed to be a peoples history of clothing, but was mistitled. It was interesting, but not what I expected to sink my teeth into.It was actually about fabric. I had already read another title that came out in 2022 called ‘Fabric’ (by Victoria Finlay) that I enjoyed a lot more. Also about fabric, but a little more fun to read that this tome.

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Was happy to include this book in “Spring 2022’s Best Style Books,” my latest round-up for Zoomer magazine, highlighting seasonal fashion and design titles of interest (see mini-review at link).

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Broken into five parts, Worn examines human history through the lens of five fabrics which each individually changed the course of history - Linen, Cotton, Silk, Synthetics and Wool. Each section is a wandering exploration, expertly researched, on the impact each fabric had on societies and global trade.

My major takeaways from each section:
Linen pulled the domestic work of making clothing out of individual households and into factories, devaluing women’s work.
Cotton continues to pull massive resources out of the environment, and has been used as a tool of colonization from the Americas to India.
Silk is falling under the pressures of development, razing fields of mulberry bushes into massive high rises.
Synthetics are responsible for huge amounts of waste, and drive billions in profit for the chemical companies who created the technology.
Wool might just hold the hope of a garment industry growing out of it’s terrible adolescence into something more mature and sustainable, by using techniques from pre-WWII.

Worn is wonderfully engaging, because it pulled so many of my memories from US and World History, and added the extra layer of economic impact, pushed or pulled by fabric production, to amount to well known events - cotton’s impact on Gandhi’s Salt March, trade along the Silk Road or synthetic’s role in parachutes and other war tools.

Thanhauser scatters powerful insights throughout the book. How removing cloth making from the home removed one of the few revenue streams for women, forcing more people into factories or prostitution. How fashion magazines from the 1800s spoke of draping, darts, and other factors of sewing; now they point out brands and colors - they speak to an audience who no longer knows how to create clothes themselves. And, how mass manufactured clothes don’t really fit anyone; even Beyonce needs to get her clothes tailored.

More than a fashion statement or historical record, Worn is a well crafted study on the power of cloth and clothes.

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I originally went to college for fashion merchandising and I absolutely fell in love with the history of clothing, so this book was right up my alley. I nerd out over this kind of thing. I think the title is a little misleading if you don’t read the description, it isn’t really about clothing, it’s more about the textiles that make clothing. But if you know anything about the history of fashion, you know that understanding the textiles is crucial to understanding why certain fashions came to be.

This is a truly expansive look at how fabrics were made and the effect they had on the region’s environment and the people living there. I learned a ton, and also cemented certain views I have (boo fast fashion). This book really dove into how bad fast fashion is for the environment. It didn’t shy at all away and I feel like more people need to know about it.

I don’t even know how to summarize this book because the breadth that it covers was insane. I liked how the book was split into sections about each textile: linen, cotton, silk, synthetics and wool. It made the density of information easier to digest.

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4 stars

I am grateful to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for sending me an advanced copy of this book for review.

This was a great nonfiction read. When I read this synopsis of this book, I was very interested in seeing if the author was going to present the history of clothing in an interesting and accessible way; however, this book offers so much more. What we get is a history of different regions of the world, woven together using the story of fabric. Something we are so familiar with, and that has been intimately linked to the progression of society and technology in different parts of the world throughout history.

The book is broken up into sections based on different types of fabric. We start off with linen, and then we move into cotton, silk, synthetics, and finally wool . I found it interesting how the author was able to follow the history of a particular fabric from its initial emergence into human use, through industrialization and manufacturing, and showing how this affected the people directly involved with its production. I also like that we explore how the industry surrounding garments has developed over time, and how the garment industry itself has led to so many socio-political changes. I found this book very educational when it came to not only the way in which these fabrics are created, but also about the impact that garment manufacturing has on the environment, how garment manufacturing has grown overtime, and the technologies that developed directly related to garment manufacturing. There is also important discussion of how the garment manufacturing industry was closely tied to the progression of women’s rights .

The one issue I have with this book is that with the discussion of these different types of fabrics and the garment industry, some parts of the world were completely missing from the narrative . For example, Africa was mentioned briefly when the discussion of cotton was brought up but for the most part the garment industry, fabrics etc. were not discussed at all with regard to the African continent. Also, apart from speaking about the injustices that the garment industry forces onto certain countries in Central America in modern day, we really did not discuss Latin America either. I feel like this book could have benefitted from having a truly global approach that included every region of the world, and not only focus so strongly on specific areas (particularly the United States, Western Europe, and East Asia).

Overall, this was a great read, and I thought it was well written, researched, and accessible . It would be a good read for almost anyone who's interested in history. I recommend this for people who are interested in world history and politics generally, and people who are interested in fashion and garment manufacturing specifically.

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A deep dive into the ruthless, fascinating, wonderful and cutthroat history of fabrics, fibers and cloth. Thanhauser has meticulously and carefully researched and presented detailed information that we sometimes don't want to know, but perhaps need to know. Fabric and cloth have had and continue to have a powerful influence on global economies that is mostly invisible to us. In the past the control and ownership of fibers and fabric has created and destroyed empires, fouled ecosystems, elevated a few individuals to unimaginable wealth and ruined others. Those things are still true today. Women, the poor and minorities have suffered the most from mismanagement and exploitation in the fiber trades for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, and that continues today. Taken for granted, fabric and cloth are the invisible products that still shape and influence our global economy. An engrossing read filled with interesting tidbits of historical information as well as laying bare the horrors of the clothing trade- past, present, and future.

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This readable, accessible social history of fiber and fabric grabbed my attention from
page one and captivated me to the very end. It details the journey of each type of fabric from its very first use in the ancient past to the complicated production processes of today’s modern world. Deftly weaving together history, economics, sociology, business, and trade, this book unfolds the power of the fabric, textile, and garment industries. The consequences of our clothing choices impact our planet in profound ways - from the environment to international politics to the life of a woman sitting at a sewing machine halfway around the world. At a mere 300 pages, it is easy to read yet impeccably researched. Not one word is wasted, and I guarantee you will learn something new about the articles of clothing you put on your body. I will never look at what I choose to wear the same way again. I highly recommend this incredible book.
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review. All opinions are my own.

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Slow fashion is a hot topic in the sustainable-living community these days, but beyond the general language of 'fast fashion is bad', there isn't much information making its rounds. For those who are looking for more, though, Worn: A People's History of Clothing is a rare treat—an interrogation of the relationship between garment and garment worker, written from the perspective of someone who genuinely loves fashion.

The history of clothing as a whole, as well as that of each individual fabric, is well-researched and thoughtfully presented. I especially enjoyed that each fabric told a different story; a different stage in our collective evolution as humans. From start to finish, Worn was educational, insightful, and inspiring—not to mention a somewhat painful reckoning for our modern world.

I would recommend it to my friends as one to read in installments, rather than one to digest all at once as you might read a novel.

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I love reading about history, but I never thought that a piece of clothing/cloth also has many stories on its way to become the clothes we wear everyday.
This book shares brilliant knowledge, research and background with its readers. The author is very thorough and systematic in writing down the steps to create one of the materials we know in general for clothing, cotton. Not to forget, this book also shares stories about people who are involved in making materials for clothing. Their lives and struggles, their deprived rights, and their dedication.

There is only one thing that I think is 'missing' in this book, pictures or photos that can clarify what the material being told is like, or what the shape of the tools used to make a clothing material look like. This can help provide clearer visuals to the reader.

Thank you to the publisher AaKnopf and NetGalley for the digital version of this book.

4.5 ⭐️

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Every year I like to watch The Christmas Carol ( the one with Alistair Sim). There are many scenes that I like, but one of my favorite ones is when the undertaker, the laundress, and the other lady are selling items that they have acquired after the death of a man. It was always interesting that the woman who had his nice fabrics got the most. Now that I have read Worn by Sofi Thanhauser that scene has more poignancy.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved how Sofi described how fabric and the cultivation of crops shaped civilizations. Linen, silk, cotton, and Wool have fueled economies, political practices, and labor throughout the world.

I definitely recommend it!

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Brilliant fascinating look at our clothes and a deep look at the materials they are made of.The author has written a unique book that is part memoir part research of different elements in what we wear .We are taken around the world as she studies the art of how our clothes are created.This is a book that belongs in libraries ,universities and will be found engrossing by all readers.#netgalley #worn

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