Author Archives: Imani

The It Doesn’t Matter Suit

Before I was aware of Sylvia Plath as the writer and poet, whose troubled life created some of the most startlingly brutal and emotional poetry of the twentieth century, I knew her as the children’s author of one of my favourite bedtime stories, ‘The It Doesn’t Matter Suit’, written in 1959 but only published in 1996.

It tells the story of a young boy named Max Nix and his family of seven brothers in the little Mountain town of Winkelburg. In this fictional Germanic town everybody has a suit to fit their occupation or passion. From skiwear to business wear, the whole town is decked out in a suit apart from Max: ‘More than anything else in the world Max Nix wanted a suit of his own…He wanted a suit for All-Year-Round. He wanted a suit for doing Everything.’ One day a mysterious package arrives at the family home containing a ‘wonderful, woolly, whiskery, brand-new, mustard-yellow’ suit. Each male member of family tries on the suit, with Mama Nix snipping, stitching and sewing the suit to tailor it for each son, but each one realises the impracticalities and inappropriateness of a mustard yellow suit for their job or occupation. According to Papa Nix and his sons the suit is far too bright for skiing, hunting or fishing, and far too formal for the paper round and milking the cows. So eventually it passes down to the youngest, Max. He is delighted to finally have his own suit and proceeds to wear it for all occasions performing all the activities his brothers thought could not be done in a suit, because to Max ‘it doesn’t matter’. He can wear it rain or shine, outdoors and indoors, and it is even helpful in the activities of skiing, hunting and fishing. Indeed, the suit makes him the most admired person in Winkelburg, with even the cats mewing in appreciation.

For Max Nix – his name itself a pun on the German ‘macht nicht’, translated as ‘it doesn’t matter’ – the suit is precisely what he always wanted. Despite the humour derived from the unusual desire of a little boy, the story is interesting in broaching the idea of anxiety in dress, an emotion that even affects a young boy in a small town. This anxiety is the realisation that his absence of a uniform or unique style of his own deprives him of an identity in a town where every inhabitant is recognisable through their suit and mode of dress. The story also presents the notion of propriety of dress in relation to occupation and identity. It shows how society and fashion dictates what is or is not suitable for different activities and occupations, and the inherent fear of criticism. A mustard yellow suit is perceived as unsuitable by all of the older members of the family, which inhibits their confidence to wear it. Max’s self-assurance and confidence in the suit enables him to carry out all of the activities that his brothers considered unacceptable in a mustard yellow suit, and is successful in them all. The pride that Max has in his appearance whilst wearing the brand new suit in turn attracts admiration from the rest of the town: ‘There goes Maximilian in his wonderful suit.’ Plath’s subject matter for a children’s story is a curious choice and has a complex moral for young children, but ultimately it teaches us that ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ how you dress as long as you please yourself. Admiration comes from confidence and happiness, perhaps a lesson that we should all remember from time to time.


Sylvia Plath, The It Doesn’t Matter Suit, (Faber and Faber: London) 1996.

In Conversation With…

Our History of Dress MA class in conversation with Dr. Olga Vainshtein and Ksenia Gusarova via Skype
Our History of Dress MA class in conversation with Dr. Olga Vainshtein and Ksenia Gusarova via Skype

On the 3rd December last year, Dr. Olga Vainshtein, a Senior Researcher, and Ksenia Gusarova, a Ph.D. student and fellow lecturer from the Russian State University for the Humanities, joined our History of Dress MA class via Skype for our very first international conference. Taking advantage of modern technology, we were able to overcome geographic location and difference in time to take part in an in-depth discussion with fellow fashion historians.

Having set up the first Fashion Studies Centre in Russia, Dr. Vainshtein and Ksenia brought many thought-provoking points of discussion; presenting themes of photography, image and media to our class. With discussion of the role of image in fashion, what truly constitutes and image, and how this can then applied to the history of dress, amongst other academic topics, the discussion proved to be a challenge to us students new to voicing our opinions so directly.

Despite our initial nervousness, it was a fascinating experience and exciting opportunity to exchange ideas and thoughts with our fellow fashion historians, and is hopefully the first of many exchanges with the International History of Dress community.


Having set the bar high with our International Fashion Conference, we continued our precedent for eminent guests by being joined by celebrated curator of dress and exhibition-maker Judith Clark. Judith is also a Professor in Fashion and museology at the London College of Fashion, and Director of the Fashion Curation MA, so we were lucky enough to turn to an expert for advice for our upcoming Virtual Exhibitions. She also kindly listened to our areas of interest, promoting discussion, advice and possible avenues for further research, something we were all very grateful for.

Once she had listened to our ideas, we were then able to listen to Judith discuss her awe-inspiring career, past exhibitions and future projects. As aspiring fashion historians with limited experience in curating, it was fascinating to hear Judith’s methodology to fashion curating, her unique approach to representing dress in an exhibition format, and her past exhibitions that are celebrated for their distinct style and aesthetic. Having organised major exhibitions at the V&A, MoMU in Antwerp, and the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, we could only listen in awe as she told us about her past and present projects. To say we were inspired by her visit was an understatement, and we definitely all took her advice on board for our research projects.

How to Get In and Out of Taxis Wearing a Kimono

Kimono etiquette – from entering and exiting taxis, to sitting on a Western-style sofa
A guide to stairs, tea and doors
A variety of undergarments


To a certain degree the way we move is dictated by our choice in dress and clothing. The way we walk is governed by our choice in footwear. The way we carry our bodies is guided by the way we carry our bags. Or our length of skirt dictates the way we pick something up off the floor. But this is something that we learn for ourselves through experience, knowledge of one’s own clothing, or perhaps from embarrassing knicker-flashing mishaps. It is not taught to us, which is why, finding an instructional manual detailing how a woman should move in a kimono in contemporary situations, was entirely fascinating to me.

Upon going through my grandmother’s kimonos and possessions, I found in among the miscellaneous objects a brochure from 1969. The contents of the brochure seem bizarre and paradoxical: a clash of temporalities between the ancient traditions of the kimono and the modern Japanese woman.

The reader is instructed how to wear the kimono, showing the various undergarments and steps that build up towards the final image of the kimono we are accustomed to. However, there are also pages where the reader is taught how to move and function in modern social situations, whilst wearing a traditional kimono. One image educates a woman on how to enter and exit a taxi in the correct manner. Another shows the reader how to sit on a Western-style sofa. There are also instructions on how to conduct more traditionally Japanese activities: bowing, opening sliding doors and drinking tea without splashing hot water all up your sleeves. These instructions seem bizarre and comical in their simplicity, but demonstrate the change in the body’s movement when wearing a kimono, and how one is constantly aware of one’s actions in garments that are unfamiliar.

These instructional images and descriptions jar with our autonomous understanding of our own body’s movements and how clothes affect them. The fact that women were shown how to move, when they wore this clothing is symptomatic of the problematic position of the kimono in Japanese society, as it is a form of dress that is slowly dying, becoming a cultural relic of Japan. As the roles of modern women have changed in Japanese society, the multi-layered and restrictive kimono is worn less and less. In modern Japan, the average person will wear ‘Western’ clothing, whilst the Kimono has been sidelined to a role denoting national identity and old-world traditions. This has not only led to a decline in the silk industry and the artistry of the kimono, but has led to a loss of understanding of how a kimono is worn, something that was traditionally passed down from mother to daughter.

The brochure is revealing of attempts in the 60s and 70s to reposition the kimono in a modern society, so as to preserve its significance in Japan. The depicted alterations and accessories that create comfort and ease highlight the tensions between old and modern post-war Japan. An attempt that is still being made today with efforts to reinvigorate the Japanese silk industry, and the wearing of the kimono at important events. However, without education in how a kimono is worn, these anxieties and tensions will endure.


Kennedy, Alan. “Kimono.” The Berg Fashion Library. 2005. (accessed 15 Nov. 2014).

Milhaupt, Terry. “Kimono.” The Berg Fashion Library. Sept. (accessed 15 Nov. 2014).