Emily Spivack’s ‘Worn Stories’ a Collection of Memories About Our Clothes

From Johnny Cash to Orange Is the New Black‘s Piper Kerman, author Emily Spivack’s new book ‘Worn Stories’ houses a collection of stories from over 60 people on the meaning behind some of their favorite pieces of clothing.


Emily Spivack is a Brooklyn-based artist, writer, teacher, and editor who created the Smithsonian’s blog Threaded and collects stories for the found-art project Sentimental Value. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. Spivack is also the founder of Shop Well with You, which helps women with cancer use clothing to improve their quality of life.

Her book Worn Stories comes out tomorrow and we are already huge fans having followed Emily for the past few years. In her book, Spivack has collected more than sixty clothing-inspired narratives from cultural figures and talented storytellers, each of them asked to think of the single most meaningful item of clothing they own and tell the story behind it.

worn-stories-2Johnny Cash’s silk tuxedo shirt saved by his daughter Rosanne Cash

These first-person accounts range from the everyday to the extraordinary, including artist Marina Abramović on the boots she wore to walk the Great Wall of China; musician Rosanne Cash on a purple shirt that had belonged to her father; and fashion designer Cynthia Rowley on the Girl Scout sash that informed her business acumen. Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black, describes the outfit she wore to her sentencing hearing, carefully chosen because “we want the judge to be reminded of his own daughter when he looks at you”; and poet Kenneth Goldsmith explains how the colorful paisley suit he wore to the White House earned him compliments from President Obama and wisecracks from Jon Stewart.

wornstories_kermanPiper Kerman’s skirt suit from the day of her sentencing

Others write about clothing worn during a breakup and during a kidnapping, while accidentally tripping on acid and while taking aerobics classes, while performing on stage and while jumping out of airplanes. Contributors include Greta Gerwig, Heidi Julavits, John Hodgman, Brandi Chastain, Marcus Samuelsson, Maira Kalman, Sasha Frere-Jones, Simon Doonan, Albert Maysles, Susan Orlean, Andy Spade, Paola Antonelli, David Carr, Andrew Kuo, and more.
We caught up with her to ask her a few questions about the book and what the tipping point was for her to publish the collection.

What was the push, maybe the story that made you say “A book has to be written about this.”

I always envisioned Worn Stories as a book, but books take a while to make so I started the project as a website to begin the process of gathering stories. The impetus to begin Worn Stories evolved from the off-the-cuff stories about clothing I had been collecting from eBay for my project, Sentimental Value. While working on that project, I realized that when I’d look in my closet, I’d see an archive of experiences and memories in addition to the physical garments so I began writing my own stories connected to a piece of clothing. Very quickly I realized I was far more interested in asking other people to share their stories than writing about my own experiences. I found that clothing was a great device from which to tell a story. I knew I was onto something when, during the first Worn Stories workshop I ever held at the ICA in Philadelphia, a woman showed up wearing a jade green ball gown hidden underneath her puffy winter coat with a story she’d been dying to share.

Is the publishing of Worn Stories making you more aware that we are literally connected by threads, that we all have a story to tell about them?

I have been drawn to Worn Stories because clothing is so relatable, so universal. It’s not about the latest trend or expensive designer thing, but it’s about the stuff we wear every day. So almost everyone tends to have a story, or at least, have something in their closet that they just can’t part with because of something memory or anecdote attached to that garment.

Could this be a way to get people to think differently about their clothing where other ways have not been successful? 

I do hope that Worn Stories will prompt people to be more thoughtful. Perhaps they’ll see more value in garments that have had a history, a personality, that have been lived in, rather than, say, the latest “it” bag or pair of shoes. Perhaps they’ll re-think what they wear every day and why.

Check out the book trailer of Worn Stories:

Buy Worn Stories here.