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On April 1st, 2021, Netflix released a seven episode series known as Worn Stories, based off of the book by Emily Spivack. The show focuses on the stories people associate with sentimental items of clothing, or the lack of clothing at all. The mini series opens in a nudist community. This may seem like a strange choice for a series about clothing, but the choice to be nude is in many ways connected to an individual’s connection with clothing.
Each episode focuses on a specific theme such as growing up or lost and found and involves a series of interviews with people about their clothing. The initial episode begins in a nudist community seemingly largely for the shock value, but also tells the stories of the individuals within the Florida community and their reasonings for their choices to go nude. This centers around an older couple who choose to go entirely nude except for shoes even when doing woodworking! The couple maintains that being nude has helped them find community and become their full selves without the confinement and restriction of clothing.
There is also a young woman in the nudist community who is notable for being far younger than most of the residents as well as being one of very few Black women in the community. She says that a large part of her clothing choices when she does wear any clothing at all is centered around sheer mesh tops. This helps her with her personal movement of freeing the nipple and she says helps her to be her most authentic self.
The series also centers around several other people throughout the episodes such as a child going through a gender neutral B’nai Mitzvah, a man who airbrushes shirts in memory of people’s loved ones, as well as men who have been imprisoned and their identity to clothing. The prison story carried across a couple individuals and truly spoke to the idea of how much people’s clothing can be a part of them. When people are put into prisons their identity and control over their personal freedoms are in many ways stripped away. One way in which this is done is by the requiring of prison uniforms, clearly marking each individual as a prisoner, to be worn. One man stated that being forced to wear the oversized clothing clearly branding the wearer as a prisoner, perpetuates the idea of inmates as being thugs or dangerous non functional members of society.
While for some individuals, a uniform can be a point of pride or status, such as the woman who tells her story as a crossing guard and the importance of her uniform, for others it can be a way of stripping away their personal identity. This is the case for the former prisoners that share their stories of wearing prison uniforms. One man tells his story of after being released from prison choosing to begin a career in transporting newly released prisoners back to the outside world. One important part of this process for each individual is the buying of their first clothes back on the outside world. This is a highly emotional experience for many people and is the beginning point of regaining their identities after being released.
Clothing can be dehumanizing. Most people can relate to the experience of being in a doctor's office in a cloth or even sometimes paper gown. You spend the whole time even more on edge than you would be waiting in your ordinary clothes, constantly fidgeting with the fabric or wondering if you are adequately covered. Wearing a prison uniform is a lot like that experience but every single day, week after week, year after year.
Clothing can be a point of identity. For many people clothing is an incredibly powerful tool for self expression. Whether you may identify yourself with a certain category such as goth, vintage, or as is mentioned in the series, the heels community, clothing can be a large point of identity. This show not only captures the stories of how clothing has impacted so many people’s lives in countless ways, but also keeps a fantastic documentary style and feel with intermissions of puppets and superb animation. This series is a must watch and will likely make most people take a closer look at their own closets and the items that hold value to them.
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