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'Fear And Clothing': A Travelogue Of America Through The Clothes We Wear

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The one that got away - that would be a movie or song, a new hot TV series or any other any other cultural moment that we just missed this last year. For Jackie Lyden of The Seams podcast, and occasional series on NPR, that cultural moment comes in the form of a book, a kind of travel log of American fashion focusing on the clothes we really wear.

JACKIE LYDEN, BYLINE: For her book, "Fear And Clothing: Unbuckling American Style," Cintra Wilson borrowed the title from Hunter Thompson's "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas." Wilson nails it, and fashion is her target. She's a fashion outsider and used that outsider skeptical attitude when she wrote the Critical Shopper column for The New York Times. She drew withering fire for her review of a JCPenney store in 2009 and eventually left the paper. On the cover of "Fear And Clothing" she wears what she calls predator chic - black leather, platinum hair, a headband decorated with a shark fin and red nail polish. She's holding a drink and a cigarette. She calls the book her psychological invasion of America's closets, including her own.

CINTRA WILSON: Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area absolutely marked me as a certain kind of fashion animal.

LYDEN: For all of America's homogenous H&M, Forever 21 mall culture, she finds plenty of nuances across regions, from the Kentucky Derby to South Beach to a Wyoming shop filled with cowboy wear. Another thing that influenced her book was class in America.

WILSON: The richest people in the world are invisible, as are the poorest people in the world.

LYDEN: And to explore this she traveled across New York City - Manhattan on one side, Queens on the other.

WILSON: I went from Madison Avenue in New York, which is probably one of the most expensive shopping districts in the world, to Jamaica Avenue, which is one of the great bargain shopping avenues of the world, and found some really remarkable similarities in terms of just the style consciousness in both places. They wear turquoise fur, for example.

LYDEN: Wilson says you can dress like a pimp at Giorgio Armani, but spending a lot of money inoculates you from critique - or so we believe. She quotes William Blake - a fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

WILSON: Just see value where it is. I mean, it doesn't - you don't have to pay $365 for an army jacket unless you need to for that, you know, conferred status of brand magic.

LYDEN: "Fear And Clothing: Unbuckling American Style" invites you to laugh and think more deeply about the human animal and why we love the clothes that we do. As Cintra Wilson puts it, style can either liberate you or it can enslave you - your choice. For NPR News, I'm Jackie Lyden. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.