Last month, we introduced Jessamyn, a new contributor to this blog. Sharing the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fires cast a sad light on the history of labor laws in the U.S; however, she showed us how to find better joys in fashion, ecology, and ethics. She has since written about the meaning of D.I.Y.
This week, in a conversation between Jessamyn and Rosanne Cash—another dear friend and colleague—Rosanne shares sentimental stories on the garments that occupy her life and closet.
Please welcome back Jessamyn – and Rosanne – part of the growing heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.
JESSAMYN: I always love talking with you about clothes. I feel like enjoyment of all things sartorial is one of the threads of our friendship. Have you ever seen Emily Spivack’s beautiful blog, Worn Stories? She collects stories from people about a piece of clothing that’s meaningful to them in their lives. I know when we were looking together at your favorite clothes, you have clothing from your family hanging alongside your own favorites. I’ve seen a lot of people’s closets for the book project that I’m working on, but that’s one of the most unusual and poetic ways of storing things I’ve seen. I wonder if you have a worn story to share?
ROSANNE: I like to keep really special items–the purple shirt my dad wore in concert in the Live in Montreux film, the hand-knit scarf that says “MOM” in block letters Chelsea knit me years ago, my mom’s beaded jacket and yoga pants, my step-mom’s leather jacket– hanging in my closet with my regular clothes. It keeps them– the clothes– alive to me. (And is a sweet reminder of those I’ve lost.) I don’t want to seal the special things in boxes and never see them. They give a nice little glow in my closet and it shines on my own blouses and pants. Even my dad’s great black boots are sitting in Jake’s closet, waiting for him to grow into them.
JESSAMYN: You also invented a great term I now use all the time for clothes that feel just right. You called them “zip!” Can you tell me about a few things you have that feel or do “zip”?
ROSANNE: I have a Yohji Yamamoto shirt that I have been wearing for 26 years. I was on a video shoot for my song “Second To No One,” which was from my album “Interiors.” We were going to shoot in the abandoned Hoboken train station. The stylist came to my hotel room (this was a few years before I moved to New York) the morning of the shoot and had a rack of clothes for me to consider wearing and I hated every single one of them. She was wearing this shirt that I couldn’t take my eyes off– from the first moment I saw it, I had a laser-like focus on it. It was black, long (to mid-thigh), and had a mandarin collar. The part that just made me swoon was that all the buttons were MIS-buttoned. You know that look when you accidentally put a button in the wrong hole? Think if you put ALL the buttons in the wrong holes– the fabric would bunch up between the buttons. The bottom couple of buttons looked right, and the top couple looked right, but the middles ones were all bunched up as if they were buttoned wrong. I thought it was the freshest design, most brave and whimsical design I’d ever seen. You KNEW that people were going to be coming up to you and saying ‘your shirt is buttoned wrong!’ I LOVED it. I had to have it. I asked who made it and she said Yohji Yamamoto. I asked her to find me one. She was a stylist; she had all the resources. This was before the internet, and I couldn’t just look it up online. I asked if I could borrow hers to wear in the video, until I got my own. She said yes, and in the finished video, you can see me wandering the empty train station in Hoboken wearing the shirt. I remember a review of the video in one of the music papers– the reviewer commented on that my shirt was buttoned ‘wrong’ and said something to the effect of how interesting it was that I chose to button my shirt wrong and then went on to extrapolate a ‘meaning’ from it.
The stylist found me one of my own and I still wear it. In the early years of wearing it, a lot of people DID come up and say, ‘um… your shirt is buttoned wrong,’ and I would say, ‘oh, those wacky Japanese designers! This is how it’s supposed to be.’ Now, no one comments. Alas. I still love the shirt but as fashions have changed, it feels really big on me. Sometimes I wear it open, as a light jacket, over a t-shirt. I remember the intense desire I had to own that shirt– as intense as any desire to own any piece of clothing in my life. I’ll never, ever give it away.
I admired Alabama Chanin for YEARS before I ever owned a piece. I went into the stores I knew carried it and looked at every piece and stroked them and examined the stitches. The tops looked so tiny I didn’t think they would fit me and I was so sad. When I met Natalie I told her that and she looked at me and shook her head. She said: “They stretch! If they are too tight, sleep in them!” I now have many Alabama Chanin pieces– three jackets, a dress, three skirts, a few tops. I wear something of Alabama Chanin on stage nearly every performance. So many people have “loved the thread” in my clothing that I carry an extra bit of light with me on to the stage.
JESSAMYN: Sleeping in them is a great idea! Now I never have to take them off! I have one more question. Have you ever written a clothing-inspired song? Or do you have a favorite song about clothing?
ROSANNE: I’ve never written one but my two faves are “Man In Black” by my dad and “This Shirt” by Mary Chapin Carpenter.