Where some people see outfits, writer Emily Spivack sees culture, history and meaning. Spivack is the founder of Threaded, the Smithsonian's fashion history blog, and Sentimental Value, an archive of clothing tales culled from eBay. Her latest project, Worn Stories, is a collection of first-person narratives that illuminate the links between garments and memory.

“I introduced it as a website in 2010, just to begin collecting stories and start working through the idea. But I always knew I wanted it to be a book,” Spivack says. That book, also called Worn Stories, was published in late August by Princeton Architectural Press. Featuring clothing-inspired vignettes from 67 participants, it's been hailed as “a handy antidote to fast fashion” by the New York Times.

ethica worn stories book cover and inside images
We spoke to Spivack about the connections we form with the things we wear. As for the items in her own wardrobe that she holds close? There’s a pair of peach socks that date back to the sixth grade, a ring that once belonged to her grandmother, and Doc Martens from her teenage years.

Over the course of working on Worn Stories, did you find that it was a piece of clothing that drove and helped shape memorable experiences among the people you interviewed? Or were the garments incidental and memorable only because they were part of larger and more significant experiences? What I found and what I love about the project is that the article of clothing finds its way into the story in different ways. Sometimes the story starts out with the piece of clothing, and the clothing is really like a character. At other times, it’s almost like a punchline–you’re not really sure where this is going and how it relates to a garment, and then it ties into it at the end.

Nearly every bride has a wedding dress story. Are there certain kinds of items that came up more often than others–firsts, hand-me-downs, concert tees? It’s anything from a pair of leg warmers and a fur-lined, suede, full-length coat, to a chainmail bikini top, a t-shirt that’s ripped and, yes, a wedding dress that’s been adapted. It could not be a more diverse set of things, and set of stories, too.

In such a varied group of items and stories, did any common themes emerge? The one thing that is consistent, no matter how prominent or how minimal the garment’s role is, is that the focus is ultimately on the story. The clothing is a conduit or a means to tell the story, but it’s ultimately about accessing the story through the piece of clothing.

Which story resonated with you the most on a personal level? There isn’t one that’s my favorite just because I love them all. I think that what was surprising to me is that I would get on the phone with someone or ask them to contribute a story, and I would never have any idea what kind of story they wanted to contribute or what their piece of clothing would be. That’s what was so much fun, to have no idea what to expect.

Worn Stories is available at Powell's, McNally Jackson, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.