'Worn This Day' Lets You Step Into Historical Figures' Shoes, Vests, Dresses And More
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
"Worn On This Day" is a book you can take through the year. Each day, January 1 to December 31, is marked by an outfit. Spacesuit to sword, a top hat worn on the night a statesman was shot and coveralls worn by Caesar (ph), an 18-year-old when he ran away from the man who enslaved him. "Worn On This Day: The Clothes That Made History" is put together and narrated in a sense by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, a fashion historian and curator. She joins us now from NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.
KIMBERLY CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Thanks for the invitation, Scott.
SIMON: You called these items wearable time capsules.
SIMON: How so?
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Well, I wanted to tell the story of how fashion has shaped our understanding and our memory of historical events. And I realized that I couldn't really tell that story. I had to show it. So I've picked objects that illustrate the moment that history was made, really, and how fashion or clothing played a role in shaping not just what happened but how we remember it and how we perceive it.
SIMON: January 15 you have an item worn by Princess Diana, but not her famous wedding dress, is it?
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Well, her wedding dress is in the book, as well as her famous revenge dress that she wore when Charles did his interview about Camilla. But this piece is a flak jacket and face shield that she wore in Angola for a walk-through an active minefield. And her visit called attention to her work for the Red Cross and HALO Trust, an anti-landmine charity. And to see this iconic, very glamorous, very famous woman dressed in this extremely, shockingly protective garment made a huge impression, as she intended and hoped it would.
SIMON: Let me get you to flip forward to April 7, a belt.
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: This is one of many pieces in the book that are associated with the Holocaust. This was worn by a man who escaped from Auschwitz after 21 months in captivity. And he'd actually inherited it from a fellow prisoner who'd worn it during his own failed escape attempt. But this man, Rudolf Vrba, was successful in his attempt and he returned to his native Slovakia from Auschwitz and continued to wear the belt to fight the Nazis as part of the Slovak army.
SIMON: Wearing the name of his late friend on the inside of his belt.
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Yes, the late friend's prisoner number is written on the inside of the belt as well as the date. People who wore these things often knew that they were going to be part of history, that they were making history as they were wearing them and they saved them and preserved them. But sometimes, they even labeled and dated them.
SIMON: July 14, a pair of mismatched cleats are commemorated in your book.
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Yes. These were worn by the so-called greatest athlete who ever lived, Jim Thorpe, who is not really a household name today but certainly was in his time because he could do it all. He was a football player. He was a baseball player. And he won the gold medal in decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Sweden. And he did this despite having come from a very disadvantaged background. He was a Sac and Fox Indian who grew up in the Oklahoma Territory. And like many Native Americans, he was sent away to a government-run boarding school as a teenager.
On the day of the Olympic decathlon, the second day of the Olympic decathlon he woke up to find that his shoes had been stolen. So he searched around for something to wear and found two mismatched cleats in a trash can, but they were different sizes and not his size. So he had to put extra socks on one foot. But despite this, he still won the gold medal by a huge margin of victory, so it makes this already impressive achievement all the more stunning.
SIMON: September 25, you have a school girl's brand-new dress worn for her first day of school.
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Yes, but it wasn't just any first day of school. This was the dress worn by Carlotta Walls, the youngest of the Little Rock Nine on the first day of school at Little Rock Central High. She wore this dress to walk past protesters, escorted by the Army and the National Guard, to integrate Little Rock Central High School. And in most of the black-and-white pictures of this day you can't even really see the detail on the dress, but it's printed with the alphabet, which is such a wonderful testament to her love of learning at any cost.
SIMON: Grandfather got it for her the day before school? Or father?
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: It was her uncle who gave her the money to buy it because he insisted that this was a historic day and she needed to have a proper dress. Usually, her mother made her clothes, but this one was bought at a department store in downtown Little Rock. And she called it the perfect outfit for the first day of school.
SIMON: Got to say as I closed your book, I was reminded by advice my mother gave me because so many items in this book were worn by people at the end. My mother always used to say better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed because you'll never know what the day will bring.
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: Well some of my favorite pieces in the book are the sad ones, the ones with blood stains and bullet holes because they speak so eloquently to what people experienced and what people suffered and also what they survived.
SIMON: "Worn On This Day: The Clothes That Made History" - put together by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell. Thanks so much for being with us.
CHRISMAN-CAMPBELL: You're very welcome, Scott.
(SOUNDBITE OF BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE'S "ROMANCE TO THE GRAVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.