Worn Stories, a new Netflix docuseries about our wardrobes, opens on the complete antithesis of its subject: a nudist colony. You’ll feel inclined to do a double-take. Isn’t this show supposed to be about clothing? Well, why isn’t there any? But, as the show goes on to prove, this is a misconception. As its title suggests, Worn Stories focuses less on pieces of fabric than it does on what we wear, why we wear it, and, of course, all the lovely stories that swirl into the seams. We’ve been stuck inside for over a year now, glued to our house clothes and slippers—perhaps it’s time to sift through the lore that hangs behind our closet doors. Worn Stories, which is adapted from Emily Spivack’s best-selling clothing vignettes novel of the same name, is wonderfully-threaded nostalgia.
Perhaps the phrase, “Love your shirt!” is a common utterance in our day-to-day lives, but how often have you found yourself inquiring further about other folks’ apparel? Think about the clothes you have on now. There’s a story, be it trim or folded with many layers, behind each piece of clothing we don. Digging into those tales is like pawing through a dusty chest of old, wrinkled, once-loved fabrics. Worn Stories suggests we take a minute to remember the first time we wore our favorite hoodies, our first night out in a new pair of jeans that fit just right, or that one beloved garment that was lost and never returned. Clothes are more than what they seem, and this docuseries unravels every endearing memory from their tight seams, all sewed into a colorful patchwork.
Each of the eight episodes has a theme displayed via the title. Opening with “Community” (hence: the nudist colony) and spanning to “Love,” the short documentaries bounce around to various talking heads, lingering on the specific garments that tie into larger stories. In “Lost and Found,” for example, a handful of folks recall what it was like to misplace their most idolized pieces of clothing. But Worn Stories digs deeper, past the surface level of stolen coats and lost handbags. Timmy, a saxophonist, muses about aging and the loss of his rock ‘n’ roll career via his stunning leather codpiece, a well-worn gift from Tina Turner. The strappy number bears more meaning than any old accessory, as it resembles the life and career Timmy used to know. Wearing the codpiece, he explains, is his way of remembering those times.
Worn Stories aims high with its subjects—and it pays off. They’re a diverse and eclectic group of folks ready to share their life’s story through the garments to which they’ve tethered themselves. In the “Survival” episode, a fellow named Ben details his experience on US Airways Flight 1549, Sully Sullenberger’s plane that landed in the Hudson River on a brisk New York morning. Instead of solely narrating the events and his reactions, Ben rattles on about his special boots, which offered him a safety net amidst the chilly Hudson waters. It’s a life-altering story that’ll give you chills, and then, to top it all off: there, on-screen, are the exact pair of boots that hit the water. They could be any old pair of boots hitting New York City pavement.
Although this technique—using clothes as a gateway to the grander themes of life—is well-intentioned, Worn Stories stretches it a bit too thin on occasion. There are a few instances where characters veer off on tangents that, while fascinating, do not tie back to the original subject matter (clothes) in any way. If anything, there could be fewer reenactments with puppetry and animation, and more sweeping shots of the clothes themselves. For a show all about what we wear, one might expect more brimming closets, more folds and ruffles of fabric wrinkling into the camera, and more memorable fashion hits. Nevertheless, the stories are still fun, even if some stand out more than others.
As winter becomes spring, bringing a shift from sweaters and coats to tees and sunglasses, and our in-person lifestyle resumes, Netflix’s Worn Stories arrives at the perfect time. Short, sweet, and beautifully threaded together, Spivack’s television adaptation takes a look at humanity through our favorite clothes. Next time you compliment someone’s shirt—or, for that matter, any standout bit of their outfit—Worn Stories will make you want to search deeper for that special story feathered into the fabric.
All eight episodes of Worn Stories are now available to stream on Netflix.
Fletcher Peters is a New York-based journalist whose writing has appeared in Decider, Jezebel, and Film School Rejects, among other spots. You can follow her on Twitter @fietcherpeters gossiping about rom-coms, TV, and the latest celebrity drama.
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