Women in UNIFORME: Nadja Spiegelman

Author Nadja Spiegelman released her memoir, "I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This" earlier this year to high praise from The New York Times, NPR, Vogue, and more. We followed Nadja to the streets of Soho, NYC where the Paris-based writer was visiting her family, and spoke to her about the evolution of her personal style and identity.


Nadja wears the Lin Shirt Dress in White Giza 45 Cotton. Photographed by Bek Andersen.

On her teenage self's relationship to clothing:

I did not care about my clothing until High School. I let my mother dress me in matching floral leggings and cardigans. In middle school, I noticed that the other girls had begun to wear tight jeans with brand names emblazoned on the back pockets and I told my mother that I too needed to be wearing denim. She went to K-mart and bought me a pair of baggy overalls with a picture of Tweety Bird on the front. I wore them to school without shame. I was willfully oblivious to what I saw as an unnecessary leap forward into an adulthood. I still wanted to play make believe, cast magic spells, spend my lunch hour in the library with my best friend. I remember feeling stranded between worlds, too old for toys but unwilling to care about boys and make-up.

In High School, that changed abruptly. I came to see clothes as an important means of communication and self-creation, the first basis by which the world judged you. I became very interested in what I wore. I cut up the necks of all my t-shirts so that they hung off my shoulders. I had a pair of beloved elephant leg jeans whose ends were ripped from walking on them. My mother was horrified by how i dressed - bra straps showing and holes in my black tights. In retrospect, I probably dressed too provocatively for a 16 year old. But I’d realized that my body was an adult’s body, and I was trying to turn that into something that I could control.


On the evolution of her identity and style:

When I began dating a woman, towards the end of high school, I started dressing more femininely. I stopped wearing pants or shoes without heels. I’m not entirely sure why - it’s sort of the opposite of what most young lesbians do. Most cut their hair short and buy flannel. But I think I felt a need to differentiate between my gender and my sexuality. I was fielding questions about my relationship like, “Which one of you is the boy?” My sexuality has always felt fluid, but my gender always felt clear. I wanted to show that liking women didn’t make me any less of a woman myself. As an adult, I’ve found that it’s easier to meet women when I dress more androgynously — but I wear dresses more often than pants anyway. It just feels more natural to who I am.


On her style inspirations

My mother and grandmother are both huge style inspirations for me. They both have that ineffable french elegance. They know how to make anything they throw over their shoulders look effortlessly chic. They each have “their colors” - olive green for my mother, a creamy beige for my grandmother. Their wardrobes are almost entirely in those tones, and everything they own co-ordinates perfectly.


Nadja wears the Lin Shirt Dress in White Giza 45 Cotton. Photographed by Bek Andersen.


On how her relationship with fashion has evolved with her professional development

For the past few years, my professional life has consisted of sitting in cafes or libraries on my laptop, so my fashion sense has probably degraded accordingly. That said, moving to Paris four years ago certainly had an influence on how I dress. French women buy only a few, well-chosen, expensive pieces of clothing and maintain them carefully. I’ve been trying to emulate that as best I can — but my style evolves constantly with my sense of self, and I can’t help but prefer having more, cheaper clothes. Still, I’d like to think I dress slightly more elegantly now, with cleaner lines and fewer colors.


On career uncertainty

I experience fear and doubt and uncertainty constantly when I’m writing. Or rather, I experience those things before I write, when I first sit down at the computer each day. I have a number of strategies for quieting the anxiety, but mostly it’s a matter of pushing through it. I turn off the internet so that I can’t click away from my word document. I go somewhere like a coffee shop or a library, so that I can’t spring up and decide it’s time to scrub the inside of my shower. And then I remind myself that it’s ok if not everything turns out perfectly the first time around, if the words I want to write aren’t the ones that are coming today.


Nadja wears the Lin Shirt Dress in White Giza 45 Cotton. Photographed by Bek Andersen.


On her shopping habits

I can’t buy anything without first trying it on. I like to dress in a way that marks my waist and emphasizes my curves, and most clothing isn’t cut for my body. Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned how to shop online. I can figure out what works with the rest of my wardrobe, and it’s easier to find exactly what I’m looking for that way.


On her favorite Parisian shops

I’d recommend Kiliwatch, which is both a thrift store and a concept store and sells everything from kimonos to leather jackets, Thanx God I’m A Vip, an upscale vintage shop where everything is organized by color, and Sézane, a young french designer who recently opened her first brick and mortar location.


On cleaning out her closet

I dump everything - everything - on my bed. Then I sort it into three piles - clothes I love, clothes I would give away if a good friend really wanted them, and clothes that are embarrassingly unwearable. I put the first pile back in my closet, the last pile in a donation bin, then invite friends over to pick through the middle. What they don’t take usually winds up in a donation bin as well, but sometimes a few items slip back into my closet.

I have a RAW magazine t-shirt that has so many holes in it that it’s barely a shirt anymore. RAW is the underground comics magazine my parents made in the 70s. There’s a photograph of me wearing this shirt when I was 4 years old, when it came down to my knees. I still wear it to sleep in sometimes, when no one else is around.


You can find a copy of Spiegelman's memoir "I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This" at Amazon.com or an independent bookseller near you.



A Vogue Best Book of the Year

“What Ferrante did for female friends—exploring the tumult and complexity their relationships could hold—Spiegelman sets out to do for mothers and daughters. She’s essentially written My Brilliant Mom.” —Slate

A memoir of mothers and daughters—and mothers as daughters—traced through four generations, from Paris to New York and back again.


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