A Veteran NPR Journalist Turns Her Eye to Fashion

Jackie Lyden’s decades-long career as a journalist took her to war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Northern Ireland. But for her latest project, she’s trying on a new hat, if you will: fashion. After years of being a senior correspondent on NPR, Lyden has started an independent podcast called “The Seams”, where she channels her lifelong interest in fashion—her mother was a department store model—into reporting on the stories behind the clothes we wear.

It may seem like an unlikely subject for a “serious” journalist, but Lyden says that that is exactly the problem. She says that fashion is often “told as a story of very shallow consumerism,” but in fact it is also about personal and cultural mementos. “Think about a mother’s wedding dress, a grandmother’s apron, a father’s suit, your communion outfit,” she says. “If you start to think about clothing that is specific to time and place and narrative, it just becomes a much wider and deeper conversation.”

Lyden believes that those deeper conversations and serious reporting are needed in an industry that has a history of using child labor, sweatshops, and exploitative business practices. Drawing a comparison to discussions around food, she believes consumers should consider the sourcing and safety of the clothes they wear, and opt for ethically produced garments over cheaply and quickly made "fast fashion" popularized by chains like H&M and Uniqlo.

Lyden believes that by connecting fashion to history, anthropology, and art, she can challenge the “frivolous” or “exclusive” stereotypes of fashion and reach a wide variety of listeners. She cites an NPR audience poll in which 95 percent of respondents said they didn’t care about fashion. But when asked if they cared about culture, respondents overwhelmingly answered yes. For Lyden, this is a subject that everyone can appreciate. "Fashion's aspirational...but it might also feel exclusive, and it isn't. There isn't a human body type that can't have a sartorial significance."

Jacki Lyden on Why Fashion Matters

"If you ask NPR audiences, 'Do you care about fashion..?' Ninety-five percent of them said 'No.' But if you ask them, 'Do you care about culture?' Ninety-five say 'Yes.'" Jacki Lyden is perhaps best known for her reporting from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in a new project, she's turned her attention to fashion. Here's why.

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