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I thought this was the most obvious hint so far, so I’m glad you guys were right! Orange is the New Black, although better known for the Netflix series, is a dazzling memoir by talented author Piper Kerman, and I am really excited to cover this book because of the fact that it is often overlooked in favor of the show.
Considering that I have yet to start watching the show, this article will focus entirely on the book. Read on to learn more about it:
Reading Between the Lines
I do have to provide a disclaimer before I start, because I was fortunate enough to attend Kerman’s talk at my university last month! I was able to talk to her and ask her a few questions about prison reform, and I also got her to personalize my book, as you can see below.
Author Piper Kerman published her memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison in 2010, four years after she was released from prison. One key concept of the novel is the fact that, like Martha Stewart (who went to prison during the same time Piper was serving her sentence!), Piper Kerman is not the stereotypical prisoner for so many different reasons: she’s a woman, white, college-educated, middle-class, and most of all, she has a large support network of friends and family to rely on, which ultimately proves to be the most important trait that sets her apart from the other women she meets.
Sisterhood, self-discovery, trust, interdependence, and survival are all significant themes in the memoir, as evidenced by Kerman’s incredible relationship with the women she met and bonded with, and her restless journey of doing time for a crime committed more than a decade earlier. She was fresh out of college when she became involved in drug trafficking – and Kerman has stated her regret of playing a part, no matter how seemingly insignificant, in worldwide drug circulation.
A topic that Kerman really emphasized during her visit to my school that I thought was particularly important is prison reform, and the rising statistics of women being imprisoned for nonviolent crimes. Not only are these sentences often biased (towards race and socioeconomic status), but taking women away from their children is creating an arguably larger problem than it would be to let these “criminals” live freely.
Since it's the first memoir I've covered for Book-Inspired Fashion, I really wasn't sure how to organize these outfits – by time period, by location, or even by section of the book? All of these could have worked, so I combined them all into the three important, life-changing events for Piper, which I believe provides a more focused glimpse into the book than arbitrary categories that I've chosen simply for easier organization.
1. Get Through Customs and Run?
I knew that carrying more than $10,000 undeclared was illegal, let alone carrying it for a West African drug lord. Were the authorities closing in on me? Maybe I should try to get through customs and run? Or perhaps the bag really was just delayed, and I would be abandoning a large sum of money that belonged to someone who could probably have me killed with a simple phone call. (Kerman 3-4).
While I’m not trying to glorify crime in any way, the time in which Piper committed her crime was sandwiched between glamorous trips with her lover around the world, and temporary relief that she had gotten away with it after all. This also occurred in Brussels, Belgium, so I decided to incorporate a high-fashion edge to this outfit.
The jumpsuit has a little bit of drama because of the high stakes Piper was gambling with, but it’s also inconspicuous enough that it wouldn't stick out in a crowd for any negative reasons. Black is what I consider the color of spies and thieves, and although Piper wasn't either, she still committed an under-the-radar crime that involved fooling many people.
Sunglasses fall into this same category of undercover work and add a bit of mystery as well. Since the setting of this scene is in the early 1990s, I included vintage ‘90s sunglasses because that’s what I would have imagined a reasonably trendy 20-something woman in this time period to wear.
The luggage and passport cover take direct inspiration from this event of the book, and I really like the design of both the sleek pale gold of the suitcase, and the genuine leather design of the passport cover.
And finally, I threw in some girly earrings because they add an awesome touch to any outfit. Also, it’s not a stretch to think that a relatively well-off young woman like Piper would own a pair of simple, classic earrings like these.
2. People Who Can Understand
When you are deep in misery, you reach out to those who can help, people who can understand (Kerman 283).
From Piper’s first day in Danbury, she recognized and appreciated the network of support and care evident among her fellow prisoners. It’s revealed that some of the women prefer life in Danbury to living free because of the strength of sisterhood and community present within the prison. Additionally, when Piper is eventually moved to “real prison” for the last portion of her sentence, what she misses the most is the camaraderie and trust she had found in the women of Danbury.
This quote, from near the end of the memoir, really sums up the significance of finding people who empathize and understand your situation, and thus are able to share their experiences and knowledge to help you overcome your struggles.
I could have gone anywhere, really, with this outfit, but I decided to go for orange (well, coral-orange) because of the title of the book. While the majority of the prisoners actually wear khaki, orange is the newcomer color, and represents the whole stereotypical image of orange jumpsuits in prison. I didn't want to go for anything too dressy in this look, and instead created an outfit made up of a few wardrobe staples.
The orange jacket is faux leather and has a bit of a tough-girl vibe that I think complements the idea of serving time. The necklace I threw in last-minute because I love the simplicity of the metaphor of a bird trapped in a cage, and think it finishes off the outfit nicely.
I purposely only had the “outside” pieces of the outfit (the jacket and shoes) orange, because the symbolism of orange doesn't express who a person really is. That's something you'll only discover when you peel those layers away.
3. Wherever Larry Is
I wanted to be home desperately, and when I said “home,” that meant “wherever Larry is” (Kerman 186-187).
I definitely consider Piper and Larry’s relationship a bit of a fairy tale romance – the amount of loyalty and love within their relationship is so impressive, and they are married to this day. They've gone through so much together, and Piper repeatedly emphasizes throughout Orange is the New Black how faithful Larry is, and how his regular visits are what power her through her prison sentence. He’s the one that waits hours for her release, and he’s also the one who accompanies her to initially turn herself in as a prisoner. He’s been there since step 1, and I find it so admirable that they were able to maintain and even reinforce their relationship in that incredibly tough year.
Now, get ready for a lot of symbolism in the outfit.
If orange is the color of prisoners, then red is the color of passion and fighting for what you believe in. In this case, that’s love. I chose the red dress partially for that reason, but also because of how close the colors orange and red are – being a prisoner is an experience that changes you, whether it's for better or worse. Prison time, no matter how long or short the sentence, stays with people forever, and Piper Kerman is a key example of someone who has completely embraced her past. And Larry has definitely had a huge part in her happiness and success.
The red is a muted, dark red because Larry and Piper don’t have a fast, passionate romance that burns out just as quickly – it’s much more of a slow burn that has survived so much.
The rest of the outfit is simple, with the ring representing the fact that they finally agreed to marry after spending years together, and the watch representing Piper’s successful business career post-prison.
This isn't just a memoir of a woman who went to prison – it goes so much deeper than that, and carries a political message as well.
There's also a huge emphasis on community over the individual - everyone lives and survives together, and an entire network of people is affected when a single decision is made, not just the individual.
I’m so glad to have picked this book up because I had never really considered the fact that mothers in prison have children that they are forced to leave behind for mostly nonviolent crimes. There’s a specific scene in the memoir that describes Mother’s Day in prison, when tons of children and family members come to spend the day with their mothers, and it really is an incredibly touching part of Kerman’s journey.
I typically don’t read many memoirs because I sometimes stereotype them as being more boring than fiction and less informative than non-fiction, but that’s 100% wrong when it comes to Orange is the New Black. While the TV show is supposedly not very faithful to the memoir, I’m so glad that the popularity of the show has brought, paradoxically, the book to the attention of many readers around the world. It shares both an emotional, life-changing journey while maintaining a strong political position about prison reform, and I think everyone can learn something from reading it.
Next time, I’m going back to fiction, but with as much of a political purpose as Orange is the New Black. It’s a novella by a famous Californian author, published more than 60 years ago, and deals with some seriously powerful issues including racial inequality, poverty, and greed. I read it for the first time in middle school, and a lot of you probably did, too!
Hint: The title of the book is a gemstone!
Have you read this memoir, or do you follow the TV show? Keeping in mind that this is fashion inspired by the book rather than the show, what do you think of these three looks? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment.