Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Little Black Book of Style: Take Two Birkin Bags and Call Her In The Morning

Don't let my current look fool you. I didn't always walk around in sweatpants, a faded Gap t-shirt and shoes that look like they were run over by a truck. You think I went out of the house without lipstick in my twenties? Back in the day I actually got my hair cut more than three times a year, had neatly pedicured toes and my belt freqently matched my shoes. I've got an Azzedine Alaia dress in my closet, an old Fendi bag on my shelf and even a Gaultier suit I had altered to fit. By a real tailor.

So what happened? Somewhere between then and now, I had kids. Plain and simple. Some people may say that's no excuse, but I beg to differ. Show me a woman who's style hasn't faltered since she's had kids, and I'll show you a woman who's got a full-time nanny and an assistant who irons her socks, I always say.

One of those women would appear to be Nina Garcia, author of The Little Black Book of Style and judge on the popular TV show Project Runway. When I was asked by The Parent Blogger's Network to review Garcia's book, I was intrigued by the idea of a handbook that could possibly help me on the road back to fashion enlightenment, a primer on regaining my taste for well-fitting skirts and expensive shoes. Do I always have to pick up the kids wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt with a jam stain on it? I think not!

Okay, maybe Garcia's assistant doesn't iron her socks, but by the tone of this book you come to suspect that the author has just a little bit more time than the rest of us to devote to picking out the perfect outfit in the morning. I guess I was expecting the book to have a little bit more of a tongue-in-cheek approach to fashion; I've never taken clothes too seriously and I thought Garcia, who has an infant son, would have a more user-friendly approach. I had to keep reminding myself that maybe I'm not the target audience for the book, although there's a small section devoted to dressing during pregnancy so you'd think she was expecting at least a few of us moms to be reading. A few of us non-model, non-celebrity moms, that is.

The book is well-written and the illustrations by Ruben Toledo are beautiful, but for me the book felt impractical and slightly elitist. I would love to have seen a chapter on everyday dressing - not all of us shop at Prada and need to put on our Manolos to walk out the door. I'm sure even fashionistas need to leave the house in a hurry once in a while to run by the post office or pick up ingredients for a casserole, don't they? And while I don't expect Garcia to advise her readers to buy their purses at Target (me, often), I thought putting only wildly expensive designer bags - the Chanel 2.55, Louis Vuitton Speedy, Hermes Birkin - under the heading "[Bags] Every Woman Should Have" a little unrealistic. A Hermes Birkin can set you back $6,700 - that's 231 messenger bags from Target.

Not that the book doesn't have some solid, useful advice. I found the second chapter, "The Basics" to be helpful in recognizing which core pieces make up a cohesive wardrobe; a trench coat, ballet flats, a classic men's watch - pieces I wouldn't think of buying but am seriously considering. And the advice about buying a pair of black high-heeled pumps has convinced me that a visit to the shoe store tomorrow is imperative, groceries and utility bills be damned.

One of the last chapters in the book, "Insider Tips and Tricks" would have been the perfect vehicle to pull in some differing and unique points of view on fashion and style. Instead, I was disappointed to see that everyone interviewed was a heavyweight in the fashion field - from Donatella Versace to Heidi Klum - and had frustratingly similar answers to many of their questions. Variations on 'confidence and inner beauty' seemed to be everyone's response to what constitutes a unique sense of style - how great would it have been if she had queried the high-schooler shopping in Chelsea, or the rocker buying his wardrobe on Melrose? Or me, putting together an outfit from the sale rack at Macy's? Okay, maybe not me, but those other two would have definitely worked.

As a point of reference, I have to say that one of my favorite movies of last year was The Devil Wears Prada, a film that skewers the fashion industry and makes the salvation of the heroine possible only when she realizes the transparency and superficiality of the industry that she had embraced. I started reading The Little Black Book of Style with that movie in mind, and was expecting a little bit more self-parody or humor. But I quickly realized that Garcia takes fashion very seriously, which, being that it's her profession, she has every right to. I just think she missed an opportunity to make her book more lighthearted, and in the end, more accessible to those of us just trying to get out the door with a clean pair of pants in the morning.

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Pamm said...

So true about fashion !! When I see new stuff come out I often wonder who they think wears this stuff? And their idea of "affordable" just isn't the same as mine.

kim said...

I seriously have thought about writing a real world guide to fashion for those of us without a bazillion dollars and a "sock ironing" assistant. Grab and go style.

Mary Tsao said...

Great review. I'd love to read this book but I'm going to wait and get it on the clearance table outside of Borders next year.

I just don't have any more money to spend on books now that I'm saving up for a Birkin bag.

Catherine said...

Fashion and I have never gone together in the same sentence. I shudder to think of what I must have looked like before I started learning a few key things from Stacy and Clinton. You know, like avoid 360-degree mirrors. Those two need to write a book; I might not be so intimidated to buy theirs.

SusieJ said...

Maybe this book was written for all the Momzillas of the world. The certainly can't leave the house with their Manolos. Great review.

Daisy said...

I wasn't sure what to expect from Garcia, given her near-nastiness on Project Runway. I'm still not sure I "need" a designer bag of any kind. I'm with you Sweatpants mom, Tar-jay has my bags!

BlondeMomBlog (Jamie) said...

I'm a TJ Maxx kind of gal myself. But hells yeah if I had a nanny and a personal shopper I might leave the house looking like a fashionista. I'm with you. If I get out the door with nary a dog hair or dribble of yogurt on me I'm happy. Painted toenails? Brushed hair? BONUS! ;)

wayabetty said...

Target, Walmart, Gap, Ann Taylor...whatever fits my post-4th baby body and I'm there.

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Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely. I was somewhat of a fashionista in college, always wore heels, and never understood the soccer mom with the ponytail image until... I had my baby. Now in my mid-30's, with a full time job in the movie industry (long hours), I'm just too tired, mentally, to care and frankly what time I have, I would rather spend with my little family than shopping.
My sad attempt to make a fashion comeback 6 months after having the baby, failed when I slipped and fell in heels while holding my son. I caught him on my way down, but forget it, its flats for me from now on, unless I'm going out without the baby!
My fashion? Check blouse for stains before leaving house, try to get sleep and apply lipstick at work, when I have a moment to breath... :)

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