Tag Archives: fashion

Looking to Look Your Best? We Can Help You with That!

clothesWell, not us, per se, but our books can.

Although you might not always be able to tell from looking at me, I am interested in fashion. Not in the haute couture, runways and fashion week kind of way, but more in the “I like to look my best and make sure that what I’m wearing flatters and doesn’t make me look worse” kind of way. I hear from a lot of people that they can’t wear this or that color or type of clothing. I believe that if you are able to locate something that fits you well, everyone can wear just about anything. (Except skinny jeans: I draw the line at skinny jeans for a lot of people!)

I also have more than a passing interest in makeup and skin care. As a woman-of-a-certain-age, I have to wear different makeup and use different skin care products than I did 20 years ago. I like to research what works best for my skin type and particular issues I am having. I also prefer to find bargains, rather than paying exorbitant prices for a tiny, little jar of something that might not even work.
I have found several books at the Library helpful for both my makeup and wardrobe investigations. Below are some of the items I have used and benefitted from. Even if you are skeptical about this sort of thing, try one. You just might find a tip that will improve your whole outlook.

You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal about You by Jennifer J. Baumgartner – Each chapter of this book reads like a What Not to Wear episode. You are presented with a wardrobe dilemma (look is outdated, have a shopping addiction, if you dress too revealingly) and then the author walks you step by step through the thought and organization process to change. My only wish was that this book had pictures. Oh, and color.

Bobbi Brown Pretty Powerful: Beauty Stories to Inspire Confidence, Start-to-Finish Makeup Techniques to Achieve Fabulous Looks by Bobbi Brown with Sara Bliss – This guidebook is part makeup techniques and part inspirations for living. You decide what kind of person you are (in temperament and lifestyle, as well as beauty routine) and you get a template for daytime and nighttime makeup application. Then you get to meet several women who embody that style, both famous and not. There’s a picture of each with and without makeup, plus a little bit of their “story”. Affirmation that truly beautiful women come in all shapes, sizes, colors and walks of life.

Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet by Tim Gunn with Ada Calhoun – Like the sub-title states, this book is less about helping you find the right clothes to fit your frame and more about giving you the history of everything from miniskirts to capri pants to high heels. I find it all fascinating, plus I love all of the old fashion photos.

The Wardrobe Wakeup: Your Guide to Looking Fabulous at Any Age by Lois Joy Johnson – Fashion advice for those of us at the other end of the age spectrum. How to look chic without dressing like your daughter or granddaughter. “Clothes are a necessity, fashion is an option, and style is your choice.” AMEN!

Jemma Kidd Make-Up Secrets by Jemma Kidd– Looking for step-by-step instructions and diagrams for the application of every type of makeup known to womankind? Then this is your book! A teenage girl I know is always asking me for makeup advice. (“How do you do a smoky eye?) I think I’ll be giving her this book instead of trying to explain it myself.

I Want to Be Her!: How Friends & Strangers Helped Shape My Style by Andrea Linett – The author provides a backdrop of her style for each phase of her life thus far – childhood, high school, the Hamptons, college, the magazine years – and then gives names, bios, and style choices of those she was acquainted with during that time who influenced her style and how. This could be as simple as “wear what you love.”

The Truth about Style by Stacy London – This is all about “Yes…and?” Yes, you may have certain issues with your body, but you need to accept them, not ignore them. And then you can begin to dress in a way that emphasizes what you want to, and minimize what you don’t. Each chapter is a woman who wrote her a letter asking for fashion advice. Stacy then breaks down each woman’s ʺproblemsʺ giving solutions for each and explaining why. You get to learn about Stacy too. For example, do you know why she went from a size 10 in season one to a size 4 in season two?

How to Look Expensive: A Beauty Editor’s Secrets to Getting Gorgeous without Breaking the Bank by Andrea Pomerantz Lustig – I love, Love, LOVE this book. A professional magazine beauty editor gives out the secrets for how to look your best, even when on a budget. For each high-end product that she recommends, she also gives a budget-friendly alternative. There are also instructions for achieving certain “looks” sprinkled throughout. I made a list of all the products I wanted to purchase and took the list shopping with me. I found, purchased, and have really liked several things that I would never have tried without this book.

Wear This Now: Your Style Solution for Every Season and Any Occasion by Michelle Madhok with Eileen Conlan – You’ll probably want to buy this book and keep it on your shelf as a reference. It breaks down every season, telling you what’s on sale to buy now (for other seasons), what pieces are must-haves for the season’s wardrobe and helpful advice on how to select and wear certain pieces of clothing – “How to Wear Thigh-High Boots, without Looking Like a Hooker” anyone? Plus the added bonus of what outfits you should wear for every possible occasion from a New Year’s Day Brunch to meeting the future in-laws to an orthodox wedding. Practical advice all around!

How to Look Hot in a Minivan: A Real Woman’s Guide to Losing Weight, Looking Great, and Dressing Chic in the Age of the Celebrity Mom by Janice Min – How to look and feel great after having a child (or children) is the premise for this one. Basics for revamping your wardrobe, hair, makeup and even your refrigerator to make sure that you can be at your best no matter how little time you may have for yourself (It was interesting to see that some of the makeup and skin products recommended matched those in the book above).

Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris by Jennifer L. Scott – Based on the idea of quality over quantity, this book has lessons for life in many different areas and in general. There is a very nice section on wardrobe choices and skin care, but fair warning that some of the ideas espoused are a bit dated by current “American” standards.  And I’m not sure I, personally, could EVER really get behind the 10 item wardrobe idea…

Happy Shopping!
-Melissa M.

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The Fabulous Fashion of the Movie Roberta

In Gunn’s Golden Rules, Tim Gunn lists what he thinks are “The Five Best Movies About Fashion.”  Though I disagree with Gunn (and many others) that Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow-up is engaging, I was pleased that Gunn and I share enthusiasm for The September Issue (2009).  Anyway, Gunn’s list got me thinking about other movies that are either about fashion or at least prominently feature fashion.  Of course, every movie involves clothing and costuming characters, but some films seem almost an excuse to show off some designer’s work.

A perfect example of a movie partly made just to flaunt fashion is the 1935 musical Roberta starring Irene Dunne, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Randolph Scott.  Scott’s character comes to Paris and inherits a fancy clothing boutique which means, of course, that not only will Dunne and Rogers be splendidly outfitted but that the plot will have to include a fashion show.  And what a show it is!  Costume designer Bernard Newman was brought to RKO Pictures upon the recommendation of Dunne and designed the large number of gowns for the movie.  The studio claimed he had spent $250,000 on the costumes and as David Chierichetti writes in Hollywood Costume Design, “Whatever they cost, the fashions were stupendous.”  (Also see W. Robert LaVine’s In a Glamorous Fashion: The Fabulous Years of Hollywood Costume Design for more on Newman and Roberta.)

Here’s what Ginger Rogers had to say about Roberta in her memoir:

With handsome clothes by my favorite designer, Bernard Newman, and beautiful songs to dance to, I had the time of my life playing this role. (p. 135)

Bernard Newman’s clothes in Roberta for me and for Irene Dunne were exceptionally clever and handsome.  The gold lamé dress I wore for the “I Won’t Dance” number was a dress I had bought while in New York as part of my trousseau.  That was the first time I ever wore a personal dress in a motion picture, and it was probably because Bernard Newman had designed it.  For the “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” number [sung by Dunne], he created a long black satin dress, with a wonderful piece of faux jewelry on the chest.  Men always commented on that gown; indeed, I never met a man who didn’t like that dress. (pp. 135-136)

In the same chapter about his own favorite films and books, Gunn justifiably gripes about students who claim to lack inspiration and exclaims: “Look around you!  Look out the window.  Go for a walk.  Go to a movie.  Go to a museum.  Go see a show.  Read a book.  Go to the library…” (p.75-76)  And he advises, “Any genre, any film, any book can be the jumping-off point for amazing creative work.” (p. 84) 

Roberta and the costumes of Bernard Newman should surely be an inspiration for any artist and a thrill for any movie viewer.  If he hasn’t seen it already, I hope Tim Gunn watches it too.

— Tim

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One leg at a time.

I am notoriously uninterested in fashion, and the fact that I’m writing a post about it is probably amusing to a few people.  What can I possibly have to say when I pretty much wear the same black shirt and khaki pants every day?  But recently I’ve decided that dressing well is a skill like any other, and I’m determined to get better at it.

I’ve made similar declarations before, but I’ve always been scared off by seemingly everyone’s insistence that I get myself a wrap dress and some high heels to wear to work.  (Now there’s a thought that should amuse some people who know me.)  Or I’d become discouraged by the rarity of comfortable shoes for the wide-footed.  And I won’t even get into the festival of horrors that is shopping for women’s pants.  So because the things I’m “supposed to” wear are unappealing and / or uncomfortable, I always assumed fashion in general was not for me, and I absolved myself of having any interest in it.

Of course, after a certain age, one’s wittiest t-shirt and “good” jeans no longer serve for all occasions.  I’ve been in pleasant denial about it until now, but apparently business casual waits for no man.  At the very least I want to learn the theory behind the so-called experts’ recommendations, so I can select nicer black shirts and khaki pants.  But can someone with no innate “sense” learn to understand fashion?

As always, I believe a question like that can only begin to be answered by mounting an expedition to the nonfiction section.  Here’s what I’ve found so far:

What I Wore: Four Seasons, One Closet, Endless Recipies for Personal Style by Jessica Quirk

Jessica Quirk’s book (named after her influential blog) is what she calls “a cookbook for your closet.”  She uses fashion sketches to suggest a core wardrobe for each season, and explores how individual pieces can work together to create a wide range of looks.  Her personal style is well-developed, but not too far out of most people’s workday comfort zones.

Style Clinic: How to Look Fabulous All the Time, At Any Age, for Any Occasion by Paula Reed.

In the introduction Reed declares that “fashion is a fleeting pleasure.  Style is like an enduring affair with someone who loves you back.”  This small volume is packed with photographs illustrating the finer points of those enduring classics, what is flattering to your unique shape and why, and dressing your age without “floating off into a fashion wilderness, never again to emerge from a shroud of tweeds and sensible shoes.”

    

Nothing to Wear?: a 5-Step Cure for the Common Closet and Work It!: Visual Therapy’s Guide to Your Ultimate Career Wardrobe by Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo

Nothing to Wear? and Work It! are the enthusiastically-punctuated work of Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo, the duo behind Visual Therapy.  (They also wrote Life in Color, which might still be on more shelves if the title had included an ampersand.  Who can say.)  Work It! demonstrates how small changes can have a dramatic impact on an “ordinary” style.  And I’d already heard the advice from countless books and TV shows, but Nothing to Wear‘s approach to “editing” a wardrobe finally motivated me to empty my closet and start over.

The process of filling in gaps is going to take time and effort, especially since I still refuse to wear that dress.  But after my exploratory mission to TT 507, I think I might be able to identify some alternatives… eventually.

-Denise

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Curiosity/Satisfaction: Notes From A Reading Life

‘curiosity killed the cat.’ A very familiar proverb that seems to have been recorded only as far back as the early 1900s. Perhaps it derived somehow from the much older (late 16th century) care killed the cat, but there is no proof of this thus far.” — The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 4th ed.

I

I am a mediocre poet who lives in a city of very good poets, some of whom sit next to me at the reference desk on a regular basis.  Despite my inability to craft a suitable sonnet or a voluptuous villanelle, I find myself drawn again and again to the poetry section; if I cannot create this particular brand of magic, I can, at least, drown myself in it, hoping I will gain something from repeated dunks.  Gills, maybe.  A mermaid’s tail.

So, too, I devour David Orr’s Beautiful and Pointless.  It’s a guidebook for the uninitiated, everybody who fears that s/he’s just not cool enough for poetry.  Orr’s essays soothe me, make me snicker; who knew the New York Times‘s poetry critic could be so darned frank and funny?  I want to give this book to everyone who has ever felt they weren’t smart enough to read or write poetry, so we can tear down our misconceptions and misgivings together, start all over again.

“As everyone knows, all the best poets eat at Taco Bell,” Orr assures me. I smile, and believe him.

II

Vampires are sooooo ’97 (by which, of course, I mean 1897).  It is, however, hot, and a little fluffy fiction would not be amiss.   I pick up By Blood We Live and fall into a plush, posh, well-written collection of short stories culled from masters of the horror genre.  Neil Gaiman and Stephen King are here, and rightly so.  There are, however, many new-to-me authors, such as Barbara Roden, Nancy Holder, Carrie Vaughn.  Gleefully I scribble authors and titles into my to-read notebook, marveling at how one good short story anthology can lead to hours of further entertainment and discovery.

III

Because I’m usually reading multiple books at once, serendipitous moments frequently pop up.  I learn, for example, that both Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife and Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City contain tiger symbolism.  One is telegraphed, the other covert; both are delightful surprises.  It is, however, Obreht’s interweave of medicine and magic, nested as it is in a narrative reminiscent of those cunning Russian dolls-within-dolls, that keeps my attention.  As much as I pity Lethem’s tiger, I have far less sympathy for his wealthy, indolent characters, and I cannot wait a few hundred pages for their redemption, no matter how well-written and charming they are.

I parcel out Obreht’s novel slowly, in paragraphs, to make it last longer.  The delicious suspense is killing me, but I do not want this book to end.  I will probably stay up late to finish it the night before it is due, imagining the impatient toe-tapping of everyone else on the waiting list.  “Relax,” I want to tell them.  “It’s worth it.  You’ll love this.”  Like a mother reassuring her children that the long night’s sleep before Santa will, most assuredly, be worth it in the morning.

IV

My best friend and I are getting pedicures; I have never had one, so I’m a little embarrassed about my feet.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that they are the ugliest feet ever seen in North America, so to hide my embarrassment over what I’m convinced will be inevitable ridicule and banishment from the spa, I turn to the table next to me, grab a random book and hide behind it, mortified.

Said book turns out to be I Love Your Style by Amanda Brooks.  It’s a how-to-dress guide for those of us who could use a little help, fashion-wise, and  unlike other books in this oeuvre I’ve furtively glanced at, the author actually appears to be on my side.  Rather than foisting a list of dos and don’ts on the hapless reader, Brooks gently makes suggestions about how you can create your own signature look based on what makes you feel pretty.  My reservations about this whole girlie-girl thing lift somewhat.

As I flip through the pages, I read random tidbits to my more stylish friend, who listens indulgently.  “Look, minimalism is TOO a style,” I crow, pointing to pictures of the black-clad, no-nonsense Sofia Coppola.  An hour later, purple polish drying, I teeter home on flip-flops and verify that I can indeed check this book out of the library.  Haute couture, for the win.

V

Curiosity killed the cat; satisfaction, they say, brought that cat back.  However, I am still sifting through the murky backwaters of the internet–and kicking up heaps of dust in print resources–trying to find a derivation for this phrase that will satisfy the librarian part of my brain.  This chunk of grey matter insists, despite our brave new content-creation world, that there are still certain standards for what is true in any given situation.  A bunch of people on the web saying something is true does not necessarily make it so.

[And yet, I have, as of right now, nothing better to go on, and precious little time to devote to what is currently a matter of interest to me and me alone.  Then again, if somebody should call the reference department tomorrow and want to know “the truth” about the origin of this phrase, I would have a reason to go on.  Hint hint.]

On a grander scale, curiosity is what brings us to the written word, and satisfaction is what brings us back. We read for all sorts of reasons: to lose ourselves, to learn new things, to kill boredom or its variants, which include “time in airports” and “waiting in line at the coffee shop.”  We read to satiate our hunger to know, even if it kills us, the things we do not know.  We come back, again and again, because the only thing knowledge truly kills is ignorance, and the satisfaction we feel–learning the facts, exploring the new subject, discovering the unfamiliar genre–is more than enough to counterbalance any pain that takes place during the process.

What are you curious about today?  What brings you back to the library, again and again?

–Leigh Anne

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Spring Fever!

crocusYesterday The New York Times published a lovely editorial praising the robin as the harbinger of spring. The editors wrote:

Somehow the robin stands for all the birds migrating now, the great V’s of geese heading north, the catbirds that will show up surreptitiously in a month. It also stands for the surprise of spring itself, which we had begun to fear would not arrive. We have all been keeping watch, as though one morning it might come sailing over the horizon. And now it’s here — the air a bit softer, snowdrops and winter aconites blooming, the bees doing their cleaning and the robins building their nests again.

As Denise mentioned yesterday, Sunday’s equinox marked the official beginning of spring, and in celebration I’m engaging in all sorts of seasonal activities. From watching the peregrine falcons at the Cathedral of Learning guard their newly laid eggs to checking up on what the fashion world‘s elite have in mind for post-sweater weather, all things spring have caught my attention. My reading taste has spring fever, too, and I’m checking out lots of books related to nature and the outdoors.

John Fowles The TreeThe other day I stumbled across John Fowles’  The Tree, a naturalist classic whose website describes it as a “moving meditation on the connection between the natural world and human creativity, and a powerful argument against taming the wild.” The newest edition boasts an introduction by Barry Lopez, whose own nature-oriented meditations I’ve recently enjoyed in magazines like Tricycle.

The Tree is light enough to bring it with me on walks, another favorite warm weather Wanderlust : a history of walking / Rebecca Solnit.activity of mine. In the fall, I moved into a new house, so I’m looking forward  to discovering the changes warmer seasons bring to my new neighborhood.  As I read Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking,  my mind can wonder about walking as I wander around.

The spell of the sensuous : perception and language in a more-than-human world / David Abram.One book that’s inspired many a musing since I read it is deep ecologist David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, a philosophical reflection on the ways nature may have shaped humans’ linguistic and perceptual evolution. In lyrical, moving prose, Abrams imagines our place in nature as participatory and reciprocal–both seeing and seen, feeling and felt–by the network of animals and landscapes we’re part of.

Springtime inspires my political activity as well. The more time I spend in our beautiful habitat, the more I appreciate and want to protect it. Locally, concerns about the environmental effects of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale and uncertainly about how our state’s elected legislature will handle it motivate me to stay informed about the subject and tell my state representatives how I feel.

In terms of my personal habitat, I’m preoccupied with all of the possibilities for a raised bed garden I’m planning. To prepare, I’m consulting every gardening resource I see (including my wise coworkers), and tomorrow I’m attending Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s free lunchtime lecture about rain barrels and rain gardens.

Reading, walking, gardening, and generally growing give me plenty to do as the days lengthen. I hope spring fever also brings you lots of ways to spend your ever-increasing hours of sunlight!

–Renée

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Anti-Nostalgia

I have long been a fan of all things tacky, kitschy, and retro.  Some of my most prized possessions came from yard sales and thrift stores, apparently too awful or weird for their owners to stand any longer.  I also collect Better Homes and Gardens books that are older than me.  And I look forward to the day I can buy a house with loud wallpaper and bright orange shag carpeting, in which to display my terrible treasures.  Imagine my delight when I found a whole genre of books which mock the dated fads of yesterday.

James Lileks more or less founded this anti-nostalgia movement with The Gallery of Regrettable Food, which explores the glistening, gray cuisine and ominous food photography of the past.  The gallery originated on Lileks’ website, as did the follow-up project: Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible ’70s*.  (Take a look at the online precursors, and maybe you’ll see why the full-fledged books had me practically sobbing with laughter.)  Lileks’ third book, Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights From the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice, will make you wonder how any boomers survived their childhoods.  Finally, he returns to mid-century dining with Gastroanomalies: Questionable Culinary Creations from the Golden Age of American Cookery.

Of course, several authors have taken shots at our culture’s most awkward phases.  For more food-related mirth, try The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan: Classic Diet Recipe Cards from the 1970s*, by Wendy McClure.  Fashionable crafters will enjoy The Museum of Kitschy Stitches: A Gallery of Notorious Knits by Stitchy McYarnpants.   While a lot of Bad Taste has certainly happened since 1990,  The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste is still a valuable resource on historic crassness, from Chia-Pets to Charo. Mental Hygiene: Better Living Through Classroom Films 1945-1970* by Ken Smith is both a legitimate study and critique of the industry, and an outrageously funny book.  (To see examples of actual Classroom Films, check out the Coronet Instructional Films page at the Internet Archive.)  And I suppose the only thing I need to tell you about Happy Kitty Bunny Pony: A Saccharine Mouthful of Super Cute is that the commentary was written by that Mike Nelson, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame.

Be warned – after reading these, you might find you don’t completely hate velvet paintings, and you’d almost be willing to learn macramé.  But if you decide to try grandma’s frightening Jello Mold, I claim absolutely no responsibility for the consequences.

————————-

(*Sadly, a few of these books are not currently available at CLP, or even in the whole county-wide catalog.  These things occasionally happen even at the best of libraries, and someone’s probably working on it even as we speak.  But you can also request titles we don’t own using the Interlibrary Loan System.)

 

–Denise

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Santa, Sweetie: Bring Chanel

“Chanel, Dior, Lagerfeld, Givenchy, Gaultier, darling!   Names, names, names!”
–Jennifer Saunders as Edina Monsoon, Absolutely Fabulous

Santa, darling:

You’ve never let me down before, so I’m pretty confident you can make my 2009 holiday dream a reality.  All I want for Christmas this year is a little black Chanel suit.

Not Lagerfeld-era Chanel, mind you, though I’ve nothing against the gentleman personally.  But, darn it, I’m a librarian of old-school taste and class. Ergo, I want Chanel Chanel.  The genuine article.  The real deal.  That’s not so much to ask, is it, Santa? Just one, teensy, vintage, piece of classic couture?

Obviously I don’t expect you to bring it straight to my house.  Pittsburgh is simply crawling with fabulous places to find fashion treasures.  So I’ll tell you what, Santa-pumpkin:  I’ll combine my librarian wiles with loads of legwork, and you can just leave the suit somewhere here in town where I’m likely to find it.

Deal, or no deal?

Why don’t you sleep on it, sweetie?  I know this is a really busy time of year for you.  Keep in mind, though, I’m not really asking just for myself.  I’m asking for all the fashionable women here in the ‘burgh who have champagne taste and root beer budgets.  I’m asking for all those women who still don’t know — or just can’t master — the arts of knitting and sewing. I’m asking for everybody who stays positive and works hard.  So what do you say, Santa?  I’ve been saving my pennies; won’t you make me a shiny example of a bona fide Christmas miracle?

Kisses,

Leigh Anne

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